Sorry Olympus. No big review on this one.

I hope people don't shorthand this article into a blanket denouncement of what might, for some people, be a good product.  But even though I've always been an Olympus fan this one's going back into the box and heading back to Olympus on Monday.  And in a way it makes me sad.  See, the images are really pretty good.  At least as good as the Canon G12 and the Panasonic LX 5 when shot at the base ISO.  And the built-in, pop-up flash really does a nice job.  The icing on the cake and the thing that tipped the product into the small circle of things I wanted to do a hands on test of was the ability to use the electronic finder from the Pen cameras.  I just knew I was going to love it.  But I didn't.

And most of it boils down to this.  The camera is too small for me to hold comfortably in my hands.  It's just to thin, front to back, and try as I might (an evening out and three days of trudging around downtown shooting as much as I could for hours at a time.....) I never warmed up to this little camera.  I'm only five foot, eight inches tall and I wish I had bigger hands so I could swim faster but if I did have bigger hands it would only exacerbate the problem at hand.......too little camera to hold on to.

With one of the thicker cameras you could quickly adapt a holding position that would allow you to walk down the street holding the camera in your right hand and pulling it up to your eye for a quick snap before pulling it back down and walking on.  It might be training but I feel like the G cameras and even the old, film Canonets had the grip ergonomics just right.

The menus, as usual, take time and mental energy to master and the dials and buttons are too small.  I hate the lens cap that pops off when I turn the camera on.  I lost it for about half an hour and so finally tethered it like a rank amateur at a Disney park.

I know a lot of people who profess to love their Canon s95's.  I'm sure they pull them out once or twice a night and take a quick photo of their friends and then throw the camera back into a pants pocket or purse.  If you are going to buy this camera you'll probably do the same thing.  Because even with the electronic viewfinder the whole thing is just out of balance with the way serious people shoot (maybe just me).

I know I'm going to get a lot of mail on this one so I'm going to defuse some of it right now.  No!  I'm not going to go out and shoot hundreds of test frames and tell you what I like and what I don't like about the images.  If I don't like handling it I'm not going to take the time to shoot it.

I'm not going to parse micro differences and split hairs in a comparison with competitors.  I'm just not going to review the camera.  If you like Olympus and you like micro dinky cameras this might be just what you're looking for.  I love the feel of the EP-2 and the EPL and I feel like the "Honey, I Shrunk The Kids" routine just went way too far on this one.

At the very least, if you buy this camera, you must buy some sort of aftermarket grip in order to use it with any comfort at all.


Alex said...

Shame, I'd be interested to have read a full review, particularly on your experiences of using it with the VF2.

The thickness of the XZ-1 is a bit bewildering - I think they got iPod envy and tried to make the camera body as soap-bar shaped as possible, despite the fact that due to the bulk of the lens, adding a grip would add nothing to the overall thickness.

I've added an aftermarket grip (Richard Franiec's), and while I'm not sure it makes a huge difference to the actual act of shooting, it works as you describe - I can carry it in my right hand and swing it up to take pictures. I'm much happier with the camera as a result.

That said, other than the grip the XZ-1 is a good fit in my hands. I'm about one inch taller than you, but I'm almost entirely leg and short arms and smallish hands. A uke player, not a bassist.

Maybe Olympus will pay attention to comments like this an integrate a grip in any XZ-2, much as Canon noticed everyone buying Franiec's G7/G8 grips and integrated one on the G10.

I suspect the compact market in a few years time will consist of bog-standard rebranded cheapos running off AA batteries, rugged/underwater cameras and prosumer premium compacts, which will look like the XZ-1, LX5 or S95. The bricky G11/P7000 style will die in the mirrorless revolution, and cellphones will consume everything else.

Anonymous said...

What did I say about the vision thing and not losing friends? No judgement, here. But you might be shooting yourself in both feet. Think about rethinking it.

kirk tuck said...

I don't get what you mean but I'm posting your comment in the hopes that you'll want to flesh out your thoughts and give me a clearer indication of what it is I'm supposed to re-think.

The camera has a good image files and, for me, sucky handling. Other than that.....huh?

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Kirk. You're da man.

I figure you're a strategic sort of guy who doesn't want to waste time with stuff that doesn't cut it. If there's an issue here it's neglecting to explain your vision and cutting people down. (Done it myself a few times and found that can close doors.) Here's my pitch: what if you used the review to explain your vision of where you see things going and bring Olympus in on that like a partner?

Not saying I'm right but sometimes a different perspective can show us better ways forward. Plus it might just be interesting to see what discussions or topics unfold if that triggers something.

Heh. Can't believe it. We're even the same height. Spooky. You sound a lot taller.

Jonathan said...

Hi Kirk

I was at a small gig last night and had my NEX-3 with me to snap away. Everywhere else I looked people were snapping away on their mobiles. That's where the mass market has gone.

I see no difference though in what the point and shoot crowd use though. They have always used the basic option that fits into their lives. That now is mobile phones.

