Olympus Stylus 720SW Digital Camera Review

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Testing / Performance

Color* (5.22)

*The Olympus Stylus 720SW uses a TruePic Turbo image processor which, according to the marketing materials, gives pictures "true-to-life colors." We tested this claim by taking pictures of the GretagMacbeth color chart, which many imaging companies use to determine what colors should look like. The camera does not have a manual white balance mode, so we tested in the automatic and tungsten color balance modes in our studio setup, ultimately finding that the tungsten setting produced more accurate colors.

We uploaded the images to Imatest imaging software, which output the following modified color chart. The outer background edge of each tile shows the color that the 720SW recorded. Inside it is the luminance-corrected version of the ideal. Finally, the inner vertical rectangle in each tile shows the ideal color from the original GretagMacbeth chart.

The following chart shows the same information as a graph. The squares represent the ideal colors; the circles represent those produced by the Olympus Stylus 720SW. The length of the lines shows how erroneous or true-to-life the colors are.

Photographers who fear off-color "digital-looking" photos should avoid the 720SW. It received a 5.22 overall color score, one of the worst ratings we’ve seen in awhile. Mean color error was 11.8, and the Olympus Stylus 720SW under-saturated colors by almost 5 percent. Even in its most accurate mode, the Stylus 720SW produced unrealistic color during testing.

**Still Life Scene

**Below is a shot of our still life scene, captured with the Olympus Stylus 720SW.


Click on the image above to view the full resolution version.](

**Resolution / Sharpness ***(3.88) *

The Olympus Stylus 720SW advertises 7.1 effective megapixels of the 7.4 total on its 1/2.3-inch CCD. To test the camera resolution, we shot several pictures of the ISO 12233 resolution chart, which is widely used to standardize megapixel definition and detail. Test results are reported as line widths per picture height (lw/ph), a theoretical measurement of how many alternating black and white lines fit across the frame before blurring together. Scores came from the sharpest shots, those taken with an aperture of f/4.8 and a focal length of 18.3 mm. 


Click on the res. chart above to view the full size image](

Horizontally, the Olympus Stylus 720SW read 1706 lw/ph and over-sharpened by a slight .0082 percent; vertically, the camera read 1737 lw/ph and over-sharpened by 3.06 percent. It performed comparably to the Canon PowerShot A620, which advertises 7.1 effective megapixels and returned a decent 1708 lw/ph horizontally and 1787 lw/ph vertically. The final resolution score for the Stylus 720SW was 3.88, fairly strong for a camera of this type.

Related content

Noise - Auto ISO* (3.39)

*The Olympus Stylus 720SW has an automatic ISO setting that its automatic-oriented audience will likely use often. We tested this setting for metering accuracy and noise. Under perfect lighting conditions, the Olympus Stylus 720SW didn’t have a metering problem; it automatically chose an ISO around 80. Unfortunately, this digital camera produces a lot of noise, even at the lower end of the ISO range. Thus, the Stylus 720SW achieved a lackluster 3.39 automatic ISO noise score.

Noise - Manual ISO* (6.81)

*More and more compact digital cameras are offering higher sensitivities this year to facilitate more natural looking low-light photography. The Olympus 720SW follows this trend, offering an 80 to 1600 ISO range. Many compact digital cameras, however, have noise with the higher sensitivities. To see if the Olympus Stylus 720SW displayed this phenomenon, we tested noise levels at each manual ISO setting. The chart below shows the results, with each ISO setting on the horizontal axis and the accompanying noise level on the vertical axis.

Noise levels start higher than those in comparable models, but the increase looks about the same. On this Stylus, noise steadily climbs from 80-400, then plateaus to 800, then jumps again to 1600, the highest ISO. While the lower end of the ISO range is noisy in comparison to other manufacturers’ lower ISOs, the 720SW’s overall score was saved by the plateau and relatively low noise at the higher end. When the noise score from each ISO setting was plugged into a regression analysis, the Olympus Stylus 720SW received a 6.81 overall manual ISO noise score.

Low Light Performance* (4.75)

*The Olympus Stylus 720SW seems poised to be a decent camera in low light. Olympus invested in a wide ISO range that brightens up to a high 1600 setting. The camera also has scene modes optimized for low light. For these low light tests, we used the night scene mode, which slowed the shutter speeds down more than other modes would on this Stylus, and took pictures at four different light levels. The first test was shot at 60 lux, which is about as much light as one would get in a living room, at dusk, with two soft table lamps. Next, we tested at 30 lux, equivalent to a 40-watt light bulb. The third and fourth tests were at 15 and 5 lux, respectively, and are very near total darkness.

