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Olympus C-730 Ultra Zoom

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

Review First Posted: 11/25/2002




MSRP $699 US

 

 

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3.2-megapixel resolution for 3,200 x 2,400 images. (Interpolated, native size is 2,048 x 1,536)
*
10x zoom lens (!)
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Surprisingly compact body for a long-zoom camera.
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Inexpensive for a long-zoom camera.
*
 Electronic viewfinder (EVF) is surprisingly effective at low light levels.

 

 

Manufacturer Overview

Olympus has long been a dominant player in the digicam marketplace. They currently boast one of the broadest digital camera lineups in the industry, with numerous models ranging from pure entry-level, point-and-shoot digicams to the E-20 high end SLR. Some of the hottest action in their lineup is in the three megapixel category. Previously introducing the C-720 Ultra Zoom, Olympus offered three-megapixel image quality with an incredible 8x optical zoom lens. With the latest model, the C-730 Ultra Zoom, Olympus picks up where the C-720 left off, with an amazing 10x zoom lens, increased manual exposure control, and an external flash sync terminal.

In most respects, the C-730 UltraZoom is a direct follow-on to the C-720. It's the same size and weight, the main differences being the increased zoom ratio, a handful of extra manual controls (such as adjustable AF area, longer exposure times, and more scene modes), and the flash terminal. Like the C-720, the C-730 is one of the smallest long-zoom cameras I've reviewed to date, hardly any larger or heavier than its 3x zoom counterparts. It offers an expanded range of exposure controls, with multiple scene modes, sound recording, and a handful of additional focus and exposure options. It also carries forward the "My Camera" menu, which lets the user custom-configure a broad range of settings to meet specific needs. With a street price of under $600, the C-730 Ultra Zoom definitely deserves strong consideration if you're looking for great versatility in a long-zoom digicam.

High Points

 

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.

 

Design

The Olympus C-730 Ultra Zoom displays the same general body shape and size as the rest of the C-series, though with a slightly larger lens barrel (to accommodate the impressive 10x zoom lens). The silver-toned body is boxy but compact, with a size that fits the hand well, and good balance when you're holding it. External control layout is similar to previous models, with a large Mode dial on top of the camera and an array of control buttons on the back panel. The C-730 Ultra Zoom features a 3.2-megapixel CCD, which delivers a maximum image size of 3,200 x 2,400 pixels with interpolation, or 2048x1536 uninterpolated. This is enough resolution for sharp prints as large as 8x10 inches. The most exciting feature on the C-730 is its 10x zoom lens, with a surprisingly large maximum aperture range of f/2.8-3.5. Besides the exceptional optical zoom, the C-730 also has a 3x digital zoom, although the digital zoom makes the unavoidable tradeoff of lower resolution proportional to the magnification achieved.

The C-730 Zoom measures 4.2 x 3.0 x 3.1 inches (107.5 x 76.4 x 77.5mm), identical in dimensions to its "little brother," the C-720 Ultra Zoom model. A mixture of plastic and thin aluminum body panels keeps the C-730 Zoom relatively light weight at 11.2 ounces (310 grams) without batteries, though it does have a reassuring heft when you pick it up (due in part to the larger lens assembly). The camera won't fit into a shirt pocket, but does have a chance at larger coat pockets and purses. It comes with a neckstrap, but I strongly recommend picking up a soft camera case to protect the C-730 when traveling.

The front of the C-730 is relatively plain, featuring only the lens, self-timer LED, IR remote sensor, and the front lip of the pop-up flash compartment. When fully retracted, the lens barrel projects only about three quarters of an inch beyond the depth of the hand grip, and it extends about another three-quarters of an inch when powered up in any capture mode. When not in use, the lens is protected by a removable plastic lens cap that attaches to the camera with the supplied tether strap. A plastic grip bar on the inside of the handgrip provides firm purchase for your fingers as they wrap around the camera's body.

On the right side of the camera, the SmartMedia/xD-Picture Card compartment is covered by a hinged, plastic door that opens from the back panel. The center of the compartment door hinge serves as the eyelet for attaching the neckstrap.

On the opposite side of the camera is the connector compartment, which houses the DC-In, A/V Out, and USB connector ports. A hinged plastic door protects the jacks when not in use, and snaps firmly shut. The external flash sync connector is concealed behind a small black circular cover in the lower left hand corner, just below the speaker grille.

The C-730's top panel has only a few controls on it, just the Shutter button (surrounded by the Zoom lever), a Mode dial, and pop-up flash compartment (with a Flash Release button).

The back panel layout is clean and logical, with all of the control buttons positioned above or to the right of the 1.5-inch LCD monitor. The four-way Arrow Pad serves multiple functions depending on the camera's operating mode, and is adjacent just to the right of the display. Arrayed across the top of the back panel are the Self-Timer/Remote / Erase, Spot / Macro (with the added DPOF print feature), and Flash / Protect buttons. Below these are the Power and AE Lock / Rotate buttons. A Display button sits just below the four-way Arrow Pad and controls whether or not the rear-panel LCD is illuminated. The electronic viewfinder in the upper left corner of the camera shows a miniaturized version of the larger LCD display, and features a diopter adjustment dial for eyeglass wearers.

The bottom of the camera holds the battery compartment cover and a plastic screw-mount tripod socket. The tripod socket is just a little too close to the battery compartment to make battery changes easy when mounted on a tripod. (This is a pet peeve of mine, but I recognize that most people don't spend as much time with their digicams locked down to a tripod than I do.)