I think 'photographers' will continue to use higher end compacts for now as they fill small basic options for them, such as small size and discreetness. But that market will shrink over time to perhaps a point where manufactures abandon them as they are not cost effective enough to develop for ROI.

One area where I don’t see them disappearing is in the zoom range as compacts don’t supply that function and I doubt they will in the immediate future, with a satisfactory result in form factor.

I am considering a purchase of the XZ-1. For me the zoom range with the aperture range is very appealing. I’m a keep the camera in my jacket pocket kind of guy so the grip is less of a issue for me. However, I would be buying the aftermarket grip and self opening lens cap to offset the cameras issues. I don’t want any form of hassle with a compact or I would just use my NEX3 or E-P1.

The other option that appeals is the Canon Ixus 220 HS / Canon Powershot Elph 300 HS. Truly pocket able, nice wide-angle and good (for a compact options) or at least for me who always likes a camera on me.

But back to your original point, if I had a decent mobile such as the iphone 4 with all the camera apps it has available, I doubt I would even consider a standalone compact..

PS, Great blog, since discovering it recently it has become one of my favourites with constant interesting work to read.


Geir said...

I think I got what Anon said: You really say nothing about the camera, jist about a kind of camera that are unusable to you, so just a meaningless gripe about a camera similar to all too many cameras of the kind. The impression you give, intended or not, is that this is a useless camera, while what you are saying, is that all cameras of this type are useless - a statement of which I agree, but not everyone agree on this and maybe feel a little let down, since they take this camera and its kind seriously.
But I get that you're not the one to do that job.

Christian said...

Kirk, thank you for refusing to post a "real" review! I am so fed up reading reviews of cameras gushing over image quality and some great features and completely forgetting to mention that they are impossible to use. (Yep, I'm looking at you, dpreview. ;-)

Cameras are so good from a technical standpoint these days that it is time we, the purchasers, put our collective feet down and start demanding useable cameras.

Sorry, I'll get off the soapbox now, but it had to be said ... ahem, written. Happy Easter!

Jim said...

One of the sad parts of losing local camera stores out here in the boonies to the 800 phone number/Internet sellers is that we can no longer handle a camera before buying it. My top 2 criteria for "what is the best camera?" are: 1. does it have the features you need to do the kind of photography you want to do and 2. does it feel 'right' in your hand. If a camera doesn't fill those needs, nothing else matters. It isn't the right camera for you.

Mel said...

I'm so used to good grips on modern digital cameras I have a hard time holding on to my OM-1 at times. Can't image handling a camera thinner than that!

I agree - the mid-market between smartphones and DSLR's is going to be a tough place to exist. Unless Olympus and their peers install a smartphone or WiFi in their cameras..... Did't I just read about a new SanDisk card that has WiFi capabilities?

mbka said...

I was interested in this one because of the pocketability. But perversely, after I switched from Contax (film) to D70 to eventually G1, for the size, I now think the exactly same thing as you, on one hand pocketability is nice, on the other hand it makes cameras unusable after some point.

I already find my G1 too small (pinky dangling->cramps) for a "main camera", it's hard to feel "serious" when using it. But at least it has some great features that many big cameras don't have, like the swivel screen that I now don't want to live without.

The odd thing is that the G1 is also too big for a pocket and that's why I thought the XZ-1 might complement it. Apparently not...

kirk tuck said...

Not to put too fine a point on it but I do really like this genre of cameras. I think the G series from Canon is quite comfortable to hold (at least the 10 and the 11) it's just that they made this one way to thin, front to back.

kirk tuck said...

Several have written to say that my review is too harsh and that I'll burn some bridges with it. I think Olympus understands the value of honest reviews. They want you to know that I'm not "bought". I am not on their payroll and not indebted to them for anything. I was interested in their cameras, used my money to buy them and wrote what I honestly feel about them.

Olympus in Japan is not going to take me on "in the role of a partner" to discuss any part of their cameras. They don't operate that way.

They would probably tell me that I'm not the target market for the camera and point to a group that adores it as proof.

But on a deeper level I won't spend the time on that because it's meaningless to me. I don't have time to keep up with all the stuff already at hand. It's not my job to be their marketing consultant.

I have no wide reaching evidence to back up what I say about the handling characteristics of a camera. And I'd rather spend my time shooting or writing.

George said...

Hey Kirk, I guess the chances of your reviewing a Casio keychain camera are slim to none,

Anonymous said...

Kirk, I like what you write and think you're a cool guy but your reply to my earlier question made me wince. It might play well down in Texas but European and Asian eyes can read things differently.

I'm a lot like you and I've known people like you. They can be very dedicated and inclusive but there's that dark side. Stepping beyond that one question I've have for ages is about the Kirk Tuck brand.

Photography is mostly a cottage industry. What scope do you think exists for turning Kirk Tuck the photographer into Kirk Tuck the studio? Maybe you're doing too much and need a biz and marketing guy.

The games industry used to be like photography back in the 1980's. Lots of bedroom programmers churning out shareware. Maybe it's just me but I think photography is at that place right now.

