1. Reminder: Please use our affiliate links for holiday shopping!

Olympus XZ-2, Canon G15, & Panasonic LX7 - shooting impressions

Discussion in 'Open Gear Talk' started by Ray Sachs, Feb 26, 2013.

  1. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    Thanks to Amin and B&H, I was able to spend some time shooting with the Olympus XZ2 and the Canon G15. Since I own the Panasonic LX7, I’ve been compiling some impressions of the three cameras, which are among the best of the remaining 1/1.7” sensor premium compacts. This sensor size may be living on borrowed time, given the advances Sony has made with the 1” sensor in the RX100 and Fuji has made with it’s 2/3” sensor in the X10/X20. (Since I’ve owned and shot extensively with both of these cameras as well, I’ll make mention of those occasionally as well). Nonetheless, the smaller sensor has some advantages to go along with its inherent disadvantages as a relatively small sensor.

    The LX7 takes a different approach to this sensor than the others, using a multi-aspect approach that reduces the number of pixels in any of its native shooting formats (4:3, 3:2, and 16:9), but increasing and decreasing the actual width and height of the image as you move through the aspect ratios. While the other two cameras will allow you to shoot in aspect ratios other than their native 4:3, the 3:2 and 16:9 images are merely crops that chop off the top and bottom of the images without adding any actual width to the image. So the LX7 ostensibly sacrifices a small amount of image quality for a great deal more flexibility in shooting formats. This multi-aspect sensor is one of my favorite features of the LX7 – I prefer to shoot in 3:2 for landscapes and scenic shots, 4:3 on the street (where I often will crop down to 1:1 in processing), 4:3 when shooting in portrait mode, and occasionally 16:9 for really wide landscapes. It was one of the few things I really loved about the GH2 – I wish all cameras had this capability! I should note, however, that the LX7 uses a 10 megapixel version of this sensor, while the G15 and XZ2 use 12 mp versions, so even without the multi-aspect approach, the Olympus and Canon have about 20% greater resolution than the Panasonic.

    The lenses are all different too, but all impressively fast by the standards of just a year or two ago. The LX7 uses a wide 24-90mm EFL zoom, with a very fast aperture range of f1.4 - 2.3. The XZ2 uses a fairly typical 27-108mm EFL lens, also quite fast at f1.8 – 2.5. The G15 has the longest telephoto end with a zoom range of 28-140mm and also impressively fast at f1.8 – 2.8.

    All three cameras handle very well, with intelligent and intuitive controls. I suspect most photographers could get comfortable with any of them within a few hours of shooting and configuring to their liking. I’ve been critical of the shooting experience with some very small compacts like the Canon S90 – S110 and the Sony RX100 because I feel the small size forced too many compromises in the handling and controls. None of these three cameras, which are coat pocket size, if not quite pants pocket size, are similarly handicapped. The LX7 is the smallest of the three – the XZ2 is a bit wider while the G15 is a bit taller (but also is the flattest, with a fully collapsing lens). The Canon has a built in tunnel type OVF. The Olympus and Panasonic can both be used with optional EVFs that they share with cameras in their micro four thirds lineup. Highlights of the handling and shooting experiences, to me, are:

    LX7 – Among my favorite features of the LX7 are the multi-aspect sensor (noted above) with an external selector switch located right on top of the lens, a focus selector switch on the left side of the lens, a dedicated aperture ring on the lens, a step zoom that makes shooting with the LX7 more like shooting with a small bag of prime lenses than shooting with a zoom, and an excellent manual focus setup that lends itself to zone focusing and switching back and forth between manual and auto focus shooting very quickly and easily. A common complaint among LX7 users is the fiddly lens cap, but its easily replaced with an exploding lens cap that makes the camera a bit homely from the front, but is highly functional and makes turning the camera on and off a quicker and easier experience. Some don’t like the clickable thumb-dial, but with dedicated aperture rings and a dedicated manual focus adjuster toggle, the thumb dial rarely needs to be switched from function to function (like it did on the previous LX5), so the function here has been greatly improved through the generations.