 

 

Viewfinder
The C-730 Ultra Zoom offers both a 0.44-inch electronic viewfinder and a rear panel, 1.5-inch, TFT color LCD screen. The EVF has approximately 114,000 pixels, while the rear panel screen sports 180,000. The EVF display behaves a little oddly with moving objects or during rapid panning of the camera. It doesn't look all like a refresh rate issue, but the image blurs noticeably when you move the camera, or when an object moves quickly across the field of view. When things become more or less stationary again, the display seems to sharpen. It's really quite a subtle effect, and didn't interfere with my shooting at all, but it was slightly disconcerting nonetheless. The electronic viewfinder (EVF) accommodates eyeglass wearers with a diopter correction adjustment and a comfortably high eyepoint, leaving enough room between your eye and the finder for most eyeglass lenses to fit in, although I did notice a little vignetting around the edges while wearing my glasses. The tiny display is identical to that of the larger LCD monitor, complete with menus and exposure information. The EVF remains active at all times, which would usually result in rather short battery life, but the C-730 seemed to do surprisingly well in that area.

My regular readers will already know that I'm no fan of electronic viewfinders. They seem to be a necessary evil with long-zoom cameras, as it'd be prohibitively expensive and bulky to include an optical viewfinder with an 10x zoom to match the lens. EVFs do have the dual advantages of providing true "through the lens" (TTL) viewing, as well as a the same information display as on rear-panel LCDs, but to my mind the negatives usually outweigh the positives. My biggest objection to them is that they are generally useless for low light shooting, but the EVF on the C-730 Ultra Zoom seemed to be much better than most in this respect. The display would get rather dark while the camera's autofocus was working, but at other times seemed quite capable of providing a usable display, even under very dark conditions. (Down to a level corresponding to a 1 second exposure at ISO 400, dark indeed.)

The C-730's LCD monitor is controlled by the Display button located just off its lower right corner. Pressing this button simply turns the main LCD display on or off, not affecting the information overlay or the EVF display. A detailed information readout on both monitors highlights a number of exposure settings, including the currently selected f/stop, shutter speed, and exposure compensation adjustments across the top of the screen. (Note though, that specific exposure parameters are not displayed in any of the "scene" modes.) In Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, the chosen aperture or shutter speed appears as a constant, while the second, automatically determined exposure value updates continuously to respond to changes in subject or lighting. The Manual mode displays both of the selected f/stop and shutter speed values, while the right-hand set of numbers reports the amount by which the camera thinks the image will be under- or overexposed, up to +/- 3 EV units. (When you're more than three EV over or under, these unbers turn stop at the 3EV value and red.) In my testing, I found the viewfinder display to be very accurate, showing a little over 99 percent of the final image area, an excellent performance.

When using the LCD monitor to review captured images, you can zoom in up to 4x on displayed images and then scroll around the enlarged image using the arrow buttons. This is extremely handy for checking focus, small details, or precise framing. There's also an Index display option, which shows either four, nine, or 16 thumbnail-sized images at a time. A very handy "quick view" function lets you check the last picture taken in Record mode by pressing the Display button twice in quick succession. The image will remain displayed on the LCD until you revert back to Record mode by pressing the Display button again, or by half-pressing the Shutter button.

Like some other Olympus digicams, the C-730 also offers the ability to resize or crop your images post-exposure. This is very handy, as it's almost always possible to improve your photos by cropping (trimming) trimming them a little. On the C-730, a cropping menu option lets you trim away as much as 30% or so of the image area, and even change the composition from horizontal to vertical, or vice versa. In cropping mode, a bold green outline indicates the current crop area, and the zoom toggle zooms the crop in or out, while the four arrow keys let you move it around the image. Once you've got the crop adjusted to your liking, the camera will save a new image onto the card, with just the cropped area in it. (Your original photo is left undisturbed.) Likewise, using another menu option, you can resize previously-shot photos, to create smaller versions more suitable for emailing.

 

Optics
The Olympus C-730 is equipped with an all-glass lens, with 10 elements in seven groups. The 10x, 5.9-59mm lens provides a focal length range equivalent to a 38-380mm zoom on a 35mm film SLR. (That's a moderate wide angle to quite a long telephoto.) Apertures range from f/2.8 to f/8, with the maximum aperture setting dependent on the lens zoom position, ranging up to f/3.5 at the maximum telephoto position. Normal focusing distance extends from 4 inches (10 centimeters) to infinity, although the near limit is a pretty strong function of zoom setting, ranging from 4 inches at full wide angle to 3.3 feet (1 meter) at full telephoto. The C-730 offers two Macro settings, the normal ranges from about 3 inched\s to 2.0 feet (10 to 60 centimeters). (I'm frankly a little confused by the Macro mode, as the camera seemed to focus into the macro range without the macro option being set.) Through the Record menu, a Super Macro option lets the camera focus as close as 1.6 inches (four centimeters). The Macro / Spot button on the back panel adjusts the focus range for closeup subjects, and includes an option for spot metering in Macro mode.

Autofocus is determined through the lens, using a contrast detection method. This means that the autofocus will work properly with auxiliary lenses, although it should be noted that add-on lenses will usually affect a camera's focusing limits. -Don't expect the C-730 to focus as close as it usually does when it has a telephoto adapter attached. A green circle lights solid in the viewfinder display whenever focus is set, and flashes if the camera is having trouble adjusting focus. A Full time AF mode adjusts focus continuously, rather than only when the Shutter button is half-pressed. Two AF area modes are available as well, iESP and Spot. In iESP mode, the camera bases focus on the entire frame, automatically determining the primary subject, based on the proximity of the subject to the camera. Spot mode looks at only the very center of the frame, the area within the black AF target marks on the viewfinder display. The C-730 also lets you adjust the AF area, through an option in the Record menu. Once enabled, you use the arrow keys to move the AF target marks anywhere in the frame (though only while in Spot AF mode). Finally, the C-730 features a manual focus option. Pressing and holding the "OK" button displays the AF/MF focus menu, as well as a distance scale that you can set to meters or feet. You then adjust focus with the up and down arrow keys. As an aid to accurate focusing, the center portion of the view enlarges whenever you're actively adjusting the focus setting..

The C-730's lens barrel incorporates body-mounted filter accessory threads that couple to Olympus' range of accessory lens kits, which extend the camera's telephoto, wide-angle, and macro shooting capabilities. (An adapter barrel is required though, to permit mounting the auxiliary lenses beyond the furthest extension of the 730's telescoping lens assembly.)

