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Olympus XZ-2 iHS Review

by Bob Atkins, December 2012 (updated January 2013)

The Olympus XZ-2 iHS is the successor to the Olympus XZ-1. The lens is the same (35mm equivalent) 28-112/1.8-2.5, but the Zx-2 adds a new 12 MP back illuminated CMOS sensor, a control ring around the lens, a tilting (touch sensitive) higher resolution LCD, 1080 HD video, stereo sound recording and more focus zones (35 vs. 11).

I’m not 100% sure exactly what the “iHS” designation stands for. “i” is probably intelligent, referring to the TruePiv IV processing chip and a new “enhanced intelligent auto” mode. “HS” is probably a reference to high speed which would encompass both the higher ISO capability of the XZ-2 over the XZ-1 and faster AF powered by the new processor.

The XZ-2 also has the name “Stylus” on the bottom of the LCD surround, so I guess it’s part of their Stylus series, though I’m not sure what (if any) significance that has.

Note that the camera reviewed here had pre-release firmware v1.0 installed. It’s possible that the cameras in the stores may have slightly different (updated) firmware.

Basic Specifications

Sensor 12MP CMOS
Lens: 6-24mm/1.8-2.5 (28-112mm eq.)
LCD 3" 920000 dots
ISO Range 100-12800
Video 1080 HD 30fps
Shutter Speeds 60s-1/2000s
Dimensions: 4.4" x 2.6" x 1.9" (113 × 65 × 48 mm)
Weight: 12.2 oz (346 g) with battery
Price $599

Controls and Handling

New on the XZ-2 is a “hybrid control ring” surrounding the lens. This is an electronic control, not a mechanical control, and can be used to adjust focus, zoom, exposure compensation, shutter speed or aperture. In it’s normal mode the ring has “click stops” and adjusts exposure related parameters depending on the mode. However there’s a small toggle switch which changes the function to a smooth (no click stops) focus or zoom control. Olympus call the click-stop mode “digital” and the smooth mode “analog”, but I’m not so sure those terms are strictly accurate! Though functions like “zoom” may be “analog”, it’s not like using a true mechanical optical zoom. First the zoom is in steps. Small, steps (I measure around 30), which may not really be noticeable, but still steps. Second the lens can only zoom so fast, and not as fast as you can turn the ring, so if you make a quick zoom adjustment you will see some lag as the zoom mechanism catches up.

In the center of the switch is a customizable function button “Fn2”. The Fn2 button can be set either to bring up a certain menu (e.g. ISO) or to cycle through a set of menus (e.g. Aspect ratio, ISO, white balance, metering pattern and about 12 others).

The other controls are fairly conventional. There’s a mode selection dial on top which allows selection of Aperture priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Program, iAuto, Scene and Art modes, as well as two positions (C1 and C2) for custom setups. iAuto is a super intelligent auto mode which tries to recognize what you are photographing and optimizes the camera settings for that particular type of subject (landscape, beach, portrait etc.).

Zoom is via a typical spring loaded toggle switch that surrounds the shutter release button. Zooming from 28mm to 112mm seems to be done in around 30 steps, which allows pretty precise control of focal length.

On the rear of the camera is a multi-way control button with a rotating ring which can be used to select menus and scroll through the items as well as control functions like exposure compensation. As with most controls the ring function can be changed and can be assigned different functions in different exposure modes. The default setting is exposure compensation in P, Av and Tv modes. It’s actually fairly easy to accidentally “nudge” this ring while using the camera and so accidentally add or subtract exposure. The display can be set to give a constant view of exposure compensation though, so it’s easy to check (if you remember…).

There is also a dedicated video button and a customizable “Fn1” button which the user can program to do a limited number of operations (chose one from AEL, DOF Preview, WB, Set AF area to “home position”, Digital 2xTC, ND filter, change the conversion lens setting).

