DPInterface Olympus Stylus 720SW Review
Brad Soo - May 31st, 2006

Olympus had a few nice tricks up their sleeve early this year including releasing their live view E330 and waterproof Stylus 720SW. The 720SW has 7 megapixels, a 3x optical zoom lens and is waterproof up to 3 m and shock proof up to 1.5 m. The Olympus Stylus 720SW is also known as the Olympus 720SW outside of the USA. Ready to learn about this very sturdy camera? Let's begin now.

Olympus Stylus-series comparison

And here is a comparison chart of the recent Olympus Stylus series:

 

Olympus
Stylus 710

Olympus
Stylus 720SW

Olympus
Stylus 810

Original retail/
current price*

$349/$279

$399/$359

$429/$380

Resolution

7.1 megapixels

7.1 megapixels

8.0 megapixels

CCD sensor size

1/2.3 inch

1/2.3 inch

1/1.8 inch

Lens focal length

3X (37-111 mm)

3X (38-114 mm)

3X (35-105 mm)

Lens aperture

f3.4 - f5.7

f3.5 - f5.0

f2.8 - f4.7

LCD size

2.5 inch
(115k pixels)

2.5 inch
(115k pixels)

2.5 inch
(230k pixels)

Super macro mode

8 cm

7 cm

10 cm

Shooting modes

28 modes

28 modes

24 modes

Continuous (3 MP)

3.7 FPS

3.7 FPS

4.2 FPS

Movie mode

VGA/15 FPS

VGA/15 FPS

VGA/30 FPS

ISO range

64 - 1600

64 - 1600

64 - 3200

Max. flash range

4.0/2.4 m

3.8/2.6 m

5.2/3.2 m

Internal memory

19 MB

19 MB

28 MB

Battery life

180 shots

180 shots

250 shots

Body rating

Weatherproof

Water/shockproof

Weatherproof

*As of May 31st, 2006

Size and Weight

The Stylus 720SW is a fairly compact camera. Take a look:

(173.3)  90.4 x 56.5 x 26.4 mm (165 g) - Canon PowerShot SD700 IS Digital ELPH
(171.2)  89.0 x 58.5 x 23.7 mm (130 g) - Casio Exilim Z850
(177.2)  92.7 x 56.7 x 27.8 mm (155 g) - Fujifilm FinePix F30
(183.6)  96.0 x 62.0 x 25.6 mm (130 g) - HP Photosmart R927
(163.6)  92.0 x 50.0 x 21.6 mm (120 g) - Kodak EasyShare V603
(189.7)  111.0 x 55.5 x 23.2 mm (160 g) - Kodak EasyShare V610
(184.0)  92.0 x 61.0 x 31.0 mm (170 g) - Nikon Coolpix P3
(181.5)  100.5 x 60.0 x 21.0 mm (140 g) - Nikon Coolpix S6
(171.1)  94.8 x 55.9 x 20.4 mm (103 g) - Olympus Stylus 710
(169.5)  91.0 x 58.7 x 19.8 mm (149 g) - Olympus Stylus 720SW*
(175.9)  97.0 x 56.2 x 22.7 mm (145 g) - Olympus Stylus 810
(170.2)  94.0 x 50.8 x 25.4 mm (132 g) - Panasonic Lumix FX01
(166.0)  88.5 x 54.5 x 23.0 mm (125 g) - Pentax Optio A10
(185.0)  107.0 x 55.0 x 23.0 mm (140 g) - Pentax Optio W10*
(179.6)  94.2 x 60.6 x 24.8 mm (161 g) - Sony Cyber-shot W100

*Indicates that the camera is waterproof

As usual, I've included the "DPI measurement unit" (As opposed to volume) on the left for a more accurate impression of a camera's size.

The Olympus Stylus 720SW is a fairly compact camera - as an ultra-compact and as a waterproof one. Moreover, the camera has an internal lens, making it even more portable.

Open up the Box

Open up that box and in it you'll find these:

  • Rechargeable LI-42B lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB and A/V cables
  • CD-ROM
  • Quick start guide
  • User's manual

Storage and Power

The Sylus 720SW has a useless 19 MB of internal memory So, getting at least a 512 MB xD-Picture card is necessary. While the Stylus 720SW doesn't benefit from high-speed cards, getting a Type-H xD-Picture card can speed things up when transferring photos. Thankfully, the prices of xD-Picture cards are dipping enough to make them affordable.

240 shots - Canon PowerShot SD700 IS Digital ELPH
440 shots - Casio Exilim Z850
580 shots - Fujifilm FinePix F30
200 shots - HP Photosmart R927
150 shots - Kodak EasyShare V603
135 shots - Kodak EasyShare V610
200 shots - Nikon Coolpix S6
200 shots - Nikon Coolpix P3
180 shots - Olympus Stylus 710
180 shots - Olympus Stylus 720SW
250 shots - Olympus Stylus 810
320 shots - Panasonic Lumix FX01
150 shots - Pentax Optio A10
N/A - Pentax Optio W10
360 shots - Sony Cyber-shot W100

The Olympus Stylus 720SW has a below average battery life rating of 180 shots (CIPA Standard). So pick up an extra battery pack.

