In our brief comment on the recent Vegas CES, one new camera I didn't mention might turn out to be one of the most interesting and memorable of the show. The Olympus XZ-1 marks that company's return to the premium, enthusiast-oriented sector of the digicam market.
The $500 XZ-1, which competes most directly with the popular Canon S95 and Panasonic LX5 (both $400—although note that the price of the Olympus will probably drift down once the pipeline fills), is most notable for a lens of oustanding specification, always a good sign in my opinion. It's a 6–24mm (28–112mm-e) ƒ/1.8–2.5. The Panasonic, which goes wider but not as long, is ƒ/2–3.3, and the Canon, which has essentially the same range, is appreciably slower at the long end at ƒ/2–4.9.
People have never liked to be reminded of this, but the difference between ƒ/1.8 and ƒ/2 is functionally pretty negligible. The XZ-1 lens certainly doesn't deserve to be called "superfast" or "super-bright" in comparison to an ƒ/2 24mm-e lens like the Panasonic's. While there's nothing wrong with the XZ-1's specification, where it has lustre for me is that it harkens back to the fast ƒ/1.8 lenses on Olympus's old compacts from the "digital morning" (call it 2000–2004). I've missed that. (One of those, the c3040z, was the first digital camera I owned.) In any event, the lens telegraphs promise with its iZuiko name and excellent focal length range and speeds.
The camera also has a larger than usual if nonstandard 1/1.63" sensor, same as the LX5. Neither Olympus nor Panasonic give the actual dimensions of the sensor, but it should be a little larger than 6x8 mm. The XZ-1 has sensor-shift image stabilization and a 3-inch OLED viewing screen.
The XZ-1 been getting a sustained level of attention on photography sites and forums. Dpreview's recent full review by Richard Butler notes that "the XZ-1 sits towards the minimalist end of the spectrum in its class," and says it's "a joy to use, quick and easy to control." Jeff Keller in the DCRP First Look says, "I didn't find shutter lag to be an issue, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes occurs." And Steve Sanders at Steve's Digicams observes in his Olympus XZ-1 First Look that "the adjustable lens control ring around the extended lens...allows you to change a variety of settings depending on what mode the camera is in." Shawn Barnett in his Hands-on Preview at Imaging-Resource notes that the XZ-1 is "the first of the company's compact cameras to sport a Zuiko-branded lens," and he adds that "the optical quality I'm seeing at the lowest ISO settings is quite good."
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.