We tested the Olympus Stylus 720SW on a tripod with the flash off and the white balance manually selected to the tungsten setting. The camera automatically set the ISO at 100 for the first three tests and 200 for the last and darkest test.

As seen in the images, the illumination remains fairly constant. The pictures look decent, although there is a bit of noise, which is expected. What is unexpected, however, is the color shift in the white areas. The 60 lux test shows a strongly blue-tinted white, while the 5 lux test shows an obvious red tint.

Below is a chart showing the amount of noise present at each shutter speed used in the tests. The horizontal axis shows the shutter speed in seconds; the vertical axis shows the corresponding amount of noise.

The Olympus 720SW took a 1-second exposure for the 60 lux test and produced some noise, but not as much as many other compact models. On the 30 lux test, it took 2 seconds to expose the shot and returned very similar noise results. Between these first two tests, the color error increased from 10.4 to 11.1 as the light dimmed, but the saturation remained stable. The 15 and 5 lux tests used the same 4-second exposure, but the darkest test used a higher ISO. Both dark tests garnered 93 percent saturation. Colors suffered, as the mean color error went from 12.2 at 15 lux to 13 at 5 lux. The noise on the 5 lux test was greater than that on the 15 lux test because of the higher ISO. Still, the images and general performance in low light are quite good.

Dynamic Range* (4.0)

*Our dynamic range test measures the ability of cameras to capture detail in bright and dark subjects simultaneously. Wide variations in brightness are a challenge to any camera, film or digital. Our standardized test involves shooting a Stouffer test target film that is lit from behind. The target shows a series of rectangles that range from perfectly clear to almost opaque. The clear rectangle appears pure white in our test shots, and the darkest rectangles end up pure black. We use Imatest software to measure how many steps of the chart show detail at two levels of quality. Our Low Quality measure steps of range with up to a full stop of noise, and High Quality measure steps with 1/10 of a stop of noise. The High Quality measure is more important. We test each camera throughout its ISO range, and most cameras do best at low ISOs.

The Olympus 720SW does not reproduce a wide dynamic range. Although its Low-Quality scores are mediocre at low ISO, and better than average at high ISO, the more important High Quality score is terrible across the ISO range.

Olympus 720SW Dynamic Range - ISO 64

Olympus 720SW Dynamic Range - ISO 400

Olympus 720SW Dynamic Range - ISO 1600

**Speed / Timing **

*Start Up to First Shot (7.42)

*The Olympus 720SW took its sweet time starting up. It was 2.6 seconds after we first hit the power button that the 720 finally captured an image. This is a little puzzling. Many small cameras have to extend telescoping lenses or perform other mechanical operations as they start up, and those functions seem to slow down their startup. The 720 doesn't do any of those things, so we're surprised that it takes even longer to start-up than cameras that do.

*Shot to Shot (9.73)

*Olympus has been working on burst modes on its compact cameras, and the 720 delivers a high-speed burst that really pops along. In high, the 720SW shot 25 frames in 11.29 seconds, which translates to 2.2 frames per second. 25 frames isn't a limit to the burst -- we just stopped because we filled our media card. In regular burst mode, the 720 managed a burst of 5 frames in 3.59 seconds, for about 1.4 frames per second.

*Shutter to Shot (7.98)

*The 720SW imposes an inconvenient delay between the moment the shutter is pressed and the one when the picture is taken. The 720SW took 0.5 seconds to capture a shot. That's enough to be inconvenient in candid situations, and very frustrating when shooting action. 720SW users will have to learn to anticipate the action, and press the shutter a bit before the peak of action.