Those familiar with the Olympus Pen or OM-D series menu structure will be better able find their way through the menu maze then those experiencing it for the first time. There are functions which are pretty deeply buried down in the 3 and 4th layers of the menus that are not at all intuitive to find. The manual is often none too clear either, but a thorough reading of it (several times) can provide some clues on the path to take and the sequence of button pushes and dial turnings required. The manual would be better if it had an index (which it doesn’t).

The XZ-2 is highly customizable, but that comes as the cost of significant complexity. Olympus seem to hide the stuff that might confuse inexperienced users, but at the cost of more experienced users becoming frustrated trying to find and enable some functions.

A potentially nice touch is that the grip on the camera can be removed. Hopefully someone might make a slightly larger grip for those with larger hands, Olympus make a larger grip (MCG-2) for the PEN E-P3, but it’s not listed as fitting the XZ-2 (which doesn’t mean it won’t of course – or that it will). Currently it seems that the three available alternative Olympus grips for the XZ-2 ($30 ea.) are the same size as that which comes with the camera, but instead of being black they are red, beige and purple. Hmm. Not really a feature high on my wish list…

Overall the camera is pretty responsive. There’s rarely a feeling of any sort of shutter lag. It takes the typical couple of seconds to start up and extend the lens, but after that it feels pretty quick.

Text and photos © 2013 Bob Atkins.

Article revised January 2013.

Readers' Comments

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Bernard Lazareff , January 09, 2013; 07:47 A.M.

Why must the OVF be 85%? With modern molding techniques, why could the fab tolerances not be good enough for 95 or 97%? Especially for a high-end compact. To me accurate framing is important. Sure, one captures more than the VF crop. But 85% means that the wide end of the zoom, when composing in the OVF, is effectively 33mm (FF equivalent) instead of the nominal 28; actually closer to 35 than 28.  Were it not for that, I might have bought this as my first ever digital.

Michael Howard , January 10, 2013; 10:02 P.M.

I'll have to play with one to see if I want to upgrade my XZ-1.  I use the XZ-1 almost all the time, it is a truly great camera. I like the idea of the upgraded sensor and the lens ring, as will as the tilt screen.  I will definitely check it out.  My digital kit is entirely Olympus now, with an E-P2, a VF-3 viewfinder, and a shelf full of lenses.  For quick grab-n-go, though, nothing beats my XZ-1.

Bruce Rubenstein , January 14, 2013; 04:22 P.M.

I have the XZ-1 (good deal recently at $200). The XZ-1 has a Panasonic sensor that appears to be much nosier than the Sony on in the XZ-2 (supposedly the Nikon P7700 has the same sensor). The XZ-1 is very much like my E-PL2 and the XZ-2 appears to be very similar to the E-PL5 in terms of control and image characteristics. While the XZ-1 is marginal for 12x16 prints, the XZ-2 looks like it should be able to do pretty good prints at that size. The RAW output, even at base ISO, was underwhelming from the XZ-1.


Bob - One question: How is the color fidelity of the LCD? The OM-D is not too great and the E-PL5 is plain crummy.

Bob Atkins , January 30, 2013; 04:03 P.M.

@Bernard Lazareff:

I'm not sure if I said the OVF was 85% in this article by mistake, but the XZ-2 doesn't have an optical viewfinder. I might have said something along those lines in a recent review of the Canon G1x, G12 or G15, so maybe some of that text got into this review somewhere, but I can't find it if it did.

If you can point out where I said that, I'll be happy to correct the error.

@Bruce Rubenstein:

I didn't specifically test the color fidelity of the LCD because that's not something that normally concerns me. I tend to shoot RAW and color balance post exposure, but I did not notice any particular color issues. I do sometimes check approximate color balance on the LCD and I could always tell if I had it set wrong. In playback the images looked fine to me, though again, I did not specifically test for color accuracy. If you'd asked me how the color was on the LCD, I'd have said it's just fine.

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