Olympus Stylus XZ-2 camera
Olympus’ newest high-end compact is a minor upgrade from the XZ-1
- Bright, fast lens, close focus
- Generally good image quality
- Packed with controls
- High price
- No Wi-Fi or GPS
- Loss of detail at high ISOs
Olympus’ Stylus XZ-2 compact is about as advanced as a small-sensor compact camera can get. It’s great for enthusiast photographers who want to muck around with settings. Novice users might be daunted, but the XZ-2 is at the top of its class.
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Olympus really impressed us with the XZ-1 — it was a compact camera built around a great lens, with a good feature-set and plenty of controls. The Stylus XZ-2 builds on the same formula with an updated image sensor, a more easily hand-held design, a tilting screen and another control dial.
Olympus Stylus XZ-2: Design, controls and specifications
The Olympus XZ-2 is a compact, fixed-lens digital camera in the same vein as the or the Canon PowerShot G15 — aimed at enthusiast photographers, the camera has a swathe of easily-accessible and adjustable controls, a versatile and bright zoom lens, and a sensor that sacrifices pixel count for sensitivity and detail.
The XZ-2 looks almost identical to the earlier XZ-1, but it has a few exterior changes as well as internal upgrades.
Looking at the front of the camera, the same 28-112mm (equivalent) F1.8-2.5 zoom lens — that’s a 4x zoom — remains, but the knurled ring around the base of the lens is now used as a secondary control ring, for adjusting exposure or ISO or other shooting settings. The setting that you want to change can be adjusted by pressing the Fn2 button, also on the camera’s front — this button also conceals a switch, which can be toggled to let the control ring spin smoothly and work to zoom the XZ-2’s lens in and out.
The addition of a screw-on finger grip on the XZ-2’s front right face is a boon for one-handed shooting, as it lets the camera be held far more securely with the user’s middle and ring fingers. It’s easy to tack on or remove, but we preferred to keep it on 24/7 for a bit of extra grip.
Around the back and on the top of the camera, the controls stay largely the same, with a dedicated mode dial, flash/accessory hot-shoe, and pop-up internal flash alongside the standard rear controls. The most interesting new addition is a tilting mechanism for the 3-inch OLED display, which means the XZ-2 is slightly thicker than its predecessor but is more easily usable when holding the camera above your eye-line or at waist level.
The camera charges its internal battery through the USB port, so an external charger isn’t included in the package. We like this — it’s one less charger to take on holiday — but anyone wanting to buy and store a second battery as a back-up might find it slightly frustrating.
Surprisingly given the XZ-2’s high price and otherwise impressive feature-set, the camera doesn’t have Wi-Fi for wireless photo transfers or syncing, and no internal GPS for geo-tagging your photos. This is a surprising omission and while it won’t trouble most potential buyers, it is worth noting given that we’re starting to see these features in more competitors’ products.
Olympus Stylus XZ-2: Performance and image quality
The Olympus XZ-2 keeps the same lens as the XZ-1 but has a newer, more densely-packed CMOS sensor sporting 12 megapixels. It’s able to shoot in JPEG and RAW modes, with the RAW output in 12-bit lossless.
The camera starts up and extends its lens to shooting length in around two seconds — more than fast enough for the average user, and equaling most enthusiast compact cameras as well as entry-level digital SLRs. The XZ-2 focuses very quickly when it’s in its normal, non-macro shooting mode, and shutter response is nearly instant.
With a native ISO range of 100-12800, the XZ-2 can keep up with any other compact fixed-lens digital camera when it comes to low-light image quality and performance. Image noise starts to creep into shots at ISO 800, with the situation getting steadily worse until ISO 6400 and ISO 12800 only being usable in a pinch. Noise is generally chroma rather than luminance, and in-camera noise reduction isn’t especially heavy-handed, so it’d be possible to clean up JPEG or RAW photos a little with a bit of hands-on time in a third-party photo editing program like Aperture or Lightroom.
We’d rate the XZ-2’s images at the top end of the compact camera table, besting the Panasonic LUMIX LX7 and sitting underneath the larger sensors of the Sony RX100 and Canon PowerShot G1X. Any photo the XZ-2 takes will satisfy the casual photographer, but anyone looking for a secondary camera to accompany a mirrorless model or a digital SLR will be able to notice the unquestionably lower quality that’s symptomatic of all small-sensor cameras.
The XZ-2’s shot-to-shot wait times are around 1.25 seconds in non-continuous JPEG shooting, and 5 shots can be captured in a second in JPEG and RAW shooting mode — although only 4 shots can be captured in RAW before the temporary write buffer is filled. This is generally good performance that doesn’t present an impediment in day-to-day shooting.
As with the XZ-1, we noticed some barrel distortion with the lens’s wide end which isn’t corrected in-camera — this is exaggerate whenever you’re shooting with the lens’s excellent Super Macro mode, which lets you focus up to 1cm from your subject — excellent for hunting down detailed photos of flower stamen, bees, fine fabric textures, and so on. We’re willing to put up with this minor distortion given the lens’s versatile range and large maximum apertures both at the wide end and the telephoto end.
Olympus Stylus XZ-2: Conclusion
The Olympus XZ-2 is easy to use in its manual or automatic modes given the diverse range of controls it’s got, not to mention the adjustability of those controls. The new sensor offers around one ISO stop better performance than the previous XZ-1, the tilting screen is an obvious ergonomic improvement, and the screw-on grip adds versatility.
The price is an obvious impediment to the XZ-2’s success. It’s priced appropriately for its feature-set, but for a few dollars more (or less, sometimes) it’s possible to get a mirrorless camera from Panasonic, Samsung or even Olympus itself with a better and larger sensor and a wider range of interchangeable lenses. If you want an all-in-one, though, the XZ-2 is one of the best.
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