OLYMPUS XZ-1 vs LUMIX LX5 [Part 1]

INTRODUCTION: (This is the introduction of how I got into these cameras. If you want to just go straight to the photo reviews, you can skip this hunk of text.) 
A while back I was interested in investing in a compact smart camera. A couple years ago, Micro four thirds cameras started hitting the markets and the consumer popularity for them has boomed over these last couple years. Micro four thirds are essentially compact cameras with a high image sensor found similarly to those on the more professional level DSLR cameras. But to market the "pocketability" of these cameras, the companies simply took away the big mirrors found on the DSLR cameras. The result is a camera that can take near DSLR quality images but can fit in your purse or jacket pocket easily, much like a typical compact point and shoot camera.

As a photo enthusiast myself, I really wanted one of these bad boys because anyone that owns a DSLR will tell you that hauling around that hunky camera is a pain sometimes. I want to have the photographic moments wherever I go, but I don't want to have to lug around a huge camera all the time.

However, with micro four thirds cameras now gaining much popularity, the prices for them haven't gotten much lower than when they first came out. In fact, a lot of the first gen. four thirds cameras are now priced higher than when they were when they first released. For example, the PANASONIC LUMIX GF1, when released was marketed at about $500. You're now looking at the GF1 for anywhere between $500-$1000! The resale value was high on it because it was one of the firsts for micro four thirds cams and the lens was its selling point. The 20mm Pancake lens proved to be incredibly popular for the average Joe consumer as well as Photographers and photo enthusiasts with it's sharp depth of field and ability to capture macro and wide angle shots beautifully.

Since then a whole line of them have come out from almost every major camera company. But it still remains that $500 is a steep price for a camera that isn't a DSLR. And considering that DSLR's these days can go as cheap as $500, that's saying something for your wallet.

For me, $500 would be out of my budget. With that money I could just invest in a nicer lens for my D3100, but I wanted something I can take around without buying a puny point & shoot.

That's when I discovered the High sensor compact cameras.
These cameras kind of border the line between simple point and shoots and the micro four thirds cameras. They boast higher sensors like the four thirds but the main difference with these compacts are that they have a fixed lens that can not be interchangeable. The micro four thirds, like SLR's are able to detach the lens. The compacts with the fixed lens are marginally cheaper than the four thirds but still, $100 less for the fixed lens was much more attractive to me. As long as the image quality was good enough, shelling out a couple hundred on a nice compact would prove to be a good investment for me.

While doing research on the camera I wanted, I boiled it down to these two cameras: The Panasonic LUMIX LX5 and the Olympus XZ-1. 
The LX5 came out sometime late 2010 and retails for about $400-500 right now. Of course, you can find a used one on ebay for half the price (which is what I did). The XZ-1 retails for about $250-350 for a new one and it came out a smidgen later than the LX5 (early 2011). If you're wondering why the XZ-1 is so much cheaper, I'd have to say it has to do with the fan following of the LUMIX series. As mentioned before, The LUMIX G1 did so well with it's micro four thirds series that the LX series also became highly successful for a little less than the G series of Lumix cameras. Not to mention, the selling point of the Lumix camera is it's beautiful and highly coveted LEICA lens. Leica has a huge fan following for it's name and I'd like to call them the "Chanel" of cameras.

Besides the name though, I'm actually not too sure why the XZ-1 is so much cheaper. Olympus has been making the micro four thirds cameras as well and have made a good name for themselves through that market. Looking at the specs of the XZ-1, it's really not more or less than the LX5. I've read several reviews and pro camera blogs on these two cameras but I feel like those type of reviews don't really help as much for someone like me. First off, the camera lab reviews are a little bit bias in the sense that the photographs are always taken in labs or the same locations to test other cameras. I think it is to say that cameras kind of have a personality of their own, and depending on the situation, one camera can always do better over the other one. It just depends really on the person behind the camera. With these two, it really does boil down to a matter of "personal preference" but what if you just can't choose? In terms of choosing between the aesthetics, honestly, both cameras are really nice and this one is also a matter of "beauty in the eye of the beholder". Some people dislike the look of the LX5 because it's slightly thicker and heavier and doesn't look as minimal and clean as the XZ-1. Not going to lie, the XZ-1 looks so clean and modern and sexy slick. But we should all know by now that in this situation, looks really don't matter as much.

