Olympus Stylus 730 Overview
by Mike Pasini
Review Date: 6/12/07
As with the rest of the Stylus line, the Olympus Stylus 730 digital camera is based around a weatherproof body that ensures wherever you go, your camera can go right along with you. It triumphs unhindered by rain, sleet, or snow that would see most digital cameras left at home, or in a sealed case, unable to get that chance-of-a-lifetime photo that sneaks up on you when you're not prepared. Pocket-friendly, and relatively lightweight, the Olympus 730 includes a 3x optical zoom with a pretty standard 38 to 114mm equivalent focal length range, an f/3.5 to 5.0 maximum aperture. It's a "folded optic" design, which allows the lens to zoom internally, which means there are no protruding lens elements to break. This design also makes it easier to seal the camera body. The lens is coupled to a 7.1 megapixel imager, and a whopping 3.0-inch LCD display with a higher-than-average 230,000 pixels, which dominates the rear of the camera. As is common on many digital cameras these days, this LCD is the sole method of framing images, as the Stylus 730 forgoes any form of optical viewfinder.
Autofocus is via contrast detection, and ISO sensitivity ranges from 80 to 3,200 equivalent and can be controlled automatically or manually. The Olympus Stylus 730 also offers what the company calls "Digital Image Stabilization" mode -- which should not be mistaken for true hardware image stabilization, where either lens elements, or the image sensor are moved based on sensors that detect camera shake; instead, the 730 combines a gyro sensor, software blur removal, and boosted ISO sensitivity to gain a faster shutter speed -- all of which will reduce blur, but at the expense of some added noise, and/or lost image detail.
By default, exposures are determined with Olympus's Digital ESP multi-pattern metering, with spot metering also available. Users can also tweak the exposure with +/-2.0 EV of exposure compensation, in 1/3 EV steps. Shutter speeds range from 1/1,000 to 4 seconds, and the Olympus 730 offers automatic, or preset white balance control courtesy of six presets, but no custom white balance mode. The Olympus 730 also includes a four-mode internal flash good to 12.5 feet at wide-angle, and offers beginner-friendly control over images courtesy of a generous 24 shooting modes.
As well as still images, the Olympus Stylus 730 can also capture movies at VGA, or lower resolution, at a rate of 30 frames per second. The 730 also has a 12 second self-timer to let you get into your own pictures. The camera stores images on xD-Picture cards, or 22MB of built-in memory. It also offers video, and USB 2.0 Full Speed computer connectivity (rather slower than the USB 2.0 High Speed connections on many cameras these days). Power comes from a proprietary lithium-ion battery. The Olympus Stylus 730 ships from September, priced at $400.
Olympus Stylus 730
by Mike Pasini
Intro. The minute I took the Olympus Stylus 730 out of the box, I slipped it into my pocket and took it with me wherever I went. I liked the size and shape, the huge LCD, the illuminated buttons, and looked forward to the digital image stabilization and high ISO options.
The Stylus 730 promises an awful lot, in short.
Like other Stylus digicams, it's splash-proof (so it can survive the scrutiny of two-year-olds). And it offers a very helpful Guide mode in addition to its many Scene modes. There's no manual control, but Guide mode actually configures the camera for you anyway.
With digital image stabilization, camera shake should be a little harder to invoke. And with high ISO, you should be able to capture that two-year-old between the N, and the O in "No!"
But if you take for granted the detail that a 7 megapixel camera should deliver at high ISO, or the color fidelity even a disposable camera can deliver, the Olympus Stylus 730 will disappoint you.
Design. One thing Olympus got right was the form factor. Start with a big 3.0 inch LCD, and build the camera around it -- only slightly larger. And since we're going to be shooting in low light, let's illuminate the control buttons (a feature we just fell in love with).
The Olympus Stylus 730 weighs next to nothing, fits in rolled up T-shirt sleeves (and of course pockets), and with a clever little thumb grip is hard to lose hold of, especially if you use the wrist strap on either of the two possible eyelets.
