The XZ-1 belies its powerful internals with an unassuming exterior. The front face is smoothly unadorned, except for a bold F1.8 plate on the bottom left. The body is tall but slim, not much larger than your average compact and comfortable in the hand. The XZ-1's lens is protected by a lens cap, which can be more troublesome than an automatic cover. However, the XZ-1's cap doesn't attach to the lens itself; it's simply a slip-on cover, which means that whenever you switch the camera on and the lens slides out, it automatically pushes the cap off. How convenient! Unfortunately, this also means that the cap can sometimes come loose in your bag and expose the lens.
The XZ-1 features a control ring around the lens, similar to the one first seen on the Canon S90. It gives you quick manual control whenever you're in Shutter or Aperture Priority mode, and in Manual mode it governs the aperture setting while a wheel control dial on the back takes over shutter speed. While the control ring works great, the rear wheel is small and fiddly. It's also flabbergasting that the rear wheel doesn't automatically gain shutter speed control while in Manual mode, instead you have to press up first to change shutter speed.
The rear wheel's d-pad also gives direct access to four different settings: up for exposure, right for flash, down for shooting mode and left for focus point, which is one of our favorite features. To tell the XZ-1 where to focus, simply press left, and then use the d-pad to select any of the 11 AF points that come up. Confusingly though, the left button also doubles as the macro focus control, and to get the XZ-1 to macro mode you then have to press left and press the Info button on the bottom right of the d-pad. Otherwise, you can access most of these settings plus others like ISO and white balance through the overlay menu by pressing OK that's in the middle of the d-pad.