I wanted to do this review for two reasons: For one, I think that  a lot of people like me, are photo enthusiasts and want a camera in their budget that can take stellar photographs that you can be proud of. Most people are really not that knowledgeable or even interested in the specs of the camera. If the camera can take nice pictures of whatever they want to take pictures of, then that's really what matters most. For example, as a blogger, I feel that a camera that can take nice pictures of "indoor" photos is a plus. Low light in smaller cameras has always been a bit of a problem as photos tend to get grainy from the smaller sensors. I also want a camera that can take good pictures of-- (of course...) ME! And secondly, oddly enough, there aren't very many comparison reviews for these two specific cameras. I'm not sure why because it seems these two cameras are pretty much side by side rivals in this genre of cams. I think people need a more down to earth review of cameras, taken from perspective of someone who is not a pro, but likes to take nice photos for blogs, as a hobby, etc.

So with all that said, I'm going to be doing a DOWN TO EARTH comparison review of both cameras, primarily through photos to compare the two. Note, that I won't get really deep into specs, mainly because there are so many reviews on websites out there that give you the run down on specs of these cameras individually. Plus, I'm writing this review to people who are primarily NOT that keen on camera terminology. Talking about the ISO, aperture, and other lighting terms is not really that much of a concern to most people. Honestly, even though I like learning about photography, in the case of these compacts, even I don't care to really mess with the Manual settings as much. I think the selling point of these compacts are to market "smart cameras to a dumbed down consumer". If the camera takes nice pics in auto mode, I'm pretty freaking happy. This is not a review for Photography majors or pros so if you're looking for a more in depth analysis regarding the specs, please look elsewhere.

I'm going to break down this review in three parts. There are A LOT of things in both cameras in terms of functionality, filters, and general specs. I want to take the time to review every part I possibly can in breaking down the two cameras against each other.
Note: This is a completely UNBIAS review on the cameras. I have no previous experience with either brand of cameras. My main camera is a Nikon. :P

PART I: General photography in Auto mode
So you don't want to mess with the filters or manual settings. You just want a camera that takes nice pictures in auto mode, effortlessly, in whatever situation you might be in. Perhaps you like taking walks outside on a sunny day and want your camera to capture the scenery where you walk. So which camera is better in terms of automatic mode photography?
(The following photos were taken in JPEG) 

LUMIX LX5: I'm all natural!
 The camera focuses on multiple points of the image in Auto mode when not zoomed in. Notice the sharpness of the details in the leaves. The colors in natural light come out very vibrant and crisp.

The XZ-1 tends to focus on a specific area of an image, and in this case, it focused the leaf in the middle. The colors don't look as vibrant and crisp as the LX5 but the colors are "truer" to the actual image in this photo.

LUMIX LX5: Brightest of the bunch
 The LX5 takes really sharp and clear macro photos but the depth of field doesn't seem as shallow as the Olympus. As you can see, the background doesn't look as blurred compared to the foreground but the subject focused in the foreground is incredibly sharp and clear. The colors again are vibrant and slightly brighter than the actual image. This is one of those things that can work with or against the kind of image you  are trying to create. The higher contrast of colors work well with nature subjects but may not necessarily work well with say, skin color or food.

The XZ-1's Zuiko lens is bright but sometimes a bit too bright in terms of natural lighting. It's as if the LX5 heightens the contrast and the XZ-1 heightens the brightness setting. This one has a very shallow depth of field and gives a nice artistic blur to the background image. The colors are more true to life again, but it really depends on the situation, as stated with the previous photo. The camera focused more on the right flower bulb more than the center flower. Note both photos were taken as "ONE SHOT" to get a realistic feel of how the pictures turn out at the first try.

LX5: Leave me alone 
 When taking photos with a slight zoom, the camera tends to focus on the most vibrant things first, so in this photo, it focused on the grass again as opposed to the leaf. The colors are nice and kind of soft here. I generally don't have any issues with focusing on the LX5 but in this case, it was a hit or miss. I like that it focuses on the "over all" picture as I intended this to be a wide angle shot.

I was really impressed by the zoom on the XZ-1. Images look clean and crisp even when zoomed and the colors look great with direct sunlight. The camera again tends to focus on a focal point as opposed to "areas". I'm sure this is something that can be adjusted in manual mode but for the sake of this part of the review, I was a little annoyed by it focusing on specific things when it wasn't intentional. The colors look bolder here with direct sunlight.

LX5: Wish upon a star....contained in a bottle.
This was taken indoors with natural lighting (windows open) One thing I noticed about the LX5 is that it tends to cast a more "florescent" lighting so images tend to "yellow" a bit. Which interestingly enough, is the opposite for the XZ-1. Again, macro shots look nice and clean. The only thing I didn't like was the "yellow" hue that tends to cast over indoor images.