While the C-730's lens provides up to 10x optical zoom, the camera's 3x Digital Zoom increases that magnification to a maximum of 30x, although the digital zoom brings with it the usual reduction in resolution. Digital zoom is enabled through the Record menu and controlled by the Zoom Lever on top of the camera. Since so-called "digital zoom" just crops out and enlarges the central pixels from the CCD's image, it directly trades resolution for magnification. This will result in very soft images if you're working at the camera's maximum three-megapixel file size, but can be useful if you're only shooting at 640 x 480 for web or email use.

Geometric distortion on the C-730 was slightly higher than average at the wide-angle end, where I measured a barrel distortion of 0.9 percent. The telephoto end fared much better, however, as I measured only about 0.3 percent of barrel distortion. These are pretty good geometric distortion figures for such a long lens. Chromatic aberration was better than I expected for such a long-ratio zoom, although it was still fairly evident at the maximum telephoto setting, resulting in 4-5 pixels of color around the resolution target lines in the corners of the frame. (Chromatic aberration is visible as a slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target shots.)

Exposure
The C-730 Zoom offers fairly extensive exposure control, including Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes, as well as a handful of preset scene modes for shooting in specific situations. The Full Auto and Scene modes make the camera easy to use for novices, while the other options provide the flexibility demanded by more advanced users. All capture modes are set by turning the Mode dial on top of the camera, which also accesses the My Mode, Movie, and Playback modes. (My Mode lets you create a custom setup for the camera, including settings for virtually every exposure and operating parameter, that can then be selected simply by rotating the Mode Dial to the "My" position. See below for more information.)

In Auto mode, the camera has complete control over the exposure parameters. You can adjust options like zoom, drive mode, image size, etc., but can't make any exposure adjustments at all (not even exposure compensation or white balance - this is truly a "point-and-shoot" mode). Program mode leaves the camera in charge of the aperture and shutter speed, while you control the remaining exposure options such as ISO, metering, and white balance. In Program mode, you also have access to the exposure compensation adjustment, which lets you adjust the camera's automatically determined exposure setting by plus or minus two exposure equivalent (EV) units, in steps of 0.3 EV. Aperture Priority lets you set the aperture from f/2.8 to f/8 (depending on the lens zoom position) leaving the camera to automatically determine the appropriate shutter speed. In Shutter Priority, you can select shutter speeds from 1/1,000 to one second, with the camera selecting the corresponding aperture setting. The Manual exposure option lets you control both aperture and shutter speed yourself, and the bottom end of the shutter speed range is extended to 16 seconds. An interesting feature of the Manual mode is that, as you scroll through the various exposure settings, the camera indicates whether it thinks your chosen setting will produce a correct exposure. It does this by showing the f/stop, shutter speed, and exposure differential (the difference between your settings and what the camera metering system thinks is correct) in green, up to a limit of +/- 3EV. For exposure differentials outside that range, the numbers turn red and remain fixed at the 3EV reading. This is a very handy feature that I'd like to see more manufacturers implement in their cameras' manual exposure modes.

Six scene modes include Portrait, Sports, Landscape-Portrait, Landscape-Scene, Night Scene, and Self-Portrait modes, which optimize the camera for specific shooting situations. In Portrait mode, the camera uses a larger lens aperture, reducing depth of field to throw distracting background elements out of focus. Sports mode biases the exposure system toward faster shutter speeds, to help freeze fast-moving subjects. Landscape-Portrait mode uses a smaller lens aperture, to increase depth of field, helping to keep both the foreground and background in sharp focus, while Landscape-Scene mode also keeps foreground and background in focus, but emphasizes blue and green hues in the image. (Producing more intense foliage and sky colors.) Night Scene employs slower shutter speeds, allowing more ambient light into the image. Finally, for the truly vain, Self-Portrait mode adjusts the focus to help you photograph yourself while holding the camera at arm's length. Limited menu options are available in the scene modes, as their purpose is to simplify camera setup for novices. (A multitude of menu choices would only add complication to what are intended to be easy-to-use camera settings.)

The C-730 features a variable ISO setting, which lets you set the camera's light sensitivity to 100, 200, or 400 ISO equivalents, or to an Auto mode. The higher sensitivity settings, combined with the camera's maximum 16-second shutter speed and noise reduction option, provide excellent low-light shooting capabilities. In my tests, the C-730 performed well at low light levels, capturing clear images with great color (see the test results section below). The higher ISO settings are also helpful when you want faster shutter speeds under normal lighting, to help freeze fast action. Of course, as with all digicams, the higher ISO settings produce photos with more image noise, in much the same way that higher-ISO films show more film grain. To combat this problem, the C-730 offers a Noise Reduction mode through the Record menu, which greatly reduces the amount of image noise from the long exposure time and higher ISO settings.

Two metering systems are available on the C-730: Spot and Digital ESP. Both are accessed through the Spot / Macro / DPOF button on the camera's back panel. Under the default Digital ESP setting, the camera takes an exposure reading from the center of the image as well as the surrounding area and chooses the best exposure based on brightness and contrast across the entire scene. Spot metering simply reads the exposure from the very center of the image, so you can pinpoint the specific area of the photograph you want properly exposed. (Spot metering is very handy when you have a subject that's backlit, or that has a very different brightness -- either lighter or darker -- than the background.)

An AE Lock button locks the current exposure settings whenever pressed, so you can independently lock exposure and focus. (AE Lock is useful when you want to base your exposure on an off-center subject. Point the camera at the subject, lock the exposure, then recompose your shot however you like. Your subject will be correctly exposed, regardless of what might be in the center of the frame when you finally snap the shutter.)

