Olympus 720 SW Review

 
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Olympus Stylus 720 SW Exposure


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Oversaturated reds and magentas, undersaturated yellows, yellow-greens, and purples. Fairly accurate hue, though magenta is shifted toward red.

In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located towards the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center.

Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life. The Olympus Stylus 720 SW did oversaturate the strong reds, but undersaturated other colors, including yellows, yellow-greens, and purples. The undersaturation in yellow-green colors translates into somewhat lifeless-looking foliage colors. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc. The Stylus 720 SW actually rendered skin tones a little on the pale side, without any strong pink or warm casts.

The other important part of color rendition is hue accuracy. Hue is "what color" the color is. Here, the Stylus 720 SW performed pretty well, but did shift some purples toward magenta, and magentas toward red somewhat.

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Good color with the Incandescent white balance setting, about average exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance +1.0 EV Incandescent WB +1.0 EV

The Stylus 720 SW's Auto white balance mode produced very warm results (almost a sepia tone), but the Incandescent setting actually produced very nice color overall. Exposure accuracy was about average, with the camera requiring a +1.0 EV exposure compensation boost to get bright results. (About what most cameras we test need on this shot.) Colors are a little dark, resulting in a dark, purplish tint on the otherwise bright blue flowers. (A very common outcome for this shot.) Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulb, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the US.

Outdoors, daylight
Slightly warm color balance, and slightly dark colors outdoors, but a bit better than average exposure accuracy.

Auto White Balance, +0.7 EV Auto White Balance, Auto Exposure

Outdoor shots generally showed accurate exposure, but with hot highlights and high contrast. Shadow detail was limited, with visible noise, but not beyond our expectation for such high contrast exposures. The camera typically required less exposure compensation than average among consumer digital cameras.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
High resolution, 1,400 lines of strong detail.

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,400 lines per picture height, though one could argue for closer to 1,500 lines. Extinction didn't occur until past 2,000. (The camera produced a few slight color artifacts at lower line frequencies though, visible in the full-sized res target shots.) Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail. Beware that while you might be able to make out what looks like distinct lines at numbers higher than those we've mentioned here, the camera is just doing its best to continue interpreting the lines. If you zoom in and follow them from the wider portions, you'll see the lines converge and reappear several times, so the lines you see at 1,800 and higher are really only artifacts generated by the camera's imaging system.

Strong detail to 1,400 lines horizontal Strong detail to 1,400 lines vertical

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Fairly sharp images overall, though a moderate amount of edge-enhancement in high contrast shots and some noise suppression in the shadows.

Moderate definition of high-contrast elements, only slight over-sharpening and edge-enhancement visible. Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur detail in areas of subtle contrast, as in some parts of Marti's hair here.

The Stylus 720 SW's images are fairly sharp overall, with edge-enhancemment artifacts only visible in areas of particularly strong contrast: Notice the slightly lighter "halo" in the sky where it meets the dark line at the edge of the roof in the crop above. (Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.)

Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears. The crop above right shows this fairly clearly in areas where the contrast between adjacent strands of hair is relatively low. Still, some individual strands are visible, and the effect isn't too noticeable on even moderate-size prints (8x10 inches or smaller).

ISO & Noise Performance
Moderate noise at the normal sensitivity settings, very high noise that blurs detail at the higher settings.

ISO 64 ISO 100 ISO 200
ISO 400 ISO 800 ISO 1,600

The Stylus 720 SW's lower ISO settings produced moderate noise, though with moderate blurring in the dark areas. As the ISO setting increases, so does the noise level and the amount of blurring that results. Images at ISO 400 are soft but perhaps usable for wall display at 8x10 inches. At ISOs 800 and 1,600, the images are very blurry, with stronger and brighter noise artifacts. ISO 800 and higher shots are only usable for 4x6 inch snapshot prints, and even there the softness and noise are still somewhat apparent.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with good overall detail, but somewhat high contrast as well. Pretty good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images under average city street lighting and slightly darker conditions.

+0.3 EV +0.7 EV +1.0 EV

Sunlight:
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)

The Stylus 720 SW did produce rather high contrast images under the harsh lighting above, though it also held onto a fair amount of highlight and shadow detail. Some noise suppression is visible in both shadows and highlights, which aids the loss of detail in these areas. Overall exposure was pretty good at +0.7 EV, slightly less than the average amount of exposure compensation required on this shot. (In "real life" though, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.)

