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Old Aug 3, 2011, 4:21 AM   #1
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Default New XZ-1 User.

Hi all. Wow is this forum quiet! I've been a long time lurker for many years. I just bought an XZ-1, and hope I can give some good feedback over the next few weeks and months on this unique camera. First, here's a little backstory about my camera journey.

I've used four different brands of digital cameras over the past ten years, none of them Olympus. Started with a Fuji Finepix1300, moved quickly to a Casio QV-3000EX, then a Konica Minolta Dimage Z10, next a Panasonic DMC-FZ28. I've loved and hated aspects of all of them, each one hoping to improve on the major shortcomings of the previous model without taking a step backwards in three other areas. Of all, I researched the FZ28 by far the most, and honestly thought it would be the one I'd treasure for many many years. Alas, although the FZ28 has it's definite uses with the long stabilized zoom, I've felt really let down by the image quality in certain circumstances. It does very poorly in lower light (anything other than sunny), and has a strange inability to take even a half decent macro shot without 30 attempts - two things both the Fuji and Casio had little issue with even though they're non stabilized. Though I'll admit that in good light, the FZ28 is clearly superior, as it should be with 10MP vs 3MP or so and 5-10 years advancement! I also found the Panasonic images excessively noisy and lacking sharp focus, again not a problem for the Casio or Fuji. As I look back at the specs, I notice a couple interesting factoids (yes, this will eventually bring me to the XZ-1). Although the Panasonic lens is somewhat fast wide open at 2.8, it goes up to 4.4 at the other end. Though the Fuji starts out slower at 3.2, at 8X zoom it's only up to 3.4. Lo and behold the Casio lens (actually made by Canon) starts way down at 2.0 and only reaches 2.5 at it's maximum 3X zoom. And it uses a 1/1.8" sensor. Sounding familiar?

What I loved about the Casio was it's performance in low light, sharp nearly noise-free images, and amazing bokeh with macro shots. Also loved the hidden true 'bulb' shutter speed setting which allowed for super cool shots of the stars at night.

So I came to the realization that there just aren't any superzoom/bridge cameras with fast lenses these days, and only a couple can be considered even good in low light. While I love the idea of a one camera for everything that a superzoom promises, there's just nobody that makes one with the performance and features I need. While I could get better quality with a Micro 4/3 or DSLR, I have ruled them out due to cost and size. Enter the XZ-1. It takes almost everything I loved about the Casio and brings it together with even faster shooting performance than the other two (one thing I hated about the Casio). I've only taken a few dozen shots so far, but already I am very impressed. I'll update this post as I get more experience with the camera, but here are my initial thoughts.


PROS:

1. This camera takes excellent no-flash photos inside our poorly lit house, with very low noise (considering the light levels). It blows the FZ28 completely out of the water, not a huge surprise, but I didn't realize how large a difference there would be.

2. I've verified that as reported by many users, this camera easily takes awesome macro shots, including very nice background blurring. I'll include one here.

3. Even at 100% the images still look sharp and clean, something I could almost never say for my FZ28 shots.

4. I love the control ring around the lens, it's very intuitive and much nicer to use than a tiny control on the back as in most compact cameras.

5. While I dislike the fact that there's no built in viewfinder, I love that you can add arguably the best viewfinders later, as cost permits. Truth be told, 95% of my shooting is with the screen, though I will probably get the VF-3 viewfinder once it's available, because I see the benefit of it's use. A big gripe of mine with all compact digicams has been the poor viewfinder, especially since I wear glasses. I swore I'd never get a digicam without a built-in viewfinder, but.....

6. The LCD screen is amazing. Though the same size as most, the resolution is incredible. It's like HDTV for your camera!

7. Aftermarket batteries (some 50% greater capacity) and chargers, as well as numerous other accessories, seem to be plentiful and cheap (other than the teleconverter lenses and viewfinders).

8. This camera is by far the most responsive I've ever used in terms of shooting speed, and my Panasonic FZ28 was no slouch in that area for a P&S. Single shot mode will let you take even LF+RAW images about one a second for as long as you like (press the shutter each time and refocusing every time). In sequential modes, you can just hold the shutter down and it will keep snapping away at a furious pace, though focus is locked to the first frame. In full size I was able to get 16 LF+RAW shots in just over eight seconds! Shooting JPG LF only, I stopped at 41 frames in 20 seconds, no idea how much longer you could go. This is a huge improvement over most P&S which limit their 'burst' modes to anywhere from 3-6 shots. HOWEVER, be sure that you have a fast memory card when attempting to shoot a lot of raw images quickly. I shot about 18 LF+RAW images in single-shot mode within about 25 seconds, using an old PNY '60X' (no class rating) memory card. This card maxes at 4GB/s read in my computer, and I believe write times are usually a bit slower for most SD cards. The camera locked up with the flashing 'card access' indicator for nearly 10 minutes, had to take out the battery to cancel. Even if it only writes at 1MB/s, still seems like it should have finished in that time frame, based on the file size. ?? I tried the same test with my Sandisk 30MB/S card and had no problems, with the card access light only on a few seconds after I finished shooting. The High Speed 1 and High Speed 2 are just nuts, crazy fast frame rates, I got 7-15 FPS. But as these are in between 720P and 1080P (1280 x 960), nothing too special or extraordinary.

