Olympus Stylus 760 Overview
by Rob Murray
Review Date: 04/09/07
The Olympus Stylus 760 offers both hardware image stabilization and software anti-blur in a very pocket friendly body. The Stylus 760 includes both a seven megapixel CCD image sensor and Olympus-branded 3x optical zoom lens, as well as a 2.5" LCD display with 230,000 pixels. The LCD is a wide-view type that allows good visibility within a useful 140 degree angle, and unusually there's a button on the camera body to boost the backlight strength to help improve the view when sharing photos with friends on the camera's LCD.
The Olympus 760 packs these features into an all-weather metal body that can handle rain, dust and snow. Other features include a whopping 26 shooting modes, compatibility with an optional underwater housing, as well as 18MB of built-in memory, and an xD-Picture card storage slot. The Olympus Stylus 760 ships from February 2007, priced at $249.99.
Olympus Stylus 760 User Report
by Rob Murray
The Olympus Stylus 760 all weather camera is a sleek, easy to pocket camera built for the enthusiast photographer. It has the familiar Olympus styling, common to their Stylus models for some time now, which allows it to easily slip into any pocket for easy access. This model features a 3x zoom lens with a 37-111mm equivalent focal length and a F3.4 to F5.7 maximum aperture. This is coupled with a 7.1 megapixel imager that's mounted on a carrier that can move in two directions, allowing for sensor-shift type image stabilization. This can be a great help for getting blur-free images under dim lighting, although I didn't think the 760's IS was as good as that of some other cameras I've played with. 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. This type of blur reduction is less effective than that accomplished by moving the sensor, but in combination with an increased light sensitivity setting and the faster shutter speeds that permits, as well as tweaks in the camera's image sharpening algorithm, it does help somewhat.
The all-weather designation of the Olympus 760 deserves some special mention, as it represents a great step forward relative to most digital cameras on the market. In common with their film-based predecessors, most digital cameras really dislike like water or dust. The Olympus 760 though, includes environmental seals in a number of key areas, letting it shrug off the occasional rainstorm with no ill effects. Note that you can't take the swimming, or dunk it under water for any reason (check out the 760's sibling, the Olympus 770SW for that sort of use, or buy one of Olympus' excellent underwater housings to put the 760 in), but splashes and raindrops are perfectly OK. A consequence of this splash-proofing is that the camera is also less susceptible to getting dust into its inner workings than are many of its competitors.
The Olympus 760's LCD display is a nice large 2.5 incher with adjustable brightness and a high resolution of 230,000 pixels. There is no viewfinder on this camera so you must use the LCD display, but the camera does a (somewhat) better than average job of brightening the display when you're shooting under dim lighting, so I didn't find myself missing an optical viewfinder too much in indoor or after-dark shooting situations. Outdoors under direct sunlight though, I found it much more challenging to see what I was doing. The surface of the LCD window is very reflective, so in bright light, I ended up seeing more of my face than I did the picture I was composing. The Stylus 760's LCD really needs an anti-reflective coating on it (or a more effective one than there is.)
Most of the camera's controls are in a tight cluster on the back of the camera, with not a lot of space between them. In practice though, the combination of reasonable-sized buttons, and the fact that they project a bit above the surface of the case made for pretty easy operation. I also felt that they were well-marked, and had no trouble figuring out which button to press to accomplish any particular task.
Design-wise, I found the Stylus 760 very well executed, its trim, sculpted body a nice change from the more common "bar of soap" designs of many of its competitors. Looking down on the top of the camera, you can see that it's tapered somewhat toward the left-hand side. Initially, I thought this a little odd, perhaps just one of those things designers do to make their products look different. Once I started using the 760 though, I realized that this slight taper made it easier to slip into my shirt pocket, a nice touch. In the hand, the Olympus 760 has a nice, quality feel to it, its metal-clad body is lightweight, but has enough heft that it doesn't feel cheap, either. The 760 can be used one handed if need be as all the controls are on the top or far right hand side. Its an easy camera to hold as there is only one place for your thumb to fit on the back of the camera, I wish there was a rougher surface at that spot for a better grip.
Relatively unusual on a basic point & shoot camera like the Olympus 760 is an option for spot metering. This lets you tell the camera to only base its exposure on a very small part of the subject, such as someone's face. This can be very handy for getting the exposure right in situations that would form a normal metering system (taking a picture of someone with their back to the sun, for instance), but I suspect most users of the 760 would never delve deep enough into its capabilities to access this feature.
More useful for the average user are the Stylus 760's 22 scene modes. (Although, truth be told, I question how many "average" users ever bother to play with their cameras' scene modes.) The scene modes include: Portrait, Landscape, Landscape & Portrait, Night Scene, Night & Portrait, Sport, Indoor, Candle, Self-Portrait, Available Light, Sunset, Fireworks, Cuisine, Behind Glass, Documents, Auction, Shoot & Select1, Shoot & Select2, Beach & Snow, Underwater Wide1, Underwater Wide2 and Underwater Macro. A nice touch is that each scene mode has brief explanatory text along with it, that describes what it's useful for.