The Olympus Stylus 730's controls are placed so you can manage all of them with just your right hand. On top are the Power, Shutter, and Zoom controls, all of which occupy one finger. Your thumb will be busy with the control panel to the right of the LCD. Everything is right there at your fingertips.
Display/Viewfinder. There's no optical viewfinder, true, but the Olympus Stylus 730's gorgeous 3.0 inch LCD is a big selling point. With 230,000 pixels, it also has enough resolution to show some detail.
Like other Stylus models, however, it is very difficult to read in direct sunlight. And even in just the bright, ordinary outdoors. The shiny surface reflects light, making even shaded viewing difficult in bright conditions.
Performance. While shot-to-shot performance is above average, that's about it. Power on and shutdown are just average, and even more distressing is that shutter lag isn't very quick either.
The Olympus Stylus 730's zoom, however, was easily controlled. And it was pretty simple to adjust exposure using EV compensation, or to switch to Scene mode, or Guide mode for extra help. In fact, I preferred Guide mode to Scene mode. Scene mode puts the burden on you to remember what the situations it can solve. But Guide mode only needs to know what you want to do. It's a terrific innovation.
The Olympus Stylus 730's lens design has been around the block, apparently the same one as the 720 SW. It's fairly average itself with the chromatic aberration and distortion not uncommon on a compact digicam.
But we're clapping with one hand because the Olympus Stylus 730's image quality doesn't profit from it.
The compact battery held a charge long enough for us to go about our business on more than one shoot, and charged quickly. No complaints there.
In the lab, Luke noted that high speed Continuous mode is only available if ISO is set to Auto. He also found focusing in low light was very poor, with no Autofocus Assist lamp to help the camera find focus in dim lighting. That's a bit disconcerting in a camera that sports an ISO 3,200 option. In what, if not dim light, would you use that?
Shooting. We did like how the Olympus Stylus 730 traveled, and how it felt in our hand. No complaints there. The flat pocketable digicam with a large LCD seems, and small, non-protruding lens with few settings seems to be the rage these days.
Few settings is key. Buyers of these digital cameras don't seem interested in tweaking the camera to get better shots, relying on the camera to do the work. In that sense the Olympus Stylus 730's Simple shooting mode would seem to be redundant, but its real utility is in protecting whatever Normal settings you've made. It isn't very much protection (all a user has to do is push one button on the side to get back to Normal mode), but sometimes a little is enough.
Our first shots with the Olympus Stylus 730 were at Giorgio's pizzeria where there light was behind us from a large window. The room was mostly dark, though, the kind of place where your eyes take a while to adjust when you come in from the street. The perfect place to test ISO 3,200.
The thumbnails of the table look pretty good. And that's the trick to ISO 3,200. The camera doesn't shoot at it's largest file size (3,072 x 2,304) but at 2,048 x 1,536, which isn't bad, averaging data to build a credible image. Viewing our shots of the salad and pizza in the LCD, we very much liked how the Olympus Stylus 730 captured the scene. There's texture, and a good range of tones, surprising for such a high ISO.
But if you look at the full resolution image, you'll wonder how that was achieved. A close look shows a lot of noise -- certainly to be expected --, and little detail. In sum, I was impressed rather than disappointed by what Olympus had managed to accomplish. But it's worth noting these images fall apart quicker than others. If you're shooting for detail in low light, you will be disappointed with the Olympus Stylus 730.
In contrast, the full resolution image I took of a field of bacopa at my feet shows a good deal more detail. Shot in Auto mode at ISO 80, and with a wide open aperture, it also shows the limitations of the lens. You can see chromatic aberration as the purple fringe on the white flowers in the corners, which are also pretty blurry.
