Olympus Camedia C-765 Ultra Zoom
Though priced $100 less, the 4-megapixel Olympus Camedia C-765 Ultra Zoom is almost identical to its sibling, the C-770 Ultra Zoom, but it has a plastic body instead of a combination metal and plastic one, and it lacks a hotshoe for mounting an external flash. Its so-so QuickTime movie capabilities also stand in for the C-770 Ultra Zoom's robust MPEG-4 clips, and there are minor differences in the control layout.
But you still get a versatile, 10X optical zoom with the C-765 Ultra Zoom. It comes up a bit short on the wide end at 38mm (35mm camera equivalent), but it gives you a lot of telephoto power with with a 380mm (equivalent) focal length. You can scope out your scene on a 1.8-inch LCD or through the bright electronic viewfinder (EVF). The EVF makes composing images easy, even in bright light and especially when shooting close-ups down to 2.8 inches (in macro mode) or 0.5 inch (in super macro mode).
While the Olympus's 11 scene modes and flexible automatic-exposure options will appeal to snapshooters, enthusiasts will really appreciate the ability to fine-tune their shots with shutter- and aperture-priority modes, manual exposure (from 1/1,000 second to 15 seconds; f/2.8 to f/8), and manual focus. If you're looking for the best possible image quality, you can save photos in TIFF mode.
The easy-to-use controls include a shutter release and a concentric zoom lever that you can operate with one finger. They also include a knurled mode wheel and a four-way control pad that navigates menus and sets shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, and manual focus. Five other multifunction buttons adjust settings that include exposure lock, self-timer, and flash mode as well as a user-customizable function. Other buttons pop up the built-in flash, switch between the EVF and the rear LCD, adjust the viewfinder diopter, activate the quick-review function, and power the camera on or off.
You can set light sensitivity either automatically or manually from ISO 64 to ISO 400. Metering options include eight-point multisegment, spot, and center-weighted. When darkness falls, a beefy flash unit illuminates your scene from about 1 to 15 feet at the wide-angle setting and from 4 to 17 feet in telephoto mode at ISO 100.
The C-765 Ultra Zoom beat the performance of its more expensive cousin in a couple of areas but fell down in others. The most obvious difference was the time needed to store a TIFF image on the memory card: 21 seconds vs. the C-770 Ultra Zoom's 12 seconds. Its wake-up time of 5.7 seconds, however, was almost a half-second faster and its shot-to-shot times were better. That was particularly evident with the flash, where the junior Ultra Zoom was able to snap off a shot every 3.8 seconds, almost 2 seconds faster than its counterpart. Without the flash, we were able to take a shot every 2.2 seconds. In low-speed burst mode, we got off three full-resolution shots in about 1 second; that time was cut to 0.5 second for the same trio of pictures in high-speed burst mode, with resolution reduced to 640x480 pixels. You won't need to recharge the lithium-ion battery very often; we got 542 shots, half of them with flash, on one charge.
We got the same good image quality with this camera as with the C-770 Ultra Zoom: consistent exposures; rich, detailed shadows; and highlights that didn't wash out easily. This camera, however, offered just 320x240-pixel, 15fps movies with adequate sound. If you're looking for 640x480, 30fps clips, spend the extra $100 and get the C-770.