Friday, May 31, 2013

Olympus XZ-2 Digital Camera - Another Amazing Lens From Olympus

Olympus XZ-2 Digital Camera Reviewed by Dmiko on .

Having used the Olympus XZ-1 for several months, I tried the new Olympus XZ-2. Larger and more refined-looking, this camera improves on the XZ-1 in several areas. While the amazing lens of XZ-1 didn’t change, the sensor did. The former is a good thing as it is 28mm at wide angle, has a large aperture, optical image stabilization and is very sharp. The latter is now a 12-megapixel 1/1.7-inch backlit CMOS sensor. 

About the Olympus XZ-2 
The Olympus XZ-2 is a 12-megapixel digital camera with a 4x zoom, 28-112mm equivalent zoom range, f/1.8 maximum aperture at wide angle (f/2.5 at telephoto), optical image stabilization, a 3-inch articulating OLED display with 920,000 pixels, up to 1080p HD video mode and an accessory shoe. The minimum aperture is f/8 at wither wide angle or telephoto. The camera has a removable grip.

The camera is powered by a rechargeable Li-Ion battery and stores pictures and videos on SD/SDHC memory cards. It has full manual control, aperture and shutter priority mode, art filters and a built-in Neutral Density filter (ND). It also has face detection and ISO range of 100-12,800. 

In the Box 
The camera comes with a small printed quick start guide, but the full manual is on the included CD, which I have not opened yet. The battery is charged while in the supplied charging station. The charging can take up to 3 hours, but upon arrival took less than 1. I inserted the 4-GB SD card I had, attached the straps to the lens cap and the camera itself and was ready to use it. 

Upon turning it on, the camera asked me for the current date and time, location and the language I would like to use for the menus. Just as was the case with the XZ-1, the f/1.8 lens and optical image stabilization allowed me to take reasonable pictures indoors with no flash. 

Similar, if not the same, as the lens in the XZ-1, the lens in XZ-2 is bright, allowing you to shoot in low light with relatively low noise. It is also very sharp. Unlike most cameras that exhibit blur in corners of the frame, this one is sharp corner to corner at wide angle at all apertures and is only slightly blurry in corners at full telephoto and its widest aperture of f/2.5.

In JPEG mode, the barrel distortion at wide angle is very mild and pincushion is low at telephoto. In RAW mode, there is more barrel distortion at wide angle, so apparently the image processor compensates for some barrel distortion when writing the JPEG file. 

The XZ-2 has some purple fringing at both wide angle and telephoto in the corners in the areas of high contrast. 

As most zooms, this lens behaves best in the middle of the zoom and aperture range, but even at very wide angle and f/1.8 it was sharp and therefore detailed. One issue with such a big lens though is flare. And unlike some mega-zoom models from Panasonic, there is no lens hood included. Plus you have to buy an adapter to use filters, although I found one for my XZ-1 for only $7 and it works for the HZ-2 as well. The only caveat is it does not allow you to use itself at full telephoto, unless you also buy an extension ring.

Ease of Use 

The XZ-2 is very well built and has solidly-feeling controls, but it is moderately sized and not light. It is even larger and slightly heavier than the XZ-1, which was not light or compact to begin with. You would not be putting it in a pocket. But this is the price you have to pay for having a camera that looks and feels substantial, plus for having an articulated LCD.

My gripe with the Olympus XZ-1 was that it didn’t have a well-defined grip, which made holding it slightly awkward. The XZ-2 comes with a removable grip that solves the problem. And otherwise, the controls are well laid out and the 3-inch screen is not only large, but has very high resolution. It is bright and easily viewed from any angle, plus it tilts so you don’t have to look at it at an angle most times. 

The top deck has a rotating mode selector with Auto, Program, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Art effects, Scene modes, etc. The large screen has enough real estate to show you all shooting parameters, settings, live histogram, etc. and have enough space for framing your subject. 

Settings are changed by rotating the ring around the lens, rotating the small ring around the control buttons on the back panel or pushing the said buttons. Sometimes it is not clear which does what. One improvement that was made was to add a mechanical switch to the front of the camera to switch the front ring around the lens between two modes. In one, the ring rotates freely. In the other, there are detents and the ring “clicks” through them. 

There is no viewfinder (although you can buy and attach an electronic viewfinder (EVF). And the lens cap has to be removed and recapped manually. That is probably due to the size of the lens. There is a cheap third-party extension tube with doors that lens pokes through when the camera is turned on, reducing the need to re-cap it.

The camera powers up fast, in less than 2 seconds. Same applies to the shutdown. I could take pictures with no flash about once a second. And the battery lasted over 170 shots so far and is still going strong.

Formats, Settings and Modes 
You get a choice of several resolutions and 2 compression levels for each (Fine or Standard). You also get a choice of saturations, with Natural being default. Natural is not something I expected Natural to be. From using Fuji cameras, I am used to Natural being soft, muted colors. In the case of this Olympus though, Natural means pleasing to the eye with saturated colors, enhanced blues and reds. But there are other modes for muted colors, vivid colors and even monochrome. 

There are also art filters, including the one that looks like black and white grainy film and another for soft focus. 

There is an Auto Gradation setting that helps preserve shadow detail in harsh light. It works very well. 

The flash is extended when you slide the corresponding switch. The flash is slightly uneven at the wide angle and slightly dim at telephoto as well as in most shots indoors where I used automatic settings. But you can adjust the flash output to compensate. Plus it is useful to have a slightly dim flash if you want to combine available light with the flash. The flash recycles in about four seconds. 

There is strong detail and low noise at ISO 100. Some chroma noise visible at ISO 200 in very low light, but not in moderate to bright light. ISO 400-800 result in more noise and less detail. Fortunately, with wide available apertures and sensor-shift optical image stabilization, there is normally little need to venture into higher ISO range. There is ISO up to 12,800 available, but I dare you to get anywhere close to it.

The camera has automatic focusing as well as manual focusing. The automatic focusing is aided by face detection and by AF-assist light in low light. It has little trouble focusing in low light. 

With 12 Megapixels of resolution and relatively low noise, you can print up to 13x19 at ISO levels up to ISO 400 with good results. 4x6 prints are okay up to ISO 1,600. I wouldn’t go higher than that, but you can if you absolutely have to.

USB Interface 
The USB 2.0 interface on the camera is very fast. I measured it and it was close to 8 MB/sec. I usually prefer to use the card reader though because it does not discharge the camera’s battery and doesn’t make you plug any cables into the camera, but with this camera, USB is not a bad option. Not only can you get fast transfer rates, but the USB also charges the camera while connected to the computer. 

Additionally, the camera supports wireless photo transfer with Eye-Fi and Flash Air memory cards, which I have not tried.

Pros: Excellent lens, sensor, large LCD, great build quality, looks and performance, convenient to hold.
Cons: Not compact, filter adapter sold separately, expensive.

Bottom Line 
The Olympus XZ-2 is an excellent, albeit expensive, camera. Although it is not pocket-able, it is still more compact than an SLR and produces pictures that are of better quality than the compact models. It has all the flexibility I need, including full manual control, ND filter and RAW mode. And now, it is finally convenient to hold.
Rating: 5 stars out of 5.

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