The Olympus XZ-1 – Constant travel Companion by Ibraar Hussain

The Olympus XZ-1 – Constant travel Companion

By Ibraar Hussain

I thought I’d finish off my Hindu Kush series with the third and final part. As I’ve told in the last two articles (HERE and HERE), I went with Three cameras; The Fuji GA645, Contax G2 and The Olympus XZ-1. The Olympus was my main camera, main because it’s small, compact and lightweight and I was able to carry it around everywhere and bring it out as needed. When the Contax and Fuji were locked away in my luggage, I ALWAYS had the Olympus on my person. It managed to slip nicely inside the Olympus Creator soft case, which also did a good job of protecting it, and into a trouser pocket, or around my neck without any problems.

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I’m not a machine gunner, and even with a digital compact I carefully shoot my photographs, so didn’t come back with several hundred meaningless shots. I actually came back with about 150, of which I had many keepers! I shot exclusively in RAW, and I’ll explain why in a bit.

I have the white version, which isn’t the most slick-looking of colours, but at least it was non threatening and discreet. Looks wise, pretty generic, and not very special. To be honest, offerings from Panasonic and Fuji look better – but that’s not what a digital compact is about in my opinion. I reckon a compact needs to be relatively small, discreet, have a versatile zoom range – which can handle everything from wide-angle to short telephoto/portrait length. A Compact needs to be very fast to operate, switching it on and off should be quick, along with focus and shooting and write times. It also needs to be easy to set up and customise, and have a good battery life.



For travel, especially in the heat of the Punjab with dust galore, it needs to be sturdy and resilient, the cold hard lands of the Hindu Kush also call for the camera to be solid, and with a sensor capable of handling the light. ’m pleased to say the XZ-1 ticks most boxes.



The Olympus XZ-1 is a fine camera, using it was enjoyable, as it’s quick. I set it up to have one central focus point, and switched metering from matrix to spot as required. ISO was set to 100, 200 and I think 400 literally a couple of times – as I’m not much of an indoors or low light shooter.

I simply set it to Aperture Priority (A), and used the lens ring to change Aperture as required. F1.8 is pretty fast for a compact, and f2.5 is pretty fast for 110mm focal length, this enabled me to get some portraits with a shallow depth, which is a bonus on a compact. The lens really is brilliant, it’s perfect! It’s great wide open, and the sweet spot is f4 I think.

Focussing is quick and accurate, as are write times. And the big clear LCD was pretty good in bright light, so no problems. Exposure was well handled, images seem bright, well exposed. Olympus colour is the reason for going for an Olympus, vibrant saturated colour with plenty of detail.



Nothing is perfect, and neither is this camera. There are a few flaws, which become obvious the more one uses it. The first flaw is the lack of an exposure lock button independent of focus lock. Locking focus also locks exposure, and this is a simple technique to get used to, but on occasions I would’ve liked to lock exposure as I do on the Contax G2 with a flick of a switch. Secondly is it’s reliance upon menu systems, I would’ve liked a button for ISO, another for metering and another for Macro mode, but one has to enter the menu system for these, which to be honest, is pretty quick easy and coherent in use.

I would’ve liked a viewfinder.

Finally, the in camera JPEG aren’t any good, too much Noise Reduction destroys the images, detail is smeared, especially in landscapes, and there’s no option to turn NR off! It’s crazy! This forces me to use RAW to switch NR off which I hate doing as I’d rather get the shot right in camera rather than tatting around tweaking the photo on the computer. This is a shame, as the Olympus XZ-1 is easy to set up to get lovely travel shots. BUT, these are minor distractions, as I don’t miss these functions.



Fantastic camera, quick, discreet, with a superb lens. I enjoyed using it, and I include a selection here. I took everything from a few candids, to the odd scenic and especially my favourite black background portraits, I was able to shoot quickly and discreetly. The photographs aren’t quite Contax Zeiss standard, but they’re good considering this is a small sensor compact digital camera, and it’s a superb travel camera! Love it!

Chitral Town, from the Tirich View Mir Hotel. Tirich Mir itself is obscured by clouds. Panoramic stitch mode Auto.

Tirich Mir over Chitral Town. (this frame is the slightly left of centre part of the panoramic picture)

Mt. Tirich Mir in the Chitral Gol.

Kalash Girl in a doorway. Grom, Rumbour Valley, Hindu Kush.
Hamid Ali, Kalash herdsman. Grom Village.
Kalash Villagers, the baby has a mixture of goats horn, Mulberry and other things on his face as a Face mask. This is supposed to keep the skin protected and soft.
Ayun Village, Chitral, Hindu Kush.  Ayun is the ‘gateway’ to the Kalash Valleys.
Ayun Village.
Afghan refugee kids. Many Afghan Refugee’s have fled the war into neighbouring Chitral and Ayun.
Rikshaw Wala, Ghalib, Village Chak 11, Sargodha Punjab.
Kashmiri Kids in Village Chak 11, Sargodha, Punjab.


  1. Hey! Abrar you visited Chitral in autumn. Go there is spring, you will fall in love with spring of Chitral 🙂

  2. wow. the level of bokeh from this point and shoot is suprising! that fast lens really makes a difference. i’m gonna pick one of these guys up. don’t wanna lug my dslr around everywhere while traveling.

  3. Dear Ibraar,
    Really enjoyed this article and your photos. I just bought this camera on Amazon for $200.00. I’m pretty disappointed to hear that JPEGS are pretty much useless. I read that they have firmware v1.5 now, which i don’t know if this fixes it. So as i understand you shoot RAW then take off NR, with the software given, the convert to JPEG?

    • Indeed! I used to do that. Now I have no XZ-1. Sold it, (along with my MPP, SL35, OM2n, Contax T2)

    • i think not. It’s just gave improvement on SD Card (can use 32Gb SD Card). Yes, that’s also what i’m doing, same with Ibraar.
      JPEG not so bad, at least max on ISO 400. Same as lumix LX5/LX7 and most of compact camera except Sony RX100.

  4. Hi Ibraar,

    Just bought this Olympus gem for my wife’s birthday, it really does seem to be the best compromise between pocket size and producing good quality images. Once she let’s me play with it I’ll post some images back here. Thanks for the review.


  5. these are great images but my concern would be having to access the controls via the menu. I like taking photos at concerts and had the Nex 3 with me where I had to access controls via the menu and it was such a challenge vs having controls on the exterior like on my D300. Missed a lot of great moments, but learned quickly what I needed in a camera. I hope Olympus recognizes this and adds exterior controls. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  6. james, paris, andre and Homie – thanks ever so much for the comments and appreciation!
    it really is a great little camera.
    I’m going to be trying some digiscoping with it (bird watching), so will see how it gets on with that

  7. Ibraar,

    Anyone will tell you that you can’t possibly take great pictures with such a tiny amateur camera.

    Except when you can……

    Terrific images, nice post.

    Thank you.

  8. It really is a great camera and I love the photos you showed. I got my girlfriend it this past Christmas and I found myself playing with it, figuring out all the cool things it could do. The macro mode is the best I’ve seen in a camera that small, it’s really impressive. Once again, great shots!

  9. Fair enough, thanks Ibraar! Since you were very selective about what you shot, you didn’t have thousands of images to process lol! I guess I’ll have a chance (eventually) to figure it out on my own then, and compare LR vs the Oly software.

  10. Hi Doug. Im afraid ive only used minoltad raw sw years back so cant comparre it to any recent sw versions. Anyone else? The sw itself is not bad. It displays thumbs of the memory card or folder pictures . Eg if i used an oly art filter the art filter image is displayed with options on the right to tweak it, levels, nr or filter on off etc. its so so in regards speed. Not great.

  11. Ok, I suppose that can make sense to me. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, or tell me if this sounds correct: When shooting RAW, it is a fact that the output will not utilize any of the in camera settings. BUT… if you use the camera’s native software in order to output a jpg, then what the software is doing is using the same algorithm as the in camera software would (albeit a lot more quickly and proficiently).

    This would be the equivelent to using Nikon’s software *I personally don’t use it* and having the camera “profile” mimic the in camera’s settings. Is this correct? If so, then awesome, and I have one last question:

    Is the Olympus processing software any good? Obviously the output quality is great, but I’m wondering about the GUI and the speed of its processing in general. For example, Nikons software is great for its output, but the speed and interface stink on ice IMO. I’m more than likely going to get the Olympus OM D, so am curious to know if I’d be better off using the official Olympus software for RAW or if I should just stick with Lightroom. Could make a big difference, considering that I too, love the look of Olympus jpg files!

  12. Amazing, keep up the great work!! I envy ones who get to behold such cultural rarities.

  13. First and foremost, great pics and commentary. Processing looks well done, too. But Im a bit confused. You said: “I shot exclusively in RAW, and I’ll explain why in a bit.”

    Followed by: “Finally, the in camera JPEG aren’t any good, too much Noise Reduction destroys the images, detail is smeared, especially in landscapes, and there’s no option to turn NR off! It’s crazy! This forces me to use RAW”

    However, you also say: “Olympus colour is the reason for going for an Olympus, vibrant saturated colour with plenty of detail.”

    But if you’re shooting RAW, then none of the in camera settings are actually being applied in that case. Moreover, you’re editing with CS4, so that would further take away from the expected Olympus “signature look”, wouldn’t it?

