Although it shares a 7-megapixel sensor and key features with its stablemate, the C-7000, the Olympus C-7070 Wide Zoom is an entirely different beast. With an expansive 27mm-to-110mm zoom (35mm-camera equivalent), full manual controls, support for both xD and CompactFlash cards, and a macro mode good down to 1 inch, this looks like a photo enthusiast's compact alternative to a digital SLR or an electronic-viewfinder-equipped camera. However, though priced in the same neighborhood as its dSLR and EVF competition, it offers only an optical viewfinder and a color LCD.
Adding to this camera's semipro allure is a rugged magnesium-alloy body; bountiful exposure, focusing, and flash sync options; and optional add-ons that include a vertical grip/battery holder with integral shutter release/zoom lever, an underwater case, and three wide-angle and telephoto adapters. Although a full range of JPEG, TIFF, and raw file formats are available, undistinguished photos and some low-light-focusing performance issues add a few sour notes.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more. Unlike its pocketable 9-ounce sibling, the C-7000, the Olympus C-7070 Wide Zoom carries twice as much heft (at 1 pound, 3 ounces) in its 4.6-by-3.4-by-2.6-inch frame. Although its chunky shape is well balanced, you'll want to hold this camera with both hands, the better to survey and use the panoply of external controls.
The top surface alone has more buttons and dials than the typical point-and-shoot model. These include separate keys for cycling among focus options, a combo metering-mode select and protect photo key, buttons to activate the self-timer and rotate the image, and a custom function button that also marks images for printing. When pressed in tandem, the last two buttons reset the camera. These left-side buttons are "direct" controls; hold down the key and twirl the command dial to select a setting from the menu that pops up.
Also on top are a hotshoe and a shutter release with a concentric zoom lever. Nestled between them is a small LCD status panel that can be difficult to read under dim light. However, you can opt to display the status panel's information on the rear screen. The panel also sports a knurled mode-change dial, which is nested on top of the power switch. If you forget to remove the lens cap before turning the C-7070 on, the camera helpfully ejects it as a reminder for next time.
On the back you'll find an articulated 1.8-inch LCD that flips up and rotates to allow viewing from a variety of angles, including overhead and waist level, or inward to protect from scratches, as well as a viewfinder window with diopter correction. The key array includes a pair of direct buttons under your left thumb that control exposure compensation settings, flash modes, and when pressed simultaneously, flash compensation. On the right, you'll find an autoexposure lock/trash key, a quick-view button, a four-way cursor pad with embedded OK/Menu button, a command dial, a speaker, and a button that makes it easy to switch between the CompactFlash and xD cards--even if you hadn't intended to.
More options are available in the multilevel menus. For example, pressing the Menu key produces a top menu with access to drive, image quality, and white-balance settings, as well as an additional four levels of camera, picture, memory card, and settings adjustments. Once you've learned how this daunting system works, it provides fast access to the C-7070's rich set of features. Serious photographers looking for creative control should be satisfied with this Olympus C-7070 Wide Zoom's ability to fine-tune virtually every setting. The basic manual, shutter-priority, aperture-priority, and programmed modes are there, along with seven scene modes, including Portrait, Sports, Landscape+Portrait, Landscape, and Night Scene, as well as both Underwater Wide and Underwater Macro for use with the optional PT-027 underwater housing. There are also four user-definable MyMode settings.
Automatic exposure defaults to an eight-point multiarea system, but you can also choose from spot or center-weighted metering or set shutter speeds from 16 seconds to 1/4,000 second and lens apertures from f/2.8 to f/11 in manual mode. Preview your tonal values using a live histogram on the LCD, then adjust exposures over a plus-or-minus-2EV range in 1/2EV or 1/3EV increments. ISO values from ISO 80 to 400 can be set automatically or manually.
The sophisticated autofocus system uses predictive AF (Olympus calls it Oracle) to stay one jump ahead of moving targets, using an external AF sensor located just above the lens to measure how far a subject has moved toward or away from the camera. In AF Target Selection mode, you can choose from 143 target focus zones when your main subject is not centered in the frame. Or switch to manual focus and use a magnified onscreen central area and a focus scale bar to zero in on correct focus down to 8 inches in normal mode and 1.2 inches at the supermacro setting.
The wide-angle view of the extra-low-dispersion glass lens is attractive and its modest telephoto reach adequate, but you can expand its horizons with a 19mm super-wide-view (35mm equivalent) or 187mm and 330mm telephotos with the same optional bayonet-mount converter attachments used by the Camedia C-8080.
Choose from JPEG, TIFF, and raw file formats in both 3:2 and 4:3 aspect ratios down to 640x480 resolution, and edit raw data right in the camera to correct white balance, sharpness, or tonal range before saving as a new JPEG. You can also reduce the resolution of an image, apply a red-eye fix, or crop images in the camera.
The electronic flash range extends from 6 inches for efficient macro photography out to 12.5 feet at the wide-angle setting but only about 7 feet when the lens is cranked to the telephoto position. Take those specs with a grain of salt, though, because Olympus doesn't cite the ISO setting at which these apply. A hotshoe allows for slipping in a dedicated flash unit when you need more light. The Olympus offers both front- and rear-curtain slow-sync flash options to let you capture the background using ambient light during flash exposures, or front-curtain slow sync with red-eye prevention. The Olympus Wide Zoom C-7070's performance figures were generally very good, except for surprisingly slow autofocusing under low-contrast conditions, leading to sluggardly 2.8-second shutter lag under the most challenging conditions. Shutter lag was a much more respectable 0.5 second under high-contrast lighting.
Battery life was a strength; the 3-ounce 1,500mAh lithium-ion cell, which by itself weighs half as much as some ultracompact cameras, toughed it out for 934 pops on a single charge, half of them with flash, and with a full workout that included reformatting, picture review, and other power-sapping tasks.
Wake-up time was a middle-of-the road 3.9 seconds, and thereafter, we were able to snap off pictures every 2 seconds (4 seconds with flash). As expected, choosing the 10MB raw or 20MB TIFF file-format options slowed sequence shooting down to every 12 seconds or 19 seconds, respectively. Initial burst mode figures weren't impressive: four full-resolution shots in 4.8 seconds and only two snaps in a little less than a second at 640x480 resolution. Dropping down one JPEG quality level let us capture 11 frames at 3,072x2,304 resolution in about 9 seconds.
Shooting speed in seconds
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
||Raw shot-to-shot time||
||Typical shot-to-shot time||
||Shutter lag (low contrast)||
||Shutter lag (typical)||
||Time to first shot||
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
||Minimum frames per second||
||Maximum frames per second||
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
||Number of shots||
The Olympus C-7070 Wide Zoom produces very good images overall, with a few caveats. The default metering scheme tends to underexpose a bit indoors, and the compressed dynamic range results in a relatively low-contrast image. In other words, colors look desaturated and don't pop. The manual white balance, however, generates a fairly neutral, accurate photo. We saw some yellowish casts to flesh tones, though, and purple fringing was fairly obvious with backlit subjects.
Photos looked softer than we expected from a high-resolution camera.
Though photos shot with the Olympus at settings of ISO 80 and 100 had very little noise, we saw evidence of postprocessing artifacts, especially yellow false-color spots. When printing the photos at 8x10 or smaller, they weren't much of a problem; when blown up to 11x14, the artifacts became bothersome. Noise was a problem at ISO 400 and ISO 800, but the camera's noise-reduction feature kicks in at exposures longer than 0.5 second and helped reduce the number of multicolored speckles in the image. We found a little barrel distortion at the wide-angle setting, but it was most apparently only with subjects having vertical lines at the edges of the image.