    XZ2 – The XZ2 has three primary handling features worth noting. First, the well-known Olympus menu structure is something that many love and many hate, but it allows for an amazing degree of customization. This menu shares a lot with the OMD and EP m43 cameras – people new to these menus tend to hate them, but once mastered, many grow to love them because of the degree of customizing one can do with their own interface. There is a learning curve, though, so Olympus newbies beware. Another great feature is the flip-up rear screen that also has the same touch-screen interface as the OMD and EPL5. I personally love this – you can touch to both focus on a specific point and fire the shutter or, in manual focus, you can simply touch ANYWHERE on the screen to fire the shutter. For street photography, composing with and shooting this dead-silent camera at the hip or belly with your finger nowhere close to the shutter button is among the most discrete and confidence inspiring shooting experiences ever. As a street photography enthusiast, I’d be tempted to buy this camera for this feature alone. I love it on the OMD and EPL5 and having the same thing on a silent camera with an all-around zoom lens like the XZ2 would be a real pleasure. The third feature on this camera is a selector switch and integrated fn button located on the front of the camera, near the grip and near the variable function lens ring. I set this up to toggle between auto and manual focus. When you switch it over to manual focus, the lens ring automatically switches from controlling the aperture to controlling manual focus, with a reasonably detailed distance scale showing up on the screen. The fn button can share a number of functions – I set it up with ISO as the first function to appear when pressing it. Again, a highly customizable camera that can be set up just about any way that makes sense to you. This camera also has a lens cap that’s pretty cheap feeling and a bit of a pain in use, but it too can be replaced with an exploding lens cap similar to that available for the LX7, so this shouldn’t be seen as much of a problem. Due to family health issues, I wasn’t able to do any real extensive shooting with either of these cameras while I’ve had them, but I managed a few quick street shots one morning with the XZ2 – not much to them, but they demonstrated to me what a fine and useable street camera the XZ2 is.


    XZ2 testing-54-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr


    XZ2 testing-50-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    G15 – Having owned a Canon S90 a couple of years ago, I had a bit of a negative bias against the G15, but the camera put that to rest pretty quickly. This slightly larger camera has very nice external controls, including a dedicated exposure compensation dial on the top (where it belongs!) and two control rings/dials – one on the camera’s front just below the shutter release, and one on the back around the four way controller. With these three dedicated controls, its very easy to set this camera up for pretty much anyone’s liking. The camera is compact but has a reassuringly weighty feel – vey solid feeling. One of my complaints with the S90 I had a couple of years ago was its slow and deliberate nature. It was in absolutely no hurry to auto-focus and it had way too much shutter lag for much spontaneous shooting. The G15 is a more than adequately snappy camera in operation; with AF and shutter lag both more than adequately fast. The G15 doesn’t have much in the way of bells and whistles (which I’d say the other two cameras have in abundance), but it’s a very solid and capable camera that would be a fine companion for a shooter with slightly less specialized needs than someone who might crave some of the specific features found on the LX7 or XZ2. The G15 is the only of these cameras with totally retracting lens and automatic lens cover, which is very convenient but is not as fail-proof as the actual lens caps on the other two cameras.

    A couple of specific observations: All three of these cameras seem to have very competent auto focus, with the LX7 arguably the fastest, but all within a fairly tight range – no real advantage or disadvantage. There have been a lot of complaints about the XZ2’s AF reliability in lower light, particularly at the longer end of the zoom range. I didn’t do extensive testing, but I didn’t observe this at all. In fact, I managed my favorite dog photo I’ve ever taken of our pooch with this lens in fairly low light at the long end – just nailed it and razor sharp results. And she wasn’t holding her poses either, so it wasn’t the easiest job for the camera.

    8511776474_187b919bcd_c.
    XZ2 testing-12-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    I had more trouble with the G15 at the long end, but that may have been a result of the longer telephoto end on the G15 than the other cameras. The following is the sharpest I managed of the same dog in similarly low light with the G15. In fairness, I’ve never been impressed with longer telephotos on similar small sensor cameras. I had a Nikon P7100 for a few days last year and never thought it was worth much at the (very) long end, which extended out to 200mm IIRC. With their more limited zoom ranges, both the XZ2 and LX7 are both very sharp throughout their ranges.

