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The Olympus Stylus mju 780 is a fairly nondescript digital compact camera with a couple of nice touches that help to alleviate the fog of anonymity. Mechanical image stabilisation and a 5x optical zoom are quite interesting. The mju 780 is also claimed to be weatherproof so it can brave the elements, and it's available for around £200 online.
Apart from the elegant sloping curved footprint, the 780's styling is retro and boxy. The standard round click pad is replaced by an enormous square pad, with buttons above and below. The markings on the buttons illuminate in a lime-green colour, which is handy for shooting in the dark. The enormous buttons are extremely shiny, and very susceptible to fingerprint marks. Even the rubber cover of the USB port gets a lustrous metal panel.
The mode wheel seems tiny by comparison and is really tough to turn. Strangely, it doesn't rotate all the way around, so moving from favourites mode to video mode, which are next to each other on the dial, involves going all the way back round. The dial also provides access to playback mode, which is pointlessly duplicated with a playback button.
Disappointingly, Olympus has chosen to follow the trend of adding an image stabilisation button on top. This increases the ISO setting to maximum, which is a problem as the mju 780, like most compacts, struggles with noise problems in low light. To make things worse, the button is on the wrong side of the shutter release.
The mju 780 is weatherproof to the IEC standard publication 529 IPX4. This means it will stand up to water splashed from any direction. Not a particularly rousing boast.
The mju 780 boasts a 7.1-megapixel sensor and 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD, both par for the compact course. More interesting is the 5x optical zoom, with a focal length equivalent to 36-180mm in a 35mm camera. The zoom responds reasonably well, but it isn't quick.
As well as the usual paltry internal memory, the mju 780 supports xD memory cards. xD cards are only used by Fuji and Olympus and as semi-proprietary technology, they aren't the cheapest or most flexible memory format available. Fuji has apparently seen the error of its proprietary ways by introducing the F40fd, a compact that accepts xD and the more common SD format.
Favourites mode is an interesting idea, but underdeveloped. A one-touch option to mark your favourite options would be better than moving through menus. There's also no option to erase all images in the playback menu, for when you've backed up your pictures and want to clear the memory.
Despite our reservations about digital image stabilisation and compact performance at high ISO levels, the mju 780 shapes up well in this regard. Noise is present, inevitably, but pictures are still usable even at ISO 800 and above. Images at 800 and 1,600 won't pass muster if printed out to much larger than standard photo prints, but are clear, detailed and richly coloured at smaller sizes.
The mju 780 isn't especially fast, taking its time to process images. A Hi Drive continuous shooting mode captures 3.5 frames per second for as many as 30 images. Settings and resolution in this mode are limited, but you can use a strobing flash for 10 to 15 images. The speedy performance is only made possible, however, by taking 3-megapixel images. This is only recommended when lighting is good enough that the camera does not need to rely on the slightly feeble flash.
One of the greatest strengths of this camera is the macro mode. Up close, noise is rarely a problem, and we got some beautifully crisp shots in our tests. As close as 30mm, detail was sharp and colours rich.
The mju 780's most trumpeted feature is its weatherproof exterior. If weatherproof means surviving a few drops of rain, then frankly we feel all cameras should be weatherproof. The mju 780 isn't actually waterproof and won't take kindly to being completely immersed in water, so being weatherproof seems like a lacklustre and pointless boast. That said, Olympus deserves some credit for recognising that uncovered points and badly sealed frames aren't acceptable for cameras or any portable devices. How weatherproof it is is hard to quantify: we splashed it a little and it didn't break.
Apart from being xD-only, there's nothing wrong with the Olympus Stylus mju 780, but there's nothing truly exciting about it either. A camera as undistinguished as this really needs a headline feature to make it stand out from the crowd, and being weatherproof just won't cut it. The price is also a touch high.
Mechanical image stabilisation and decent high-ISO performance wins the mju 780 points, but for slightly less money you could get the Pentax Optio W30, an actually waterproof camera that takes SD cards.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide