Olympus XZ-1 vs Panasonic LX5

The launch of the Olympus XZ-1 high end point and shoot camera at CES 2011 brings yet another contender into what has become a very exciting genre of device for both enthusiasts and beginners alike. We’ve already had our review team give the Panasonic LX5 the one, twice, thrice over back when it came out and to say it went down a storm would be an understatement. So, how do we think it’s going to compare to the Olympus?

Well, as is our want, we’ve got out the spec sheets and matched them up against one another and this is what we discovered. This is the Olympus XZ-1 vs Panasonic LX5 and just which one you might want to buy over the other.

Lens

1st: Olympus XZ-1
28-112mm, f/1.8-2.5 Zuiko

2nd: Panasonic LX5
24-90mm, f/2.0-3.3 Leica


Were it a straight fight, we’d probably go for Leica glassware over the admittedly tasty Zuiko optics, the latter with its roots in 1936 Olympus history. As it stands though, what sits atop the XZ-1 has both a marginally better zoom range but, more significantly, is incredibly fast all the way through the lens. The bottom line is that you should get a better performance at low light conditions throughout the zoom range of the Olympus with a delightful bokeh (background blur effect) at the wider end. That said, the Leica DC Vario Summicron glass on the Panasonic is certainly no slouch and its not beyond the realm of possibility that it’ll just happen to give better results when it comes to testing. On spec though, one has to hand it to the Olympus.

Image Sensor

Tie: Olympus XZ-1
High sensitivity 1/1.63-inch CCD (10.1 MP)

Tie: Panasonic LX5
High sensitivity 1/1.63-inch CCD (10.1 MP)


One could be forgiven for thinking that these two high end compacts are actually using the very same sensors as one another. The fact that the two companies both collaborated with Micro Four Thirds might even add some credence to the idea. Whatever the case though, it remains that you can’t separate these two on grounds of the image sensor. Both have chosen well by not over-cramming the surface with pixels and, although a larger sensor would have been nicer for better low light performance, you’re just not going to get that on a camera of this size. At least not just yet.

Display

1st: Olympus XZ-1
3-inch, 610k-dot, OLED

2nd: Panasonic LX5
3-inch, 460k-dot, LCD


Both the level of detail and the screen technology itself is certainly better on paper with the XZ-1 than the LX5. The OLED should offer better and brighter colour representation and with 30 per cent more dots on the screen, there’ll also be that much more detail to be able to make out in your previews. What’s more, OLED technology is less power hungry than LCD meaning that the XZ-1’s battery life should be better as well.

Our only slight reservation here is that Panasonic also happens to spend a rather large amount of its business selling TV panels. Now, on the one hand, the company may have decided that it wasn’t worth beefing up cameras with what it puts in proper AV equipment, but, on the other, perhaps what’s there is just far better tuned than anything Olympus can come up with.

What we will say for sure is that the display is a lot more important an area on a camera than many give it credit for. There’s nothing more frustrating than finding out that it’s misled you into changing your exposure or colour settings when they were right all along.

Usability

1st: Olympus XZ-1

2nd: Pansonic LX5


At these form factors, it’s important to get usability right with so many functions and such little space on the camera bodies. Fortunately - from our full review with the LX5 and first look at the XZ-1 - both have got it pretty much right and they’ve adopted very similar solutions. Both have video buttons, built-in flash and a good button layout on the back. The main differences are that the LX5 features a dedicated jog wheel by the thumb instead of the one lower down and integrated into the nav buttons on the Olympus. There’s also the inclusion of the AF/AE lock on the Panasonic absent on the XZ-1. But, where the newcomer gains points a-plenty though is by using the control ring around the lens as a function which the user can assign. We know how useful and fun this from the same touch on Canon’s Powershot S90 and S95 and for that reason, we hand this category over to the XZ-1.

Modes & Features

Tie: Olympus XZ-1

Tie: Pansonic LX5


These cameras are not identical in the modes and features department. One will offer a filter that the other doesn’t have but perhaps come back with a shooting mode absent in the first. When it’s all weighed up though, you’d have to mark both shooters equally highly. They’re top end compacts and that’s just what they offer. There’s full auto to manual snapping with PSAM modes, and image stabilisation - Dual or Powered - however the companies wish to dress it up. There’s AF tracking with an AF assist lamp, art modes for both stills and video and they each have multi-aspect modes depending on how you like your pictures cropped as well. Nothing significant missing on either plus the odd professional touch like bracketing.

Video

Tie: Olympus XZ-1
720p @30fps, mono mic

Tie: Panasonic LX5
720p @30fps, mono mic


On the surface, both cameras are sporting the same video shooting credentials. Like most compacts the kind of HD recording they offer is of the 720p variety and at the 30fps frame rate as well. On paper, it suggests you’re not going to get the world’s best results at high speed and full resolution. For now, there’s little we know about what the XZ-1 does to beef up the video. Both cameras have dedicated video record buttons on their chassis and you’d expect to get the option to ramp up the frame in exchange for a drop in pixels so that you can catch faster live action. As for sound, both come with built in mono mics, so no stereo joy out of the box

Accessories

1st: Olympus XZ-1

2nd: Pansonic LX5


Both of these cameras have a decent range of accessories on offer thanks to their Micro Four Thirds systems bigger brothers. Each has a standard port where you can attach viewfinders - either optical or electronic - or a range of external flashes. Naturally, there's no lens changing but you can add filters and a bit more angle through the adapters on offer. The reason the XZ-1 has to take it, though, is because Panasonic don’t offer an external stereo microphone and, for anyone looking to use things to shoot video, that’s going to make all the difference.

Price

1st: Panasonic LX5
£302.95

2nd Olympus XZ-1
£399


It’s of little surprise that the newer of the two is more expensive but, given that the price difference is £100, it’s well worth bearing in mind. Doubtless the XZ-1 will come down in time but there’ll still be enough in it by then for the LX5 to remain the stand out winner in this category. Whether we think the extra outlay looks worth it, we’ll let you know in just a minute.

Conclusion

1st: Olympus XZ-1

2nd: Panasonic LX5


Ok, so it is worth the extra outlay. Naturally, we’re short of the full review and the benefit of analysing the all important picture quality once we get it back to the Pocket-lint labs but the extra ability at low light levels, the slight increase on the zoom, the stereo mic option, the wide colour gamuts of the OLED display and one of those delicious control rings on the front make the Olympus XZ-1 our winner, and that’s with absolutely no disrespect whatsoever to the LX5 which we already rate very highly. Yes, the XZ-1 is more expensive but your money’s going into the speed of that lens. Getting that aperture all the way through should give some really lovely results and that’s all on a camera that’s so pocketable you could almost forget you were carrying it.

So which is the super snapper for you or is the Canon PowerShot S95 more up your street? Let us know in the comments.



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