 

Extras

The Stylus 720SW has two add-ons - an AC adapter and waterproof case (which allows you to go 40 m underwater).

Camera Tour

The Stylus 720SW is available in 3 colors: Silver, blue and red.

The entire camera is waterproof up to 3 m and shock AKA drop proof up to 1.5 m. This means that the Stylus 720SW can follow you camping, hiking, rafting or even swimming. If you ever drop the camera, you can just pick it up and continue using it - Olympus tells me that the warranty covers drops below 1.5 m. Based on my testing, the Stylus 720SW can survive table-top drops (below 1.5 m) and still continue working normally. And based on another test, the Stylus 720SW can work in water as claimed:

The internal Olympus lens on the top right is equivalent to 38 - 114 mm and has an aperture range of f3.5 - f5.0. Just to let you know, the camera has seals inside so water, dust, etc can't get in.

The flash has a maximum working range of 3.8 m at wide-angle and 2.6 m at telephoto - that's about average. Jump nearer to the left and there's a microphone and self-timer light.

The Olympus Stylus 720SW has a 2.5 inch LCD which has only 115,000 pixels. It's not that sharp but has excellent low-light visibility. Outdoors, well, things are okay.

The zoom controller is located on the top right of the Stylus 720SW followed by a small status light. Since a mode dial would probably let water in, the Stylus 720SW has a "mode button":

  • Shooting mode
  • Movie mode
  • Scene mode - 24 scene modes at your disposal; Portrait, landscape, landscape + portrait, night scene, night + portrait, sport, indoor, candle, self portrait, available light portrait, sunset, fireworks, museum, behind glass, documents, auction, shoot & select 1 and 2, beach, snow, underwater wide 1 & 2, underwater macro, underwater snapshot)

Then there's a playback button. Beside those two mode buttons is a waterproofed speaker. After that, it's more buttons starting with the 5-way controller:

  • Up - Exposure compensation (2 in 1/3 increments)
  • Down - Self-timer (On/off)/Delete photo
  • Left - Focus (Auto, macro, super-macro)
  • Right - Flash mode (Auto, auto with red-eye reduction, on, off)

Pressing the center button is to confirm a setting or bring up the FUNCtion menu. While the FUNCtion menu isn't exactly like Canon's... it does the job:

  • Shooting (Auto/program - program unlocks the settings below)
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, warm fluorescent, neutral fluorescent and cool fluorescent)
  • ISO sensitivity (ISO 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600)
  • "Gear box" (Single shot, continuous, continuous high-speed)
  • Metering method (ESP multi-pattern, spot)

Finally, there's a MENU and print button.

There's only two things up here; a power button and shutter button. The shutter button is just too thin and sharp, in my opinion.

Over here, there's a battery/xD-Picture card slot and tripod mount. The battery/xD-Picture card slot is very sturdy and has a lock too.

Shooting

The Olympus Stylus 720SW has 8 image size options ranging from 7 megapixels down to VGA - There's no way to select compression though.

The Olympus Stylus 720SW is just point-and-shoot so there's nothing much else to change:

  • 6 white balance presets (no custom option)
  • ISO (64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600)
  • Auto focus (ESP, spot)
  • Metering method (Multi, spot)
  • Panorama

Turn on macro mode and the Olympus Stylus 720 can focus as close as 20 cm to a subject, which is not that hot. Enable super-macro mode and you can go as close as 7 cm - which is still not close enough. Other internal lens cameras can do 1 cm.

Recording

The Olympus Stylus 720SW has a not-so-great movie mode. It records VGA movies at only 15 FPS with sound till the memory card fills up. Exposure is automatically adjusted while recording but focus and zoom cannot be used.

The quality of video was just so-so while audio quality was good.

Performance

The Olympus Stylus 720SW powers on quickly in one seconds and takes about a second to focus. The camera took 1 shot every 2 seconds. In continuous shooting, the Stylus 720SW took 7 shots at 1.3 FPS. Using high-speed mode, the camera lowers the resolution but takes 15 photos at an amazing 4 FPS!

Image Quality

Now for image quality tests...


ISO 64 (f4.0, 1/2 sec)


ISO 100 (f4.0, 1/2 sec)


ISO 200 (f4.0, 1/2 sec)


ISO 400 (f4.0, 1/2 sec)


ISO 800 (f4.0, 1/5 sec)


ISO 1600 (f4.0, 1/8 sec)

At ISO 64, there's not much noise. Going up to ISO 100 and ISO 200, and noise is visible but acceptable. At ISO 400, there's more noise but I suppose you could do a bit of cleaning up. At ISO 800, things are getting unacceptable and you might want to downsize for smaller prints. ISO 1600 is unacceptable unless you put in a lot of noise reduction. Chromatic aberration (color fringing) is visible throughout the ISO range and is above average. The image quality of the Olympus Stylus 720SW is good but things can still be improved (ie. color fringing).