    [​IMG]
    G15-10-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    In terms of image quality, you wouldn’t expect much difference between cameras with essentially similar sensors and you won’t find much. There are probably some differences in the jpegs from these camera – the LX7 has the flattest colors, the Olympus uses too much noise reduction, etc, - but doing some back to back to back RAW test shots at a full range of ISOs with all three cameras indicates very similar capabilities among the three. All are quite useable for my purposes through about ISO 800. ISO 1600 shots start to break down on close inspection but are useable in certain contexts, and ISO 3200 should only be used for small format web displays or very small prints, but does not hold up to any level of pixel peeping. The LX7 continues on to ISO 6400 and the XZ2 and G15 offer ISO 12,800 as well, but these are all useless IMHO – I would never use any of these cameras beyond ISO 1600 and rarely beyond 800. I find the grain pattern of the XZ2 files slightly more pleasing at higher ISO than the LX7 or the G15, but this is really down to a silly degree of pixel peeping. Bottom line, there’s not a lot of difference between them. These sensors fall short of the Fuji X10 (pretty good up to about 2000 IMO) and Sony RX100 (good to 3200 and surprisingly useable even at 6400), but with their fast lenses, the cameras hold their own in lower light, if they don’t quite excel in those conditions. Due to its faster lens and seemingly better stabilization, the LX7 seems the best of these in low light, but all three do reasonably well. At the wide end, f1.8 does pretty well at ISO 800, so these cameras cope well, but are not up to the higher standards of larger sensors.

    For those among you who are gluttons for punishment, raw files (my espresso setup is a very cooperative model and offers a range of bright to dark areas) of all three cameras at ISOs of 800 and 1600 can be downloaded and manipulated to your heart’s content, below. This ISO range is where the rubber hits the road - they're all good at 400 and below and none are worth spit much above 1600, so if you're gonna find any meaningful differences, its probably about here:

    G15 – ISO 800
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/76n2sbdn29ny6sr/G15 - ISO 800-1.cr2

    G15 – ISO 1600
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/ri9s8zyr15j2no4/G15 - ISO 1600-1.cr2

    XZ2 – ISO 800
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/8j65igclnbxryvw/XZ2 - ISO 800-1.orf

    XZ2 – ISO 1600
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/nmkulr4o857j9j6/XZ2 - ISO 1600-1.orf

    LX7 – ISO 800
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/e2wkjhir4ami5dk/LX7 - ISO 800-1.rw2

    LX7 – ISO 1600
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/ycwnr4nw9m77sqm/LX7 - ISO 1600-1.rw2

    Given the current street prices of these three cameras, the LX7 remains a no-brainer for me. It regularly shows up at about $300 or lower (although not at this writing) while the G15 is still at about $500 and the XZ2 about $550. There’s simply no basis for this discrepancy except for corporate strategies and probably lagging sales. In terms of quality and capability, there’s no real difference between the three. BUT, if the prices were more even, the XZ2 and LX7 would be a tough call for me personally. They both offer features of huge benefit for the way I shoot and I think I’d probably be about as happy, in slightly different ways, with the XZ2. That said, the Fuji X10, or coming X20 would likely be equally pleasing as well and the X10 is likely to come down substantially in price with the introduction of the X20. The G15, while not offering particular features that appeal to me specifically, is an equally fine camera and, price aside, would be a great all around camera for a LOT of shooters.

    -Ray
     
    • Like Like x 22
  2. Armanius

    Armanius Bring Jack back!

    Jan 11, 2011
    Houston, Texas
    Jack
    Thanks Ray. Nice write up. I was just handling a G15 at the local store, and I'm very impressed with the ergonomics. I was wishing that it still had the swivel screen.
     
  3. Djarum

    Djarum SC All-Pro

    Jul 10, 2010
    Huntsville, AL
    Jason
    Nice writeup Ray.
     
  4. Biro

    Biro SC All-Pro

    Aug 7, 2011
    Jersey Shore
    Steve
    Not just the swivel screen... how about the external ISO dial?
     
  5. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin SC Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    Nic
    Great comparison, Ray. The random low pricing of the Panasonic really does skew this comparison when you would usually expect them to be sold at similar prices. Assuming that they were, and based on my experience with my wife's XZ-1 (itself being a nice camera as is), the tilt and touch screen of the XZ-2 would be the standout feature for me out of these three cameras.

    Going by G series history, the swivel screen will likely be added back into the G16 to convince people that they need to upgrade their G15 :smile:
     
  6. Armanius

    Armanius Bring Jack back!

    Jan 11, 2011
    Houston, Texas
    Jack
    Oh yes, the Apple strategy of incremental improvements. And sometimes regressive!

    That will come back on the G17!
     
