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Olympus Stylus XZ-2 iHS Digital Camera Review$599.99
Low Light Performance
With its poor noise-handling characteristics, the XZ-2 probably won't be anyone's go-to camera for low-light shooting. Up through ISO 800, results are generally pretty good, but beyond this point image quality starts to deteriorate quickly. Combine this with the sensor's mediocre low-light sensitivity capabilities (see the Video: Low Light Sensitivity section below) and you have a recipe for sad shots in dimmer lighting situations.
It would appear that the only real negative of the XZ-2's switch from CCD to CMOS is its noise performance, which, to be honest, is really pretty bad. While the XZ-1 was among the best of its generation, the XZ-2 lags behind its contemporaries and even its predecessor (up to a point).
The XZ-2 includes settings for both Noise Reduction (in reality, long-exposure noise reduction) and Noise Filter (high-ISO noise reduction). The latter is what most people think of as NR, so you can file this away as just another in Olympus's long history of strange menu decisions. The default setting for Noise Filter is Standard, but Off, Low, and High options are also available. Using the default setting, noise levels start at 0.80% at ISO 100. They hit 1.22% at ISO 400 and stay below 2% until ISO 6400, maxing out at 2.13% at the top ISO setting of 12800.
However, those numbers don't tell the whole story. With NR Off, noise levels exceed 2% starting at ISO 400 and max out at 4.79% at ISO 6400 before dropping again at ISO 12800 due to a sheer lack of detail. This indicates that the "Standard" NR setting is doing some very heavy lifting—an impression confirmed by our test scene crops, which look really, really awful at the top two ISO settings. On the whole, we can't recommend shooting anything above ISO 800 if you want to preserve a reasonable amount of fine detail. ISO 1600 and 3200 shots will look okay when resized for the web, but 6400 and 12800 are right out. More on how we test noise.
The XZ-2 lets you adjust ISO settings in 1/3 stops all the way through its sensitivity range, giving you a total of 22 options from the base setting of ISO 100 through the maximum of ISO 12800. You can also select automatic ISO control, and the camera lets you set the Auto ISO mode range limits through its Custom Menu.
In good light, the XZ-2 focuses quickly and very accurately, though it will often fail when trying to lock on to low-contrast targets. To a certain extent, this characteristic is shared by all contrast-detect autofocus systems (and therefore all compact cameras). However, the XZ-2 fails more often than some of its competitors (most notably the Canon G15). In dimmer light, it uses its orangey-red AF assist light early and often, but even so it often has trouble locking on when the illumination drops below a certain level.
The XZ-2's manual focusing action is superb for a compact camera, thanks in large part to a sharp LCD and the excellent feel of the "analog" lens ring. Sure, it would have been better if Olympus had seen fit to include focus peaking technology (which helpfully outlines the edges of in-focus objects), but we suppose we can always hope for a firmware update.
Video: Low Light Sensitivity
In our testing, we found that the XZ-2 required about 25 lux to achieve 50 IRE on a waveform monitor. The 50 IRE mark represents the BBC’s minimum acceptable broadcast quality, and serves as our bar for low-light sensitivity. By way of comparison, the Canon G15 hit 50 IRE at just 3 lux—a truly astounding achievement for a small-sensor compact camera. On the other hand, the XZ-2's performance is strictly mediocre, and that fact is reflected in its low-light stills ability as well.