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.
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.
I 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.