  7. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    I think when you offer ISO's up to 12,800 (whether realistic or not) at 1/3 stop increments, dedicated ISO dials start to become prohibitive. For some reason, I don't seem to mind not having dedicated ISO dials, as long as I can designate an easily found button to bring ISO up quickly. Its a one-button operation on all of these cameras - no problem for me. A dedicated exposure compensation dial is much more important to me, preferably one you can see just looking down at the camera. This is a big plus for the G15 and the Fuji X10 / X20 for me. The LX7 and XZ2 both have dials that I need for almost nothing else than exposure comp on these cameras, but they still require being re-armed a lot to put them in exposure comp mode. Not a huge hassle, but I prefer something dedicated.

    The fully articulated screens never worked for me, personally. I've had cameras with them and I almost never moved them from their default position flat against the camera's back - I never liked having to swing the screen out to the side, off-axis, to be able to look down at it. I've always really preferred the Sony / Olympus approach that allows you to just flip it up and still have it tucked in tightly behind the camera. This is purely personal preference, but a pretty strong one in this case.

    -Ray
     
  8. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    Its a big one, for sure. If I didn't have it already on my m43 bodies, it might be the determining factor for me too, even with the price discrepancy. To me, the old TLR way of holding the camera down at waist / belly level and looking down into the view (whether cut glass in the old TLRs or the LCD / OLED of modern screens) is just an incredibly natural, stable, and fun way to shoot. I'll never forget the first time I picked up a Nex a couple of years ago and my photographic youth came rushing back to me - "oh yeah - THIS way of shooting"!!! But since I already have it covered elsewhere, the multi-aspect, step-zoom, and wider lens of the LX7 become really big deals for me. If the LX7 just added the flip screen, even if not touch activated, it would be the only choice for me. As it is, it would be a close call. But not with prices this skewed. If not for the LX7's lower price, I'd probably still be shooting with an X10 actually. But at $299, I couldn't resist the LX7, and once I had it, I realized I preferred it to the X10 in every respect but very low light, and I've got other gear that's much better than either in low light...

    -Ray
     
  9. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Jul 3, 2010
    Great insights, Ray.

    I have a soft spot for the Canon G series, and I don't mind trading the articulated display for a slimmer profile, especially when if the display is a nice one with good viewing angles. I also don't mind giving up the ISO dial on a camera with well-implemented auto ISO, which most of them have these days. What I'd love to see is a shutter speed dial like the X-E1, but there's only so much space up there, and the exposure comp dial is more important.

    It's good to hear that the G15 has better performance than you expected. The two improvements I'd like to see to the G series are: 1) Either improve the OVF or get rid of it to make room for an even larger viewscreen; 2) Touch AF/shutter release like the Oly.
     
  10. thekeddi

    thekeddi SC Top Veteran

    539
    Aug 15, 2011
    South Australia
    Great write up! Thanks for that, lots of info and honest opinions. I love my LX7 and am glad I bought it :)
     
  11. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin SC Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    Nic
    The OVFs in recent G series models do nothing for me. I'd agree that they should either be a genuinely useful feature of the camera or be gotten rid of entirely. A small, dark, tunnel-like view of about 80% of the frame with part of the lens visible in the corner is about as appealing in practice as it sounds.
     
  12. Djarum

    Djarum SC All-Pro

    Jul 10, 2010
    Huntsville, AL
    Jason
    Ray,

    You mentioned AF of these cameras and said they seemed similar. I've noticed with my better half's XZ-1 that it struggles to get focus sometimes in poor light. What about these new iterations from Panny and Oly?
     
  13. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    I've heard the same thing about the XZ2 as you're mentioning about the XZ1 - poor low light AF, particularly at the longer end of the lens. It must be real because there are several comments to that effect if you go look through the forums at DPR. But I didn't experience it - that's why I included that XZ2 photo of my dog, because those were exactly the circumstances I shot it in. Relatively low indoor light (not SUPER dark, but far from a bright scene), shot at ISO 400, longer end of the lens, and it just nailed focus on a number of shots in a row - I chose the one I did only because its about the cutest photo of this particular dog I've ever managed, but the technical quality was good on all of them. So, I don't doubt there's some truth to it, but in my relatively modest amount of shooting with the camera, I didn't experience it.

    The LX7 has notably better AF than the LX5 did, and the LX5 was no slouch. But the latest generation of compacts just generally seems to have sorted out the AF thing pretty well. I was unimpressed with the Canon S90 I had a couple of years ago, and found the LX5 and X10 to be competent, but not terribly quick. But since this past summer, I've shot with the RX100, LX7, and now the G15 and XZ2 and they ALL seem notably faster and more reliable than the models from just a year earlier. I'd expect the Fuji X20 will continue with notable improvements over the X10, with its PDAF/CDAF hybrid.