For precise manual control over exposure metering, an eight-point Multi-Metering mode is available when in Spot metering mode. Enabling the Multi-Metering option through the Record menu lets you take up to eight single readings throughout the frame, which are then averaged to get the best exposure. I particularly like way the C-730 displays exposure information in Multi-Metering mode. In Multi-Metering mode, you select individual metering points by pressing the AEL button, and each time you do so, the relative exposure for that point is displayed on a little ruler-graph at the bottom of the LCD screen as soon as you select the first point. Once the exposure graph is displayed, a small green pointer above the line shows the relative brightness of the subject under the central metering spot in real time. Pressing the AEL button captures the current brightness value to incorporate in the exposure calculation, and adds a green marker arrow under the graph at that point. In this way, you can very easily see the range of exposure values represented in your subject, and choose how you want to weight them in the final exposure determination. (You can bias the exposure toward a particular part of your subject by simply adding more exposure samples from that area.) This one of the most flexible and powerful exposure metering options I've seen on a digicam, and is another feature other manufacturers would do well to emulate.

A Record View function, enabled through the Record menu, displays the most recently captured image on the LCD screen while the image is recorded to the memory card. You can set the Record View to display the image only, or to display the image with a confirmation screen, letting you delete the image before it's saved to the card. This is a nice way to check your shots and not waste time switching back and forth between Playback and Record modes. There's also a Quick View function that lets you check the previously captured image, by pressing the Monitor button twice in quick succession. Quick View basically drops you into Playback mode, with all playback functions (zoom, scroll, index display, delete, voice annotate, etc) available, but with the camera able to switch back to Record mode instantly, whenever you half-press the shutter button.

In situations where exposure compensation is necessary, simply press either the right or left Arrow buttons (in all exposure modes except Auto and Manual) and the EV value displayed on the LCD will increase or decrease in one-third-step increments, up to a maximum of +/- 2 EV. Or, you can use the Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) function to automatically bracket an exposure as much as +/- 2 EV in either three or five step increments of 0.3, 0.6, or 1.0 EV units each. The auto bracketing will center its efforts around whatever exposure you've chosen as the starting point, including any exposure compensation adjustments you've made. AEB is really handy for those times when you want to make sure you get just the right exposure for a critical subject, and the C-730's is one of the better implementations I've seen.

White balance options include Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Tungsten, Daylight Fluorescent, Warm White Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent, and Custom, to accommodate a variety of lighting situations. You can also adjust the white balance from -5 to +5 arbitrary unit, with positive values biasing the color in the red direction, and negative values moving it toward blue. This ability to "tweak" the white balance is very helpful when dealing with difficul light sources.

The C-730 Ultra Zoom also offers a 12-second Self-Timer for self-portraits or those occasions when you don't want to risk camera shake on a long exposure by pressing the Shutter button to trip the shutter.

There are also options on the record menu to set the in-camera image sharpening, contrast, and saturation. The contrast option is one that I personally find appealing. I find that I often want to decrease a camera's default contrast somewhat, to help preserve highlight detail on contrasty subjects. The "Low" contrast option provided by the C-730 is just right for that purpose, although I'd personally like to see the 730's default contrast a little lower, and the contrast-adjust control with a wider range. Small complaints though, the contrast-adjust function works pretty well as it stands, and is very valuable for serious photographers. In the same general realm, you can also record images in black-and-white or sepia tones, or capture text via the Whiteboard and Blackboard photo modes, as set via the camera's Function sub-menu..

Flash
The C-730 offers a built-in, pop-up flash, with six operating modes: Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill-in Flash, Flash Off, Slow Sync, and Slow Sync with Red-Eye Reduction modes. Auto mode lets the camera decide when to fire the flash, while the Fill-in mode fires the flash with every shot. (Fill-in is useful for throwing light on backlit subjects, keeping their faces from being obscured in deep shadow.) The two Red-Eye Reduction modes fire a small pre-flash before firing the flash at full power, making the pupils of your subjects eyes contract, reducing the occurrence of the Red-Eye Effect. Slow Sync allows more ambient light into the background, producing more natural lighting behind a flash-illuminated subject. Through the Record menu, you can set the Slow Sync flash to fire at either the beginning or end of the exposure. A button on top of the camera pops the flash up from its compartment, while the Flash / Protect button on the back panel controls the flash operating mode. You can also adjust the overall flash intensity from +/-2 EV through the Record menu.

New to the C-730 (and a feature I sorely missed on the C-720) is an external flash PC socket, on the side of the camera. Though there's no shoe for mounting the external flash, the ability to connect a more powerful flash unit is a definite improvement. The flash sync connector is in Olympus' proprietary four-pin format, but an adapter is available to allow connection of conventional PC-style sync cords.

Special Exposure Modes

Movie and Sound Recording Modes
The C-730's Movie mode is accessible via the Mode dial on top of the camera (marked with a small movie camera symbol), and is one of the most versatile and best executed I've seen. Once in Movie mode, you can record QuickTime movies either with or without sound, with the camera offering features appropriate to the sound mode you select. The length of movie clips depends on the resolution setting and the amount of memory card space. A number indicating the available seconds of movie storage on the memory card appears on the LCD and EVF monitors.

Sound recording with movies presents something of a dilemma for camera manufacturers. The problem with sound recording is that any camera-generated noises will be faithfully recorded along with the ambient sound, generally dominating since they're so close to the microphone. To avoid this problem, most cameras that offer sound recording in movie mode generally don't permit zooming of the lens while recording is in progress, since the sound of the lens motor would be so obtrusive.

With the C-730's movie mode, Olympus has taken a very intelligent approach, enabling or disabling lens zoom based on whether or not sound recording is enabled. In all circumstances though, digital zoom is available, and the lens zoom can always be adjusted to any position prior to the start of recording. (The previous C-720 forced the lens to wide-angle, so you lost the benefit of the ultra zoom capabilities. Kudos to Olympus for fixing this minor but annoying limitation.) Olympus' movie mode implementation makes a lot of sense, offering as many camera functions as possible, governed by whether or not sound is being recorded. Beyond the sound/zoom tradeoff, a wide range of recording options apply to Movie mode as well, including spot metering, exposure compensation, focus lock, self-timer, ISO, and white balance, all of which are also unusual features to find available in a digicam Movie option.

Two image resolutions are available in Movie mode, 320x240 and 160x120. Both resolutions record at approximately 15 frames per second, and recording time is limited only by the available space on the memory card.

