The $99 Camera Review - The Olympus XZ-1

Reviewing a ten-year-old camera isn’t easy, you can’t compare it to something modern, and 2010 was a period of drastic change in the camera market. The Olympus XZ-1 floats to the top of a sea of compacts exceeding most expectations!

A few features of the camera caught my attention out of the box. Most prominently a 1.8 aperture Zuiko lens and a dedicated low light mode. I’ve had the pleasure of shooting prime lenses from the Zuiko SLR line, and some of the Stylus film lineup. They all hold a special place in the history of cameras. Despite the switch in technology, the XZ-1 reminds me of those lenses, delivering sharp images in varying light conditions, and a useful short-range zoom. At first, the dedicated low light mode seemed disappointing when reviewing images on the camera’s rear screen, but after importing my images to Lightroom I was impressed. Noise is easily reduced, even from .jpg files.

The aluminum body of the camera and clickable aperture ring provides a great tactile experience, and the camera is easily slipped into a pocket while you go for a walk or a hike. A simple USB charging port can even be plugged into a vehicle. Surprisingly, a hot shoe is even included! A few tests with a Godox TT350 worked well, and the ability to add some real flash power to your camera can go a long way.

The limitations which are typical of cameras this age are present, short-lived battery life, and the best results coming from exposure times of less than 1/500th of a second felt a bit limiting, but once again reminded me of my Olympus film cameras. Requiring a little more patience than some of the modern cameras available. The CCD sensor renders rich colours and works well in JPEG with the provided colour profiles. The “grainy film” effect and monochrome are a quick favourite. Even at its noisiest, the camera renders some really fun and interesting images.

The XZ-1 uses a global shutter, a far cry from today’s ultrafast electronic shutters. Requiring a steadier hand than I was used to was a challenge, but I had a great time previewing some of my film shots as I had JPEG files ready to go and I could track exposure and timing. I had to download the Olympus-specific software in order to update the firmware, which allowed me to use the additional viewfinder. The viewfinder doesn’t add too much to the shooting experience and interferes with the camera’s small size.

When it debuted, the camera went for far more than its current price. While its feature set was impressive upon release it still holds up. At $99 today, there isn’t much available in the same range. Compared to the used and new market for a compact, the X-Z1 is a bargain, and suitable for a number of shooters.

If you’re looking for a fun camera for a young relative or something to bring when you don’t want to carry a Mirrorless or DSLR, or perhaps something to bring along when shooting some film, or even a less precious camera to keep in a bag or the car, the X-Z1 could be a great camera for you! Limited quantities are on sale now at The Camera Store.

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Olympus XZ-1

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