Olympus Stylus 740 Overviewby Mike Pasini
Review Posted: 12/06/2006
With a pocket-friendly all-weather chassis, the Olympus Stylus 740 features an Olympus-branded 5x optical zoom with a useful 36-180mm equivalent focal length range, and an f/3.3 to 5.0 maximum aperture, a cut above the 3x zooms offered on most point-and-shoot cameras. This extended range lens is coupled with a 7.1 megapixel imager, and 2.5 inch LCD display with a higher-than-average resolution of 215,000 pixels. As is common on many digicams these days, this LCD is the sole method of framing images, as the Stylus 740 forgoes any form of optical viewfinder.
Autofocus is via contrast detection, and ISO sensitivity ranges from 80 to 1,600 equivalent (2,500 being the maximum in some scene modes), and can be controlled automatically, or manually. The Olympus 740 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. The 740 does have a gyro sensor to detect the amount of camera shake, but the correction is made in software by compensating with blur removal after the exposure, plus increased sensitivity, faster shutter speeds, and tweaks to sharpening.
By default, exposures are determined with Olympus' 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 Stylus 740 offers automatic, or preset white balance control courtesy of six presets, but no custom white balance mode. The 740 also includes a four mode internal flash good to a distance of 12.5 feet at wide-angle, and offers beginner-friendly control over images courtesy of a very generous 23 scene modes.
As well as still images, the Stylus 740 can capture movies at VGA or lower resolution, at a rate of 15 frames per second. The 740 also has a twelve second self-timer to let you get into your own pictures. The camera stores images on xD-Picture cards, or 17MB of built-in memory, and also offers both video, and USB 2.0 Full Speed computer connectivity (sounds fast, but it's actually slower than the USB 2.0 High Speed connections on many cameras these days). Power comes from a proprietary Lithium Ion battery, of Li-42B type.
The Olympus Stylus 740 ships from September in the USA, priced at $350. A separately available PT-034 underwater housing will allow the camera to be used underwater at depths of up to 40 meters, and is priced at an additional $250.
Olympus Stylus 740 User Report
Intro. The attractive Olympus Stylus 740 is packed with some cutting-edge technology, like Bright Capture technology, Olympus' TruePic TURBO image processor, and a 5x optical zoom in an ultra-compact case. Not to mention the all-weather Olympus design.
What most impressed me, however, was the Guide option on the Mode dial. Dial in Guide and answer a few questions with a click of the navigator buttons and the camera sets itself up to solve whatever problem confronts you. Very, very slick.
The Stylus 740 is very similar to the identical looking Stylus 750, except that model has image stabilization. The Stylus 740 does offer an Anti-shake shooting mode, however.
Design. There's no question about one thing. The Stylus 740 is unique. Its ultra compact form factor fits in any pocket. But its stunning asymmetrical design means it's going to spend a lot of time in the limelight. It's unusual, yes, but beauty is unusual.
The Stylus 740 doesn't weigh much. In fact, its 4.59 ounces (130 grams) loaded with card and battery is well under average. But weight is a funny thing. A little heft is good for a digicam, helping to stabilize it as you press the Shutter button. And the Shutter button on the Stylus 750 is pretty stiff. So, guess what? The light weight and stiff button are a prescription for blurred images.
For such a compact camera, the Stylus 740's grip is very comfortable and intuitive. The wedge shape design puts the fat part of the camera in your right hand where all the controls are. While there aren't any grip-like elements in the design, there are spaces your fingers find easily that avoid obstructing the flash, with a little practice.
On such a small camera, control placement isn't much of an issue. They're going to be within reach. Still, we had an issue with the Stylus 740's control buttons. A big one. They're too small. And the navigator is not a dial but a set of buttons. Even worse, the cross formation is filled out with more small buttons in the corner. A set of nine in three-quarters square inch.
That confusion is, sadly, mirrored by the LCD menu system those buttons call up and navigate. There's something to be said for the lists and tabbed pages that dominate most modern digital camera interfaces. Olympus prefers a scattered approach, with items located like the buttons in corners and the center. If you get dizzy, it's not your fault.
Only four languages are supported out of the box: English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. But you can download a fifth language using the Olympus Master software included with the camera.
Display/Viewfinder. With 215,00 pixels, the Stylus 740's 2.5 inch LCD has enough resolution to display text and graphics clearly, as well as confirm focus before and after capture. There's no optical viewfinder.