In any record mode, you can record a short sound clip to accompany still images. The Sound option in the record menu activates the mode, and you can record a maximum of four seconds per image. Sound recording begins approximately half a second after the shutter is released. You can also record sound after the fact, through a menu option in Playback mode.

Panorama Mode
Like most Olympus digicams, the C-730 offers a Panorama exposure mode when using an Olympus brand panorama-enabled SmartMedia memory cards, and now the xD-Picture Card. In this mode, the exposure and white balance for a series of shots are determined by the first exposure. The Panorama function provides light blue guide lines at the edges of the pictures to help you align successive shots, leaving enough overlap between them for the stitching software to be able to do its job. Up to 10 shots can be taken in a panoramic series. Once the sequence of images is downloaded to your computer, you can use the included Olympus software to assemble them into an extended panorama.

Note that the panorama function is only enabled by the built-in firmware found on Olympus brand memory cards, so this option isn't available when using third-party memory cards. (I have to say that I think this tying of the panorama function to Olympus-branded cards strikes me as one of the most ill-considered product decisions Olympus has made. - I can't imagine that the number of memory cards Olympus sells through this mechanism balances the camera sales they lose by having a crippled panorama function. On the other hand, for occasional panorama shots, most users can probably get by with the memory card included in the box with the camera.)

"2-in-1" Mode
Accessed through the Record menu, "2 in 1" photography mode records two vertically-oriented, half-sized images in a single frame of memory. After capture, the images are saved side-by-side as one full resolution image, giving a split-screen effect. As with Panorama mode, a set of guidelines appear in the LCD display, to help you line up the shots.

Sequence Mode
The C-730 also offers three Sequence modes that mimic the motor drive on a film camera, recording images in rapid sequence for as long as the Shutter button is held down or until the memory card runs out of space (this varies with the image quality setting and available xD-Picture Card or SmartMedia space). Olympus rates the fastest cycle time as 11 total frames at 1.4 frames per second, and my own testing showed rates as high as 1.37 frames per second when recording in small/basic mode. As is usually the case though, the number of frames you can capture quickly is limited by the camera's buffer memory capacity, and sequence mode isn't available at all for the TIFF (uncompressed) image format. Hi-Sequence mode captures a maximum of three frames, at a slightly faster frame interval.AF Sequence mode also captures a continuous series of images, but adjusts the focus between each shot, resulting in much slower shot to shot times.

My Mode
Accessed by turning the Mode dial to the "My" position, this mode lets you save customized settings and then access them simply by turning the Mode Dial. For example, if you consistently shoot in the same environment, you could save the exposure settings for those specific shooting conditions, so that they can be instantly recalled.(I can imagine this option being very handy for situations where you might have to switch quickly between two different environments. Think of a wedding reception, for instance: Standard "program" mode for outside shots on the lawn, etc, but a custom setup in My Mode to shoot the indoor scenes under incandescent lighting.) My Mode even lets you edit the Shortcut menu items, which appear when the Menu button is pressed, to reflect often changed settings. A total of four different sets of My Mode settings can be saved. The C-730's My Mode is very flexible, letting you preset the following camera parameters (see the subsequent section on camera modes and menus for explanations of any settings which might not be obvious from the list below):

 

Shutter Lag/Cycle Times
When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a delay or lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time is to allow the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work, and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is almost never reported on, and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, I now routinely measure it with a custom test system I constructed for the purpose. (With crystal-controlled timing, accurate to 0.01% and with a timing resolution of one millisecond.)

Olympus C-730 Ultra Zoom Timings
Operation
Time
(secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
8.65
Camera has to extend lens before the first shot. Rather slow.
Shutdown
5.04
Time to retract camera lens. Also slow.
Play to Record, first shot
2.26
Time until first shot is captured. About average.
Record to play
2.74
Time to display a large/fine file after capture. About average.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
0.95/0.96
First number is for wide-angle, second is for telephoto. On the slow side of average.
Shutter lag, manual focus
0.72
Slower than average.
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.20
Time to capture, after half-pressing Shutter button. Faster than average.
Cycle Time, max/min resolution
2.09/2.22
First number is for large/fine files, second number is time for small/basic images. Pretty fast.
Cycle Time, continuous mode, max/min resolution
1.06-0.83
0.93-0.76
First numbers are for large/fine files, second number is time for small/basic images. For some reason the interval between the first two shots in a series is greater than for subsequent ones. Buffer clearing time ranges from 10 seconds for large/fine series to 39 seconds for small/basic quality. Buffer capacity is ~7-8 shots at large/fine mode, ~138 at small/basic. Pretty fast overall.
Cycle Time, TIFF images
19.3
Typical for TIFF-mode images.

The C-730 is an average to slightly slower than average camera overall. Startup and shutdown are a little leisurely, as the telescoping lens mechanism is rather deliberate in its motions. Shot to shot time is slightly over 2 seconds, not bad, but not a category-leading performance either. It has a decent-sized buffer memory though, helpful for grabbing relatively large numbers of shots in rapid sequence. Autofocus speed is about average, although better than that of the C-720, and not bad compared to some other long-zoom cameras. Continuous shooting mode is a bit slower than average at roughly 1.2 frames/second. All in all, not terribly slow, but a faster shutter response could have made this an excellent camera for sports shooting, with its long zoom able to reach out to capture distant action. As it is, unless you can prefocus the camera in advance of the action, you'd have a hard time capturing critical moments. On the other hand, if you're dealing with subjects where shutter lag isn't that important, the C-730 gives great long-zoom performance at a bargain price.

