Diving with the Olympus XZ-1

My first underwater digital camera was the Olympus C-2000Z in the Olympus OEM housing. In those early digital days, Olympus didn't import the housings for this camera to the US, so I literally had someone in Tokyo buy it and ship it to me. C-2000Z was a great camera for the time, but when the C2020Z came out, I quickly upgraded. The C2020Z evolved into the C3030, C4040, C5050 and so on and these cameras were very popular with underwater shooters. While I don't want to go back to the days of 2 megapixel noisy jpegs with no manual control, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the Olympus C-series as it introduced me to the world of underwater digital shooting. 

Fast forward ten years - Olympus is back in the game with their enthusiast compact cameras - case in point, the Olympus XZ-1. I took the Oly XZ-1 in the Nauticam NA-XZ1 housing out for a spin recently, and while I'll try to avoid any more sappy nostalgia, I will say that I had a lot of fun shooting this camera. 

Let's start by checking out some of the features that make this camera so popular: A 10megapixel MOS sits behind a fast f/1.8 28-122mm equivalent zoom lens with built-in image stabilization. HD video is supported using M-JEPG 720p at 30fps; accurate exposure and flash exposure (TTL), a large 3" OLED display, and a host of other features make this a camera to be considered. For underwater shooters, though, does it have the key features that we need - specifically RAW capture and manual exposure control? Indeed it does, and it goes a step beyond that - this camera supports TTL in manual exposure mode, meaning the u/w shooter has considerable control over the background exposure while letting the TTL function expose the foreground. 

This litte Grunt is apparently shocked to see an Olympus Compact Camera in such a fine aluminum housing.

The sculpted design of the NA-XZ1 housing fits well in the palm of my hand and all of the controls are easily reachable. For my dives, I set it up with a left handle and a right hand strap and two Inon S-2000 strobes. The strobes were fired via two Nauticam fiber optic cables. I generally shot wide angle with it, and brought along two different external wide angle lenses - the Nauticam Wet Mate Dome and the Inon UWL-H100, plus a 67mm lens holder. The rig was a bit negative so I added two floats to help balance things out. 


The setup used for these shots - Olympus XZ-1 in a NA-XZ1 Housing with the WMD; two Inon S-2000 StrobesI found both exposure and flash exposure to be very good, shooting in Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual exposure modes. Focus was accurate, though certainly not zippy. I'm certainly a bit spoiled by shooting the lightning fast Canon 7D, so perhaps this isn't a fair comparison. One can't really expect DSLR performance from a compact camera. With a little practice I got used to the short lag and was able to get some of the shots I wanted. I shot TTL the entire dive and found it to be spot on with the S-2000's. BTW, while TTL works well with the Inon strobes, I haven't been able to make it work with the comparable Sea&Sea strobes yet. So for this camera, I'd recommend the Inon strobes or the Olympus UFL-2 strobe (which will also have the advantage of the RC mode - resulting in faster recycle times on the camera).

Both of the wide angle lenses performed very well. I tried them both in very shallow water and deep water sunball shots and didn't see any flair to speak of. BTW, the camera handled the sunball shots very well for a compact. The Wet Mate Dome (WMD) is very lightweight and unobtrusive. This is a lens you could keep on almost all of the time and hardly notice it is there. WMD restores the FOV of the lens to it's in-air width and reduces the distortion. If you want to go wider, reach for the Inon UWL-H100 M67 Type 2. This lens vignettes ever so slightly with the XZ-1. This is easily fixed by zooming in a touch, or can be fixed in post-processing. I liked the FOV that the lens produced, but it is larger and heavier than the WMD. 

In you are looking for a very compact, rugged camera system that's capable of delivering excellent images, this is one camera/housing that should be on your short list. Check out the XZ-1 at your Nauticam USA Dealer.