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Olympus Mju Stylus
720SW - Digital Camera Review
Olympus have this to say about the camera:
"Afraid that a little rough handling might damage your digital camera or pictures youve just taken? Leave your worries behind when you pick up the µ [mju:] 720SW. Its rugged construction withstands accidental drops from heights up to 1.5m. And due to its special waterproof construction, you can take pictures underwater at depths up to 3 metres without an extra case. This camera also features BrightCapture Technology, allowing you to preview pictures on the premium size 6.4 cm LCD and shoot in dim light without a flash. Seven megapixels deliver amazing detail and an exclusive TruePic TURBO image processor provides faster operation and more true-to-life colors."
You can find more information on their website.
The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Pentax *ist DL DSLR)
Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.
Specifications / Features:
Average box contents - There is no memory card provided with the camera - instead there is only 19mb of memory built in. Some kind of case would have been nice, as would a full printed manual.
Battery usage: Battery life seemed average, I managed to take around 200+ photos before "battery empty" appeared on screen. Battery life is rated at 180 shots with the LI-42B rechargable battery provided. There is no way to turn off the screen, as there is no optical viewfinder, therefore the only way to get better battery life is to purchase a second battery, or turn off the flash.
Menu Options / Modes: The camera mode is selected using the two small buttons on the back of the camera, one toggles between Program mode, Anti-shake mode, and Scene mode, and the other button switches to playback mode. The Olympus Mju 720SW has an updated menu compared to the SP-500. The movie mode is accessible in the scene menu.
Photo mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen(s) as shown below:
Photo / Camera
menu options: The first screen gives you quick access to some options
such as image quality. The Camera menu options are: White Balance, ISO,
Drive, ESP / Metering, Digital Zoom, AF mode, Microphone, Panorama (only
available with Olympus XD cards!).
Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown above) The screen resolution with 115,000 pixels is average. The screen is clear and the text and menus are easy to read.
Function Menu: This is appears to be new for Olympus, much like the Canon Function button, the Olympus Function button gives quick access to photo controls such as: Photo mode (Program or Auto), White Balance (Auto, Sun, Cloud, Lightbulb, Flourescent 1,2,3), ISO (Auto, 64 - 1600), Drive (Single, Continuous, Continuous High Speed - at 3mp), Metering (ESP, Spot).
Optical / Electronic Viewfinder: There is none.
Setup menu options: Format, Backup, Language, Photo / Play (Yes/No), Power on setup, Menu Colour, Beep, Volume, Shutter sound, Record view (turn this off to speed the camera up in photo mode), File name, Pixel mapping, LCD brightness, Date / Time, Dual time, Alarm Clock, Video out.
Scenes: Portrait, Landscape, Landscape and Portrait, Night Scene, Sport, Night Portrait, Sport, Indoor, Candle, Self Portrait, Available light, Sunset, Fireworks, Museum, Cuisine, Behind Glass, Documents, Auction (shown above), Shoot and Select 1, Shoot and Select 2, Beach and Snow, Under water wide 1, Under water wide 2, Under water macro, Underwater snapshot, Movie.
A quick note on shoot and select 1 and 2 - this takes numerous photos in quick succession, you then choose the ones you want to delete by putting a tick next to them! Originally I thought I had to put a tick next to the one's I wanted to keep only to see them get deleted! Surely a big red cross should be put on the ones you don't want, and big green ticks on the ones you want to keep!
Playback (Review) mode/menu:
Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is a bit sluggish / slow. The zoom is very quick. There were numerous different playback views: Calendar view by date, Normal, thumbs - showing 4, 9, 16, or 25 thumbnails. There was limited additional information available about the photos, for example, the camera doesn't display shutter or aperture speeds, in playback or photo mode.
On the initial playback menu, you have the choice of: Slideshow, Edit, Print order, Calendar, Playback menu, Setup, Index view, Erase and Album.
Playback menu options: (left) Protect, Rotate, Audio, Album entry.
Playback edit menu options: (right) Resize, Redeye fix, Black and White, Sepia, Frame, Title, Calendar, Layout, Brightness, Saturation.
Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures:
As shown in the table above, higher quality images take a large amount of memory, so a high capacity memory card is definitely recommended, unless you're prepared to sacrifice image size or use higher compression options to fit more pictures in memory. There is a very good choice of image sizes, although it would have been nice to have the option of different aspect ratios.
A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 256mb memory card, and preferably a 512mb memory card, especially considering the relatively low prices - the larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to go on holiday then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in, as you don't always know when you will next be at a computer. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Olympus Mju 720SW / Stylus 720SW:
Find the latest
prices for XD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 256mb: £15.47,
1gb (1000mb): £48.94.
Speed: The camera is fairly quick to switch on and take photos, being ready in just under two seconds. Focusing seemed fairly quick (under 1 second in low light). The playback mode is a bit sluggish, with photos taking around one second or less before displaying when going from photo to photo - however the zoom is very quick. The camera shutter response seemed very quick when pre-focused, with a response time of around 0.1 seconds. Shot to shot time was average, with a delay of around 2 seconds between shots without flash. The flash recharge time was quite quick with shot to shot time roughly half a second slower than without the flash. The cameras menus seemed quick. On the High Speed continuous shooting mode (at 3mp), shot time is very quick, at roughly 4fps. On the normal continuous shooting mode, at the full 7mp resolution, shot time was slower, with flash on providing around 0.8fps, and with flash off around 1.1fps.
