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Olympus C-730 Ultra Zoom

3.2 megapixels, a sharp 10x zoom lens, tons of features, and an affordable price!

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 11/25/2002

Executive Overview
Succeeding the successful Olympus Camedia C-700 and C-720 Ultra Zoom digicams, the C-730 Ultra Zoom ups the ante with a whopping 10x zoom lens, increased manual exposure control, and an external flash terminal. (Note though, that the 730 and 720 will apparently coexist in the market for some time now.) The C-730's advanced features include updated white balance offerings, additional preset Scene modes, and a maximum exposure time of 16 seconds. All of the previous C-720 offerings remain, such as the variable ISO, fast 1/1,000-second maximum shutter speed, and AutoConnect Storage Class USB (providing plug-and-play transfer of images to Windows 2000, Windows Me and XP, and Mac OS 8.6 and higher computers, without the need for additional driver software). Versatility is clearly the theme of the C-730, as Olympus provided as much or as little exposure control as anyone could want. While primarily aimed at more experienced digital photographers (those who want to step up to a camera with expanded capabilities), the C-730's Program mode nonetheless allows point-and-shoot simplicity, and the six preset shooting modes excel at common shooting situations. (There are also three Slow-Synchro flash modes for evenly exposed night scenes.)

The C-730 combines compact size, trim design, and good portability, always desirable attributes in a digicam. The same compact SLR-style design that's characterized Olympus digicams for several years now prevails again with the C-730, though with a slightly longer lens assembly. Compared to other 10x zoom digicams currently on the market, the C-730 is remarkably compact, measuring only 4.2 x 3.0 x 3.1 inches (107.5 x 76.0 x 77.5 millimeters) with the lens retracted, and only three-quarters of an inch more with the lens fully extended. It weighs just 11.2 ounces (310 grams) without batteries, light enough to fit into a large purse or waist pack, but its classic silver and metallic grey color combination, enhanced by a satin finish, makes it deserving of its own protective camera bag or pouch.

The C-730 features an "electronic" optical viewfinder, which is essentially a miniaturized version of the larger, 1.5-inch, TFT color LCD monitor. The C-730's EVF is bright and clear, with a good, high eyepoint and a diopter adjustment, both of which make it comfortable for eyeglass wearers. Both the LCD and EVF have detailed information displays and provide access to the LCD menu system. The EVF remains active at all times, but battery life is surprisingly good regardless. The EVF also seems to be pretty usable under low-light conditions, a traditional weakness of EVFs. The 5.9-59mm, 10x zoom lens is equivalent to a 38-380mm lens on a 35mm camera, with a maximum aperture of f/2.8-f/3.5 (wide angle to telephoto). In addition to the C-730's 10x optical zoom, images can be enlarged up to an additional 3x with the "digital zoom," effectively increasing the camera's zoom capabilities to 30x. (Keep in mind though, that digital zoom directly trades off image quality for magnification, because it simply crops out and enlarges the central pixels of the CCD.) The C-730's maximum image resolution is 3,200 x 2,400 pixels, interpolated up from the 2,048 x 1,536 sensor resolution. Lower resolutions are 2,048 x 1,536; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,280 x 960; 1,024 x 768; and 640 x 480 pixels are also available. Image quality options include two JPEG compression ratios, plus an uncompressed mode that produces full-resolution TIFF images.

The C-730 offers a great deal of exposure control, including Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Priority, and Manual exposure modes. Program mode controls both aperture and shutter speed, with exposure times as long as 1/2 second. Aperture and Shutter Priority modes give you control over aperture or shutter speed, while the camera chooses the best corresponding settings. When used in AP or SP modes, apertures range from f/2.8 to f/8 and shutter speeds from 1/1,000 to 1/2 seconds. The Manual exposure mode provides the same aperture range, but permits shutter speeds as long as 16 seconds. You can also put the camera into full Auto mode, or select between Portrait, Sports, Landscape-Portrait, Landscape-Scene, Night-Scene, and Self-Portrait scene modes for easy capture of what might otherwise be tricky subjects. A built-in popup flash has good range, and an external sync connector supports external flash units. (This is a proprietary, 4-pin Olympus connector, but an adapter to connect to a standard "PC" style connector is available as an accessory.)

The C-730 provides four ISO options (Auto, 100, 200, and 400), automatic exposure bracketing, two metering modes (Digital ESP Multi-pattern and Spot), plus exposure compensation from +2 to -2 exposure values (EV) in one-third-step increments. White balance options include Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Tungsten, Daylight Fluorescent, Warm White Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent, or Custom to accommodate a variety of lighting conditions. Image contrast and sharpness adjustments are available through the LCD menu, and a Function menu option lets you record images in black and white or sepia tones, or in Whiteboard or Blackboard photo modes (good for capturing text). An adjustable Automatic Exposure Lock (AEL) function locks an exposure reading, without having to hold down the Shutter button halfway while you reframe the image. There's also a 12-second self-timer option for self-portraits.

The C-730's Movie mode records QuickTime movies with sound, in either SQ (160 x 120 pixels) or HQ (320 x 240 pixels) modes. Actual recording times vary with the resolution and the amount of memory card space. Additionally, the C-730 lets you record short, four-second sound clips to accompany images, either in record or Playback modes. Two Sequence modes capture multiple images as fast as 1.2 frames per second (depending on file size), with an AF Sequence mode that adjusts the focus between each shot. The C-730 also offers a panoramic mode, and a "2-in-1" capture mode that records two images side-by-side (like a split-screen view). The camera's internal, pop-up flash unit offers six operating modes (Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill-in Flash, Flash Off, Night Scene, and Night Scene with Red-Eye Reduction modes), with adjustable flash intensity.

The Olympus C-730 Ultra Zoom ships with a 16MB xD-Picture Card for image storage, but also accepts SmartMedia memory cards. Larger capacity cards are available separately, up to the current limit of 128MB. (256MB xD-Picture Cards should be available by early 2003.) You can connect the camera directly to your computer via a high-speed USB interface to download images, and if you want a slightly larger viewfinder (or image playback) display, Olympus also provides a video output cable for connection to a television set. Software shipped with the unit includes Olympus' Camedia Master 4.0 utility package, a capable all-in-one image management program that provides basic organization and editing tools, in addition to a panorama "stitching" application. Apple QuickTime and USB drivers for Mac and Windows are also supplied.

I've always appreciated Olympus' C-series of digicams and the flexibility they provide, and immediately liked the C-730 Ultra Zoom. The inclusion of more in-depth manual controls (similar to those of the C-3020 and C-4040) enhance the C-730's versatility with a nice array of exposure options to handle a wide range of shooting conditions. The availability of full manual exposure control and an external flash connection make the camera a good choice for advanced users, while the range of preset scene modes make the 730 approachable for novices as well. The benefit of 10x optical zoom goes without saying, and the EVF viewfinder provides much more accurate framing than a standard optical viewfinder. Overall, the C-730 Ultra Zoom is a nice addition to the Camedia line.

 

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