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Olympus C-720 Ultra Zoom

Olympus packs an 8x zoom lens into an amazingly small body, for an amazingly low price.

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 7/1/2002

Executive Overview
Following in the footsteps of the already well-established Olympus Camedia C-series of digicams, the C-720 Ultra Zoom combines all the best exposure features of the series with a true, 8x zoom lens. In addition to the long-ratio zoom lens, the C-720's advanced features include ISO settings ranging from 100 to 400, a fast 1/1,000-second shutter speed, and AutoConnect Storage Class USB -- providing plug-and-play transfer of images to Windows 2000, Windows Me, and Mac OS 8.6 and higher computers, without the need for additional driver software. The most notable aspect of this digicam, however, is its broad versatility. While it's targeted at experienced digital photographers -- those who want to step up to a camera with expanded capabilities -- it can also be set in a fully Programmed mode for point-and-shoot simplicity, or in one of four preset shooting modes for achieving optimum results in Portrait, Sports, and Landscape photography. (There's also three Slow-Synchro flash modes for evenly exposed night scenes.)

Size, design, and portability are the other really "hot" features of the C-720. It sports the same compact SLR-style design as the C-3020 and C-4040 -- Olympus' recently updated 3x zoom Camedia models -- with nearly identical dimensions except for a slightly longer lens assembly. In fact, compared to other 8x zoom digicams currently on the market (June 2000), the C-720 is remarkably compact, measuring only 4.2 x 3.0 x 3.1 inches (107.5 x 76.0 x 77.5 mm) with the lens retracted, and only an inch added with the lens fully extended. It weighs just 11.0 ounces (315 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-720 features an "electronic" optical viewfinder, which is essentially a miniaturized version of the larger, 1.5-inch, TFT color LCD monitor. The C-720's EVF is bright and clear, with a good, high eyepoint that makes it comfortable to use by 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 with surprisingly little negative impact on battery life. The 6.4-51.2mm 8x zoom lens is equivalent to a 40-320mm lens on a 35mm camera, with a maximum aperture of f/2.8-f/3.4 (wide angle to telephoto). In addition to the C-720's 8x optical zoom, images can be enlarged up to an additional 3x with the "digital zoom," effectively increasing the camera's zoom capabilities to 24x. (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-720's default image resolution is 1,984 x 1,488 pixels, but lower resolutions of 1,600 x 1,200, 1,280 x 960, 1,024 x 768, and 640 x 480 are also available. Image quality options include two JPEG compression ratios, plus an uncompressed mode that produces full-resolution TIFF images.

The C-720 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 one 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/7.1 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 eight seconds. You can also put the camera into full Auto mode, or select between Portrait, Sports, and Landscape / Portrait scene modes for easy capture of what might otherwise be tricky subjects.

The C-720 provides four ISO options (Auto, 100, 200, and 400), automatic exposure bracketing, Digital ESP Multi-patterned and spot metering modes, plus exposure compensation from +2 to -2 exposure values (EV) in one-third-step increments. White balance options include Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Tungsten, or Fluorescent, to accommodate a variety of lighting conditions. Image contrast and sharpness adjustments are available through the LCD menu, and a Playback menu option lets you make copies of images in black and white or sepia tones. 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, and a "2 in 1" capture mode that records two half-sized images and saves them side-by-side as one full resolution image.

The C-720's Movie mode records QuickTime movies without sound, in either SQ (160 x 120 pixels) or HQ (320 x 240 pixels) modes. Provided of course that the memory card has sufficient space to store the files, SQ movies may be as long as 70 seconds apiece, while HQ mode movies can be up to 16 seconds long. 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. Finally, Panorama mode lets you take up to 10 specially "tagged" shots for merging with Camedia's Panorama Stitch software on your computer. 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-720 Ultra Zoom ships with a 16MB SmartMedia memory card for image storage. Larger capacity cards are available separately, up to the current (June, 2002) limit of 128 MB. 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 been pleased with Olympus' C-series of digicams and the flexibility they provide, and immediately liked the C-720 UltraZoom. Though some of the more in-depth manual controls of the C-3020 and C-4040 have been left out, the C-720 offers a nice array of exposure options and can still handle a wide range of shooting conditions. The availability of full manual exposure control, as well as a range of preset scene modes gives the camera wide appeal to novices and more experienced amateurs alike. The benefit of 8x optical zoom practically goes without saying, and the EVF viewfinder provides much more accurate framing than a standard optical viewfinder. Overall, the C-720 Ultra Zoom is a nice addition to the Camedia line.


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