Physical Tour

Front* (8.5)

*The unique body of the Olympus Stylus 720SW looks like a cell phone because of its face plate and component placement, but more closely resembles a PDA device in size. At the front of the camera, a chrome frame surrounds a textured matte silver plate on every side but the left, where the matte wraps around the side. An Olympus logo, as well as the name of the camera and the phrase "Shock + Waterproof," are on the left side. At the top and bottom of the left side are two bolts that make the camera look especially sturdy. Three holes next to the top bolt combine to form the microphone, and above the bolt is the self-timer indicator. To the right of the indicator is the built-in flash. The 3x optical zoom lens is in the top right corner of the front, and stays within the body at all times, protected from the elements by a single silver barrier. The top of the camera flattens the otherwise-circular lens opening. Across the bottom edge, the lens flaunts its specs: "Olympus Lens AF Zoom 6.7-20.1 mm 1:3.5-5.0." In the center of the right edge is another tough-looking bolt with "7.1 Megapixel" embossed next to it.

Back* (8.5)

*Although the control buttons stick out slightly, the back of the camera is flat. Most of the space is taken up by the 2.5-inch LCD screen which sits at the left side, with the Olympus logo and "Shock + Waterproof" reminder at its bottom. The chrome frame surrounds the entire back, including the LCD screen, and the central panel is the same matte silver as the front. A profusion of control buttons on an inch-thick strip to the right, however, nearly obscure it from view.

At the top of the control strip are two zoom buttons; the left zooms wide and the right zooms in to a telephoto view. An LED indicator is below the center of these two buttons, and a relatively large set of holes, which acts as a speaker, rests below that. To the right of the speaker are two small, circular buttons. The top one cycles through recording modes, while the bottom accesses playback.

Below the buttons and speaker is a navigational control, a dial with a central OK/Function button. Each direction on the dial has an engraved icon to show its dual functionality: the top adjusts the exposure compensation, the right changes the flash mode, the bottom activates the self-timer, and the left calls up the macro mode. In playback, the bottom can also be used to delete photos with a trashcan icon below the dial.

At the very bottom of the control strip are two buttons. The Menu button sits at the left, and the Print button is crammed into the right corner. At the very right edge of the back is an extension of the chrome frame, with an eyelet in it to attach a wrist strap.

Left Side* (8.0)

*The matte silver plate from the top wraps around and extends down the center of the left side, sandwiched by the chrome framework on the front and back. The left side is otherwise featureless.

Right Side* (8.0)

*The right side has the same design scheme as the rest of the camera; the middle has a matte silver plate and is framed by chrome plating. At the rear edge of this side is the eyelet with three bolts holding it on, and at the top is an unlabeled door to the multi-terminal.

Top* (8.0) *

The central silver matte plate extends only to the middle of the 720SW’s top. It covers the left side, where "3.0x Optical Zoom" is engraved.. The right side has a shiny chrome finish and bumps to aid grip.. Two buttons are on top of the camera: a thin, oval-shaped shutter release button at right, and the power button to the left.


Bottom* (8.5)

*The left half of the bottom opens to reveal the nicely sealed and securely fastened battery compartment and xD card slot. To the right of the door is the tripod socket. The model number, company name, and other such required information occupy the right side.


Viewfinder* (0.0)

*There is no optical viewfinder on the Olympus Stylus 720SW, perhaps because it would be impractical to try and look in a miniscule viewfinder while underwater. Instead, this model uses a LCD screen with live preview. Unfortunately, the screen catches glare easily, is hard to see in bright sunlight, and has a slow refresh rate, so the live preview looks like a flip book when subjects are moving. Still, the view is usable if the camera is perpendicular to the user’s face.

LCD Screen* (7.0)

*The Olympus 720SW uses Bright Capture Technology, in which nine pixels on the image sensor can combine to produce a single pixel on the LCD, to convey an accurately colored image. There are 115,000 pixels on the 2.5-inch screen, however, so users can see all the tiny red, green, and blue speckles that illuminate to create the picture. Poor resolution isn’t the only problem plaguing the LCD screen: the glare makes viewing the screen almost impossible, as everything looks washed out, and the image is difficult to see in daylight, even when the screen’s brightness is increased. The brightness can be adjusted on a +/- 7 scale in the setup menu in front of a live preview. Overall, the LCD screen is large enough and its technology is formed around a good concept, but the poor resolution and glare impede delivery.

Flash* (6.5)

*The built-in flash on the 720SW is directly to the left of the lens on the front of the camera. This placement keeps the flash out of the way of fingers, which is often a problem with compact digital cameras, but merely shifts the issue to the lens. The major issue with the side-by-side setup, however, is that the lens captures uneven flash coverage, producing a bright spot toward the right half of the recorded image.