    I'm sure any of these cameras will struggle in low enough light, but in anything like normal shooting environments, I'm quite impressed with pretty much all of the most recent batch of compacts. Or at least these relatively smaller sensor compacts - the X100 was never a speed demon (although the X100s promises to be) and the RX1 sounds like its pretty similarly slow...

    -Ray
     
  14. norman shearer

    norman shearer SC Veteran

    Nice review Ray. How would you rate the AF response and acquisition times on the LX7 and XZ2 in comparison of say a sony rx100 or Nikon 1 series cam? Would you feel confident enough to shoot wide open and rely on face recognition? For street work with the LX7 are you still zone focusing in manual and shooting blind? The tilting touch screen of the XZ2 is a big draw but I don't know if it will tempt me over the J1 - it's sheer speed and buffer size is hard to top. I'm still undecided if it's worth going smaller than a 1" sensor - the cameras are only marginally smaller and I still prefer a prime over a zoom.
     
  15. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    Hi Norman - I've never used a Nikon 1 so no basis for comparison. I had the LX7 and the RX100 at the same time for a while back in September of last year and I remember being quite impressed with both, about equally so. I see some complaints online from time to time about the RX100 AF, but I never had any problems with it - I thought it was quite fast and reliable. But in anything resembling adequate light I'd always prefer to use zone focus than auto for street work. The DOF on these small sensor cameras is so extensive that it just takes worrying about WHAT the camera will choose to focus on out of the equation. And I don't trust face recognition in that dynamic an environment - particularly when there may be several faces. Even my OMD, which has remarkable face recognition, isn't something I'd use in that environment - mostly for casual portraits with a long-ish lens. That said, I did a day of shooting with the LX7 and the RX100 together and when I moved indoors, I tried the AF and let the camera choose from among its focus points. And both the LX7 and RX100 handled the situation well, always getting something in focus that made sense for it to focus on. But that frequently wasn't what I'd WANTED it to focus on. So, again, that's never my preferred method when options are available. In terms of buffer size, I've never used burst mode shooting on the street - actually I did for about five minutes once and it made me feel somehow dirty - like it just wasn't a fair approach. Which of course is stupid, but that's how I felt. And any of these cameras are now at the point that you can fire single shot after single shot at about any pace you'd ever want to without any problems.

    -Ray
     
    • Like Like x 1
  16. Djarum

    Djarum SC All-Pro

    Jul 10, 2010
    Huntsville, AL
    Jason
    Thanks Ray. Yes, even with the AF lamp the XZ-1 can get slow to AF. I was just wondering if any of Oly's high speed frame rate tricks have landed in the XZ-2.
     
  17. NJH

    NJH New to SC

    6
    Aug 12, 2012
    South West England
    Thanks Ray. Your experience with all 3 has pretty much convinced me to take a punt on the XZ-2. For my situation I already own the EVF-2 and here the price difference to the LX-7 is about £70 so the two options are fairly cost neutral for me. I can never really tell with the DPR forums if the feedback are genuine problems or as is often the case a combination of user error and exaggeration.
     
  18. Kustom48

    Kustom48 SC Regular

    48
    Aug 12, 2012
    Wimbotsham, Norfolk, UK.
    ian drury
    Another big 'thanks' Ray from me !

    Very good review and write-up that conveys just how these work in everyday situations.

    I keep looking for a newer / current compact, but at the moment my 'pre-owned' LX5 suits me ok for the use I put it to.

    Thanks again for your time to do this.


    PS- I'm waiting for the Fuji X100S to appear & be tested thoroughly.
     
  19. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Jul 3, 2010
    DPR forums can leave you thinking that every camera is fatally flawed.
     
  20. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    Which reminds me of one flaw I forgot to mention with the XZ2 - its probably not fatal but its a damnable little thing that seems to be infecting more and more camera makers. OK, I don't know if this is true or not, but it Sony's doing it and Olympus did it with the XZ2.

    No charger. Just a cable to charge the battery in the camera. I find this to be a real pain in the butt with any camera, but with enthusiast level gear like the RX100 and XZ2 I find it REALLY bad and in a $2800 uber-high end camera like the RX1 I find it fully unconscionable. Yeah, you can buy a charger and spare batteries, but not including a charger with a new camera is a trend I'd like to see thoroughly rejected by the market. So, please don't buy any of these cameras and maybe these manufacturers will get the idea....

    -Ray
     
    • Like Like x 2