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Olympus Camedia C-730 Ultra Zoom review: Olympus Camedia C-730 Ultra Zoom

Olympus Camedia C-730 Ultra Zoom

Christy Balich
5 min read
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.
For the most part, the buttons and dials you'll find on the C-730 are similar to those on other cameras in its class. But behind them, Olympus hides a plethora of menus that take a little practice to navigate. They're a little intimidating at first--for instance, four separate drive modes and exposure bracketing are under the Drive option--but don't give up. A camera with as many features as the C-730 has to put them somewhere, and they are well worth the discovery.
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.
Though snapshooters can set the camera to operate fully automatically, the breadth of the feature set and the complexity of the interface really target the more advanced user. In addition to six scene modes, a fully automatic mode, and a programmed exposure mode, it supplies aperture- and shutter-priority and fully manual exposure modes.
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.
Performance is about average for this camera's class. Shot-to-shot time for the largest JPEG files is about 3 seconds with minimal shutter delay. TIFFs take a significantly longer period of time: about 20 seconds. The lens zooms smoothly and responsively, though the autofocus lags a bit, especially in low light. Switching to manual focus can help, but if the scene is dark, the electronic viewfinder and LCD are often too dim for reliable focusing. The LCD, though small, is bright and readable even in bright daylight.
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.
Flash photos show even lighting, and the flash properly handles side lighting well without blowing out highlights or underexposing the entire image. In general, we're also happy with the white balance. Under tungsten lighting, it tends toward the pink on auto and the blue for manual and presets but manages to stay within a reasonably neutral range.

Images are surprisingly noisy coming from a 3-megapixel digicam.
Unfortunately, pictures come out with surprisingly noisy shadows and solid-color areas, even with light sensitivity set to ISO 64. The camera also clips some shadow detail and produces contrasty shadows. Furthermore, we spotted a bit more purple fringing than we'd expected.

Even when the lens is zoomed out to its maximum focal length, the images are so sharp you can see our fake flowers fraying.
Zoomed out to its widest angle, the lens exhibits some insignificant barrel distortion, more pronounced horizontally than vertically. No pincushioning problems appear at the telephoto end of the range.

Olympus Camedia C-730 Ultra Zoom

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 9Performance 7Image quality 7