The following modes are available: Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, On, and Off. The red-eye reduction mode could be more accurately titled Auto with Red-Eye Reduction, as it is not guaranteed to fire when activated. When it does activate, it sends out a series of quick flashes sure to irritate any subject in its path. The flash is disabled in the super macro mode, but available in the regular macro mode; however, the small subject and glaring white off-center spot produced by the 720SW flash unit are highly undesirable.

The Olympus 720SW’s flash is effective to 12.5 ft in wide and 8.5 ft in telephoto. Users of this digital camera will find themselves activating the flash often, as it is pretty much the only way to get clear pictures with minimal noise indoors. Occasionally the flash illumination will create a cool visual effect. For example, when this Stylus was immersed halfway into the water – the flash beneath the water and the lens above – it lit up the water and also stopped the droplets as they dripped in mid-air.

Zoom Lens* (6.75)

*The Olympus Stylus 720SW has a 6.7-20.1 mm zoom lens with an equivalent focal length of 38-114 mm. It stays within the camera body at all times and is constructed of 10 lenses in 8 groups with 3 aspherical elements. Maximum apertures are f/3.5 at the 720SW’s widest focal length and f/5.0 at its most telephoto; these aren’t incredibly fast and cannot be manually selected anyway. The 3x optical zoom lens shows hardly any barrel distortion, so the view is crisp and accurate when unimpeded by the focus system or misplaced fingers. The accompanying auto focus system doesn’t complement the lens very well, and the lens’s placement in the top right front corner puts it in the way of wandering fingers. While the lens itself is generally decent, the placement may compromise its chances for great spontaneous shots.

Design / Layout

Model Design / Appearance* (8.0)

*The Olympus Stylus 720SW is designed for active folks who circumnavigate the globe on boating and snorkeling trips when they’re not backpacking or mountain biking in the wilderness. This model is waterproof and shock proof, but most of its design is internal, such as rubber O-rings and springs within the body to protect its contents from the elements. While the 720SW’s weight and the bolts on the front make it feel stronger than most compact digital cameras on the market, the small lens and 0.78-inch thin profile also make the camera easily portable. From the front, it greatly resembles a cross between a PDA and a cell phone; the matte silver center place and chrome framing are quite attractive.

Size / Portability* (7.0)

*While the Olympus Stylus 720SW may be the size of a deck of cards, it certainly has more heft. The camera measures 3.6 x 2.3 x 0.78 inches, but weighs 5.3 oz without the card or battery: not heavy enough to hurt anyone, but weightier than its dimensions would have the user believe. Size adds to the 720SW’s intended portability, as does the large panel and eyelet on its right side. The included wrist strap will certainly be needed if shooting underwater, where the camera is likely to slip.

Handling Ability* (6.75)

*The small size of the Olympus Stylus 720SW works against its handling for anyone with reasonably large hands. Furthermore, while the camera’s flat surfaces make it ideal for a pocket, they don’t provide much grip. A few subtle gripping features, such as the cradle around the shutter release button for the index finger and the zoom buttons and eyelet for the thumb, are not enough to keep the camera from slipping out of sunblock-slathered fingers and sinking the bottom of the ocean. Poor lens placement also means that users will have to pay attention when handling the Stylus 720SW or risk their left fingers becoming part of many photographs.



Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size* (6.0)

For a camera with such limited body space, the Olympus Stylus 720SW has an abundance of buttons. There are designated buttons for all kinds of things: changing the recording mode, entering playback mode, printing, opening the menu system, selecting menu items, and so forth. Many of these buttons are tiny and hard to distinguish because of their coloring and the fact that, while not entirely flush with the camera’s surface, they don’t protrude enough to be easily depressible. The zoom buttons, particularly, are set too deep in the camera and too close to one another: they’re hard to push, and it’s even harder to push just one. Another worrisome aspect of the controls is the fact that some of the buttons on the back, such as the playback button, the recording mode button, and the menu button, turn the camera on. While the power button itself is tiny and flush with the camera (clearly intended to make the Stylus 720SW difficult to accidentally turn on), these buttons thwart that intention. It’s easy to push them accidentally and suck the battery dry by the time a photo opportunity arises.


Menu ***(5.25)

*One look at the menu system is enough to make any digital novice put the Olympus Stylus 720SW down and take up film again. The system is quite complicated and unlike that of any other digital camera – although it does have elements of other Olympus Stylus models. Pushing the Menu button in the recording mode brings up a blue screen with five options: Camera Menu, Setup, Image Quality, Reset, and Scene ("SCN"). When users enter the Camera Menu option and set the mode to Program, the following menu appears:


 Almost all of the options are expressed as icons and unfortunately, scrolling through the icons (unlike many other digital cameras) won’t bring up accompanying text explanations, so beginners won’t have a clue what each represents. For help, beginners will just have to consult the owner’s manual, which is inconveniently located on a CD-ROM. To further complicate the recording menu, some of the options are located in two different places. When the OK/Func. button is pressed, the ISO, white balance, and metering options appear. This is redundant.  On the bright side, there is always a "back" option available in the recording menu, so users won’t completely fall out of the menu system and have to re-enter it . In the playback menu, however, many choices dead-end and don’t offer a "back" option.  When users push the Menu button while in the playback mode, the blue screen shows the following choices: Slide Show, Edit, Print Order, Calendar, Playback Menu, Setup, Index, Erase, and Album. A short menu appears when the  Playback Menu option is chosen.


 The placement of menu items is somewhat baffling. While a designated Edit option is available in the 720SW’s initial playback choices, the rotate feature is only found in the traditional playback menu.  Users can access the setup menu from the opening screens of the recording and playback menus. The menu itself has four pages to it; users can scroll through by page or look at the long list of all options.


 Overall, the Olympus menu system is not intuitive at all. With its funky opening style, its redundancy, its strange option placement, and icon setup, it is perhaps the most convoluted menu structure on a digital camera we have looked at. Even SLRs seem to be more organized. This is quite unfortunate for the Olympus Stylus 720SW, as its many automatic modes show that it’s made for point-and-shooters.

Ease of Use* (5.75)

*While the Olympus Stylus 720SW makes a few attempts to be easy to use, it generally fails. Pros include a designated print button and a help guide that appears to make scene mode selections more informed. Among the cons are the convoluted menu structure, tiny control and zoom buttons, and non-intuitive placement of camera features like the movie mode (located near the bottom of the scene mode selections). Perhaps if users never entered the menu system and didn’t change any of the camera settings ever, the 720SW wouldn’t be so hard to use—but then they might as well use a pinhole camera.


Auto Mode* (7.0)

*The auto mode is more accurately called a program mode. It is the default mode on this digital camera and is designated by a camera icon and a ‘P’. Ironically, the most manual control is available from the program mode, as the options are more limited in the scene modes. From the auto mode, users can still activate the macro, flash, self-timer, and exposure compensation adjustments, and they have full access to the menu system.

Movie Mode* (3.5)

*It’s difficult to find the QuickTime movie mode for the Olympus Stylus 720SW.

Many other models have this mode on a dial next to the auto and scene selections. However, the 720SW files the movie mode at the bottom of the scene menu, as if it is a scene itself.

Movie mode records video and audio simultaneously. The audio picks up subjects well, but also records handling noise too. Movie size options are: 640 x 480, 320 x 240, and 160 x 120, all of which shoot at an archaic 15 frames per second, making the movie resemble a flip-book. Optical zoom is not unavailable, and digital zoom looks awful.

The camera beeps, reminiscent of a microwave, when the movie starts and stops. Users can turn this off in the setup menu. The movie mode allows access to metering and white balance options, so the user can tweak the video clip.

Drive / Burst Mode* (7.5)

*This digital camera markets an incredibly fast burst mode, but doesn’t utilize the entire image sensor. This Stylus can shoot up to 11 frames at 3.7 frames per second, but only at a reduced resolution of 2048 x 1536. In standard burst mode, the camera can also shoot up to 6 frames at a speed of 1.1 fps and full resolution. Unfortunately, this is still much behind the competition. Of note is the self-timer, which blinks for 12 seconds before capturing the shot.

Playback Mode* (7.0)

*A designated button makes playback mode easy to enter and exit, and the mode itself offers many options. Pictures can be displayed one at a time or in index frames of 4 or 9 images. Users can zoom in on photos, edit them, and erase them. When the Menu button is pressed, the following options appear: Slide Show, Edit, Print Order, Calendar, Playback Menu, Setup, Index, Erase, and Album.

