The Olympus XZ-1 is one of our favourite high-end compact cameras, packing a lot into its pocketable casing. When the Tele Converter TCON-17X arrived on our doorstep, we thought it only fair to put it through its paces and see what it offers.
First up, the Olympus website details that the TCON-17X connects using a bayonet fitting. It doesn't, it's a screw thread and to attach it to your XZ-1 you'll also need the Converter Adapter CLA-12, as a teleside converter.
As a result, once you have the TCON-17X in place, is that the XZ-1 is then far from pocketable, as the unit itself is not only a fairly hefty piece of glass, but the converter makes the lens unit much longer.
The TCON-17X contains two glass elements, but is a straight converter and contains no moving parts. In fact, once you have the adapter in place, you are restricted to that one focal length, the new 190mm. It gives you 1.7x magnification over the 112mm (all in 35mm terms) maximum that the standard lens provides. Once the converter is in place, you'll have to use max zoom on your XZ-1 to avoid seeing the inside of the assembly.
That 190mm isn't a huge amount by modern standards when you look at the sort of range packed into a travel zoom camera. You also have to consider that one of the XZ-1's features - the F/1.8 max aperture - isn't available because you have to head to max zoom first. You're still looking at F/2.5 however, which is fairly attractive at 190mm, when most compacts would probably be up nearer F/4.0 or higher as the lens travels out.
As such, you can see how the TCON-17X becomes an attractive addition for reportage style portrait shots at a party or wedding, or just getting a little closer to some detail.
We put it to the test in a number of different scenarios. Low light is something of a problem: the bulk of the converter can obscure both the built-in flash and the focus illuminator. It doesn't work well at the macro level as focusing is just too vague.
Shake can be something of a problem with a greater zoom, but thanks to the substantial nature of the TCON-17X, you have plenty to hang on to on to support the barrel, so you're not simply reliant on supporting the body of the camera.
The quality seems consistent with the camera in general, so you get great shots out of it. Aside from losing those wider apertures, you get all the other shooting options that the camera offers, including those Art Filters, movie modes and so on.
From the test shots we took, there doesn't appear to be a drop in detail when viewed at 100 per cent and there wasn't an increase in aberration which you might expect from some converters. The two crops below show the wooden lighthouse on Burnham Beach from the regular XZ-1 at 112mm (left) and then with the TCON-17X at 190mm (right). (You can view the resized originals in the gallery below for a sense of scale.)
The Olympus Tele Converter TCON-17X will cost you £149; you will also need the adapter, which is an additional £39.99, but you'll need this for other adapters you might buy in the future, should you want to invest further. At this price it feels rather serious, but then no one ever said that photography was a cheap hobby. The TCON-17X does what it says on the tin and does it rather nicely.