Olympus Stylus 720 SW
At a Glance
Olympus Stylus 720 SW Compact Camera
Rugged metal body is shock- and water-proof. Has 24 scene modes and shutter lag is low, but the LCD looks dim.
Looking for a camera for klutzes? If you tend to be hard on your cameras (by dropping them in a pool, for example) Olympus may have your number. The Stylus 720 SW ($400 as of 6/15/06) is the first pocket-sized digital camera I've seen (and I've seen many) that claims to be both shockproof and waterproof. According to Olympus, you can shoot the life aquatic down to 10 feet for up to an hour--suitable for the pool, snorkeling or other types of dampish fun. (An optional housing is available for deeper excursions.)
This is not some point-and-shoot encased in bulky plastic housing. Outwardly, it looks like the rest of the ultracompact cameras it competes with: a stylish chrome-metal body with a largish 2.5-inch LCD on the back and a standard set of tiny control buttons. The only clue that it can survive a dunking is the tiny gaskets behind the battery and USB connector doors.
I could not bring myself to bounce the camera off the floor to test its shock resistance, but Olympus states that the 720 SW can take drops of up to 5 feet--enough for it to survive an unplanned drop from your pocket or purse.
Aside from those unusual qualities, this Stylus is pretty average compared to other ultracompact cameras. The Nikon Coolpix S6 I reviewed at the same time has a 3-inch LCD and nicer controls. I found the buttons on the Stylus a bit too small for my large fingers--workable, but not comfortable. The menu system is entirely different from earlier Olympus models I've looked at. It's moderately well organized, but no real improvement over the previous setups.
The useful function button (a feature borrowed liberally from Canon) pops up key camera settings such as white balance, ISO, and metering modes. You'll not, however, find such niceties as white balance calibration or exposure bracketing. Again taking a cue from other brands, Olympus includes photo samples for each of the camera's 24 special scene modes, along with brief text descriptions of what the modes do. Appropriately, there are four scene modes for underwater--though a warning pops up if you're not using the optional underwater housing.
I was pleased with the color and sharpness of photos captured by the Stylus. To test its antishake feature, I shot one-handed, at full telephoto, in shade: The photo taken with the feature turned on was noticeably sharper than the one with antishake turned off. In PC World's lab tests, this camera earned scores that were mostly a bit above average.
The only significant knocks I give the 720 SW are its LCD, which seemed a bit dark and difficult to see in bright sunlight, and the placement of the lens. It's high and far to one side of the camera, right where one of my fingers tended to stray--as several photos testify.
Also, digital noise was evident in images shot at ISO 400 and higher--a common problem with point-and-shoot cameras offering high ISO settings. The 720 SW allows you to manually set its light sensitivity up to ISO 1600, though a couple of the modes--candle and available light portrait--may use up to ISO 2500.