To test the Olympus Stylus 730's digital image stabilization, I shot the doll in the very dim light of the basement at both ISO 1,600, and ISO 3,200. Using a 1/8 second shutter speed (which is impossible to keep steady in real life), the image at ISO 1,600 is blurred but full resolution. At ISO 3,200, the camera was able to capture a much sharper image at 1/15 second but at reduced resolution. So it seems digital image stabilization may yield a stop or two more (where optical image stabilization can deliver three or four stops).
I found myself 47 floors above the city one very clear day, and shot with the Olympus Stylus 730 through the large glass windows around mid-day. Later I walked around downtown, and shot some store windows. When I compared those shots to my usual zoom range shots from the top of Twin Peaks, I was surprised that there was just one image in which the lens stopped down to f/8 (and that was a very high key shot of jewelry taken at ISO 3,200). The Olympus Stylus 730 seems to prefer to open the lens to capture more light rather than stop down to get more detail. Sometimes -- like in our wide-angle shot from Twin Peaks -- that led to a rather oversaturated sky.
That bias isn't going to bother most users of the Olympus Stylus 730, who will be happy with the color of the images and not much concerned with detail, viewing some shots only on the LCD. More discriminating photographers will be perplexed, though.
Appraisal. The water-resistant Olympus Stylus 730 is designed to take a downpour, capture color over detail, and reward you right away with very nice playback on its 3.0 inch LCD. To capture fast moving kids at play, it can ratchet up its sensitivity to ISO 3,200, but at reduced image size. And if you get in trouble, you don't have to remember which Scene mode is designed to deal with it. You can just pop into Guide mode to tell the Olympus Stylus 730 what you want, and let it show you how to approach the problem. It's an approach that will be appreciated by the photographer who is also (and mainly) a participant in the scene, too.
- 7.1 megapixel sensor
- 38-114mm zoom (35mm equivalent)
- 3x optical zoom with 5x digital zoom
- Maximum aperture f/3.5-f/5.0
- 3.0 inch LCD with 230,000 pixels
- Shutter speeds from 1/1000 sec. to 1/2 sec., and up to 4 sec. in Night Scene mode
- 20 Scene modes
- Movie mode with sound
- ISO sensitivity up to 3,200
- Digital image stabilization
- Large, illuminated buttons
- All-weather seals and gaskets, making it splash-proof, dust-proof, and snow-proof
- Bright Capture technology to boost LCD brightness in dim scenes
- TruePic TURBO image processor for quick start-up and fast shutter response
- Perfect Fix in-camera image editing
- 22MB internal memory
In the Box
The Stylus 730 ships with the following items in the box:
- Stylus 730 digital camera
- LI-42B Li-Ion rechargeable battery and charger
- USB cable
- Audio/Video cable
- Wrist strap
- Quick Start Guide
- Basic Manual
- Two CD-ROM's (Olympus Master Software and Advanced Manual)
- Warranty card
- Large capacity xD Picture memory card. These days, a 512MB, or 1GB card is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.
- Small camera case for outdoor and in-bag protection
The Olympus Stylus 730 is a slim, stylish water-resistant camera with several high ISO modes designed to improve indoor shooting, and a good complement of Scene modes for the novice shooter wanting to get good results regardless of the situation. But that's not all, the Stylus 730 also offers a unique Guide mode that will help you though specific situations. Though I doubt most will use either set of modes, it's nice to have them there for those who will. Unfortunately, much like its more fully waterproof cousin, the Stylus 770 SW, the Olympus Stylus 730's image quality is disappointing compared to other 7 megapixel cameras on the market, with muted color, and a noisy texture to solid colors. The good side is that few shooters actually use resolution this high, even printing up to 8 x 10 size, and few of these defects are strongly visible at those resolutions. So, as we said of the 770 SW, most users of the Stylus 730 won't notice the muddled color unless they venture into high ISO territory, or enlarge low ISO images above 11x14. Shutter lag was also high on the 730. But as long as potential buyers are aware of these limitations, they can enjoy the truly excellent aspects of the Olympus Stylus 730, and happily enjoy stacks of sharp, colorful 4x6 images.