The slide show comes with two options to make the standard show more elaborate: users can turn background music on and off and can choose fade, slide, and zoom transitions between pictures. However, they can’t choose how long each picture appears, whether to play the slideshow on a loop, or the background music. Instead, the show repeats until stopped and repeats two lines of elevator music, suitable for a company presentation but out of place for sports pictures, shots of a family reunion, and the sort of adventurous photos the 720SW seems made for.

The in-camera editing options available on the 720SW are fairly extensive: Resize, Red-Eye Fix, Black and White, Sepia, Frame Title, Calendar, Brightness, and Saturation. While many models include resizing and color options, the frame title and calendar options are still a rarity. Amazingly, these options are almost exactly the same ones in the included software. On the initial playback menu screen, pictures appear in index frames: users can either select all of them to be printed or pick and choose by tagging the thumbnails. Deleting pictures is done in the same index frame setup, but users who want to delete a single image can avoid the awful menu system by tapping the bottom of the multi-selector.

A Calendar option allows users to choose photos and pair them with months and years; the camera saves the pages as separate files for easy printing later. Users can also organize massive numbers of photos with the Album function, which provides an index frame setup for creating folders and filing pictures into them. Finally, as if the menu didn’t include enough options, Olympus added an Index feature, which gives users a view already available with the wide zoom button.

In general, the playback mode is quite thorough and offers many interesting options. The menu system is unintuitive, though, and entering the playback feature itself requires quite a few taps on the multi-selector.

Custom Image Presets* (8.0)

*Scene modes are the bread and butter of this digital camera. The Olympus Stylus 720SW has 23 scene modes in its portfolio Portrait, Landscape, Landscape + Portrait, Night Scene, Night + Portrait, Sport, Indoor, Candle, Self-Portrait, Available Light Portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Museum, Cuisine, Behind Glass, Documents, Auction, Shoot & Select 1, Shoot & Select 2, Beach & Snow, Under Water Wide 1, Under Water Wide 2, and Under Water Snapshot. When users scroll through these, a guide shows a visual example and a text explanation. For example, scrolling to the Portrait scene calls up a picture of a person’s face and shoulders and the following statement: "Portrait: For taking a portrait-style shot." Perhaps this isn’t the most helpful explanation for someone who doesn’t already know what a portrait is, but it’s better than nothing.

The Auction mode works like an exposure bracketing function: it takes three pictures at various exposure levels, all at a small image size that can easily be uploaded to online auction sites. Shoot & Select modes are for action shots and allow users to save shots immediately after taking them. Available Light, like Museum and Candle modes, is for shooting sensitive subjects in lowlight conditions without a flash. This resembles Anti-Shake, which uses an internal gyrosensor to detect horizontal and vertical movement, then corrects it with algorithms. Although both Available Light and Anti-Shake use digital rather than more accurate optical image stabilization, they’re both better than nothing.

Unfortunately, scene modes only take pictures as large as 2048 x 1536 pixels, and given the noise from these images, even a even a 4 x 6-inch print won’t look very good. The Self-Portrait mode won’t flatter photographers, especially when the flash is used and the bright spot appears to one side. Behind Glass works surprisingly well, as it eliminates the natural glare that occurs on windows. The Documents mode doesn’t work well unless the flash is activated; otherwise, papers generally look blurry and useless.

All of the underwater scene modes had issues with focusing. A swim in the bathtub yielded some lackluster pictures from the Olympus Stylus 720SW, in which images of the duck were blurry and pictures of the baby’s toes were ghostly. One good shoot, with the lens above water and the flash below, captured an image of brightly lit water completely stopped in its splashy state. However, the majority of the pictures were sub-par. Granted, water is a difficult and finicky medium for subjects, but the Stylus markets itself as the hottest underwater camera available.

Overall, the scene mode selection is vast but some of the modes are redundant. The biggest disappointment is that half of the modes only use 3 megapixels. Menu problems also showed up in scene modes: users must press the mode button, then scroll through the Program and Anti-shake options to get to the Scene mode selections. A time lag between when the button is pushed and when the camera registers the change will cause users to push the button multiple times and actually scroll over their desired mode.

Control Options

**Manual Control Options **

The Olympus Stylus 720SW isn’t big on manual control. Aperture and shutter speed cannot be manually adjusted, though users can make the exposure brighter or darker with the exposure compensation control. Metering and ISO can affect the lighting, and the user can also select white balance and auto focus mode. All of these options are buried within the 720’s complicated menu, and some options are even located in two different places, such as the Menu button or OK/Func button.


