Our First Take
Olympus’s latest XZ-series compact tries to preserve the quality of the XZ-2 in a body that’s nearly 40% smaller.
While Olympus has focused plenty of energy on updating and expanding its Micro Four Thirds lineup, its XZ line of advanced compacts has remained on an island of its own. The XZ-1 and XZ-2 are fantastic cameras, but the combination of a large 1/1.7-inch sensor and bright maximum aperture result in a camera that isn’t quite pocketable. Olympus’s answer is the newly announced XZ-10—a camera with a smaller footprint and a lower price point that still attempts to preserve what makes the XZ series great.
The XZ-10 is lightweight and stylish, with a design very much in tune with the XZ-series cameras that have come before: a physical control ring around the lens, a menu system similar to the PEN series, and the aforementioned large-aperture lens. The XZ-10 has not officially been announced in the US yet, but Olympus is displaying it at CP+ 2013 in purple, black, and white, with a multitude of other colors promised. Currently the XZ-10 is expected to launch in late February, with a European price of £349.99.
Design & Usability
Honey, I Shrunk the XZ-2
On the outside, the XZ-10’s styling and design are certainly in keeping with its price. The camera feels very solidly built, despite its light weight and simple operation. It has just a small oasis of rubber grip on the front, but the otherwise tacky body material is simple enough to keep hold of. On top, a mode dial sits beside the shutter release and zoom lever. The release has a smooth action, with an easy-to-gauge half-press for locking focus.
The back side features a solitary control dial, which rotates easily while also functioning as a four-way directional pad for navigation. Arrayed around the dial you’ll find buttons for video recording, playback, menu, and on-screen information, as well as a customizable function button. The rear of the camera is also home to the 3-inch, 921k-dot LCD, with touchscreen control that you can (thankfully) just ignore if it’s not your style. The LCD is bright and clear, and glare did not seem to be an issue despite the harsh lighting on the CP+ show floor.
The XZ-10’s best feature is the physical control dial around the lens. While the whole body is roughly 40% smaller than the XZ-2 (by Olympus’s estimation), the ring is still easy to manipulate on the fly. The smaller image sensor is likely to be a turn-off for those who want a truly high-end camera, but the availability of manual controls and a customizable function button really does give the XZ-10 a premium feel. Given that the camera is quite small, it’s about as much control as you could ask for.
A fast aperture and a control ring around the lens keep the XZ-10 competitive.
The XZ-10 is positioned neatly between the entry-level compact cameras and more advanced models such as the Canon S110 and Sony RX100. As such, it comes with a number of features to appeal to both serious photographers and novices. More experienced photographers will benefit from the manual and physical control on the body, RAW shooting, and a built-in ND filter. Novices can take advantage of the various scene modes and creative art filters, while everyone can appreciate 15 frames per second continuous shooting (4fps with RAW), 720p video recording at 120fps (240fps at 432 × 324px), and a minimum focusing distance of 1cm.
The real shortcoming of the XZ-10 is that Olympus couldn’t manage to fit a larger sensor into the camera while keeping the price and size down. While the 12-megapixel, 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor isn’t a dealbreaker, a larger sensor would have provided shallower depth of field and larger individual pixels capable of gathering more light. We’ll have to get the XZ-10 into our labs before we make any real declarations on performance, but it’s a disappointment nonetheless.
That isn’t to say it’s all bad news: The XZ-10 does come with an impressive array of features for such a small camera. Chief among these is the 5x optical zoom lens, with its 26mm equivalent wide angle and f/1.8-2.7 maximum aperture. While other high-end compacts offer similarly bright lenses at wide angle, the XZ-10 maintains a large aperture throughout the zoom range.
This is clearly where the sensor trade-off occurred for the camera: A lens this bright with a 1/1.7-inch or larger sensor would’ve resulted in a bigger, heavier camera—something they already have in the XZ-2. The real question is if the XZ-10 will perform well enough with its sensor to justify the high price tag.
The XZ-10 looks promising, but it’s already courting doubters.
While Olympus has certainly re-invigorated its high-end camera lineup in recent years, its (non-waterproof) compact fixed lens cameras have usually left something to be desired. The XZ-1 and XZ-2 were a shot of life for the Olympus brand, but it’s clear there’s room for growth beyond a single model line.
Enter the XZ-10, an expansion of the XZ series resulting in a smaller, more pocketable body that still maintains the styling and functionality of the company’s higher-end models. In shrinking the XZ cameras down to size, Olympus has preserved most of what made the XZ-1 and XZ-2 great: solid physical design, easy handling, an exceptional lens control ring, and enough creative and manual controls to keep everyone happy.
Of course, nothing in life is free; the XZ-10’s pocketability comes at the expense of a smaller image sensor. While a 1/2.3-inch sensor doesn’t sound all that different from the 1/1.7-inch unit in the XZ-2, it’s actually around 35% smaller. In our short time with the XZ-10, the camera seemed to tick all the right boxes for a high-end compact camera, but we know the smaller sensor already has many people dismissing it out of hand.
The real issue the XZ-10 will have to face is price; the high-end compact market is absolutely flooded with excellent models at the $400+ price point. While we don’t yet have official US pricing for the XZ-10, anything above $350 is going to set a rather high bar for a camera with such a small sensor. It’s certainly something Olympus can overcome, but we’ll have to hold judgment until we get the camera into our labs later this year.