Photo gallery

Remember to visit the Olympus Stylus 720SW photo gallery.

Playback

In playback, the Olympus Stylus 720SW can playback stills and movies (With sound) as well as: Print marking, slideshow, simple photo edit, voice memo, protect image, rotate, downsize and create calendar. Some interesting features include red-eye reduction, brightness and saturation.

There's an album feature which uses the memory card (!) to store the albums. Whack the images off the card, and you're whacking off the albums as well - best use the internal memory!

 

Conclusion

Waterproof and shockproof, the Olympus Stylus 720SW has 7 megapixels, a large 2.5 inch LCD and an internal 3x lens. The Stylus 720SW is the first digital camera to be shockproof - surviving drops of up to 1.5 m.

There are pros and cons of this camera. The LCD resolution is on the low side but visibility (not sharpness) is okay. Being waterproof and shockproof, Olympus had to make some sacrifices by using an internal lens. Thus leading to no optical image stabilization (Olympus never really had one anyway), poor macro mode and a rather slow lens rating.

In normal continuous shooting, things were slow and limited. Besides that, the Stylus 720SW has no manual controls. On the bright side, it can do about 4 FPS using high-speed mode (at lower resolutions) and has lots of scene modes.

In terms of overall performance, things are pretty slow for a 2006 digital camera. And in terms of image quality, photos were fairly good and ISO was useable up to 400 but color fringing levels were fairly high.

The Olympus Stylus 720SW is a camera for mostly outdoor shooting - when you're out and about camping, swimming, etc. Its waterproof and shockproof body means it can survive bumps, drops and nature. While you'd probably want to stick to ISO 400 or lower when doing casual shooting, the noise in ISO 800 and ISO 1600 are slightly "muffled" outdoors.

You'd be buying the Olympus Stylus 720SW if you're, by nature, active and adventurous - not if you go for hiking or trips to the beach once every few years! For example, if your Canon EOS 1D Mark II N needs a companion for your frequent trips to places like Mount Everest, then the Olympus Stylus 720SW. Otherwise, it's best you look somewhere else since the Stylus 720SW doesn't cut it for other photography aspects.

What's hot:

  • 7 megapixels in a waterproof and shockproof body
  • Large LCD which is visible outdoors and indoors
  • Extremely high-speed continuous shooting (though at lower resolutions only)
  • Many scene modes
  • High ISO capabilities; useable till ISO 400
  • Good image quality

What's not:

  • No manual controls
  • LCD resolution is low
  • Slow (for "normal" continuous shooting) and limited continuous shooting
  • No optical image stabilization
  • Not-close 7 cm macro mode
  • Performance lagging behind competition; could be faster and better
  • Movies at only 15 FPS, no zoom or focus
  • Above average color fringing levels

Recommended Accessories

  • 512 MB xD-Picture card
  • Extra rechargeable LI-42B lithium-ion battery

Other Cameras

Here are some other cameras you might want to consider:

Canon PowerShot SD700 IS Digital ELPH - Just 6 megapixels and no manual controls but equipped with 4x optical zoom, optical image stabilizer, a higher resolution LCD and ISO 800.

Casio Exilim Z850 - Same limited manual mode but also with priority modes. It's not that fast but has a ton of scene modes, some sort of high ISO and excellent movie mode.

Fujifilm FinePix F30 - You're not gonna get this one for movies. It's image quality you want! The FinePix F30 delivers excellent photos - even at its ISO 3200 setting! It has full manual controls, a high resolution LCD, 3x optical zoom - what else do you want? It doesn't have image stabilization though.

HP Photosmart R927 - The flagship of the HP Photosmart line of cameras has 8 megapixels, a huge 3 inch LCD and an array of special (some not very useful) features. It has a small amount of buffer and no high ISO though.

Kodak EasyShare V603 - Your average 6 megapixel camera with a 2.5 inch LCD and excellent movie mode. Again, it's slow, no high ISO and no manual controls.

Nikon Coolpix P3 - The P3 which lacks the good battery life, high ISO and video quality makes up with image stabilization, aperture priority and WiFi.

Panasonic Lumix FX01 - This 28 mm ultra-compact with no manual controls and no high ISO has 6 megapixels, optical image stabilization and good battery life.

Pentax Optio A10 - Another image stabilized camera with 8 megapixels and 2.5 inch LCD. It doesn't have high ISO and good battery life though.

Sony Cyber-shot W100 - 8 megapixels, a 2.5 inch LCD (with lower-resolution) but has a more usable high-sensitivity mode, a manual mode and good battery life.

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