Olympus' Bright Capture technology comes into play when you're shooting a dark scene with the Stylus 740. The display is brightened so you can see what you're shooting. It also comes into play in the Available Light Portrait Scene mode. I did try that out, fan of available light that I am, and liked what it did. It will reduce the size of the image to minimize noise, however. But you are starting with 7.1 megapixels, so that's not a bad approach.
Unfortunately, like the Stylus 750, the highly reflective surface covering the LCD makes it very hard to use in sunlight. And, to my surprise, just as hard to use in the rain. We took advantage of a little rain to test the Stylus 740's all-weather features and had a hard time composing our shots.
The Stylus 740's LCD also showed a bit less than the sensor captured, which also surprised me. LCDs tend to be about 100 percent.
Performance. I punched our test numbers into a spreadsheet that compares them with similar cameras and the Stylus 740 had average startup times. That's no doubt due to its telescoping, three-part zoom lens, which pops out about 3/4 inch at startup and a full inch and an eighth at 5x telephoto.
Flash recycle time was average and the flash managed to light up an average sized room adequately.
The Olympus Stylus 740 has a strange little dual Auto mode, set by pressing the OK button with the Mode dial set to Auto. It functions as either Auto (setting aperture, shutter, white balance, and ISO) or Program Auto (setting just aperture and shutter automatically). EV compensation is available whichever you select, fortunately.
The Olympus Stylus 740 has a very good assortment of useful Scene modes including Portrait, Landscape, Landscape & Portrait, Night Scene, Night & Portrait, Sport, Indoor, Candle, Self-Portrait, Available Light Portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Museum, Cuisine, Behind Glass, Documents, Auction, Shoot & Select1, Shoot & Select2, Beach & Snow, Under Water Wide1, Under Water Wide2, and Under Water Macro. Some of these seem a little redundant (Available Light Portrait and Candle, for example), but at least Beach and Snow are one setting.
The best thing about the Stylus 740's shooting modes, however, is Guide mode. An option on the Mode dial, it lists situations and solutions as if they were options. As you dig through the menus, you find just the thing you want the camera to do -- and the OK button actually sets the camera up.
Here's a typical walk through. Press the Olympus Stylus 740's Menu button to bring up the first screen of the Guide. There are three pages of options, featuring 13 topics like Reducing Blur, Shooting Subject in Motion, and Blurring the Background. Pick Set Particular Lighting and you get another page of options that include Outdoor in Sunny, Outdoor in Cloudy, Incandescent Light, Warm Fluorescent, Neutral White Fluorescent, and Cool White Fluorescent. Select one and the camera sets the White Balance to match.
The nice thing about this system isn't that it makes tricky settings efficiently (it doesn't), but that you don't have to know what White Balance is to set the Olympus Stylus 740 for Warm Fluorescent lighting.
The Olympus Stylus 740's 5x zoom covers a range of 6.4-32.0mm (36-180mm 35mm equivalent) with six lenses in four groups, the same as the Stylus 750. Not a cheap lens, though at f/3.3-5.0 it's also not a fast one. With the 5x digital zoom, that takes you out to 28x.
There is no image stabilization with the Stylus 740 (get the S750 if you want that), but Olympus does tap into its anti-blur software processing when you switch to Anti-shake mode on the Mode dial. On my doll test shot, it didn't work nearly as well as optical image stabilization, but it's something.
Movie mode is restricted to 15 fps at all three resolutions: 640 x 480, 320 x 240, and 160 x 120. A 2GB card can record about 37 minutes at the highest quality setting.
Worth noting, too, is that the only aspect ratio available in the Stylus 740 is 4:3. No wide screen, no 3:2.
It takes about five hours to fully charge the Olympus Stylus 740's tiny, 750 mAh battery.
Image Quality. High ISO performance is decent, and I could go on about other decent aspects of the Stylus 740; unfortunately, the lens is sorely lacking in one quality that's fairly important: uniform focus across the frame.
The Olympus Stylus 740's lens is sharp in the center, but quickly turns smudgy only 400 or so pixels from the center (out of a 1536 pixel radius), then gets sharp again on the right and left side, then smudgy again. It's as if the sensor has a wave in it, or the lens is malformed. There are points in the test images that show greatness, but they're quickly obliterated just pixels away. It's quite remarkable, and really not good.
