Rebuying the Olympus XZ-1

Olympus XZ-1

Over the last week, I’ve posted a smorgasbord of photos; thirty-one by my count. I shot them all back in 2013 shortly after I bought the Olympus XZ-1 as an impulse buy. I saw it on the Olympus website in refurbished condition for less than $150, a surprisingly low price back then. In fact, I thought it was a pricing mistake. I’m ever vigilant to “pricing dislocations” and with good online reviews, I bit. It was only available in glossy white, however, which I didn’t like. But, for the price, I didn’t complain. The stealthy matte black was more my style.

It was an enjoyable camera. I used it quite a bit as my high quality and compact carry around camera. Perfect during my business travels, which were particularly numerous that year. I even received compliments from several strangers about the stylish white design. But the limitations nagged me. ISO 200 was decent but any higher, it got noisy. I ultimately sold it and bought a lightly used Canon G15 as my replacement.

Ironically, I never bonded with the G15. It was a lot bigger and though more capable, spec wise, with better high ISO photos, I didn’t use it very much. Some cameras don’t work out, despite my usually exhaustive analysis. Years later, I traded the Canon G15 in for my current Canon G7X Mark II.

Normally that would be the end of the story, except I found this treasure trove of Olympus XZ-1 photos in my archives. I noticed their spectacular color and equally compelling black and whites. My photographic tastes have changed and matured over the last six years. The color and the feel of the images became more important than high ISO quality. I looked at the XZ-1 in an entirely new light. The grainy photos looked great too when converted to monochrome. What I previously thought was a liability was actually a plus.

What I realized was the Olympus XZ-1 was the last of the CCD based cameras. Everyone was converting to CMOS technology, which promised lower noise. Except, I think we lost something in the bargain. I’ve come to realize that CCD sensors have a softer more organic look with richer colors. CMOS, on the other hand, looks sharp, clinical and dull. The Olympus XZ-1 also had a 10MP CCD, which was a rarity. In my haste and inexperience, I had sold a very unique camera.

So the search was on to find a replacement. In white of course, because I now know that it’s cool and different. After dithering about a model on KEH.com, it sold unexpectedly. Who the hell wanted a 2011 vintage camera? Where there people out there that knew about its special powers? Black models were easier to find and after some searching, I finally bought a gently used white model on Amazon. In another dose of irony, I paid more for a used XZ-1 in 2019 than I did back in 2013.

Take a look at the photos from the last seven days. Marvel at its unique color and decent image quality. Remember, these are from an eight-year-old, 10MP point and shoot. Even in low light, you see a rich rendering. Certainly, modern cameras have better ISO performance and sharper images. But as photographs, where composition, color, and the emotive quality is arguably more important, does the Olympus XZ-1 really fall behind? In most cases, probably not.

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10 thoughts on “Rebuying the Olympus XZ-1

  1. Rapidly reaching similar conclusions. My pictures taken years ago with an Olympus EPL1 are at least as good as those made with my EM5.2. Luckily, the EPL1 is still in a drawer and available at no cost. The lack of a usable EVF and lack of decent video make it unlikely that I’ll revert to the earlier camera, but the quality of the stills is surprising when compared.

    The next layer comes in the question of CCD vs. CMOS. My photos classic cars and other shiny toys in daylight taken with a Nikon D80 appear “stronger” than similar shots taken with more modern sensors. I know that’s a weird subjective term which probably just means more saturated and of higher contrast, but it fits. I don’t know — may I just dwell in a valley of perpetual dissatisfaction.

    1. That was “maybe”, not “may” in the last line. My typing seems to be deteriorating at roughly the same rate as my photography.

    2. Hi Mike, Yes, newer cameras can push the boundaries, but we are probably past the point of sufficiency for most people.

      I do think CCDs are different but maybe a skilled post-processor can simulate CCD with CMOS RAWs. But, I know I’m not that skilled.

      Also, CCDs from different companies probably look different too. I don’t know who made the CCD in the XZ-1. I know I do like the Kodak CCDs in the Olympus E-1 and E-300 cameras.

  2. I still have an XZ-1, its a pretty cool camera. I lucked out when I worked in corporate HQ for 2 years; I ran across a leather case for mine that was laying around from the introduction.

  3. Funny, I found a lot of pictures in my library taken with a Fuji XF1 that I really like, as I’ve been going through and deleting old junk. That’s one little camera I kind of wish I kept.

    1. I still have and use the XF1 once in a while. With its great flash blending with ambient light, I use it as my party camera on the rare times I go to parties.

      I may have to take it out and see how it compares.

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