The XZ-1 is an undeniably attractive camera; in both its stealth matte black or glossy white finishes, it cuts a pretty classy figure. The design is understated with little in the way of flourish or adornment but there's still a reasonable level of external control thanks, in no small part, to the control dial around the lens.
This, combined with the smaller control dial around the four-way controller, makes changing settings very simple. Several key functions (AF area, flash control and drive mode) are available on the four-way controller while others are also fairly easily accessed - pressing the INFO button brings up a variation of the 'live control screen' function menu seen on the PEN series.
We're disappointed not to have direct access to the ISO setting in Aperture Priority and Shutter Speed Priority modes but the live control screen does at least remember the last-used setting, so will revert to ISO if you're regularly changing it. The other disappointment is the lack of any sort of AEL/AFL button, meaning there's no way to take exposure and focus readings from different points of the frame.
The sensor is a 1/1.63" CCD, a specification familiar from the Panasonic LX5. Unlike the LX5, the XZ-1 doesn't offer the multi-aspect ratio mode that retains the same diagonal angle-of-view for most of its image shapes. Rather than expanding to use different regions of the sensor, the Olympus crops into the 4:3 image size. The result is that it is exposing an area very similar to the 1/1.7" sensor used by many of its peers.
In your hand
Despite the lack of any protruding grip on the front of the camera, the XZ-1 still sits pretty comfortably in the hand. The control dial around the lens encourages a two-handed shooting style that gives a stable platform for shooting, while also leaving the right thumb free to use the rear control dial.
|The XZ-1 features the AP-1 accessory port that previously appeared on the PEN EP-2 and E-PL1, meaning it can be used to connect the excellent VF-2 external viewfinder, SEMA-1 external microphone or MAL-1 LED macro lights announced alongside the XZ-1.
The port is however not the same as that on the E-PL2 (which uses an AP-2 port), so it's not possible to use the newly-announced PENPal Bluetooth add-on.
|The headline feature of the XZ-1 is undoubtedly its 'i.Zuiko' lens. Even in a category of cameras with bright lenses, it stands out. It offers a currently unbeaten combination of range (28-112mm equivalent) and brightness (F1.8-2.5). Its maximum aperture stays better than F2.2 until around 100mm equivalent, making it brighter than the previously class-leading Samsung EX1/TL500 (which is F2.4 at its 72mm limit).|
|The XZ-1 features a 610k dot OLED display. The specification is identical to that of the unit used in Samsung's TL500/EX1 enthusiast camera. Close examination of the panel shows it appears to be using the Samsung-owned PenTile pixel arrangement too. It's a screen that offers superb brightness and contrast with better viewing angles and better battery life than LCD displays are capable of.|
|The small, modestly powered built-in flash pulls off a neat trick - the ability to remotely control and fire compatible flashguns. It's a unique ability in this class of camera and makes the addition of an FL-36R flashgun worth considering.|
|The XZ-1 offers two control dials - one around the lens and another on the rear of the camera. The functions of these two rings depends on the shooting mode and cannot be customized.
We found the rear control dial to be a little bit fiddly and slightly hard to move by the exact amount desired (as is so often the case with this style of control).
|The front dial, however, is excellent. Unlike the Samsung TL500 (EX1), the front dial is always used to adjust the principal parameter - shutter speed in shutter priority, aperture value in aperture priority.
This means there isn't perfect consistency when you move to manual mode (shutter speed has to move to the rear dial), but does mean that the better of the two control dials is used for the more important setting, most of the time.
|There's also a dedicated movie record button on the back of the camera. This makes it quick and easy to initiate video recording without having to select a new mode, and does so in a way that can help minimize camera shake at the start and end of your recording.|
|The XZ-1 includes an AF illuminator light on its front, which helps in the low light conditions in which the camera's bright lens can really shine.|
|The XZ-1 features a fairly small lithium ion battery (LI-50B) with a capacity of 3.4Wh. According to CIPA testing methods this will provide around 320 shots on each charge. This puts it between the Panasonic LX5's 400 shots and the Canon S95's 200.
The camera is charged using a USB cable, which has the advantage that you don't need to carry a charger with you but does mean there's no convenient way of topping-up a second battery.