By cranking up the zoom range to a market-leading 10X and beefing up the enthusiast-friendly features, the relatively compact Olympus C-730 Ultra Zoom presents an attractive package. Its 3.2-megapixel effective resolution and 38mm to 380mm focal range (in 35mm equivalent terms) cover a broad variety of scene choices and output possibilities. And as long as you steer away from merchants who charge the $599 list price, it's a pretty good deal. But if you're picky about image quality, you should consider other models; while the C-730's pictures are respectable, they don't stand out from the crowd. Olympus packs a lot into this sleek and solid camera with its brushed-silver plastic body. It's bigger than pocket-sized, but the C-730 is still easy to hold and lightweight enough shoot one-handed, at about 14 ounces equipped with batteries and media. The lens sticks out a mere inch from the housing--a total of three inches from the camera body--when fully extended, protecting the powerful zoom from accidental collisions.
|Placement of navigation and control buttons are fairly standard for this class of cameras.|
And we have to offer kudos to Olympus not only for a lens cap that stays put even when the lens is extended, but also for a camera that doesn't beep at you when you leave it on. The C-730 tops all of its 3-megapixel competitors with the Ultra Zoom line's signature 10X optical zoom (plus 3X digital zoom). Keep a steady hand or carry a tripod, though; a lens this powerful that lacks image stabilization is sure to capture camera shake when you zoom in close. The lens has excellent macro capability, allowing crystal-clear shots as close as 3.9 inches from the subject using the zoom or 1.6 inches fixed at the widest angle.
|The C-730 adds a few scene modes to those of its predecessor, the C-720.||You get four slots in which to save groups of custom settings.|
Add to that a dynamic histogram; exposure bracketing; manual white-balance adjustment; exposure, flash, and white-balance compensation; six different compression/resolution combinations (including uncompressed TIFF and QuickTime movie capture with audio); user-definable sharpness, contrast, and saturation settings; and numerous other options. The camera's standard burst mode can shoot up to 11 frames as fast as 1.2fps, plus there's a high-speed burst (2.4fps up to 3 frames) and a sequential mode with continuous autofocus. The only thing we miss is a RAW file format, which would provide faster operation for uncompressed-quality shots.
With so many options and features, it's unfortunate that Olympus doesn't make them easier to find; almost everything must be accessed from the menus. The C-730 partly makes up for this by allowing you to customize the top-level menu options and to save four groups of settings as MyMode selections, which can be activated with a twist of the mode dial. If you are familiar with digital cameras or have worked with Olympus cameras before, the transition to the C-730 will be easier. But those new to the world of digital photography will want to plan on spending some time experimenting. The printed manual provides little more than a map to finding menu items; you'll have to look to the included CD manual for explanations of what the settings actually do.
Battery life is excellent; we shot more than 200 images, using the LCD heavily, and had juice to spare.
In playback mode, the C-730 takes a mere second to load JPEG images and allows an immediate zoom for a closer look. As is typical, TIFF images take far longer to view.
The camera ships with rechargeable NiMH AA-size batteries, but standard CR-V3 lithium cells are a worthy (if pricey) substitute when needed. The C-730 shoots good images, though not the best for this class of camera. If you're looking for outstanding 3-megapixel pictures, look elsewhere. That said, our test images were extremely sharp, as well as evenly and correctly exposed. They were less saturated than those of the C-720, but that's acceptable for tweak-happy enthusiasts.
Colors are less saturated than those of most 3-megapixel competitors, including the C-720 Ultra Zoom.
Images are surprisingly noisy coming from a 3-megapixel digicam.
Even when the lens is zoomed out to its maximum focal length, the images are so sharp you can see our fake flowers fraying.