The Olympus XZ-2 is the latest advanced compact from Olympus. Its predecessor, the XZ-1, was well-received with its fast lens and good image performance. However, the advanced compact landscape has changed since the XZ-1’s release, with 2012 seeing a slew of alternatives entering the market. Most of these alternatives feature characteristics common to the advanced compact segment, such as bright lenses and manual shooting modes. It appears the XZ-2 has its work cut out for it; the camera doesn't only need to have impressive specifications but also have good handling and provide an enjoyable shooting experience.
Some of the standout features of the XZ-2 include a new 12-megapixel sensor and a 3-inch 920k dot tilting touchscreen display. While most of its competitors have similar or even better specifications, it would be unfair to just write off the XZ-2 based on specifications alone. For example, the Samsung EX2F has a faster lens compare to the XZ-2, while the Canon S110 has a longer reach of 120mm compared to the XZ-2's focal length of 112mm. But when it comes to a good compact camera, specifications are not the only deciding factor; form, handling and actual shooting performance are all important. So join us as we give the XZ-2 a spin to determine if it is a worthy alternative to the various options available in the market right now. But before we begin, you might want to also be familiar with the competitive landscape that we've briefly summed up here.
One thing you will notice about the XZ-2 is its size; it's bigger than its predecessor and some of its peers. Thus, you won’t be slipping this camera into your back pocket, though it is still smaller than an interchangeable lens camera. But due to its significant size, the XZ-2 felt solid and stable in our hands. While there's a fine line between between being too small for comfort and being too large for portability, we felt the XZ-2 managed to strike a good balance between comfortable handling and size.
Similar to the Olympus PEN series, there’s an interchangeable grip on the front of the camera. A thumb rest on the rear helps to further contribute to a firmer grip on the camera. Right between the lens barrel and the hand grip you have the Fn2 button as well as a lever.
Pressing the Fn2 button will let users scroll through the various settings that have been assigned to it, such as metering modes, AF modes and ISO settings. So if you have assigned five shortcuts, that means you will have to press the Fn2 button five times to get to the last function. We personally preferred to just assign one or two shortcuts to the button instead of having to repeatedly press the button to scroll through the various settings. Unfortunately Olympus isn't known for having simple user interfaces, so we suspect most users would rather assign more shortcuts instead of diving through a convoluted menu system (more on that in the following section).
By default, there’s some tactile feedback or "clicking" when you rotate the lens ring. But by flicking the lever on the Fn2 button, the lens ring becomes free-rotating and you can either use it as a zoom lever or to manual focus on your subject. If you’re shooting in aperture priority mode for example, turning the lens ring will adjust the aperture. Once you have set the aperture, a quick flick of the lever will allow you to manually focus on your subject by using the lens ring as well. Since there’s not much "clicking" or tactile feedback when manual focus mode is enabled, this lets you rotate the ring smoothly and achieve your desired focus faster, especially handy in macro mode.
This ability to achieve focus is similar to manual focusing on a DSLR, and will probably appeal to the more advanced shutterbug. We liked this implementation of the lens ring and found it very helpful to be able to adjust aperture and recompose the picture by quickly focusing on the subject. This feature, combined with the XZ-2's robust build, made it enjoyable to shoot with the XZ-2, until you have to adjust a setting through the complicated menu system that is.
So, why did we say the menu system is convoluted? The XZ-2 has three sub-menus that users will access in the midst of shooting; there's the basic shooting options, the advanced shooting options and one called the detailed camera options. Each sub-menu leads to another layer of sub-menus, and it isn't very clear which sub-menu leads to a specific setting or function. For example, in order to assign a shortcut function to the Fn2 button, we had to search through all three sub-menus before finding out that the function was located under the detailed camera options. Similarly, we thought ISO settings could be found under basic shooting options (in our opinion, adjusting ISO is a basic function), but it was also found under the detailed camera options. With three sub-menus to access during shooting, the shooting experience is less streamlined and might cause the average user to miss a shot in the midst of all that menu navigation.
On the rear of the camera you have the 3-inch 920k-dot LCD display which can be tilted upwards or downwards. Unfortunately the display doesn’t flip out sideways though. It was useful to be able to shoot overhead or low, though we found the Samsung EX2F's swiveling screen provided more creative options. The display is touch-enabled so users can set the focus point or even capture a shot by touching the screen. Oddly users can’t navigate menus by swiping on the screen, which left us looking silly after many attempts at navigation after snapping a shot.
Besides the display, there’s also the usual assortment of buttons for exposure compensation, drive mode and flash settings as well as the rear control wheel. Besides the Fn2 button on the front, there’s a Fn1 button on the rear too. However, the number of functions that can be assigned to this button is less, such as the ability to toggle the built-in 3-stop neutral density filter on and setting the Fn1 button as an AE lock button. There’s a video record button placed above the thumb rest, but its small size and placement makes it awkward to access. The XZ-2 has a built-in flash that pops straight out from the camera; there's no hinged support like the flash found on the Sony RX100, so the XZ-2's flash can only be used to fire straight ahead.
On the right of the camera you have the micro-HDMI port and the XZ-2’s proprietary port to connect the charging cable. Yes, this means that you can only charge the battery in-camera and unfortunately it’s not the ubiquitous micro-USB port, but a proprietary one. The XZ-2 also comes with a lens cap that doesn't really sit very well on the lens and will pop out if you happen to power up the camera while forgetting to remove the lens cap. If other advanced compacts can include an automatic lens cover, we don't see why the XZ-2 has to come with a lens cap that can be easily misplaced. Looking back, we had the same complaint for the XZ-1 and it's sad that Olympus hasn't improved on this simple design aspect.
All Olympus digital compact cameras do not feature built-in Wi-Fi, though the XZ-2 does have support for Toshiba's FlashAir (a SDHC card with built-in Wi-Fi) which allows you to send images from the camera straight to your smartphone with Olympus's smartphone app, OI.Share.