Olympus XZ-1 - £295/$500
Weighing in at around 100g less than the chunky Canon and Nikon cameras on test, the Olympus XZ-1 is a more slimline affair, despite boasting a larger 1/1.63-inch (8 x 6mm) image sensor. It's the only camera in this group that doesn't have a sculpted hand grip and handling feels considerably less assured as a result.
Direct access controls are few and far between on the XZ-1, so there's much more reliance on scouring through the menus whenever you want to change anything. At least there's a quick menu available for major settings like ISO, white balance and picture style, as well as drive, autofocus and metering modes. This displays on the LCD screen when you press the OK button at the centre of the four-way pad.
One neat touch is that the lens features a context-sensitive control ring around its circumference. For example, in Aperture Priority mode, the ring adjusts the aperture setting.
Another uncommon, but useful, feature is a Bulb mode for long exposures - this is shared only by the Ricoh in the group. There are no less than 18 scene modes and six different art effects to play around with, but unfortunately the Olympus XZ-1 lacks a built-in viewfinder.
An optional electronic viewfinder is available, but it's a rather pricey proposition at around £180, and can't be used at the same time as a flashgun because it clips into the hotshoe.
The maximum burst rate is an impressive 7fps, but in high-speed drive modes only fairly low-res, 1280 x 960-pixel images are available. The Fujifilm X10 in this group also drops image size when using its fastest 7fps continuous shooting mode, but to a much more usable 2816 x 2112 pixels (6MP).
Colour rendition, sharpness and tonal range are all good in well-lit scenes. For indoor shots without flash, the XZ-1's images lack detail, even at low ISO settings, while noise is a major problem at high sensitivity settings. The autofocus speed also drops considerably in dull conditions.
As is often the case with Olympus cameras, the XZ-1's colour balance brings a certain warmth to outdoor images.
It starts off well at ISO 100, but resolution drops steadily through the sensitivity range and is extremely poor at ISO 3200.
ISO 200 at 100%
ISO 3200 at 100%
There's precious little fine detail in low-light conditions, even at medium sensitivity settings. At ISO 1600 and above, shots look noisy and blurry.
Colour rendition is good overall, but there's often a slightly warm colour cast to images, due to the way white balance is handled.
Image test verdict
The sun-loving Olympus XZ-1 gives pleasing results in good lighting conditions, but unfortunately it fails to impress when light levels fall.
Read our Olympus XZ-1 review