Operation and User Interface
The C-730's user interface is similar to that of other recent Olympus C-series digicams, with an intuitive set of menu options that are easy to navigate. Even for users new to the interface, menu layouts are quite straightforward. Because the EVF is active at all times, and displays the same information as the larger LCD monitor, you can quickly verify basic camera settings while aligning a shot, without having to activate the larger LCD display. A handful of external buttons control the camera's basic settings, and a Mode dial on top changes capture modes quickly. The AE Lock button can be customized to activate a number of settings, another potential time saver when shooting. When you do have to call up the LCD menu, a shortcut screen appears first, with quick links to the image quality, white balance, and ISO settings. (You can also edit these shortcuts through the Setup menu, to select different camera functions for each.) Once you get into the actual Record menu, options are organized by function, accessed by a series of tabs along the left side of the screen. This layout lets you quickly skip to the options you need without sifting through pages of menu items. In any of the manual exposure modes, aperture and/or shutter speed is adjusted externally, as is exposure compensation. Once you get the hang of things, the control layout is quite intuitive and efficient.

Control Enumeration


Mode Dial: On the top of the camera is the Mode Dial, which controls the camera's main operating mode. Choices are Playback, Auto, Portrait, Sports, Landscape/Portrait, Landscape/Scene, Night Scene, Self-Portrait, Movie, My Mode, Program, and Aperture / Shutter Speed / Manual (A/S/M) modes.


Zoom Lever
: On top of the camera, in front of the Mode Dial, the Zoom Lever controls the optical zoom in all exposure modes, and the Digital Zoom when enabled through the Record menu.

In Playback mode, the zoom lever switches between Index view, normal image display, and playback zoom, and controls the amount of playback zoom applied.

Shutter Button: Located in the center of the Zoom control, the Shutter button sets focus and exposure settings when pressed halfway and triggers the shutter when fully pressed.


Flash / Protect Button
: Located on the top, right portion of the camera's back panel, this button controls the Flash mode in all still capture modes. Pressing it cycles through Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill-in Flash, Flash Off, Slow Sync, and Slow Sync with Red-Eye Reduction modes.

In Playback mode, this button marks the displayed image for write-protection, or removes protection. Once protected, files cannot be erased or manipulated in any way, but will still be deleted if the memory card is reformatted.


Spot / Macro / Print Button
: Directly to the left of the Flash / Protect button on the back panel is the Spot / Macro / Print button. In all Record modes, this button cycles between normal metering (Digital ESP), Spot metering, Macro (Closeup) mode, and Macro with Spot Metering modes.

In Playback mode, this button calls up the Digital Print Order Format (DPOF) print settings menu, which lets you tag the current image, or all of the images on the card, for printing on a DPOF-compatible output device. Once an image is selected, you can set the number of copies, whether or not to print the date and time stamp on the photo, or whether to print only a cropped area of the image.


Self-Timer / Remote / Erase Button
: Adjacent to the viewfinder eyepiece, on the right side, this button controls the camera's Self-Timer and Remote modes, cycling between the two and normal exposure mode in any record mode.

In Playback mode, this button lets you erase the current image. The camera presents a confirmation screen after the Erase button is pressed, to make sure you really meant to delete the image.


Diopter Adjustment Dial
: To the right of the viewfinder eyepiece, this dial adjusts the electronic viewfinder's optics to accommodate eyeglass wearers. I don't have any way of measuring these adjustments, but the C-730's seems to cover a fairly wide range, accommodating even my 20/180 uncorrected vision.


Power Button
: Directly above the top right corner of the LCD monitor, this red button turns the camera on and off.


AE Lock / Custom / Rotation Button
: To the right of the Power button, this button locks the exposure setting in any record mode. Through the Setup menu, it can be customized to control a number of other menu functions.

In Playback mode, this button rotates the image display clockwise in increments of 90 degrees.


Four-Way Arrow Pad and OK / Menu Button
: Made up of four buttons arranged in a circle around a central "OK" button, the Arrow Pad controls many of the camera's operations. In all capture modes except Manual, the left and right arrow buttons increase or decrease the exposure compensation setting. In Aperture or Shutter Priority exposure modes, the up and down Arrow buttons adjust the lens aperture or shutter speed settings, depending on which mode you've selected. In Manual mode, the up and down Arrows control shutter speed, while the left and right Arrows control aperture.

In Playback mode, the left and right Arrows move forward or backward through the pictures stored on the card, or scroll around portions of the expanded image in Zoom Playback mode.

In the LCD menu system, the Arrow buttons navigate through menu screens and select settings. The OK / Menu button in the center of the pad displays the settings menu in any camera mode, and also confirms menu selections.

In any capture mode, pressing and holding the OK button for a few seconds activates the camera's manual focus option. Press the right arrow key to enter manual focus mode, and then use the up and down arrow keys to adjust the focus.


Display Button
: Just off the lower right corner of the LCD monitor, this button turns the LCD monitor on or off. If pressed twice in quick succession while in a capture mode, it displays the Quick View function, which calls up the previously-captured image on the screen and enables most playback-mode functions. A third press of this button or a half-press of the shutter button returns the LCD to its normal viewfinder display.

 

Camera Modes and Menus

Movie Mode: Accessed by turning the Mode dial to the movie camera symbol, Movie mode lets you capture movies (with or without sound) for as long as the memory card has available space. Shutter speed is set automatically, from 1/8,000 to 1/30 second, depending on light levels and the camera's ISO setting.

My Mode: Quickly configures the camera based on a (large) set of previously saved user-defined settings. Exposure variables such as aperture, shutter speed, white balance, etc. can all be saved. - You can even save the lens zoom position. My Mode settings are made through the Setup menu, and the camera can accommodate four different sets..

A/S/M Mode: Accesses a range of manual and semi-manual exposure modes, including Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual modes. Aperture and Shutter Priority modes give the user control over one exposure variable and the camera control over the other. Manual mode offers full user control over both aperture and shutter speed. Apertures range from f/2.8 to f/8, depending on the zoom setting. Shutter speeds range from 1/1,000 to 1/30 second in Aperture Priority mode, extend to 1 second in Shutter Priority mode, and to 16 seconds in Manual mode.

Program Mode: Puts the camera in control of both aperture and shutter speed settings, while you control all other exposure variables, such as white balance, exposure compensation, etc.