***Auto Focus (5.75)

*The Stylus 720SW’s contrast detection auto focus system isn’t as sensitive as it should be. It doesn’t do well in low contrast situations, including underwater, when the contrast is dulled. Although users can choose between iESP Auto and Spot auto focus modes, both are quite slow, and some pictures still end up blurry. The system doesn’t perform well in low light either, as it has no illuminator to assist it. This Olympus digital camera focuses from 19.7 inches normally, from 7.9 inches in the macro mode, and from 2.8-19.7 inches in the super macro mode, a range which can capture small and large subjects alike. Auto focus is generally disappointing; it adds to the shutter lag and often fails to focus on subjects.

*Manual Focus (0.0)

*This feature is not available on the Olympus Stylus 720SW.


*While the Stylus has plenty of exposure modes, all of them are very automatic. 28 shooting modes all allow access to the +/- 2 exposure compensation scale available in the standard 1/3-stop increments. A pseudo-exposure bracketing mode, called the Auction mode in the scene selections, shoots small-sized pictures at three different exposure values and lets users select the best one for posting on an online auction site.

Metering* (6.75)

*The metering mode option is found in the Menu and OK/Func menus, and can be switched from ESP multi-pattern to spot. Multi-pattern mode is the default, as it averages the metering from measurements taken around the entire frame. The spot option could more accurately be titled a center-weighted metering mode, as its "spot" isn’t all that small. Brackets in the center show the source of the 720SW’s exposure measurements. While these options should suffice for the casual user, they still fall short of the three standard options: multi, spot, and center-weighted.

ISO* (8.25)

*One of the highlights on the Olympus Stylus 720SW’s spec sheet is its ISO range. With Auto, 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1600 options, this digital camera seems set to perform decently in low light without the aid of the flash (check out the Low Light Performance testing section to see how it actually did). Users can find the ISO options in two different places: the recording menu and the truncated OK/Func menu. There isn’t a live view in either, though, so choosing the right ISO can be a bit tricky and involved.

White Balance* (6.25)

*There is no custom white balance mode, but users can tweak the colors by choosing from the following list: Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Tungsten, Fluorescent 1, Fluorescent 2, and Fluorescent 3. Options do not appear in text, only as icons. Fortunately, a live view saves users from pulling out the CD-ROM user manual to distinguish between the three fluorescent white balance modes.

**Shutter Speed ***(0.0)

*Shutter speed cannot be manually adjusted. Instead, the camera meters the scene and chooses a speed between 1/1000th and 1/2 a second. This range is true for every mode except the Night scene mode, where the shutter speed can slow to 4 seconds. Users won’t know what shutter speed is being used until the picture is uploaded into the Olympus Master Software, which displays all of the file information.

**Aperture ***(0.0)

*The software also shows the aperture as part of the file info. Like the shutter speed, it cannot be manually selected. The maximum aperture in the widest focal length is f/3.5, while the telephoto end is f/5.0.

Image Parameters

Picture Quality / Size Options* (6.5)

*Plenty of image size options are available on the Stylus 720SW, but only in certain modes. Unfortunately, many of the scene modes won’t take pictures larger than 3 megapixels. The Olympus Stylus 720SW also automatically shrinks the image size for the high-speed burst mode. Users should be aware of the image size at all times: this Stylus tends to change to the smaller images quite often. The following image sizes are available: 3072 x 2304, 2560 x 1920, 2304 x 1728, 2048 x 1536, 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 1024 x 768, and 640 x 480. Image sizes are an option in the initial menu screen. The top 7.1-megapixel size can be captured in fine or standard compression, but the rest of the options are captured as standard. If users change their mind about an image size or want to shrink files so they can fit more pictures on a memory card, there is a Resize option within the playback menu.

Picture Effects Mode* (8.0)

*From the initial playback menu screen, an Edit option offers both standard and unique features. Built-in editing options fix red-eye, crop, resize, and adjust the brightness and saturation of an image. The red-eye fix option didn’t perform very well, even when presented with a blatant case of red-eye. On the other hand, the cropping and resizing options are more intuitive than most features on this digital camera, and the brightness and saturation scales, which have +/- 5 scales with live views, are easy to adjust.

