Its design and features can easily make you think the Olympus XZ-10 is one of those high-end compact cameras that combine great quality with a reduced size. That seems to be the main idea behind this 500-dollar model that boasts an f1.8 lens. There’s only one delicate detail: The camera features a 12-megapixel CMOS, too small to provide an image quality capable of competing with the countless other alternatives on the shelves. There is a logic reason –we suppose- behind this decision, but it certainly jeopardizes this camera’s future.
Can a single detail in a long list of features negatively impact a camera? The answer is yes, if we’re talking about a key element (like the lens), specially if it doesn’t fit the impression the model conveys at first sight.
That’s what we first thought when Olympus revealed the XZ-10 a couple of months ago, and, to everyone’s surprise, didn’t opt for the classic sensor most high-end compact cameras feature (1/1.7 inches or bigger), but instead they decided to use a 1/2.33-inch CMOS, familiar to simpler cameras.
With such an aspect and specs, shouldn’t the XZ-10 be a lighter, more affordable version of the XZ-1 and XZ-2, without sacrificing image quality? That would seem logical, but its size and all the features and shortcoming we know so far make it hard to classify this camera.
This is very similar to what happened with Nikon’ Coolpix P300 and its later releases, until the Coolpix P330 featured a bigger sensor. Maybe Olympus should take note and not walk the same path.
But it’s already time to put our preconceptions aside and see what the XZ-10 is truly capable of, that’s the only way to clear our doubts and see if our initial fears were justified.
Good pocket design
Small, robust and discrete. Certainly a good start for this compact camera with pretty high pretensions. Its chromatic design, textured surface and small body also help to form a good cover letter, although the best component is the frontal ring.
Its function can be adjusted with each shooting mode, but the most logical thing to do is to manually control with it the aperture and the diaphragm. The Function (“Fn”) button is also worth noticing, as it allows the user to adjust and configure many different settings. Combining the use of it with the frontal ring is practical and very comfortable.
Both the design and the operation of the camera are excellent, as well as the touch screen. Similarly to many other Olympus models, the 3-inch 920k-pixel touch screen can be used to select the focus point and –if activated- act as a shutter button. Also, in iAuto mode, a menu allows the user to control every aspect of the picture with easy and simple touch controls, a feature designed for rookie photographers.
It would have been nice, however, if we had on-screen electronic level, and the idea of a USB charger for a camera of these characteristics still doesn’t fully convince us.
We like the design, the operation and generally speaking how fast the XZ-10 is. Taking a picture is an almost instantaneous process, and toggling focus points is quick enough, though it’s not flawless nor it is the fastest option in the market, specially when used in environments with changing levels of ambient light.
It can shoot at 5 frames per second at the maximum resolution, for an unlimited time if you’re saving the pictures as JPEG. If you’re shooting in RAW, however, you’ll be much more limited, because the camera can only take 4 pictures before the buffer starts suffering. On the other hand, the high-speed mode shoots at almost 20 frames per second, but the size of the pictures has to be reduced.
Undoubtedly, the best characteristics of the XZ-10 are its zoom, a bit more powerful than the average compact camera’s (26-130 millimeters), and its luminosity of fl. 8-27, a nice feature for those who are accustomed to bigger and more powerful lenses. If it’s about balance between power and size, the Olympus XZ-10 looks convincing.
Its performance in regards to distortion is decent –though chromatic aberrations are present-, and the luminosity it offers combined with the mechanic image stabilizer is a very effective combo to work in places where ambient light is dim without increasing the camera sensitivity (something you’re better off avoiding, frankly.)
Why is the sensor so small?
Compared to the XZ-1 and the XZ-2, the XZ-10 is notably smaller, even though it features a touch screen as well. How is it possible for a camera to be so undersized and yet offer great zoom and luminosity performances?
The answer is, it isn’t really possible, sadly. Like we said, the XZ-10 features a 1/2.33-inch CMOS, unlike the XZ-2’s 1/1.7 sensor. All this talk about numbers and sizes may seem confusing, but the basic idea is very simple: the image quality is directly affected by the sensor size.
And in XZ-10’s case, it shows. It’s not like it doesn’t give good results, its luminous lens and decent 12-megapixel resolution offer an image quality that is adequate for most situations. For most users, it will be more than enough.
However, if we compare the XZ-10 with other, more advanced compact cameras on the market, its shortcomings become terribly noticeable. Despite its 400 ISO, the battle is lost the moment you compare its noise control and dynamic range capabilities with other models’.
Shooting in RAW helps a bit if you post-process your pictures, but the camera’s limits are there. Not everything is bad news, though; shooting in JPEG is not only faster but also offers great colors and sharpness.
Video and filters
Although it features robust manual and advanced modes, the XZ-10 does not leave aside automatic modes. Besides the aforementioned iAuto mode and the widely-known artistic filters, this camera can also combine several images into a single final picture. A nice feature for those who don’t want to spend time post-processing their pictures.
Two examples of compositions that can be created with the Olympus XZ-10.
Also, the XZ-10 can record Full HD 1080p video at 30 frames per second, with stereo sound. Though we can add a lot of the filters to the recording, there is no option to turn on manual controls or plugging an external microphone.
The results aren’t bad, but not exceptional either. In short, video recording takes a secondary role with this camera.
The good and the bad
Choosing a new camera is all about sacrificing some features to get other ones. It’s impossible for a compact camera to excel at everything or suit all your needs, so you have to define your priorities.
In our opinion, Olympus has done a confusing job in this regard. The XZ-10 is a compact camera with interesting features, capable of giving decent results, but it falls short if you compare it to other XZ series models, particularly the XZ-2.
Between image quality and a small size, Olympus has opted for the latter, as well as further sacrificing the former in favor of featuring a luminous zoom. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s something to have in mind.
With features such as its f1.8 and 26-millimeter lens, its quick and easy operation -one of the best we’ve seen in compact cameras- and its background defocus, which can be achieved with 130 mm focal and aperture of f2.7. the XZ-10 is certainly tempting.
Still, it’s hard to imagine who would be interested in this model. For those who want something small and simple, an older compact camera would probably be a better, more affordable choice.
And those looking for better image quality would have even more options, considering the price of the XZ-10. Even the XZ-2 is within its price range, and if you’re looking for something small, Canon’s PowerShot S110 is only just slightly bigger and has more features (though its zoom is still not as luminous as the XZ-10’s.)
Time will tell if there is a market for a model like this or if, like the Nikon Coolpix P300, sacrificing image quality for a small size will always backfire.