The Olympus 760 also has a "Guide" mode, accessed via the Mode dial. In this mode, the menu system lists things you're likely to want to do to while shooting, each selection offering one or several options you can select to solve lots of photographic problems. Guide mode is wonderfully simple, you just select a menu entry that describes what you want to do ("Brightening subject" or "Shooting into backlight"), and the camera lists one or more things it knows to try for that situation. Select the one you want, and snap the photo.
Shooting indoors and after dark, I found the 760's flash to be adequate for lighting relatively close-in subjects, but in larger rooms I had to boost the ISO to 400 or higher to get enough flash range. Of course, boosting the ISO tends to soften the images somewhat and increase the image noise, but I found that shots at ISO 400 didn't look too bad: They made good-looking prints up to about 5x7 inches, and even ISO 800 shots looked pretty decent at 4x6 inches. Results from the ISO 1600 setting looked pretty bad, no matter what size I printed them at.
Performance-wise, I found the Olympus 760 to be pretty responsive. It starts up and shuts down pretty quickly, shutter lag seemed reasonable (somewhere around a half-second), and lag dropped to practically nothing when I "pre-focused" the camera, half-pressing and holding down the shutter button before actually snapping the shot itself. It did moderately well from shot to shot, taking about two and a half seconds from one shot to the next: Not a first choice for fast-paced sports action (or maybe for squirmy kids), but good enough for most typical shooting situations. (It's also nice that it doesn't penalize you for pressing the shutter button too quickly after the previous shot was taken; it just snaps the next one as soon as it's able.)
Looking at the Stylus 760's images, I found myself a little disappointed with its color handling. I personally like nice, bright, saturated colors, and I just didn't feel I was getting them from this camera. Reds were OK, and bright blues looked pretty snappy too, but most shades of green looked just a little dull to me. But then, as I said, I like pretty bright colors in my photos. If you're more inclined toward more natural-looking color, you might like the 760's shots just fine. Another criticism of its photos is that they tended to lose detail in strong highlights or deep shadows. A lot of cameras do this, so it may not be a particular strike against the 760, but if you care about this, you might want to shop around more.
Movie modes are becoming increasingly capable on digicams these days, and thus more important for many users. The Olympus 760's movie mode was OK, but its restriction to 15 frames/second at all three resolutions is a bit off what the best performers can manage currently. (30 frames/second is becoming quite common these days.) The slower frame rate has the advantage of not creating such enormous movie files so quickly, but I'd like to at least have the option of 30 fps for those times when I want the maximum quality.
Compact cameras have generally gotten a lot better in terms of battery life than they once were, and the Stylus 760 seems to follow this trend: Over the course of several days of use, I found that the Stylus 760's battery lasted surprisingly well. A fully-charged battery was often sufficient to handle a full day's shooting, including a fair bit of looking at the images I'd shot on the LCD screen.
All in all, the Olympus Stylus 760 was an enjoyable camera to use, but I'd really like to see a better anti-reflective coating on its LCD screen, and would have preferred brighter-looking colors (particularly greens) in its images.
In the Box
The Olympus Stylus 760 ships with the following items in the box:
- Stylus 760 digital camera
- LI-42B Li-Ion rechargeable battery
- AC charger with power cord
- USB cable
- Audio/Video cable
- Wrist strap
- CD-ROM with Olympus Master Software
- 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
Olympus's Stylus 760 camera is a very handy size, and can produce good pictures under the right conditions. In my testing though, I was expecting more from its image stabilization system. You can always push an IS system beyond its limits, but I never felt I saw the level of sharpness improvement I'd normally expect from an image-stabilized camera when I was shooting with the 760. My other big gripe was that I found the LCD monitor way too hard to use outdoors, it's just too reflective. With no optical viewfinder on the camera, outdoor shooting was not pleasant. It was usable if there wasn't direct sun, and it was always OK indoors, but in full sun I found it almost impossible to frame my shots. I liked the camera operationally, the buttons were easy to use and the menu navigation was easy to learn. It's also very nicely designed, is very stylish looking, and slips in and out of pockets very easily. Its splash-proof rating is also a very nice feature to see on a digicam, it's great not to have to worry that a few raindrops might kill your camera. All in all, the Olympus 760 is a stylish and responsive camera, with splash resistance thrown in for good measure, and helpful features in the form of its Guide mode and helpful explanations in its menu system. If Olympus could just put a good anti-reflection coating on its LCD, I think they'd have a winner, but as it is, it counts as a near miss in my book.