  1 fc
11 lux
1/2 fc
5.5 lux
1/4 fc
2.7 lux
1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
ISO
100
Click to see OS720SWLL03.JPG
2 sec
f3.5
ISO 100
Click to see OS720SWLL04.JPG
4 sec
f3.5
ISO100
Click to see OS720SWLL05.JPG
4 sec
f3.5
ISO 200
Click to see OS720SWLL06.JPG
4 sec
f3.5
ISO 250
Click to see OS720SWLL07.JPG
4 sec
f3.5
ISO 250

Low light:
The Stylus 720 SW performed fairly well in low light, capturing bright images down to about 1/4 foot-candle (about 1/4 as bright as average city street lighting at night). Color was somewhat warm with the Auto white balance setting, however. The image at 1/4 foot-candle was also a bit noisy, because the camera automatically increased its light sensitivity to ISO 200 for that shot. The camera's autofocus system worked well, able to focus on the subject down to the 1/8 foot-candle light level without assistance (about 1/8 as bright as average city street lighting at night). Do keep in mind though, that the longer shutter times associated with Night Landscape mode absolutely demand the use of a tripod or other camera support to get sharp photos. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) For such applications, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera, but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually. For information and reviews on digital SLRs, refer to our SLR review index page.

Flash

Coverage and Range
A fairly weak flash with a limited range. The camera underexposed our standard shots slightly, and exposure compensation had no effect on flash exposure.

38mm equivalent 114mm equivalent
Normal Flash +1.7EV Night Portrait Mode +1.3 EV

Flash coverage was somewhat uneven at wide angle, and dim though more uniform at telephoto. In the Indoor test, the flash on the Stylus 720 SW underexposed our subject at its default setting slightly, and the exposure compensation adjustment turned out to have no effect on flash exposure. (The shot above at +1.7EV is essentially identical to the shot taken at the default setting.) The camera's Night Portrait mode produced slightly brighter and more even results, though with a much stronger orange cast from the room lighting. The best results here were achieved with a +1.3 EV exposure boost.

8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft 12 ft 13 ft 14 ft
Click to see OS720SWFL08.JPG
1/100 sec
f5.0
ISO 100
Click to see OS720SWFL09.JPG
1/100 sec
f5.0
ISO 100
Click to see OS720SWFL10.JPG
1/100 sec
f5.0
ISO 100
Click to see OS720SWFL11.JPG
1/100 sec
f5.0
ISO 100
Click to see OS720SWFL12.JPG
1/100 sec
f5.0
ISO 100
Click to see OS720SWFL13.JPG
1/100 sec
f5.0
ISO 100
Click to see OS720SWFL14.JPG
1/100 sec
f5.0
ISO 100

Even at eight feet, our closest test range, flash power was a bit weak. Flash intensity only decreased from there, resulting in a very dim exposure at 14 feet.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Good print quality, slightly muted color, usable 11x14 inch prints. Very high ISO settings work OK for 4x6 prints, ISO 400 shots are soft but usable as large as 8x10 inches.

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5200 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.)

The Olympus Stylus 720 SW delivered enough resolution to make decent-looking prints as large as 11x14 inches. It's unusual in that it sports high-sensitivity modes with ISO ratings as high as 1600. As you'd expect though, images shot at these very high-ISO settings are very soft with lots of image noise visible in them. That said though, we were surprised to find that the ISO 1600 setting produced acceptable snapshot-quality 4x6 inch prints. (They wouldn't win any image-quality prizes, but they'd certainly do for recording memories. - And even limited to 4x6 printout, ISO 1600 shots from a pocket-sized digicam are pretty unusual.) At slightly lower ISO settings, we felt that most users would be happy with 8x10 inch prints from images shot at ISO 400 with the 720SW.

Color-wise, we found the Stylus 720's photos definitely have more understated color than most consumer cameras on the market. In isolation, they really don't look bad at all, but when you hold them next to prints from some competing models, they can look a little dull. (Of course, this may not be a bad thing, if you're someone who's tired of the over-bright color of most consumer cameras these days. In many cases, the understated rendering of the 720SW is actually closer to reality than the over-hyped color most consumers prefer.)

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Olympus Stylus 720 SW Photo Gallery.

Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!

Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot 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 digital camera 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...

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Olympus Stylus 720 SW with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

Olympus 720-SW

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