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Olympus Stylus XZ-2 iHS Digital Camera Review$599.99
When we first heard that Olympus was adding a larger grip to the XZ-2, we couldn't have been happier. In general, we're in favor of these advanced compact cameras getting all the ergonomic help they possibly can. Smaller and lighter is all well and good as a design goal, but these cameras aren't likely to ever be pocketable anyway, so why not make them more pleasant to hold while you're at it? Strangely, though, the XZ-2's new grip doesn't really do much to improve the camera's handling. We almost prefer the camera without it (and that's a legitimate option, since it's removable).
The reasons for this are three-fold. First, the grip is really, really shallow. It doesn't completely fill in the gap between your fingers and the camera body when you're holding it, and thus it doesn't give a ton of support. Second, the grip stops just where your fingertips hit the body. This means that in the end they're resting on the flat, smooth surface of the camera anyway. Third and worse still, the positioning of the grip's edge and the toggle switch for the lens ring make it so that your fingertips come to rest awkwardly pinched between the two. So, in short, there's not enough grip, and what grip there is is positioned poorly.
Aside from the grip, we had a few other complaints as well. For one, the rear control cluster is tiny, and virtually impossible to manipulate one-handed. For another, several of the buttons are mounted flush against the surface of the body, which makes them quite difficult to find in dim light, or without looking. Finally, while the situation is mitigated somewhat by the addition of the dual-function lens ring, we still wish Olympus would bow to tradition and include proper front and rear e-dials.
So, now that the negatives are out of the way, what actually works with regard to the XZ-2's handling? Well, that lens dial, to begin with. The dual functionality is superb, the tactile feel of the digital (clicky) mode is great, and the damping on the analog mode is just about perfect. When using the analog rotation mode to zoom or manually focus, the response time and precision are superb. And while the ability to adjust aperture is less vital on a small-sensor compact camera, there's probably not a more satisfying way to do it than the method the XZ-2 provides.
Button tactility in general is also great, even from the buttons we criticized for sitting too flush against the body. You might have to hunt to find the right button, but once you find it you'll be certain you've pressed it. The layout is also logical and well thought out (aside from our complaint about the two-handed control cluster)—everything falls neatly under your right hand, which is ideal.
The tilting touchscreen LCD is another handling win for the XZ-2. The tilting functionality is very useful when composing outdoors in bright light (your body can shield it from the sun to minimize glare), and when you want to shoot at a low angle for a dramatic effect. It can also be tilted up to shoot at a high angle, though we found ourselves doing this a lot less often. The touch interface is well engineered, though frustratingly inconsistent. For instance, it can be used with the Super Control Panel, but not the default shooting menu overlay. It can't be used in the main menu, either.
Buttons & Dials
When it comes to manual controls, there have only been two big changes since the XZ-1. First is the customizable lens ring. The XZ-1 had a ring of its own, but like the implementations on competing cameras, it had only one function per shooting mode and was limited to a "clicky" rotation style. The XZ-2 one-ups it with a dual-function control ring that toggles back and forth between clicky ("digital") and smooth ("analog") rotation. The user can set what each type of rotation controls for each shooting mode, which opens up a whole world of customization.
The second change is the touchscreen. The implementation here is virtually identical to what you'll find on the latest Olympus PEN and OM-D cameras, allowing you to tap to focus or shoot, manipulate (some) menus, and swipe through or touch to zoom photos in playback mode. We're not the biggest fans of touchscreens on cameras, but in general it works pretty well here. It's not as good as what you'd get from the Canon T4i, which we feel sets the bar for touchscreens in this generation of cameras, but it's close.
Beyond these new additions, the XZ-2 maintains the course set by the XZ-1. The top plate features the hot shoe, on/off switch, zoom ring and shutter release, and mode dial. On the left of the hot shoe is the pop-up flash, which is released via a little slider switch just above the rear LCD. The back face of the camera has the customary control cluster on the right, with a four-way control pad also providing direct access to exposure compensation, focus area, drive mode, and flash settings while shooting in the PASM modes. Playback, menu, info, video recording, and a customizable function button are also found here. Around front, the only control is the digital/analog toggle for the lens control ring, which also features a secondary function button.
The XZ-2's rear LCD is 3 inches on the diagonal, like most high-end camera screens these days, and offers a resolution of 920,000 dots. Relative to the G15, it has a couple of big advantages. First, it can tilt through about 130 degrees of motion (80 degrees up and 50 degrees down), which can be a great help in composing shots. While we prefer full flip-out 'n' tilt-style screens, Olympus's tilt-only solution is nevertheless a big improvement over the fixed screen on Canon's G15, at least in terms of versatility.
Second, the screen is touch-sensitive. Olympus's touchscreen implementation on the XZ-2 is virtually identical to what you'd find on the flagship OM-D, and that's a very good thing indeed. It allows you to touch the screen to focus or shoot, and also to manipulate or page between images during playback. And it's a capacitive screen, which means it's extremely responsive (like any modern smartphone).
While the XZ-2 does not have a built-in optical viewfinder, as does the Canon G15, it can accept the tried and true Olympus VF-2 and VF-3 electronic viewfinders—the same EVFs that can be used with the earlier XZ-1 and several of the company's PEN-series Micro Four Thirds bodies.