Olympus Stylus XZ-2

12MP | 28-112mm (4x) Zoom | $550 (US) £425 (UK) €550 (EU)

The XZ-2 is a fairly significant re-working of the XZ-1, that was one of our favorite enthusiast compacts when it was launched at the start of 2011. The XZ-2 retains much of what made that camera good, including a well-performing lens that remains bright across its entire range. More significantly, in response to improved competition, the XZ-2 has addressed all our major concerns over its predecessors' shortcomings - adding more external control and greater customization, both in terms of controls and image processing.

The camera also gains a higher-resolution, flip-out touch screen and removable front handgrip. But these come at the expense of compactness and take the camera out of truly pocketable territory.

Key Features

  • Stabilized 12.0MP 1/1.7" BSI CMOS sensor (mm)
  • 28-112MM (equivalent), F1.8-2.5 zoom lens
  • ISO 100-12800
  • Dual mode (click/clickless) lens ring control dial and four-way dial
  • 1080p30 video with stereo microphones
  • 3.0" tilt LCD touch screen with 920k dots
  • 310 shot battery life (CIPA)
  • Hot shoe for external flash units
  • Accessory port compatible with VF-2 and VF-3 electronic viewfinders
  • Built-in ND filter
  • In-camera Raw conversion option
However, the XZ-2 also features arguably the biggest step forward in ergonomics since Canon's S90 introduced the lens ring as a means of adding control to this class of compacts - a two-mode control ring. The XZ-2's control ring has a click mode for controlling discrete settings and a smoothly-rotating mode for continuously variable settings. The result is a camera with a lens that offers more flexibility than a standard DSLR kit lens (with greater range and slightly more scope for blurring backgrounds), with at least the same ease of changing settings as most DSLRs.
The XZ-2 is a larger camera than its predecessor, having gained a large, flip-up touch-screen LCD. The additional bulk stops the camera being truly pocketable but adds considerably to the camera's versatility. A small switch on the front of the camera changes the lens rings' function between controlling two user-definable settings. In stepless mode it can control zoom or manual focus - flick the surrounding switch and it controls whatever discrete setting you've assigned to it (with different choices available for each shooting mode).
The flip-out screen offers a higher resolution than its predecessor, and will now flip up and down. It's also touch-senstive, allowing you to focus or fire the shutter, or interact with the on-screen control panel. The touch features can be disabled if you don't want them. The XZ-2 also offers most of the customization control of the company's flagship OM-D E-M5. This means you can set the preview image to warn of under/over-exposed areas (with user-defined thresholds), and use the company's Super Control Panel user interface, once you've mastered the menus' custom options.

The XZ-2 isn't the smallest or prettiest camera in this group, nor is it the largest or most control-covered - instead it sits in the middle-ground, offering all-round capability with plenty of customizable direct control. This makes it one of the most enjoyable photographers' compacts that we've used - it can be set up to provide the information and control that the shooter wants, with plenty of flexibility to tailor that to different shooting styles. As well as being able to customize the lens dial, the XZ-2 also has two Fn buttons, the second of which can have up to 14 functions assigned to it; pressing the button cycles through the selected options.

If you prefer not to take control and use the camera as a point-and-shoot, the iAuto mode will look after you well. iAuto mode includes the same touch-screen-operated, results-orientated Live Guide system as the company's PEN cameras, making it easier to control the camera's results, even if you don't understand the full implications of aperture or white balance.

Performance and Image Quality

The XZ-2's bright lens helps the little camera live up to the potential offered by its handling - it's able to keep using low ISOs for a little longer than most of its competition. There's every reason to think it shares its BSI CMOS sensor with the Nikon and Samsung models, but combines it with an impressive JPEG engine that produces very likeable images. The XZ-2's metering and white balance are dependable, to the point that you can concentrate on making the photographic decisions. The XZ-2 includes an extensive set of Art Filter processing effects, along with a post-capture in-camera Raw conversion option that's second only to the Fujifilm system in terms of flexibility.

Wide Angle (28mm Equiv.) Telephoto (112mm Equiv.)
The XZ-2 produces some of the most detailed images in this group, right to the corners of its lens (though it can't magically compete with the RX100's 20MP sensor). The JPEGs are a touch over-sharpened and, as with several recent Olympus cameras, we'd recommend turning that and the noise reduction down a touch. Chromatic aberration is a bit of an issue at the wide end of the lens, with this being one of the only cameras at this level not to correct it. It's a problem easily resolved if you shoot in Raw.
The portrait shot is excellent - a touch of warmth to the skin tone, a good separation of subject and background thanks to fine detail in the foreground and smooth bokeh in the distance. Sadly the same isn't true for the flash shot, where the XZ-2 has significantly under-exposed the result. The XZ-2 gives you control over flash exposure compensation and even allows the control of remote flashguns, if you have one, but that control and sophistication doesn't make up for disappointing flash metering.
The easy access to camera controls encourages the use of features such as different aspect-ratios (such as this 16:9 image)... ...while the in-camera Raw processing allows you to retrospectively apply (or remove) Art Filter processing if you've shot in Raw.

The XZ-2's lens performs well throughout its range - maintaining good levels of sharpness and corner performance, even with the aperture wide-open. Some lateral chromatic aberration can be apparent if you look closely at wide-angle images, but it's not particularly pronounced and can be avoided by processing in most Raw packages. The XZ-2's focus speed is one of the only areas in which it doesn't stand out in this group - it's neither the fastest nor the slowest, perfectly acceptable without being stunning. Overall the XZ-2's lens is core to its appeal - offering a useful focal length range with well-sustained brightness and solid performance.

Summary

The XZ-2 is one of the most capable all-rounds in this test, marrying a fast lens with a useful zoom range and a degree of customization that makes it quick and enjoyable to use. Add its good image quality and excellent JPEG engine to the equation and the whole package looks extremely tempting. Users wanting a viewfinder may not not be sold on the XZ-2 (though it's compatible with the VF-2 and VF-3 electronic viewfinders), and nor will people needing something that fits in a small pocket. For everyone else, it's only the high price tag that might dissuade them from buying what is an excellent camera.

Studio and Real-World Samples (links open in new tab)

Studio Comparison Tool Olympus XZ-2 Samples (33 images)

What we like: Excellent image quality. Fast, good quality lens. Lots of direct control and customization. In-camera Raw conversion

What we don't like: Flip-up screen adds to bulk. Flash exposure disappointing. Default JPEG settings a bit over-processed.

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