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Outback Photo Handbook: Cameras

Olympus XZ-1


field notes by Uwe + Bettina Steinmueller


Note on image processing

As usual we work only with raw files. Images were all converted in Lightroom 3.4.

All images are also treated with DOP Optimal Snap and sharpened with our DOP Optimal Sharp scripts (no sharpening in Lightroom). All B&W conversions were performed with Nik Software Silver Efex Pro 2.

About our Field Notes

We call this Field Notes because we do not perform rigid systematic reviews like e.g. DPReview. We share observations from our field sessions and sample images in higher resolution (in the SmugMug gallery you can change the resolution). A field session means that we aim for photographs that we can use for our artistic work. We are quite selective in our use of these cameras:

  • Always only use Raw images if available and do not often look at JPEGs
  • Use good lenses and hardly the kit lenses
  • Rarely use flash
  • Do not use in camera filters because we always do these things in post processing

We try to photograph often the same scenes with all the cameras which allows you to compare the results from different cameras.

Why not the full sized images? We always try to get images that may end up in our portfolios. Images at full resolution would make it hard for us to protect our copyright.

All our images are processed from Raw and maybe sometimes manipulated (e.g. cloned elements or Texture Blended).



We did not check out any P&S camera for a long time. Then with the Ricoh GXR and the S10 module we realized how nice the image quality can be from such a camera. We then started to compile a list of features we want to see in a P&S camera to work for us.

  • Allow to record Raw images
  • Good quality zoom with a useful range
  • Not really regretting that we did not take the bigger gear (means nice image quality). With the iPhone we got nice images in the past but it is never feels like a real camera (the quality of the results is not much predictable and of course the lens is very limiting).
  • Good eye level viewfinder (means EVF).
  • Fine to use

About composing with the LCD

We don't like to compose images on the LCD because of:

  • Instable holding position
  • Makes concentrating on a good framing hard
  • LCD in bright sunlight is always a nightmare

About Size

If we think about camera size we always also consider the lenses to carry with us. Some bodies maybe quite small but adding the right lenses makes them so much bigger. You cannot just compare the XZ-1 to a m43 camera with a kit lens. The kit lenses are very slow and also feature only a 3x zoom range.

You may think there are quite a few cameras that would be a good choice for us. It turns out the list of candidates is pretty short (at least with brands we know quite well).

  • Canon PowerShot S95: No EVF
  • Canon PowerShot G12: We find the optical viewfinder of little use
  • Nikon Coolpix P7000: no EVF
  • Ricoh: GXR with S10 module
  • Panasonic LX5
  • Olympus XZ-1

For us it came down to the LX5 and XZ-1. We compared the EVFs: the Panasonic EVF on a GF1 and the Olympus EVF on the XZ-1. We find the quality of the Olympus EVF quite a bit better than the Panasonic offering (also nearly double the price though). In the end only the Olympus XZ-1 was an interesting candidate for us.

We performed most of the tests with a loaner camera from Olympus. Now we bought our own Olympus XZ-1. We actually plan to talk about our different camera/lens sets in future articles. The XZ-1 is now our always-with-us camera.

Olympus XZ-1

What we like

  • Compact
  • Very good and fast zoom
  • Zoom range is excellent (28-112mm 35mm equivalent, we like that range)
  • Very usable macro and close up mode
  • User interface is fine for us
  • LCD fine
  • EVF some of the best we know. Yes, the EVF makes the camera more bulky but this would not be a camera for us without the EVF.

  • Solid build quality
  • Nice handling for such a small camera
  • Built-in ND filter for bright light (very nice to have if you want to shoot e.g. f/2.8 at bright light)
  • Usable AEB (auto exposure bracketing).

Could be improved

  • If you turn the camera on the lens cap falls off (maybe into the dirt on the ground. There is no real good place to store the cap. We now use a third party auto lens cap we got from eBay.

For some this may look a bit funky but it is exactly what we wanted.

  • ISO setting is buried in a menu. We have the camera most of the time in Auto-ISO so it is not much of a problem.


  • Charging is via USB. This is a positive trend for all phones because the battery is mostly built-in. But if you have a camera with multiple batteries you don't want to block the camera just for charging. We ordered an original Olympus external battery charger and a spare battery. Both are reasonable priced and so the case is closed. We do not use our spare batteries that often but we just feel better to have one just in case.


That a camera is small is great for carrying it around. But holding a lager camera in your hands is better for shooting. That is why we often use the XZ-1 with our Zacuto grip. The grip is fast to attach via a very small camera plate. We got lucky that we still can get to the SD card and battery without the need to remove the plate.

XZ-1 with Zacuto Grip

Notes on Image Quality

The images show good detail which is of course also a result of the excellent zoom. In our experience all images from small sensors show some graininess (even at low ISO) on smooth surfaces and skies directly from raw images without any mild luminance noise reduction. We apply some minor luminance noise removal in Lightroom 3.4. Overall we are quite pleased.

Olympus XZ-1 Field Test Gallery

In our gallery you find all the images of this field test in higher resolution and many more. We especially like converting the XZ-1 images to B&W.




We find that the Olympus XZ-1 satisfies our criteria for a good P&S camera in all its aspects. We have a very high keeper rate from the XZ-1 and are very pleased to add these images to our portfolios. Our essential gear set just got smaller. Because we are two people it also makes it much easier to cary a second camera.

We like the Olympus XZ-1 so much that we added it to the recommended gear in our Gear Store.





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