Chromatic aberration is bright and softness is dramatic in the corners at wide angle, though CA is not as bad at telephoto. But none of that makes up for the very smudgy images we see coming from the Olympus Stylus 740.
Shooting. While comfortable to carry and attractive to look at, the Stylus 740 is less pleasant to use. The small buttons on the back are a big problem, but the stiff Shutter button on such a light frame is the biggest.
Using the menu system in sunlight isn't easy, either. I was actually unable to compose images with the sun behind me at Twin Peaks. My usual city shots were wild guesses, even though I shaded the LCD with my hand.
Oddly, the camera produces very blurry thumbnails of images taken with digital zoom. It seems like a defect, but I think it's just a bit of under-engineering.
One of the big advantages of the Stylus 740 and 750 is its all-weather design. That design features weather seals on latches like the battery compartment and USB port, and gaskets around the buttons and body halves to make it "splash-proof, dust-proof, and snow-proof." But the feature also appeals to people who live in rainy climates and like to hike because it's one less thing to worry about.
So how big a deal is it? We had a little rain and I decided to risk my health by trooping around in it with the Stylus 740. The rain accumulated on the body like the hood of a well-waxed show car. I kept the lens pointed down like a rifle to keep rain off it, but that exposed the LCD to the soft shower, making it even harder to read. But the camera functioned normally and gave me no reason for alarm.
The joke came later when I decided to take a few product shots of the camera in the rain. Naturally, I had to use my antique, non-all weather camera to do it. And it got wet. The rain was coming down softly, so I didn't put it in a bag to protect it. I did have a hard time seeing the LCD, but it was still more visible than the Stylus 740's.
To put this in perspective, I think Olympus has stated the advantages well. Rain isn't usually quite as forceful as a splash (particularly some fellow student's soda pop). The trick is to prevent moisture from seeping into the camera. Ordinary raindrops can't quite force their way into a camera even as they accumulate. Surface tension prevents the water from getting past the very tight tolerances of today's digicam buttons. In discussing a recent Kodak model, a customer service rep told us there wasn't even room for a drop of water inside the thing. And that can be said for most digicams.
When the rain is a downpour, a plastic bag (where you can shoot out the opening) is enough protection. Otherwise, all weather protection doesn't seem necessary on modern digicam's with their superior fit and finish. But you could say that about most forms of insurance most of the time. It's still nice to have.
In the Box
The Stylus 740 ships with the following items in the box:
- Stylus 740 digital camera
- LI-42B Li-Ion Rechargeable battery
- Battery charger
- USB Cable
- Audio/Video cable
- Wrist strap
- CD-ROM with Olympus Master Software
- Warranty card
- Large capacity xD Picture memory card. Available in sizes up to 2GB, these days a 512MB or 1GB card is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.
- Small camera case for outdoor and in-bag protection
- PT-034 Underwater housing
Like its stable mate Stylus 750, the Olympus Stylus 740 has stunningly good looks, but I was disappointed in its performance. Color just seemed unnatural and I came home with far too many blurry images for a camera that has image stabilization. I really wondered if the review unit was just malfunctioning. But it wasn't a mechanical issue. The thumbnails were very blurred, even when the image itself was not. Our laboratory test shots reveal terrible problems with focus across the frame, so it wasn't just me. The Olympus Stylus 740 shows some of the worst lens performance we've seen in a modern digicam.
And to make matters worse, I didn't like the Olympus Stylus 740's tiny control buttons. Buttons are never an improvement over a navigator dial but when you add four more in the corners, you're really designing for a joystick. The Zoom lever was also hard to control, jerking the image composition in too tight or out too loose. And, bingo, the Shutter button was so hard to press, I should have left image stabilization on all the time.
While the Olympus Stylus 740's LCD menu system seems scattered (in nine positions, just like the control buttons) and hard to follow, the built-in help system is a good idea, even a great one. An option on the Mode dial, it lists situations and solutions as if they were options. As you dig through the menus, you find just the thing you want the camera to do -- and the OK button actually sets the camera up.
Many of the problems with the Olympus Stylus 740 are a matter of taste, but the image quality ensures that it will not take up a position as a Dave's Pick. For a better choice that's more waterproof, and shockproof to boot, see the Olympus Stylus 720SW.