Playback Mode: This mode lets you view previously captured images using the Arrow Pad to scroll through frames stored in memory. The Zoom Lever switches the image display to Index mode when moved in the wide angle direction, and when moved in the telephoto direction, enlarges a single image. While zoomed in on an image, the Arrow buttons can move the enlarged view around the full image area, allowing you to inspect all parts of it.

Auto Mode: This mode puts the camera in charge of all exposure variables, apart for zoom, flash mode, image size, and drive mode. This is a true "point & shoot" mode, requiring almost no input from the user apart from a press of the Shutter button.

Portrait Mode: Optimizes the camera for capturing portraits. A larger aperture is used, so that the subject will appear sharply focused in front of a slightly soft background.

Sports Mode: The camera's exposure system is biased toward faster shutter speeds to freeze action and moving subjects.

Landscape / Portrait Mode: This mode is best for capturing wide views of scenery or portraits in front of landscapes. The camera uses a smaller aperture setting, which increases the depth of field to capture both the foreground and background in sharp focus.

Landscape / Scene Mode: Like Landscape / Portrait mode, this mode is for capturing wide views of scenery, with both the foreground and background in focus. However, this mode also enhances any blue or green colors in the image, for more vibrant trees, water, and skies.

Night Scene Mode: This mode is best for capturing night portraits or night scenery, such as cityscapes. A slower shutter speed lets more ambient light into the image, preserving color in neon signs or sunsets.

Self-Portrait Mode: The final mode on the Mode dial, this mode is for handheld self-portraits (where you hold the camera out in front of yourself and take a picture). Focus remains fixed on you.



Still Picture Shooting Menu: (Note that available menu options will change depending on capture mode.)

Playback Menu


 

Image Storage and Interface
The C-730 uses either 3V (3.3V) SmartMedia memory cards or the new xD-Picture Card for memory storage, and comes equipped with a 16MB xD-Picture Card.

The C-730 can store images in both uncompressed TIFF and compressed JPEG file formats. JPEG compression levels include Super High Quality (SHQ), High Quality (HQ), and Standard Quality (SQ). No less than seven image sizes are available, with a variety at each quality setting. Resolutions include 3,200 x 2,400 ("Enlarge" size, produced by interpolating up from the 2,048 x 1,536 pixels of the CCD); 2,048 x 1,536; 2,048 x 1,360 (3:2); 1,600 x 1,200; 1,280 x 960; 1,024 x 768; and 640 x 480 pixels.

The C-730's file naming protocol includes the month and day at the beginning of the file name, and provides the option of numbering images progressively from one card to the next, or of resetting the naming sequence for each card. The camera lets you write-protect individual images from accidental erasure through the Playback menu. Entire SmartMedia cards can be write protected by placing a write-protection sticker over a specified spot on the card. (Though xD-Picture have no such feature.) While individually protected images can still be erased by a card format operation, cards that are write-protected with a sticker are also protected against card formatting. Write-protect stickers can only be used once and must be clean to be effective. (Frankly not a terribly practical write-protection scheme.)

The table below summarizes the compression ratios and number of images which can be stored on the included 16MB xD-Picture Card with each size/quality combination.

 

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
16MB Memory Card
Hi
(TIFF)
Fine
Normal
Full
Resolution
3,200 x 2,400
Images
(Avg size)
N/A 2
8 MB
8
2 MB
Approx.
Compression
N/A 3:1 12:1
2,048 x 1,536
pixels
Images
(Avg size)
1
9.4 MB
8
2 MB
20
800KB
Approx.
Compression
1:1 5:1 12:1
1,600 x 1,200
pixels
Images
(Avg size)
2
5.8 MB
11
1,455 KB
32
500KB
Approx.
Compression
1:1 4:1 12:1
1,280 x 960
pixels
Images
(Avg size)
4
3.7 MB
17
941KB
49
327KB
Approx.
Compression
1:1
4:1
11:1
1,024 x 768
pixels
Images
(Avg size)
6
2.4 MB
26
615KB
76
211KB
Approx.
Compression
1:1
4:1
11:1
640x480
pixels
Images
(Avg size)
16
900 KB
66
242KB
165
97KB
Approx.
Compression
1:1
4:1
10:1

 

The C-730 comes with interface software and cables for both Mac and Windows computers. It employs a USB interface for high-speed computer connection. I clocked the C-730's download speed at 676 KBytes/second when connected to my G4 PowerMac. This makes it one of the very fastest digicams I've tested, when it comes to downloading. Like most (all?) other current Olympus digicams, the C-730 is a USB storage-class device. Olympus refers to this as "USB Auto-Connect," and it means that you can connect it to computers running Windows Me, XP, or 2000 or Mac OS8.6 or later, without the need to load separate driver software. (Very nice if you're traveling and want to offload images on a computer in an internet cafe or other computer-for-hire venue.)

Lost Images? - Download this image-recovery program so you'll have it when you need it...
Since we're talking about memory and image storage, this would be a good time to mention the following: I get a ton of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. It's tragic when it happens, there are few things more precious than photo memories. Corrupted memory cards can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. "Stuff happens," as they say. A surprising number of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digicam reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

 

 

Video Out

The C-730 has a Video Out port for reviewing previously captured images and movies, or running slide shows from the camera. It also shows all of the LCD menu screens, as well as the preview display from the LCD viewfinder. (This last means that you could use a TV monitor as a "remote viewfinder" if you wanted to.) Through the Setup menu, you can set the Video Out signal to NTSC or PAL.

Power

The C-730 is powered by two CR-V3 lithium battery packs, four AA batteries (alkaline, lithium, NiMH, or NiCd), or by an optional AC adapter that can significantly extend battery life if you're doing a lot of downloads on the computer or working in a studio environment. As usual, I measured the C-730's power consumption in various operating modes, and translated the results into estimated minutes of runtime for each. (Based on a set of true 1600 mAh capacity NiMH batteries.)

