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Olympus Mju Stylus 720SW - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 10/04/06
Rating: Recommended
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Introduction: Announced on the 26th of January 06, the Olympus Mju 720SW "Shock and Waterproof" (aka Stylus 720SW) is a new 7 megapixel digital camera with a 3x optical zoom lens, a 2.5" screen and an ultra compact metal body that is waterproof and shockproof! As far as I'm aware, this is the only shockproof digital camera ever released! The 3x optical zoom lens is equiv. 38-114mm on a 35mm camera. The Olympus Mju 720SW is available from around £235, this makes it good value for money for an ultra compact waterproof, and shockproof 7 megapixel digital camera. The camera is enclosed in a sturdy metal body and is available in three colours: dusky pink (shown here), Steel silver and Polar blue - the colour is only visible on the front of the camera, the rest of the body is silver. The camera records videos at 15fps and with a resolution of 640x480. The camera is very compact and thin - the body measures: 91 x 58.7 x 19.8 mm (without protruding parts), and weighs approx. 149g.

Olympus have this to say about the camera:

"Afraid that a little rough handling might damage your digital camera or pictures you’ve 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)


Front - Camera on, after being submerged in water.


Front - Camera off - the lens has a built in metal cover.


Front - Camera on - Led, Flash, Internal lens, Microphone, pink front.


Back - 2.5" screen, zoom control, mode button, playback button, speaker, 4-way controller, OK/Func middle button, Menu button, Print button, lens strap loop.


Top: Power button, shutter release. Right: USB / AV, DC in.


Top / Left: Power button, shutter release, nothing on the left.


Bottom - battery / XD memory compartment, metal tripod mount.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.


Size comparison.


Size comparison.


Size comparison, compared to the Olympus SP-320.


Size comparison, compared to the Kodak Easyshare V570.

Specifications / Features:

  • 7.1 Megapixels
  • 3x Optical Zoom (1:3.5 - 5.0)
  • 5x Digital Zoom
  • 2.5" / 6.4cm TFT screen - 115,000 pixels
  • 7cm Super macro mode
  • Shutter speed: 0.5 - 1/1000 (Night scene up to 4 sec.)
  • 640x480 / 15fps Movie recording with sound, digital anti-shake
  • ISO: Auto: 64, 100, 200, 400 Manual adds: 800, 1600 Available light, Candle upto: 2500 (at 3mp)
  • Digital Image Stabilisation - increases ISO setting
  • 24 Scene modes
  • Weatherproof - Camera is waterproofed up to pressure equiv. to 3m / 10 foot diving depth including dust protection.
  • Shockproof - Not damaged by falling from up to 1.5m / 5 foot.
  • 19.1mb Internal memory

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • Strap
  • USB cable
  • Audio/video cable
  • Rechargeable battery LI-42B
  • Charger LI-40C
  • OLYMPUS Master 1.4.
  • Basic Printed Manual
  • Full Manual on CDROM

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:

First Camera menu Camera menu

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!).

Photo mode Function Menu

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 Scene modes / Auction

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 - some of the screens First Playback 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 Playback edit menu

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:

Mode
Image Size
Number Stored
SHQ
3,072 x 2,304
5

HQ

11
SQ1
2,560 x 1,920 (5mp)
16
2,304 x 1,728 (4mp)
19
2,048 x 1,536 (3mp)
24
SQ2
1,600 x 1,200 (2mp)
30
1,280 x 960 (1.3mp)
46
1024 x 768 (1mp)
71
640 x 480 (VGA)
116

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, 512mb: £29.71, 1gb (1000mb): £48.94.
Need more help deciding what memory card to buy? Have a look at our guide to digital camera memory cards or our article what size memory card should I buy?

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:

Heather and Flower (ISO100) Group photo (ISO100)

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.

Panasonic Lumix FZ7 Olympus Mju 720SW
ISO80 - Actual Pixels ISO64 - Actual Pixels
ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels
ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels
ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels
ISO1600 - Actual Pixels ISO1600 - Actual Pixels
 
NA ISO2500 - Actual Pixels (3mp)

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:

Liverpool Shops (ISO64) Trees, Sefton Park (ISO64)

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.

Wide-angle 3x optical zoom Digital and optical zoom

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.

Macro:

Macro Timex Watch Actual Pixels (ISO64)

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.

Conclusion

Image Quality: Image quality was generally good, with good colour, contrast, and detail, although images were slightly soft, and saturation was slightly lower than I would have liked to see (this can be increased by using some of the scene modes), as a comparison the Olympus SP-320 had higher saturation on default settings. Images had generally low noise, at most ISO settings upto ISO200. Images were slightly soft straight from the camera and could benefit from sharpening. Purple fringing was quite low. Red-eye was visible in photos with flash, this can be fixed using the built in red-eye reduction in playback mode. The camera did a good job focusing the majority of the time - and indoor group photos were surprisingly well lit despite the cameras compact size and compact flash. I did not notice vignetting in photos, nor did I notice barrel or pincushion distortion, although there was some corner softness. There is a very good range of image sizes, and a good choice of compression options, although the camera lacks choice regarding aspect ratio. Auto white balance, metering, and exposure seemed to be good to very good. The lack of custom white balance my hinder some people, especially those interested in taking macro photos. (7/10)

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The cameras most appealing features are it's ultra compact shock proof and water proof body - the first ultra compact digital camera to feature this. The camera is very compact and very pocketable. The camera is stylish with a solid silver body available in three colours. The camera has good 2.5" screen that is usable in bright sunlight, although the resolution is quite low. The camera feels very well built, and is comfortable to hold. The camera is easy to use, the menu system is easy to use and there is a good layout of buttons and controls, with numerous scene modes and a digital anti-shake mode to help get better shots. The camera speed is good, with a good switch on time, quick focusing time, excellent shutter response, good flash recharge time, slightly sluggish / slow playback mode, quick menus, and fairly slow continuous shooting at full resolution, and a very fast high speed shooting mode at 3mp. Battery life is average. The cameras video mode features digital anti-shake, but the frame rate is fairly poor compared to other digital cameras. (8/10)

Value for Money: The Olympus Mju / Stylus 720SW at around £235, is good value for money for an ultra compact 7 megapixel digital camera, add in the water, dust and shock proof features, and this digital camera becomes excellent value for money, especially considering that this camera will survive any accidental encounters with water and dust or from being dropped. There is very little to compare this digital camera with, the most similar being the Pentax Optio W10, a waterproof and dust proof 6 megapixel digital camera. (9/10) See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

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.

Olympus Mju / Stylus 720SW Rating: Recommended (8/10)
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What I like:

  • Waterproof
  • World's only shock-proof digital camera
  • Dust proof
  • Very compact
  • Very Stylish
  • In camera editing (red-eye removal, contrast, sharpness etc)
  • Digital Image Stabilisation mode (ISO upto 1600 at full resolution), Available light modes (ISO upto 2500 at 3mp)
  • Very good exposure / metering
  • Good colour
  • Good Macro mode
  • 24 Scene modes

What I don't like:

  • Advanced manual is on CD
  • Low screen resolution (115k pixels)
  • Doesn't feature custom white balance
  • Panoramic mode only available with Olympus xD cards!
  • Lacks picture options of other Olympus cameras, i.e Saturation, Contrast, Sharpness - instead you'll need to use one of the scene modes, or the playback mode, to increase saturation etc. Images can seem a little under-saturated straight from the camera on default mode.

Additional Test Images are viewable in the Olympus Mju / Stylus 720SW Sample Photo Gallery.

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