The XZ-1's Zuiko lens is heralded as being the fastest and brightest lens on the market right now. I believe it because indoor photography looks awesome! I would say the colors look nicer on the XZ-1 indoors than on my SLR. See what I mean about how the color casts opposite from the LX5? The indoor images tend to favor more of the "incandescent" lighting so there is more of a blue hue. This is totally preference though as I like the blue hues over the yellows. Macro images look crisp and sharp and the colors look bold and bright. The only fit I have about the XZ-1 is that with macro images, the camera tends to have an issue with auto focusing. It took me a good few minutes to adjust the focus on the stars, whereas with the LX5, focusing on close up images was fast and generally effortless.

LX5: Zoom Zoom!
The LX5 can zoom up to 7x maximum, which is quite a distance more than the XZ-1. The only thing is, with this much of a zoom, images tend to not be very clear. I am impressed by how far it can zoom though. For unconventional photos that you want to capture from a distance, I think the image quality is "decent". Kind of reminds me of cell phone quality image, which is still pretty good. The colors also get a lost in the process of the zoom but around 5x zoom, the image quality is still pretty clear.

The XZ-1 has a shorter maximum zoom distance than the LX5, but as you can see, the image quality looks much nicer. At around the same zoom, the LX5 looks similar in image quality so I wouldn't say this really wins the XZ-1 over the LX5. Depends on what you want in terms of zooming.

LX5: Flash me! (............)
 The LX5 has a typical flash that tends to overcast a lot of glare in the subject. Here the camera is highlighted as well as the lens cap strap (the star beads). I have yet to test it but I have a hunch that this will also overexpose night photos with flash but would benefit in taking pictures of faces as it keeps a "yellow" hue in the photo and isn't so bright that it would wash faces out. Sometimes I think it's nice to wash out the face a little bit because it hides all the blemishes :3 but that's just me.

I received the XZ-1 first so I got to play with a bit more, and testing out the flash on the XZ-1 I would have to say it wins in the flash contest. Flash is bright but it's also kind of subtle. It doesn't overcast too much with highlights and the colors don't get washed away in the process. I like that the flash is subtle because taking pictures with flash in the night means less over brightness and softer illumination.

LX5: Product shots.....uh.....of the Olympus. Taken with the LX5.

 Hehe my rainbow landyard. Again, the yellow hue is strong in the LX5 indoors. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be talking about the LX5 or XZ-1......but uh, tell me that iZuiko lens isn't a sexy beast! I like the over all feel and look of the Olympus. I really dig the clean aesthetic and the lens looks sexy.

XZ-1: Product shots of the LUMIX LX5, taken with the Olympus XZ-1.

But I digress, I can't deny the equally sexy Leica lens on the LX5. See how the colors are more neutral here with the Olympus XZ-1 though? I like the colors here but you know, the image quality is pretty similar. Again, the XZ-1 has a bit of an issue focusing as I had to try multiple times to focus the camera right, but it tends to center focus the subject. It's really not too noticeable though. The LX5 also feels nice in the hands but it's a tad bit thicker so it feels a bit heavier than the XZ-1. It's really not that big of a difference though.

Summary: So far in this part of the review we've learned some key points in both cameras in any situation. The color difference in the cameras is pretty noticeable with indoor photography. The LX5 tends to have more of a yellow hue and the XZ-1 has more of a blue hue. It's really just a matter of changing up the color settings though which you can do manually through the camera itself. Image quality in both cameras are pretty on par with sharpness and brightness depending on the setting. LX5 tends to take higher contrasted outdoor photos but the XZ-1 has more truer to color even though the image tends to look slightly softer in direct sunlight.
One of the bigger downsides to the XZ-1 is the focusing issue. It tends to focus on really random parts of the image sometimes and sometimes it just doesn't want to focus up close at all. Outdoors had less of this problem but indoors, I noticed it struggling to focus.
One of the bigger downsides so far, for the LX5 is that macro shots tend to have a less blurry background so the photo doesn't look as dynamic as it does with the XZ-1 but alternatively, the macro shots on the LX5 are also sharper when the image is blown up larger. So I guess it's not really a big downside.

In PART II, I'm going to explore the filters in each camera as well as take some pictures of myself to see which camera is most suitable for camwhoring! lol. You know you care...........

I'll upload PART II sometime in the next couple days or so.

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