Thursday, February 20, 2014

Peaking Olympus

Well, I've finally gone and done it. I bought a camera, and I did so with electronics shopping skill, waiting, watching, nabbing a good camera for a good price (and it's still available). Buying this way, of course, means that a newer model is about to succeed the current one, but I do not foresee too much in the way of improvements in this camera segment. 

Competitors include the G16 and S120 Canons, the P7800 Nikon, and the Panny Lx7. I went for the Olympus XZ-2, a risk (I'm familiar with Canons) that I was willing to take at this price point. The thing about these cameras, maybe all cameras, is that they all seem to exclude some feature I really want or need, include features I can do without, or have some nagging performance glitch. I begin to wish I can build a camera like we do cars, adding options for a custom build. Not yet (this guy is talking about it), so buying a camera is always a purchase with some compromise.

After using my phone for over two years, it takes getting used to sharing photos via download to computer, resize and retouch, and upload. The truth is, however, that mobile blogging has yet to meet its promise, and I can always use my phone for FB stuff. I will have the camera with me when the camera matters.

Here's what I like:

An articulating screen. The Olympus has one, albeit not the fully articulating screen of the P7800 (or Betsy's G1x). Anyone who takes pictures of plants wants to be able to get underneath them without laying on the dirt. A fully articulating screens allow you to do this in portrait as well as landscape, and that is awfully useful for plant shots. The Olympus screen compromises the portrait articulation, and this appears increasingly common on articulating screen cameras.

A bright lens. This is becoming more common on the newer high end, smaller sensor cameras. The Olympus is bright at F1.8-2.5, which I believe is only bested by the Panasonic. Better background blurring and better low light photography is the result.

Macro. The Olympus may have the closest macro of it's competitors. It's super macro mode can focus near one centimeter from the lens and that's great for someone photographing plants. The competition is also pretty good, and the Nikon glass might even show lower chromatic aberration. It's hard to go wrong with macro in this class of camera, and it is the macro functionality that drove me to fix on the small sensor segment as opposed to a large sensor Sony, for instance. I had a hard time wrapping my wallet around lens purchases (or $750 for a Sony RX100 II).

Customizability. The Olympus has it in droves. I can change parameters for nearly every function, including capping ISO in auto mode.

Fit and finish. The Olympus is an all metal camera, and everything feels tight and right. The zoom ring feels solid and secure (the ring on the Sony RX 100 always felt too loose and flimsy for a $750 camera).

Touch screen. For this one thing -tapping on a focus point.

Manual focus. I used to use that a lot on my last camera, the Canon A80. With that tiny 1.5 inch screen and button controls -what a chore. Now I can use the lens ring to manually focus as I would with an ICL camera. The lens ring doubles as a control dial with the flick of a switch.

Informative playback. The level of image information provided upon playback is amazing and customizable. To boot, there is an option for one second image review after each shot. Most bottom out at two seconds which I think is too long.

Good color and white balance. I don't go for the oversaturated colors of many point and shoots. Color is a function of algorithms now, and I like Olympus' take on the problem.

Fast Focus. Doesn't hunt for focus, even in lower light, and again, the touch screen focus point.

What I don't like:

Too small, too big. I think the Nikon P7700 (the earlier model, no viewfinder) would have been the ideal camera size or the Canon S120 for it's best-in-class pocket-ability (but no articulating screen). The hot-shoe is unnecessary (although I get it, really I do, however I would never mount a flash on a small camera like this, but thank you for providing a cover for it). The back right of the Olympus is a little cramped, especially with the screen articulated, the control dial is small and it's aggressive crenulations are wearing on the finger.

Zoom range. The Olympus has a range of 28-112 (35mm eq). I shouldn't complain about this because I understand size and sensor limitations. That said, I could have used the 24 wide (landscape) of the Panasonic and the 200 telephoto (birds) of the Nikon. My old A80 had a range of 38 to 114, so again, I shouldn't complain!

Panorama. The complaint is simple -it is not a Sony. Sony has the best implementation of panorama modes and no one can touch them. I use panorama, but I will use it less if its clunky.

Function 1. This function button has only limited functions that I can assign to it, while the front function 2 button has most functions assignable. Why?

Charging. Wish I could charge the battery outside the camera.

Sensor size. What? This camera segment generally uses the 1/1.7 CMOS Backside Illuminated type sensor. What's a 1/1.7 size anyhow? Well, it's a little more than a half-inch on the diagonal. The Sony RX, at more than double the cost, almost had me with its nearly 1-inch sensor and perfect panorama mode (but that dam flimsy zoom ring and high cost!). I would like to see Olympus make a compact, zoom lens camera with a 4/3 (1.33-inch) sensor. What a great camera that will be! Until then, 1/1.7 is the sensor size of the high end compact that isn't a Sony RX100, which I've stated again and again -costs too much (because it's the only game in town at that combination of camera compactness and sensor size).

I often read that Olympus charges way too much for its cameras in the same segment as its competitors. The XZ-2 listed for $600 when announced. Compare that to the P7700 and G16 at $500, the S120 at $450. Consider that the Olympus at just under half its MSRP right now, and it looks like a very good deal. 

I'm setting up my customizations now and looking forward to getting out to the beach farm and the garden soon.


  1. Have fun with your new camera....I've had a Panasonic GH1 for about 2 years and I've yet to figure out all it's bells and whistles :-)

  2. Very interesting. And congratulations!

    I really miss awesome macro. Perversely, my older Canon Powershots had better macro than the sophisticated S120. As you say, some features are abandoned in subsequent iterations, or glitches creep in. Frustrating.

    I like the bigger camera I use but I still hate - hate - changing lenses.

    Looking forward to your new pictures. You did so well with what you had.

    1. You flatterer you. It's hard for me to live without the articulation screen. Today was my first outing. Pics soon!

    2. Also, you might really enjoy the Sony rx10 or competitors soon to emerge. Great zoom lens with constant aperture on that sony.


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