Ease of use: The camera is very easy to use, and works just like a point and shoot as soon as it's switched on, in any of the modes, whether you are in the Auto / Program mode, the Digital Anti-shake mode, or the Scene mode. The Anti-shake mode makes it especially easy to get blur free photos, just so long as you don't mind the camera using a higher ISO setting. If you want to get more advanced then the majority of the options are easy to access and easy to understand - however, I was surprised that there wasn't a "Built in Guide" like on other recent Olympus digital cameras. The controls on the back of the camera are quite straightforward - the menus are responsive and easy to read and navigate. The menus are also easy to use, and the options are big enough and easy enough to see clearly. The modes are easy to access, quick and simple, mainly thanks to the large screen (most options are easily accessible by use of the ok button and the direction arrows) which makes it easier to use. Overall, I found the camera very easy to use, with the scene modes especially useful.
Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc.) The buttons are fairly easy to use, and they are in a good position. There aren't too many buttons on the camera, which should make it simpler to master the cameras basic functions. The buttons feel okay, although some may find them small, especially the power button. The shutter release is good. The four-way controller could be labelled more clearly, however, this may have made the camera appear less stylish. The main mode button could have been labelled better, perhaps using a different colour to show that it's one of the more important buttons. I thought the camera felt quite good ergonomically, although there is no handgrip on the front of the camera, and a small bit at the back sticks out to act as a thumb grip. The camera feels like a very solid, robust and well built camera, the metal feels solid and is very reassuring, even the screen seems well protected, the only part I was dissapointed with was that they used a plastic on some areas of the camera, such as the tripod mount and USB cover.
Image Quality: Here are some real world sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Noise, Outside, Zoom, Macro, to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Olympus Mju / Stylus 720SW Sample Photo Gallery!
Inside: The camera has good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo - there is no red-eye in the photo, although there is some in other group photos. It has a decent flash, and copes very well with group photos lighting up a large group of people, and on AUTO ISO, the ISO setting was kept low in these photos, although some noise was visible. The camera did a good job at focusing most of the time even in low-light. Colour is could be more saturated, but seems accurate - to increase saturation, you can use one of the many scene modes, for example, cuisine, and landscape are two of the scene modes that will add more saturation.
Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels, and manual ISO settings (ISO: 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1600) with a further ISO2500 mode available in the "Available light" scene mode - below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops from the image taken at different ISO settings, compared with the 6 megapixel, 12x optical zoom lens Panasonic Lumix FZ7.
ISO Noise Test Photo - Flash off unless otherwise stated. Panasonic Lumix FZ7 on the left, Olympus Mju 720SW on the right. The colour difference is due to both cameras being set to automatic white balance.
Noise is much higher on the FZ7 than on the Olympus Mju 720SW upto ISO400, where noise levels appear quite similar, the FZ7's noise is much more blotchy - whereas the 720sw's noise seems much more fine grained and consistant. Personally I would say that ISO80 - ISO100 is useable on the FZ7, whereas ISO64 - ISO200 is useable on the 720sw, with ISO200 on the FZ7 being borderline / unacceptable, and ISO400 and above on the 720sw being borderline / unacceptable. The ISO800 and ISO1600 mode on the FZ7 lose much more detail than the 720sw. The 720sw has an additional high ISO mode (of upto ISO2500) at 3 megapixels, this may be useful for small prints, however detail is quite low.
Outside, the camera has good colour, with good saturation and contrast. There was good detail although some images seemed a little soft. Noise seemed low for ISO100 photos. I turned up the quality to maximum to avoid jpeg artefacts. Exposure seemed good with detail visible in the light, and darker areas. Image saturation can be increased by using one of the scene modes, for example, the trees photo above was taken using the Landscape scene mode.
Zoom: The Olympus 3x optical zoom lens provides a good / standard zoom range. The camera also features a 5x digital zoom. Digital zoom simply degrades image quality and better results can often be obtained using software. I've included examples to show what is possible.
Exposure / Metering on the photos of the clock tower seems very good, despite the grey weather, with the dark areas of the photo not too dark, and the bright areas of the photo still visible. Purple fringing was also very low in these photos.
Lens noise and zoom: The lens and shutter noise are very quiet and almost impossible to hear (assuming you've switched off the "pretend" sounds). There are around 9 steps between wide angle and telephoto. This gives good control over how you frame your subject.
Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing was low in most photos, but can be seen in some extreme test cases near the edges of the photos, however this was only seen when looking closely at the images, and was not seen in most normal photos.
The super macro mode allows you to be 7cm away from the subject - this allows you to get good, close-up, detailed macro photos. Unfortunately there is no custom white balance - auto white balance did a fairly good job here, but in different lighting conditions results may not be as good.
Video mode: The camera features a 640x480 video mode at 15fps with sound - this features digital anti-shake. This is fairly average, a higher frame rate would have been nice.
Summary: The Olympus Stylus / Mju 720SW has a LOT going for it, and would be especially suited to someone who wants to take their camera with them everywhere they go, especially if they're prone to dropping things, getting things wet, getting things dusty. The shockproof and dustproof qualities, and the solid build of the digital camera is likely to make the digital camera last much longer than other digital cameras, this makes it excellent value for money compared to less solid digital cameras. Image quality was generally good, although slightly under-saturated for some people's tastes, and images were slightly soft. Noise was quite well controlled. The camera is very easy to use and there were several features built into the camera to help get better results, such as the digital image stabilisation mode and numerous scene modes.
What I like:
What I don't like:
Additional Test Images are viewable in the Olympus Mju / Stylus 720SW Sample Photo Gallery.