Olympus Stylus XZ-2 iHS Digital Camera Review$599.99
Ease of Use
- Automatic Features
- Buttons & Dials
- Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes
- Instruction Manual
Like most cameras in its class, the XZ-2 provides both a Program mode and a full Auto mode (in this case called iAuto). While Program (P on the mode dial) will give you control over everything but shutter speed and aperture, iAuto takes you by the hand and does pretty much everything for you. iAuto mode not only selects the proper combination of shutter speed and aperture to get the right exposure, but also chooses from among the camera's many scene modes to select the most appropriate color profile, ISO setting, and more. In this mode, the user can only set the focusing area, focusing mode, drive mode, image size/quality, and image stabilization mode.
You can also move the mode dial to SCN or ART to access the huge array of scene modes and art filters. These range from settings for specific applications like shooting fireworks or reproducing documents to more creative options like in-camera panoramas and Instagram-type effects.
Buttons & Dials
When it comes to manual controls, there have only been two big changes since the XZ-1. First is the customizable lens ring. The XZ-1 had a ring of its own, but like the implementations on competing cameras, it had only one function per shooting mode and was limited to a "clicky" rotation style. The XZ-2 one-ups it with a dual-function control ring that toggles back and forth between clicky ("digital") and smooth ("analog") rotation. The user can set what each type of rotation controls for each shooting mode, which opens up a whole world of customization.
The second change is the touchscreen. The implementation here is virtually identical to what you'll find on the latest Olympus PEN and OM-D cameras, allowing you to tap to focus or shoot, manipulate (some) menus, and swipe through or touch to zoom photos in playback mode. We're not the biggest fans of touchscreens on cameras, but in general it works pretty well here. It's not as good as what you'd get from the Canon T4i, which we feel sets the bar for touchscreens in this generation of cameras, but it's close.
Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes
Olympus is known to provide some of the best scene modes and creative filters in the business, and the XZ-2 is further evidence to support that argument, packing 15 scene modes and 11 art filters. The scene modes encompass practical situations like fireworks, underwater shooting, landscapes, and portraiture, as well as more creative options like multi-exposure compositions, panoramas, and HDR shooting. All of the art filters can be fine-tuned, either to control the intensity of the effect or to add further filters on top of filters, like artsy frames and vignetting.
In general, the art filters work very well, instantly adding mood, pop, or depth to photos that might otherwise be drab and ordinary. If you find yourself shooting on a grey and dreary day, they might just save your shots—or at least keep you entertained.
Olympus's menus are both a blessing and a curse, as any PEN or OM-D enthusiast can attest. To begin with, they're deep, almost to a fault, and offer granular control whenever possible. Rather than restrict what you can do with the camera, as do many manufacturers, Olympus tends to give you every option at once. For power users this is a fantastic bonus, but the effect can be dizzying to new users. And it's complicated by the fact that the menus aren't terribly well-labelled or organized. On photo enthusiast forums, it's not uncommon to see experienced pros complain about not being able to figure out how to do X, even after months of using their camera.
Some of the company's general UI choices are also less than crystal clear. For instance, the Super Control Panel—one of Olympus's best features—is hidden by default, and turning it on requires diving through five or six menu screens to find the option called "Live SCP." How, we ask you, would anyone new to Olympus digital cameras have the slightest clue what "Live SCP" means? Why hide your light under a bushel, Olympus?
But what do the menus actually look like? Well, they're divided into vertical tabs: two for general shooting functions, one for playback, one for custom shooting functions (which actually contains 10 sub-tabs with a total of 52 settings contained therein—see what we mean about depth?), and one for setup. You can navigate the menus using either the four-way pad and OK button, the rear command dial, or the front lens ring.
There's also a live menu overlay that can be brought up during shooting to adjust crucial settings by pressing the OK button. By default, this is a vertical list of options with horizontal fine adjustment. With some menu-diving, however, you can disable "Live Control" and enable "Live SCP" to get the full Super Control Panel, which we prefer. This menu overlay presents all the available settings in a grid.
While our review unit didn't include a manual and a digital version wasn't available during our testing period, we assume that the XZ-2 will ship with a Quick Start guide, like the XZ-1 did. A comprehensive manual should also be available for download from the Olympus web site, and buyers will do well to get it and read it front to back.