9. File deletion is extremely fast, much faster (5X?) than my Panasonic FZ28 with the same resolution (which itself was much faster than my Z10 with only 3.1MP). This was true with my old 2GB no class memory cards or my Sandisk Class 10 30MB/S card.




CONS:

1. The camera body is way too small for my big hands. I'm still trying to figure out a way to hold it where it doesn't feel like I'm going to drop it at any moment. It desparately needs a grip on the right side, and I already have one on order. But seriously Olympus, you couldn't include a $5 piece of rubber/plastic/metal on your $500 camera, or make at least part of the body from something other than slippery metal? Tsk tsk. Since my arms/hands aren't stable enough for clear one handed shooting with this body, I'm still trying to figure out where to put my left hand. There's far less space to grip on the left side, a situation that's only worse if you want to use the built-in flash or add a viewfinder. Really poor ergonomics, but I guess that's what people want, or maybe they are selling these only to kids? I'm really going to miss my two superzooms in this regard. Too bad the my XZ-1 and Z10 can't have a baby.

2. Self timer deactivates after you take a shot - you have to go back in and re-enable it for each shot. Though to be fair, my Konica and Panasonic had the same flaw. What's up with that? It wouldn't be so bothersome if you didn't have to bring up a menu and scroll through four choices to activate it. I guess that's the price you pay for a super compact body with limited buttons - but still, why does it shut off to begin with?

3. Lens cap is nice, but rather loose fitting. Sure, you can't damage the lens by powering on, but it's also far too easy for the cap to come off inadvertently. I much prefer the squeeze on/off secure caps as on my Konica or Panasonic. Though to be fair, I can inexpensively buy an adapter tube and squeeze lens cap for not a ton of money, which I probably will do. Maybe the tube will give an alternate grip for my left hand?

4. Due to the body size and layout, it's going to be very tricky for me to take pictures using the built-in flash without blocking it, while still having a secure stable grip. I know, I can add an expensive flash on top, but honestly, I didn't buy this camera for professional photo shoots. I bought it for hiking, vacations, and other every day shots. I'm not going to carry a big heavy $200 flash around hiking, but I would like the benefit of fill flash every once in a while, and from my tests, the built-in unit should do fine for that.

5. Battery life thus far is nowhere near what's advertised. It's still early in my testing, but on only one battery depletion out of at least 10 have I gotten near what's reported for number of shots (320). I have so far used very little zoom and barely any flash at all - certainly far below the stress levels for zoom/flash as spelled out in CIPA battery life testing. Typically I am only getting about 150 shots per charge before the red flashing 'battery low' indicator begins. Sure, I can take maybe 20 more shots after it starts flashing - or not. This is the case with either the original 925 mAH Olympus battery or my aftermarket (albeit cheap eBay) 1400 mAH batteries. The other odd thing is that it will take the majority of shots while still showing the full three bars. Once it hits two bars, you have maybe a couple dozen shots before it's down to one bar and flashing red. So there's very little warning between full and dead. I'll keep monitoring this in case it's some fluke. The best I have done is about 350 shots, which admittedly is good, and acceptable. But again, that's with almost zero flash usage, almost no zoom, and barely any playback - so I should be well ahead of the rating.

QUIRKS:

1. When using any of the high speed modes (Sequential, High-Speed 1, High Speed 2), the resulting images are not viewable in the same manner as single shot mode images. The only way to view them is to start a slideshow, which involves many more steps than normal image viewing. Also, you cannot zoom in on them during the slideshow. They show just as normal single images on the card for transfer to your computer, so it's puzzling why the camera doesn't look at it this way. You also are not able to erase individual images shot in sequential/high speed modes - it's the whole 'series' or nothing.

2. Numerous times when I have come out from one of the high speed modes (doesn't seem to matter which one) to single-shot mode, the size/quality doesn't return to the level you had set before. You'd be advised to make sure you're still on Large Fine or LF+RAW, or whatever your preferred size, if you just used the high-speed modes.

3. Several times when I have switched from play mode to record mode (either using the play button or the shutter release button), the camera has taken a shot. But not always. I haven't figured this one out yet, and I can't seem to replicate it reliably.





There's been a lot of discussion about excessive noise reduction/smearing with the XZ-1's JPG output, with the resultant recommendation to always shoot RAW. I don't know if I have the computer speed or patience to do RAW, but what the heck, I did get this camera to improve image quality. Memory and hard drive space are super cheap these days, so I got a couple giant and fast memory cards along with a USB 3.0 reader (needed a new reader anyway). Now, looking at the JPG output so far, I'm not sure what I am supposed to be improving?!? It already looks excellent to me, far better than my other cameras. So what am I going to do with two memory cards that will hold about 3200 JPG images each?

As I said, I'll try to update this as I get more use with the camera. I'm going on a long highly scenic vacation in a couple weeks.

These images are straight JPG out of the camera, no modifications of any kind other than resizing/tiny bit of extra compression to make the file size limit. The second is a 100% crop from the first.

