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Olympus Stylus 750 Overview

by Mike Pasini
Review Date: 11/21/06

The Olympus Stylus 750 is designed to go anywhere the average enthusiast photographer is likely to want to go. Featuring a nicely sculpted, pocket-friendly, all-weather body with dual-mode image stabilization, the Stylus 750 features an Olympus-branded 5x optical zoom with a useful 36 to 180mm equivalent focal length range, and f/3.3 to f/5.0 maximum aperture, a cut above the 3x zooms offered on most point-and-shoot cameras. This is coupled with a 7.1 megapixel imager that's mounted on a platter which can be moved in two directions, allowing for CCD shift-type image stabilization. Additionally, there's what Olympus calls "Digital Image Stabilization" -- where the camera's gyro sensor detects the amount of camera shake, and correction is made in software by compensating with blur removal after the exposure, plus increased sensitivity, faster shutter speeds, and tweaks to sharpening.

The Olympus Stylus 750 also has a 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 Olympus 750 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.

By default, exposures are determined with Olympus' Digital ESP multi-pattern metering, with spot metering also available. Users can also tweak the exposure with +/-2.0EV of exposure compensation, in 1/3EV steps. Shutter speeds range from 1/1,000 to 4 seconds, and the Olympus Stylus 750 offers automatic, or preset white balance control courtesy of six presets, but no custom white balance mode. The 750 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 Olympus Stylus 750 can capture movies at VGA, or lower resolution, at a rate of 15 frames per second. The 750 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 (rather 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 750 ships for $400. 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 750 User Report

Front. The 5x zoom lens is fully extended here.

Intro. The Olympus Stylus 750 is a looker, no question. And Olympus has packed it with some cutting-edge technology, too. Dual image stabilization, Bright Capture technology, a 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 Olympus Stylus 750's 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.

Unfortunately, as you'll see, the results were generally disappointing. So much so that I wondered if the review unit itself was defective. But I think not. Deep in the manual, I discovered a few limitations that suggested that the Olympus Stylus 750 is not quite all it could be.

Back. The Guide mode is active, showing the simple decision tree on the LCD that you follow to have the camera optimize its setup for a particular situation.

Design. There's no question about one thing. The Olympus Stylus 750 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.

It 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 Olympus Stylus 750 is pretty stiff. [Editor's Note: This is the stiffest, most stubborn shutter we've experienced.] So, guess what? The light weight and stiff button are a prescription for blurred images.

Top. A wedge design that's fat right where you need it to be for a good grip, tapering to an elegantly thin left side where the lens lives.

For such a compact camera, the grip of the Olympus Stylus 750 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 help you avoid obstructing the flash.

On such a small camera, control placement isn't much of an issue. They're going to be within reach. Still, I had an issue with the control buttons. A big one. They're too small. And the Olympus Stylus 750's 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 of an inch square .

Buttons. Not only are they small, but there are nine of them. And the LCD menu scatters the options to match the button layout. Bad idea.

That confusion is, sadly, mirrored by the LCD menu system that those buttons call up and navigate. There's something to be said for lists and tabbed pages. 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 (English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese) are supported out of the box.

But you can download a fifth language using the Olympus Master software included with the Stylus 750.

Display/Viewfinder. There's no optical viewfinder on the Olympus Stylus 750 but the LCD is big, at 2.5 inches. And it has enough resolution with 215,00 pixels to give a good accounting of the image (if the text remains somewhat blocky).

Card and Battery. The xD-Picture card is really very small, maybe too small. The battery, which takes five hours to charge, is small, too. Note the black weather seal on the compartment door.

Olympus' Bright Capture technology comes into play when you're shooting a dark scene. The Olympus 750's display is brightened so you can see what you're shooting (something I think wouldn't much be appreciated by the people sitting around you at the school pageant).

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, but you are starting with 7.1 megapixels, so that's not a bad approach.

Zoom Range. Very wide angle to full optical to full digital zoom (which was impossible to hold steady).

But the more common situation of shooting outdoors -- and I don't mean just under the glare of a desert sun -- showed the Olympus Stylus 750's LCD to be completely unusable. It's protected by a shiny surface but it reflects everything, even in the shade.

Performance. I punched our test numbers into a spreadsheet that compares them with similar cameras and the Olympus 750 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.