Danny Chatham said...

Love the new format.After over thirty years of dozens of cameras of most all makes I can honestly say I dont care how good a camera or lens for that matter are,if I dont like the way it feels,or even looks I cant bring myself to keep it.I think thats what you said.

Godfrey DiGiorgi said...

..."And most of it boils down to this. The camera is too small for me to hold comfortably in my hands. It's just to thin, front to back ..."

I had exactly the same feeling experimenting with this camera at the store. Where the E-PL2 is a comfortable small camera to hold, this one just doesn't make it for my hands.

Had exactly the same reaction handling a new Fuji X100 yesterday too. While I love the concept and the viewfinder is awesome, I didn't find it a comfortable camera to hold and shoot with; the E-PL2 was again a better pick for my hands.

John F. Opie said...

When looking for an easily pocketable (for that set of large pockets) camera, the XZ1 was on my short list, but picking it up and handling it: yikes! Too small & thin. Great lens, great jpgs, but two out of three, while not bad, doesn't do it if you can't hold it.

And I've got small hands. Went with a GF2 with the 14 f2.5: my younger daughter is in Japan and will be bringing one back with her in 2 weeks. Got it there for what the lens alone costs here...go figure.

Olympus won't hold it against you. Other camera makers might. Your mileage may vary.

Mal Wright said...

Once you put it in a leather two-piece cover, it is perfect. Flip off the top piece and its ready to go. The bottom piece of the cover provides a lot more grip than the camera alone. Costs less than $20 on EBay.

Neil said...

I have to agree with you Kirk. I played with one in the store, but one thing that I really did love and I thought was a plus in the handling department was the dial around the lens that allowed the changing of apertures, etc. I thought that was brilliant.

Dave Jenkins said...

I don't see how your review can be considered harsh. You don't say the camera is a piece of junk -- you just say it's not for you. Why should you feel obligated to spend more time with it? Those who want to read a review of this camera or that one can visit any of the sites that do in-depth reviews of everything on the market. I think it's rather arrogant for someone to criticize you because you choose not to review some camera that may be interest to them, but not to you. It's your blog, not theirs.

Getting back to the cell phone thing -- I think the run-of-the-mill P&S is a goner. My wife has an Olympus 7010, a decent P&S with an unusually good zoom range. But she got a Droid several weeks ago and I don't think she has used her 7010 since. She's all about taking pix and immediately sending them to her sisters and our daughter-in-law without having to download into a computer, etc.

I expect I'll inherit the 7010 in a few months. It will make a nice little shirt-pocket camera for times when I don't feel like carrying something even as large as the E-PL1.

Bold Photography said...

I agree with Dave here - the bottom end of the P/S market is in deep trouble. Phones with cameras (and now, with lots of various 'apps' to edit the photos) will mean that kids growing up today won't know what a p/s camera even is...

As for that specific Olympus, if you don't like how it feels in your hands, you won't use it. I didn't like how the 1DMIV fit, so I didn't buy it. Specs be darned....

Anonymous said...

DJ, the only criticism I had was that an opportunity may have been lost to tell a story on a broader canvas. I'll admit expectation was dashed after it first being mentioned. Beyond that I couldn't care less about it. A camera is a toy. A means to an end. Life goes on.

Kirk's given us a lot of latitude here. Don't ruin it by putting words in peoples mouths or personalising it.

kirk tuck said...

Play nice guys or the moderators will come roaring back.

Anonymous said...

Hey Kirk or anyone ....
Do you guy know where I can buy a mobil phone with a cam that come with a f2 or f1.8 4x zoom and as slim as a iphone and handle like a M9. Image quality not so important but must be slim and pocketable and handle well.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
kirk tuck said...

Anonymous. Yes, there is a camera called the cluelessflex. It's older cellphone technology but the pictures are nice and average..... Very fast lens and lots of megas

Anonymous said...

Just a note: You're welcome to putting your hands over your ears and letting some boring conservative asshole take a free pop. So I'm not posting again. No loss, I'm sure.

rodney said...

I guess all things with just a bit of moderation. I really don't see why people would get all worked up about what camera you think feels right and what camera doesn't. I wanted the xz1 be the next small camera for me (particularly because of being able to use the viewfinder from one of my epl-1's, but I found it a bit too small too. The g-11 is still gonna be my go to for swiss army knife, walk around, don't really have to carry much at all with you (even though I do use one of the video viewfinder thingis with it sometimes) ;)

Anonymous said...


Thanks for a handling review. I often see folks on forums (DPR, etc) recommending you go to "your local camera shop" to handle a camera before you purchase. As someone above commented, those of us in the rural areas do not have camera shops for this luxury. We actually had a Best Buy open here (Upper Peninsula of MI), so I thought I would finally be able to checkout camera I wanted to review. Unfortunately, they do not stock the higher quality cameras...so no luck there.

On the XZ-1 handling, it's interesting that Richard Franiec is making a custom grip for it, just as he is for the S95. (http://www.kleptography.com/rf/). Someone is listening to the market.