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Operation and controls

It's hard not to view the XZ-1 as a synthesis of the best elements of its peers, with its S95-style lens control dial, 1/1.63" high-sensitivity CCD sensor, fast lens and manual controls. In terms of specifications it is the class front-runner in almost every respect, and achieves this trick without being as bulky as cameras like the Canon G12 and Nikon P7000. Controls-wise it has most in common with the S95 and Samsung TL500 - two direct control dials for key functions but not a vast array of other external controls.

The XZ-1 also offers the simplified 'live guide' interface in the beginners' iAuto mode. This introduces a series of results-orientated sliders to allow control over depth-of-field, white balance, saturation and so forth, without having to learn about F-numbers and color temperature. It's a system that makes it easy to adjust an aspect of your photo if you're just trying to point-and-shoot (however you can only change one parameter at a time). We'd like it to give some hint about what it's changing, to help make taking control seem less intimidating to beginners, but it should still encourage a greater degree of creativity, which can only be a good thing.

Meanwhile, the XZ-1 improves on the PENs to an extent with a very simple menu system. It means the camera doesn't have nearly the (occasionally excessive) level of customization of those cameras but also means that, on the rare occasions you have to visit the main menu system, you can quickly and easily locate the feature you're looking for.

Rear of camera controls

The back of the camera is home to most of the controls and, as you can see, there's not a lot here. Flash, drive mode, focus mode/point and exposure compensation get their own dedicated buttons on the control dial but there's no function button and no direct control for ISO. More worryingly, there's also no control at all for AEL/AFL, effectively ruling out the focus-and-recompose shooting method.

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 shooting mode and cannot be customized.
Shooting mode Front dial function Rear dial function
Program ISO Exp. Comp.
Aperture Priority F number Exp. Comp.
Shutter Priority Shutter speed Exp. Comp.
Manual Exposure F number Shutter speed
Custom Defined by shooting mode 'C' is based on
SCN Select scene type Exp. Comp.
Low Light ISO Exp. Comp.
ART Art Filter Exp. Comp.

Top of camera controls

There are only four controls on the top of the camera - the power button, the shutter release, zoom rocker and mode dial. Like the E-PL cameras, the XZ-1 has iAuto point-and-shoot mode (combining the Live Guide simplified interface with automatic scene recognition). However, for this camera, it's the P,A,S, M modes, the Art Filters and the Low Light modes that are likely to be most-used - those that give most creative control.

  • iAuto - Intelligent Auto mode
  • ART - Use one of the camera's six creative 'Art Filters'
  • SCN - Manually select from the camera's 18 scene modes
  • Low Light Mode - Uses higher ISOs and open apertures
  • P, A, S, M - user controllable auto, semi-auto and manual exposure modes
  • C - Custom mode, based on P,A,S or M but retaining certain user-selected settings

On-screen controls and menus

Most control of the XZ-1's setting is conducted via the function menu, accessed by pressing the 'OK' button. This lists 12 of the most frequently changed settings, split over two pages. Most of the really key settings (ISO, White Balance, Picture Mode and Image Size/Quality) are on the first page. The menu returns to the last-used setting, so if you're trying to fine-tune flash output, you don't have to scroll up and down to find it.

The function menu contains 12 major functions split over two pages. On the first screen you have the primary options whose icons usually appear on the right of the screen.

Scroll down to the second page and you access the options usually ranged down the left of the screen. When an option is selected, its icon reappears on the left so you know where to check the status of the setting when shooting.

The XZ-1 also has the Live Guide simplified interface we first saw on the PEN E-PL1. This gives you an outcome-orientated series of sliders that allows you to edit one of the key shooting parameters - Saturation, Color Temperature etc. - with each of them represented as icons, rather than by name.

One of five key parameters can be adjusted in the results-orientated, iAuto creative point-and-shoot mode. There's also a guide with hints for taking certain types of photograph including pictures of children and pets.

Menus

The XZ-1 gets a new menu system that is both attractive and easy-to-use. This is made easier by the decision not to offer any of the extensive customization that the company's PEN series but the result is a good one. Given that most key settings are easily accessed using the function menu, it's not necesary to delve into the main menu very often. As a result of this, we think it could withstand the addition of a few more customization options and would also make just as much sense in the PEN E-PL cameras.

The menu system is very straight forward with four logically arranged sections. Most of the options are categorized either under the 'Camera' or the 'Settings' tabs.

The Camera tab has simple settings such as image sizes and bracketing options. Some of these are duplicated from the function menu but accessing Picture Mode or White Balance from the main menu allows fine-tuning of your desired setting.
The Setup menu is remarkably restrained by Olympus standard, with just the basic options to format a memory card or transfer images from the built-in memory (Backup).

There's a Pixel Mapping feature, which is always good to see but nothing at all in the way of button customization. We would have liked to have had the chance to re-dedicate the movie REC button for AEL/AFL duties.

Record review & play displays

There are three standard playback views along with the ability to zoom in to assess detail or out for a thumbnail view. Unlike the PEN series, there's no ability to have highlight and shadow regions flash for quick confirmation of under/overexposure (which can be particularly useful on bright days when it's hard to judge image brightness).

The main view can be seen with or without image number and date... ...alternatively there's an info screen detailing the camera settings used.
As you'd expect it's possible to zoom into the image using the zoom rocker. Pushing the other direction on the zoom rocker jumps out to a 5x4 thumbnail view.
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