Olympus XZ-1 vs Canon PowerShot S95

The launch of the Olympus XZ-1 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 Canon PowerShot S95 the one, twice, thrice over back when it came out and, like the man from Del Monte, we gave it a big yes. So, how do we think it’s going to compare to the Olympus?

As is out want, we’ve got out our spec sheets and matched them up against one another and this is what we discovered. This is the Olympus XZ-1 vs Canon PowerShot S95 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: Canon S95
28-105mm, f/2.0-4.9


With both Canon and Oympus Zuiko having an excellent pedigree in lens manufacture - the latter having its roots in 1936 SLR photography - we’re not going to separate the two on levels of quality but the obvious differences are the extra zoom on the Olympus and the sheer speed of the lens. The difference in optical range is the Canon going up to x3.8 and the XZ-1 to x4.0 but the trick is that even at the furthest reaches, the Olympus will perform much better in low light with it able to stop the aperture down to a wide f/2.5 compared to a considerably smaller f/4.9. First round to the XZ-1.

Image Sensor

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

2nd: Canon S95
High sensitivity 1/1.7-inch CCD (10MP)


There’s always a certain amount you can’t quite put your finger on with image sensor technology but there’s no reason that either of these players should have made any major slip ups we don’t know about here. Neither has got too bothered by megapixels but the Olympus does offer a larger unit than then Canon meaning that it should, again, perform better in low light conditions and quite possibly with less noise as you start to push the ISO up as well. It’s not a huge difference in size but, down this lower end, any space you can get is worth holding on to.

Display

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

2nd: Canon S95
3-inch, 461k-dot, LCD


Both the level of detail and the screen technology itself is certainly better on paper with the XZ-1 than the S95. 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. Some might consider this area more trivial than the nuts and bolts of the image capture but nothing more frustrating than finding out that your on-screen previews have misled you into changing your exposure or colour settings when they were right all along. Seeing as there’s no viewfinder on these compacts, the accuracy of the display is all you’ve got.

Video

1st: Olympus XZ-1
720p @30fps, mono mic
2nd Canon S95
720p @24fps, stereo mic


A quick glance at the specs would make you think we’ve got this one the wrong way round. Having a stereo mic on board should beat the mono offering of the XZ-1, even if it runs at a couple of frames per second faster. Sadly, the devil is in the detail with the S95’s video capture. While we don’t know for certain quite the degree of flexibility with the video system on the Olympus, there’s no continuous AF and no optical zoom access included on what you get in the Canon, and that rather ruins things. On top of all that, there’s no dedicated video shoot button on the S95 and you can always add a stereo mic accessory to the XZ-1 to bring it up to standard.

Usability

1st: Olympus XZ-1

2nd: Canon S95


The two cameras are actually very, very similar on the outside. Take a look at the back side and you’ll see that the layout of the buttons is almost identical with both brands going for the selector wheel made out of the navigation keys. They also each feature the excellent tool that is a control ring around the lens which you can assign a series of functions to on demand. In fact, the only real difference is that the S95 is missing the instant shoot video capture button and instead you have to switch the wheel on the top to go into video mode before you press the shutter and start recording. It might seem like a small point but with the extra time it takes to set the thing up, it’s quite possible that you end up missing the action that your were trying to capture.

Modes & Features

1st: Canon S95

2nd: Olympus XZ-1


Both cameras offer plenty to play with in terms of colour filters and effects, their AF systems are top notch with tracking and assist lamps and there’s full PSAM control from pure point and shoot to messing with all the settings. There’s worthy image stabilisation systems at work in each model, multi-aspect shooting for more artistic cropping choices but there area where Canon just edges it is by including the ever-popular HDR mode meaning that your mixed lighting shots get properly exposed instead of having to sacrifice the dark areas for the bright or vice versa. We could take points away from the S95 by not allowing some of these modes during video shooting but we’ve already done that above

Accessories

1st: Olympus XZ-1
Lots

2nd: Canon S95
Um...a printer?


With no mirrorless interchangeable lens system in the Canon portfolio, there aren’t a lot of serious accessories available for the S95 aside a memory card, extra battery or camera case. On the other hand, Olympus offers plenty to play with. You can get some filters, a lens adapter so that you can screw on a few basic optics extras, an electronic viewfinder, an optical viewfinder and, yes, that stereo mic as well. There’s also no hotshoe on the Canon whereas there’s a world of external flashes you can strap on to the XZ-1.

Price

1st: Canon S95
£286.95

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 over £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 S95 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: Canon S95


Yeah, it’s worth it. With all but one win to its name, it’s the Olympus XZ-1 that’s the camera to buy without a shadow of a doubt. We should say that the Canon PowerShot S95 is still a fantastic compact but the XZ-1 has a super-impressive lens on the front of it, a better sensor and a much better screen as well. While we've as yet to test out its all important picture quality, the fact that you'll be able to capture stills more easily in low light conditions without having to use the flash is a massive feather in its cap. Add to that all the excellent usability from the control ring that we've already seen put to action on the S95, and you've got a serious machine. Something for camera users to get very excited about.

Check out how the Olympus XZ-1 compares to the Panasonic LX5.

CES 2011 is now in full-swing, be sure to check out our dedicated CES homepage for all of the news as it breaks, as well as detailed analysis.