    I’m only bringing this up because I would love to have seen a comparison from shots straight OOC jpg vs RAW processed in PS. Oh, and because if “Olympus colour is the reason for going for an Olympus”, and you’re not really getting it as such by shooting RAW, then you might as well have gone with a camera that has the features you wish the Oly had. Hope that makes sense.


    • Sorry but there is no other camera with the same small size and fast aperture in wide and tele. I shoot in jpg and raw, but the jpg’s are really useless. Doesn’t matter. In raw great pictures till max 400-800 ISO. A very good fast and silent camera for street photography. See my blog “Beeldbeest” for XZ-1 shots.


    • mate, I set the parameters in camera: saturation +1 sharpness and contrast each at +1. when opened in Olympus Viewer they come up exactly as in camera, I then turn OFF Noise Reduction and save as a jpeg. hence the Olympus Colour is, well, as you see it and much nicer than other cams I have used eg. fuji x100, f200exr, canon 450 and 400 D, minolta dynax 5D and Nikon D90.

      I only use photoshop to resize and add the white border.

      I think the colour on this Olympus is more pleasing than the other digital cameras I’ve seen on this site recently including the Leica M9 and Nikon V1.

    • RAW opened in Olympus Viewer which I use, ALL settings applied in camera are apparent. I hope this is clear Doug.

      • I’d like people to know that I do not use Light Rooms or Aperture or any other DNG or ACR or whatever format for files. I don’t know how to, and to be honest for websites and such I don’t see the point as I’m happy with what I have. So I don’t know much about RAW, all I know is that I can open up a RAW file in Olympus Viewer, and tweak it if I desire, and I’m able to switch NR off and save it as a Jpeg. So please be gentle with me! 😉

        Prints from full size files come out nice, i’ve never printed with this camera larger than 10×8, and the largest I’ve ever printed has been with a 35mm negative – that was about 20 inches across and I was very happy with the results.

        My main forte is B&W, which I print in my Darkroom using traditional methods. And haven’t much a clue about CMYK and such Digital/Inkjet printing methods.

        • Good stuff. I like this as a counterpoint to your medium format work.
          I’m not so hung up on not having a viewfinder, in most cases, but to each his own…

          And, also, kudos to you for using Olympus Viewer. It really is a better tool than most people think, and it’s free! And you also get the Olympus JPG look.

  14. Nice photos. Cell phone cameras keep getting better, but cell phones just don’t have the excellent ergonomics and flexibility of a proper camera. Long live the advanced compact!

  15. Steve, with all due respect, you should probably hire this guy. With dead time in regards to new cameras, his posts have been the best on your site over the past month.

  16. Terrific portraits. The subjects seem to have been happy to pose. Is this usually true in this region, or did you have to persuade them?

    • hi mate, most are camera shy, so its a case of breaking the ice and building up trust. people are so welcoming and friendly so it isn’t difficult

  17. Ibraar got me at the FIRST gallery go-round (!) — with the wonderful Contax G2 photos: Arrived or on the way is G2/G1, 21mm, 28mm, 45mm, 90mm Zeiss/Kyocera lenses, plus Contax/G-to-Olympus/micro-4/3’s adapter for my E-PM1 (I know the wide angles are tricky in this context: any words of wisdom out there from the Huff-o-philes regarding their own experiences with adapting these lenses to mirror-less digital, or modifications to the safety ‘tabs’ on the 21 & 28mm? This happened pretty fast, so I haven’t gotten to the mods research yet myself.). Now, if Nikon ever comes out with that digital ‘full-frame’ mirror-less EVF/”Rangefinder”, I’m either golden, or really sunk, depending on your perspective! Again, nice job, Ibraar.

  18. Nice photos and they really do a nice job showing how well a pocketable camera can perform.

    I was going to ask what was on the baby, but on further looking I see that you have answered it.

  19. Always thought it looked like a really good compact; and rarely, within my price range. But I already own a compact of the exact same size (but not specifications, it’s a 12x zoom with a slow lens), so couldn’t really bring myself to buy it.

  20. Great case for …..”your-best-camera-is-the-one-in-your-pocket” mentality. Love the kids!!!!

  21. I use the XZ-1 as well and it’s an amazing little camera. Regarding your con for lack of a viewfinder – the great thing is that you can also add the VF-2 viewfinder just like their micro four thirds cams to the XZ-1!

    • The camera takes the VF-3 as well (which I think may refresh more quickly than the VF-2)

      • Thanks guys, I was supposed to add some more text in, but it slipped my mind, that I know there’s an external VF available, but I think it just adds bulk and costs and defeats the point of having a compact camera.

        • Ibraar

          Thank you for the write up!
          a small note – so your main complaint is with the size of the VF?
          I agree, but your remark makes the fault with xz-1 not the evf…

          • Yep the fault with the xz-1, in my opinion, is that it doesn’t have a viewfinder built in to it. That’s just me being extremely pedantic

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