A long long time ago (in digital market terms) DSLR cameras were quite expensive. Well, at least more than most of the customers could or wanted to pay for. In those days only alternative for advanced amateurs on the budget or users in desire for higher image quality were so-called “prosumer” cameras. They still had small sensors, but paired to high quality optics in larger bodies with full manual controls. As soon as DSLR and (in the last few years) mirrorless cameras became affordable, prosumer cameras disappeared almost overnight. Why would anyone buy a product with worse image quality when you could get full size pro-looking DSLR to impress your friends instead?
Well, things appear to have changed a bit since then. Sensor technology has advanced and people have gotten bored with their big DSLR cameras most of which have never had its kit lens removed. Not even out of curiosity. Trends come and go, and now it’s all about size and portability. Mirrorless are a great step up, but most of them require large(ish) lenses to feed those big sensors. Once again, users were stuck with boring 3x optical zoom lenses with slow 3.5-5.6 aperture range… Or are they?
In recent years we have witnessed a new rise of popularity of prosumer/advanced amateur (call them as you like) digital cameras. Both professionals and amateurs wanted something portable for times when DSLR feels to big or intrusive to carry around.
All the major companies have their advanced compact camera today… they may not sell in large volumes, but it’s a matter of prestige having one in the product line-up.
I have tested two of the latest newcomers on the market – Nikon Coolpix P7700 and Olympus Stylus XZ-2. Both cost about the same (in the range of cheapest DLSR or mirrorless cameras) and both have a range of features that make them more desirable from entry-level DSLR offerings.
Except for a few details, these cameras are pretty much the same on the paper. Nikon P7700 has an edge with significantly larger optical zoom and twice faster maximum shutter speed, but Olympus has touchscreen and is sold with 8GB Wi-Fi card in many countries.
NIKON P7700 AND OLYMPUS XZ-2 VS. DSLR
These cameras are not made only as backup for your DSLR. Before the review I would like to go through a list of reason why these cameras may be better choice for amateurs that would otherwise buy an entry-level DSLR:
- SIZE: DSLR’s may still have better high ISO or overall image quality, but is the difference worth to carry much heavier camera with you? How many times have you left you DSLR at home because of that and regretted it later?
- IQ: As I’m about to prove in this review, image quality in these cameras is actually outstanding. They have tiny sensors but in reality, IQ is more comparable to DSLR’s than compact cameras in almost all shooting scenarios.
- LENS IQ: You get a boring 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 zoom lens with your DLSR or mirrorless. If you need more reach or brighter apertures, this means more money to spend and even more weight and bulk to carry around. XZ-2 and P7700 have such lenses already built in: both are very bright, small and Nikon even has 7x optical zoom.
- FEATURES: Both Olympus and Nikon have more manual controls and features than similarly priced entry-level DSLR or mirrorless cameras, so they will allow to learn and experiment
CONSTRUCTION AND HANDLING
Both cameras have a very good construction quality. External materials are excellent, and all the buttons and controls have a nice positive feel when used. Sadly, none of them is weather-sealed.
Nikon P7700 grip is more pronounced and covered with soft non-slippery rubber. Attention to details is amazing – even the belt-brace rotates around its axis. Olympus is a slimmer camera, and grip is thinner. The important detail is the removable grip; it can be replaced with larger one. At this point Olympus offer only the same grip shape in different colors, but it’s just a matter of time before some Chinese company starts making them in all shapes and sizes.
Both cameras are aimed at advanced users and have a lot of external buttons and dials. Nikon has outdone itself with P7700; it has six dials (counting shooting mode dial in)! I doubt anyone could have major ergonomics complaints for both cameras.
LCD AND VIEWFINDER
Both cameras have tilt-able 3 inch LCD screens. P7700′s LCD is rotated around its left axis which is great for vertical shooting, but I prefer the tilt mechanism on Olympus XZ-2. It is more appropriate for waist or over-the-head shooting style which I do more. Olympus’ LCD also has touch capability, what I found very convenient for fast focusing without the necessity to change AF point. Also, it is easier to browse and zoom images in playback.
Nikon doesn’t have an optical or electronic viewfinder and cannot attach one. Olympus XZ-2 has a connector just below the hot-shoe which supports EVF (sold separately).
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