Contrast. Not much detail in the highlights or shadows of this high contrast subject.

Flash recycle time was above average and the flash managed to light up an average sized room adequately.

The Olympus 750 has a strange little dual Auto mode. 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 750 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, Underwater Wide1, Underwater Wide2 and Underwater Macro. Some of these seem a little redundant, but at least Beach and Snow are one setting.

The best thing about the Olympus Stylus 750'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.

Color. Accurate color here.

Here's a typical walk through. Press Menu 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 the Olympus Stylus 750 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 camera for Warm Fluorescent lighting.

Available Light Portrait. Smaller file to reduce noise.

The 5x zoom covers a range of 6.4-32.0mm (36-180mm 35mm equivalent) with six lenses in four groups. It's not a cheap lens, though at f/3.3-5.0, it's also not a fast one. With the 5x digital zoom (available without image stabilization) that takes you out to 28x.

Image stabilization on the Olympus Stylus 750 is accomplished in two ways.

CCD-shift Image Stabilization uses a pair of gyroscope sensors and a dedicated CPU to plot the position of the CCD during image capture. If the CCD sensor moves, the camera will calculate the degree and direction of the movement, then automatically adjust the CCD to track that motion.

Digital Image Stabilization, the second method, is designed to reduce the blurring effect that occurs when either the camera or the subject is in motion during image capture. Images taken in low light are particularly susceptible to blurring because the shutter is held open longer to expose the CCD to enough light to capture the image.

When the Olympus Stylus 750's Digital Image Stabilization is enabled, the light sensitivity of the CCD is boosted so the shutter speed be fast enough to freeze motion. The adjustment is made automatically when the level of ambient light would be insufficient to maintain a shutter speed of at least 1/125 second at ISO 64.

Oddly, though, the manual states that images are not stabilized at high magnification, defined as both optical and digital zoom. Since that takes the Olympus Stylus 750 out to 28x, it's odd you can't stabilize the image when you most need it.

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 with the Olympus Stylus 750 is 4:3. No wide screen, no 3:2.

It takes about five hours to fully charge the tiny, 750 mAh battery. Fortunately, it's shipped partly charged.

Shooting. While comfortable to carry and attractive to look at, the Olympus Stylus 750 is less pleasant to use. The small buttons are a big problem, but the stubbornly 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. Only later did I notice I was shooting with +0.3 EV compensation.

I returned from my shoots at Twin Peaks with disappointing images, although the slight over-exposure didn't seem to hurt at all. The best are included in the gallery, where you'll see the manual is right about image stabilization and digital zoom.

A few street shots were happier. The Olympus Stylus 750 does shoot with a lot of contrast, blowing the highlights and muddying shadow detail, but just barely.

The Available Light Portrait Scene mode shots weren't really portraits, but they really were available light. They are scaled down internally by the Olympus Stylus 750, but they still show noise. And they aren't sharp at all.

Oddest of all, the Olympus Stylus 750 produces very blurry thumbnails. Which seems more like an image processor issue than an optical one.

Though beautiful, I was not drawn to the Olympus Stylus 750's imaging abilities.

 

In the Box

The Olympus Stylus 750 ships with the following items in the box:

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Stylish, ultra-compact design
  • Large 2.5 inch LCD
  • All-weather seals and gaskets
  • Optional underwater case, with modes to match
  • 7.1 megapixels of detail
  • 5x optical zoom with up to 28x total zoom
  • Dual image stabilization (sensor-based and anti-blur image processing)
  • Live histogram
  • Help system
  • LCD very hard to read outdoors
  • Blurred images using stabilization and digital zoom
  • Very small, oddly shaped control buttons
  • Fairly dramatic softening in the corners and sides of images.
  • Very stiff Shutter button
  • An awkward menu system
  • No autofocus assist lamp
  • Just Full Speed USB (not as fast as High-Speed)

 

Olympus's Stylus 750 has Stunning 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.

To make matters worse, I didn't like the 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, moving alternately too much or too little, making composition difficult. And the Shutter button was so hard to press, I should have left image stabilization on all the time.

While the LCD menu system seems scattered 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.

Much of my disappointment can be chalked up to personal (if impeccable) taste. But not all of it, unfortunately.