Olympus Rolls out Rival to Canon's S95 and New Interchangeable-Lens Camera

At CES in Las Vegas, Olympus got off to a hot start by announcing two new digital cameras that are among the most interesting we've seen at the show so far. The fixed-lens Olympus XZ-1 is a high-end pocket camera that offers full manual controls and impressive hardware, while the Olympus PEN E-PL2 is a well-priced interchangeable-lens compact camera that's designed for casual shooters who want to learn photography on the fly.

Olympus XZ-1: A Pocketable Powerhouse

The compact, pocketable XZ-1 is a high-performance point-and-shoot that's geared to go toe-to-toe with Canon's PowerShot S95. The 10-megapixel CCD-sensored XZ-1 has a fast, bright F1.8 aperture at the wide-angle end of its 4x optical zoom (28mm to 112mm) that's an F-stop wider than any other pocket camera on the market. It also boasts an equally impressive F2.5 aperture at full telephoto -- that's a wider aperture than most compact cameras have at their wide-angle end.

The XZ-1 is the first Olympus fixed-lens camera to offer a Zuiko lens, which is bolstered by dual optical/digital image stabilization. Olympus is touting the camera's low-light capabilities, thanks to its wide aperture, autofocus-assist lamp, and ISO adjustments that reach up to 3200. The camera also boasts a 3-inch OLED screen.

Olympus's new flagship point-and-shoot also employs a similar control ring around the lens as the Canon PowerShot S90 and S95, which allows fast access to aperture, shutter, and ISO settings. Other key features include full manual controls, RAW shooting, an extensive range of Olympus's digital art filters (such as the tilt-shift-lens simulating Diorama Mode, Dramatic Tone, Pop Art, and Soft Focus), 720p high-definition video at 30fps, and the same in-camera Live Guide tutorials that are found in Olympus's PEN series of interchangeable-lens cameras.

The XZ-1 also serves up a hot shoe on top of the camera that can be used with Olympus's attachable electronic viewfinder for the PEN series, an external microphone, and the new Macro Arm Light extension (more on that below).

The Olympus XZ-1 is priced at $500 and is slated for availability this month.

Olympus PEN E-PL2: An Interchangeable-Lens Camera Built for Novices

The Olympus PEN E-PL2 is the company's fourth Micro-Four Thirds system compact interchangeable lens camera, and it's a beginner-friendly follow-up to last year's PEN E-PL1. The 12-megapixel PEN E-PL2 offers a slightly sleeker, thinner body and more-comfortable hand grip than the E-PL1, as well as slightly redesigned menu-navigation controls that use a scroll wheel rather than push-buttons.

In Video: The E-PL2

The camera includes a few new shooting features, as well. Olympus has revamped the helpful Live Guide tutorial controls in the camera, and the camera now lets you combine and tweak art filter image effects to give shooters a bit more manual control over the look of in-camera special effects.

The E-PL2 shoots 720p HD video, has a pop-up flash, and comes with a new Zuiko 14-42mm f3.5/5.6 zoom lens that has been optimized for video capture via a revamped, quiet autofocus system. The E-PL2 also gets an ISO boost from the E-PL1's maximum ISO of 3200; the E-PL2's maximum ISO is 6400.

The PEN E-PL2 also offers a pair of interesting new accessories, both sold separately: the PENPal Bluetooth transmitter, which pairs with mobile phones to offload images from the camera to the phone instantly, and the Dr. Octopus-like, dual-LED lamp Macro Arm Light extension is designed for illuminating small objects for macro photography.

The Olympus PEN E-PL2 is also due out this month, priced at $600 as a kit with the new Zuiko 14-42mm f3.5/5.6 Zoom Lens.

For more up-to-the-minute blogs, stories, photos, slideshows, and video from the nation's largest consumer electronics show, check out PC World's complete coverage of CES 2011.

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