Cheers!
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Last edited by aaroncgi; Aug 24, 2011 at 2:15 AM. Reason: Adding battery life to Con list.
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Old Aug 3, 2011, 7:31 AM   #2
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Hi Aaron,

Congrats on getting your new XZ-1. And, thanks for posting your 1st impressions of it.

Your assessment pretty much agrees with what I've been reading about it.
And, you're right, seems like a separate grip assembly furnished with the camera for those of us with large hands would be a no brainer. Especially, since this isn't an inexpensive P&S

Looking forward to your images when you get back from your vacation.

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Old Aug 3, 2011, 8:21 AM   #3
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Hi: thank you for an interesting and well done analysis of your experience with the XZ-1. Very thoughtful and informative.

Before the XZ-1 was introduced, many folks had dismissed Olympus as kind of abandoning the point and shoot market to concentrate on their DSLR and Pen m4/3 products. Based on user comments, it looks like Oly has a winner. It is the first compact point and shoot with the prestigious Zuiko name on the lens. It would be nice if the price would drop, but demand and the weakening of the dollar are working against that for now.

have fun with your new XZ-1 and keep posting some more shots.

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Old Aug 3, 2011, 6:27 PM   #4
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I've never been one to follow the prestige of the various lens makers. They all sound fancy to me - Leica, Carl Zeiss, Zuiko, Schneider-Kruznach (say that 10 times fast) etc! As long as they produce great pictures, that's what counts to me.

I certainly agree on the price, though it seems online deals can be had for noticeably less than the $500 MSRP. I happen to work for an Olympus dealer, so I got a slightly better price, but only just.

So today I went ahead and ordered the Lensmate adapter tube, squeeze-on lens cap, and a polarizing filter. All should arrive in plenty of time for the trip. I'm hoping the tube will resolve my left hand grip issue, but if nothing else will protect the beautiful lens far better. I didn't even know Lensmate was only about an hour drive from me - always nice to support the local economy!


Aaron
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Old Aug 4, 2011, 3:33 PM   #5
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Ok, had a bit more fun with this last night and today. Don't have all the shots with me, but I'm taking more tonight and will post a few once I get home. I just wanted to say that I'll be adding to the Pros/Cons list on the first post as I learn more. I'm also going to add a list of Quirks - things that are not inherently good or bad, just oddities to my mind - or perhaps things that happen seemingly randomly.
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Old Aug 5, 2011, 1:35 PM   #6
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Ok, thought I'd have more time to get some good shots last night, but I didn't. I promise I'll get some shots other than my yard soon. For now, here's a couple more macros and a landscape shot from this morning. The first and third shots are full frame, the 2nd and 4th are 100% crops. Again no sharpening or modifications of any kind other than resizing/recompressing. I'm still super impressed at the quality of the 100% crops. The lack of noise and level of focus + detail at this light level just blows away my Panasonic at the same ultimate resolution.
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Old Aug 6, 2011, 12:10 AM   #7
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Thanks for posting these. I have also noticed the Olympus forum is relatively quiet. It seems that the Panasonic forum is the most active.

I have an FZ-35, which is currently up for sale. As you did, I expected that this would be a great all-round camera. Although I've found it a good camera and a wonderful learning tool, I have decided that the XZ-1 is going to be better for my type of camera work.

I promise that I'll contribute here when I get the new camera.
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Old Aug 8, 2011, 7:32 PM   #8
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I received my accessories for the XZ-1 and they've made a noticeable improvement to the grip issues. The Lensmate adapter gives several nice and stable options for the left hand placement, though flash will still be tricky. The tube is long enough that I can leave the lens cap on and power on the camera, very nice, and I never have to worry about the cap popping off when stowing the camera. The grip I installed is the Flipbac G1. It's a little smaller than I was imagining, but still vastly improves the grip for the right hand, and I think in good light I can now take clear shots one-handed. I went for the Flipbac as it's very grippy silicone and three times cheaper than the highly touted Franiec grip which Lensmate sells. I may attempt to design my own grip, as I'd still like one with a lot more depth to it. But this will do for now.

Olympus just said the VF-3 viewfinder is now in stock, so I placed an order for that. However, they say it needs new firmware to work on the XZ-1. They say the firmware is coming soon, but who knows exactly how long that will be.

I took a bunch of shots over the weekend and will try to upload some of the good ones later tonight.
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Old Aug 9, 2011, 12:29 AM   #9
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Default More pictures.

Here are a few more shots. Unfortunately the weather has been almost completely grey the past four days, in spite of a sunny forecast the whole time. Enjoy.

I am super impressed with the low light capability as seen by the racoon picture. This was obviously no flash, of our rear deck (which admittedly is fairly well lit). The only reason I can't get a perfectly clear shot of the critters is that they just move too much - they never stay still long enough when the exposure is 1/8-1/5 of a second. With any of my other cameras, this picture would have been a dark, super noisy, blurry mess, totally unusable.
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Old Aug 9, 2011, 12:32 AM   #10
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Default Few more, last for a while!

Probably will be the last before our vacation to Glacier National Park starting Saturday!
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