Olympus Stylus XZ-2 boasts unique features for the premium compact class

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This holiday shopping season won't not be short of excellent premium point-and-shoot camera options. The latest model vying for a spot on your wish list is the Olympus Stylus XZ-2, a camera that offers a few things that you won't find in the rest of the premium compact field.

The XZ-2 has a 12-megapixel CMOS sensor and an F1.8 aperture at the wide angle of its 4X optical zoom lens (28mm to 112mm). Its predecessor, the 10-megapixel Olympus XZ-1, had a smaller CCD sensor and the the same F1.8 lens, but Olympus says the new camera has a newly developed wider aperture of F2.5 at the telephoto end of its zoom lens.

One significant addition to the camera's feature set is an adjustable 3-inch LCD touchscreen, which makes the XZ-2 the only camera thus far in the premium point-and-shoot class with a touchscreen interface. (Update 9/18/2012: A day after the XZ-2 was announced, Canon unveiled the PowerShot S110, which is another new premium compact camera with a touchscreen interface.) To make the XZ-2's touchscreen UI more useful, the camera has the same speedy autofocus system found in the company's PEN cameras, according to Olympus. That means it should react to touch input in order to focus and snap a photo in a fraction of a second.

The touchscreen isn't the only way to operate the camera, which is a plus. The XZ-2 has physical buttons, scroll wheels, and knobs for operating its manual exposure controls, aperture- and shutter-priority adjustments, and ISO settings up to 12,800.

The camera also has a twistable control ring that surrounds the lens barrel and provides quick access to manual focus and exposure controls. A switch on the front of the Stylus XZ-2 lets you adjust the ring in a way I've never seen before, as it lets you toggle between a free-scrolling control ring and one that locks into place at individual steps; the idea is that the free-scrolling feel is better for manual focus, while the "click" ring is more intuitive for dialing in aperture settings.

Along with 1080p video capture at 30fps, the Stylus XZ-2 also has a good mix of features for both hard-core and more casual photographers, including RAW and RAW+JPEG shooting modes; bracketing modes for exposure, white balance, flash intensity, and ISO settings; a built-in neutral density filter; a dozen creative "Art Filter" effects; and a "Live Guide" interface that coaches shooters through aperture, shutter, and exposure-compensation adjustments. A hot shoe on the top of the camera is compatible with Olympus PEN flashes, eye-level viewfinders, and microphones.

Like the new PEN cameras announced today, the Stylus XZ-2 is also compatible with Toshiba's FlashAir Wi-Fi SD cards. Olympus optimized the in-camera interface to ease sharing images and video wirelessly, and a free "Olympus Image Share" app will allow peer-to-peer sharing between the camera and an iOS or Android device. The XZ-2 also comes with a removable handgrip that screws onto the side of the camera, much like the Olympus PEN E-PL5.

The Olympus Stylus XZ-2 is due in November for $600. That puts it in the same price range as Olympus's latest interchangeable-lens PEN cameras and the upper tier of premium point-and-shoots.

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