Operating Mode
Power
(@6.5 volts on the external power terminal)
Est. Minutes
(Four 1600 mAh NiMH cells)
Capture Mode, w/LCD
463 mA
172
Capture Mode, no LCD
372 mA
215
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD
459 mA
174
Half-pressed w/o LCD
367 mA
217
Memory Write (transient)
477 mA
n/a
Flash Recharge (transient)
1,029 mA
n/a
Image Playback
252 mA
317

The C-730's battery life is surprisingly good for a compact camera, particularly one with an EVF. Ultimate battery life is limited somewhat by the need to keep the EVF display running in order to aim the camera and compose your shots, but I was surprised by how good runtime was in capture mode with only the EVF active: Over 3 1/2 hours of continuous operation, much better than average among EVF-equipped cameras I've tested. While battery life is pretty good, I still strongly recommend that you purchase a couple of sets of high-capacity NiMH rechargeable AA cells, and a good charger. Read my NiMH Battery Shootout page for the latest on actual battery performance, or my review of the Maha C204F to see why it's my favorite charger.

Included Software

The software they didn't include...
(But that you should)
Few people realize just how *much* you can improve your digicam images through clever processing in Photoshop. Greatly (!) increased sharpness, reduced noise, and even ultra-wide dynamic range (light-to-dark range) by combining multiple exposures. Fred Miranda and uber-Photoshop expert Fred Miranda has packaged some of his Photoshop magic in a collection of powerful and affordably priced "actions." Check out his site, the results are pretty amazing!

The C-730 comes with a nice complement of software on the supplied CD. Direct camera control and image downloading are provided by Olympus' Camedia Master software package (Version 4.0) for both Mac and Windows platforms (Macintosh OS 8.6-9.2/OS X, Windows 98/98SE/Me/2000 Pro/XP). USB drivers for both platforms and an Apple QuickTime reader are also included.

Camedia Master lets you download and organize images, as well as perform minor image correction and enhancement functions (such as adjusting contrast, sharpness, and color balance). For panoramic images, Camedia Master supplies a "stitching" utility to piece together shots vertically or horizontally. A complete printing utility works with the DPOF settings and allows you to print images directly to Olympus or other DPOF-compliant photo printers.

In the Box

The following items are included in the box:

 

Test Results
In keeping with our standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only our key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the C-730 Ultra Zoom's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, we encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how C-730 images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

Overall, the C-730 Ultra Zoom performed very well, producing excellent color under the majority of shooting conditions. The C-730's auto white balance system was pretty accurate, introducing only a hint of red into some shots under my studio lights, and handling even the extremely difficult incandescent lighting of the "indoor portrait" test surprisingly well. (Although the Manual white balance option really carried the day there.) The 730 did darken the tricky blues of the flowers in the outdoor portrait shot and shift them toward purple a little, but not as much as many cameras, and skin tones were very nice. All in all, very good color under a wide range of conditions.

For the most part, the camera's white balance system handled my testing well, with the Auto option typically providing the best results. However, I often noticed a slight reddish cast with the Auto setting, particularly under our studio lights (here the Manual setting performed well). The Manual white balance performed very well under the difficult incandescent lighting of the Indoor Portrait (without flash). Manual white balance also did a good job with the large color blocks of the Davebox target, with good saturation as well. The camera had some trouble with the awkward blues in the flower bouquet in the outdoor test shot, darkening the tone and shifting the color into violet (a common failing among many cameras I've tested). Despite the slight reddish cast from the Auto setting, the C-730 does a good job, particularly with the Manual white balance option.

The C-730 performed well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 800 lines per picture height in the vertical direction, and around 600 lines in the horizontal direction. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,000 lines vertically and perhaps 1,050 lines vertically. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,300 lines. A very good performance for a long-ratio zoom lens.

The C-730's electronic "optical" viewfinder (EVF) was very accurate, showing 99+ percent frame accuracy at the wide angle zoom setting. However, at telephoto, the viewfinder was slightly loose, showing just a hair more than what's in the final image. The LCD monitor showed the same level of accuracy, since it shows the same view, just on a larger screen. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the C-730's LCD monitor was essentially perfect in that regard. Just remember to frame a little extra space when shooting at full telephoto.

Given the C-730's increased manual exposure controls and maximum exposure time of 16 seconds, I expected great low-light performance. I wasn't disappointed here. The C-730 produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test, at all three ISO settings. Color balance was warm from the Auto white balance setting, but images were bright and clear. The C-730's Noise Reduction feature did a good job eliminating excess image noise. Even at ISO 400, at the longest exposure, noise was only moderate. Really excellent performance here.

The C-730 performed very well in the macro category, capturing a tiny minimum area of only 1.57 x 1.18 inches (40 x 30 millimeters). Resolution was high, with great detail in the dollar bill, coins, and brooch. (I could even see the tiny dust particles on top of the smaller coin.) Some softness was noticeable along the left side of the frame, but is a very common failing of digicam lenses in ultra-macro shots, most likely caused by the optical phenomena called "curvature of field." Because of the close shooting range and the C-730's very long lens barrel, the flash was ineffective with this shot. (Plan on using external illumination for super-closeup shooting with the C-730.)

The addition of a manual white balance option and increased manual exposure controls greatly helped the C-730's performance throughout my testing. Overall color and saturation were good, and the camera's low-light and macro shooting abilities are outstanding.

Conclusion
Photographers who routinely deal with distant subjects know there's simply no substitute for a long-ratio zoom lens. With a 10x zoom lens and three megapixels of resolution, the aptly-named C-730 Ultra Zoom offers a very affordable and functional entry into the realm of long-telephoto digital photography. It takes good pictures, with good color and tone, and offers an expanded range of manual controls relative to its predecessor and sibling, the C-720 Ultra Zoom. As my regular readers will know, I'm normally no fan of electronic viewfinders as they're generally useless in dim lighting. The EVF on the C-730 seems better than most in this respect though, and the total package offers really excellent value in a long-zoom camera. There's plenty of resolution for sharp 8x10 prints, color and exposure are very good, and the 730 offers all the features true "enthusiasts" demand, while remaining very approachable for novices. All things considered, the C-730 Ultra Zoom is an excellent buy in a long-zoom camera.

 

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