Color filters are also available from the editing section of the menu are a few color filters. Black & White and Sepia both lack contrast and the sepia mode looks off-color. From the same menu, users can add frames and titles and can even create calendar files. Thirteen frames are available, ranging from a plain white rectangle, a suitcase-shaped frame, and a heart cutout. Ten titles can also be added in various shades of black, white, or gray: Congratulations, Thank You, Happy Birthday, Good Luck, Happy New Year, Happy Holidays, Best Wishes, Missing You, Love, and Smile. Adding a frame saves the file separately in order to preserve the original, always a good idea. To top it off, users can pair a single photo with a month and year. This Calendar function creates a separate file with the photo on top and the month’s dates on the bottom; this can then be printed directly from the camera.

Overall, the Olympus Stylus 720SW has more special effects than most digital cameras. Its editing features are just as extensive as those it offers on its included Olympus Master Software, so users may as well do it all on the camera. From the Stylus 720SW, users can not only brighten a picture a few steps and add a black and white filter, but also prepare birthday cards and calendars for printing.

Connectivity / Extras

**Connectivity **

*Software (6.0)

*The Stylus 720SW comes with the 1.41 version of Olympus Master Software. This program takes about 5 minutes to load from the included CD-ROM and requires the serial number from the packaging. Once in the software, several of features also require a serial number from an Olympus branded xD-Picture card, and the supposedly included ImageMixer VCD DVD2 program is only available if the software is upgraded via the Olympus web site. The opening screen, furthermore, looks archaic with its old fonts and randomly placed icons.

As the program does not automatically load pictures from the computer (although it does automatically open pictures from the camera), users must first upload images into the program for viewing. They can then click the ‘Browse’ option to view images as thumbnails or as individual pictures. From this screen, basic commands, such as editing, printing (home and online), and finding are available. Users can view all of the file information, including shutter speed and aperture, and display histograms of their files... A Help function always sits in the top right corner of the screen to aid lost photographers.

When users venture into the editing browser, the original file is enlarged on the left side of the screen and the live preview of changes sits in a tiny frame at the right side. The preview is a little small, so users may be squinting to see how the +10 green channel option affects the image. Red, green, and blue channels can be individually tweaked in the color balance menu. Other options include an instant fix button, rotating and cropping functions, and even automatic tone and red-eye fix buttons.

An Art option, which sounds rather ambiguous, is really only there to tease users. While Art offers Watercolor, Oil Painting, and Cartoon Art options, and allows users to play with images, adjust brush strokes, and so forth, saving the images is not possible without entering the serial number of the Olympus xD-Picture card.. The 3D picture option also requires the serial number.

Overall, don’t expect much from the Olympus Master Software, because it’s just not there. It all seems to be a plug for the upgraded software or the Olympus branded cards. Consumers who are planning to spend much time editing should probably look into purchasing another editing software program.

*Jacks, ports, plugs (4.5)

*A single terminal serves as the Olympus Stylus 720SW’s USB, AV-out, and DC-in jack. The USB is high-speed 2.0, while the AV-out function can transfer at North American (NTSC) or European (PAL) standards. These two cables come with the camera, but the DC-in cable is optional and not included in the package. A sturdy hinged door with a rubber seal on the inside protects the port; it is a nice departure from the flimsy covers that plague digital cameras.

*Direct Print Options (6.5)

*Printing directly from the Stylus 720SW is not as streamlined as with other models, but it isn’t that difficult either. Pushing the Menu button in the playback menu brings up a Print Order option. From there, users can choose whether to print all of the photographs in the memory or scroll through the images and select a few, add times or dates, and choose how many copies of each picture to print.

While the PictBridge compatible digital camera hooks up to printers directly via the USB cables, it doesn’t automatically transfer images. A screen appears and users must scroll to the direct printing option, then push the OK/Func button in the center of the multi-selector. For not-so-direct printing, users can transfer images to the computer, then order prints online or print from home via the Olympus Master Software.

Battery (6.0)


*A tiny rechargeable lithium-ion battery powers the Olympus Stylus 720SW. The included charger is not a wall-mounted style, but has a base and a separate cable that connects the base with the outlet. It takes about 300 minutes for the Li-40V or Li-42B battery to fully charge. The battery is quite efficient, considering its compact form and the large LCD screen. It can get about 300 shots per charge.

Memory (4.0)


*The Olympus Stylus 720SW comes with 19.1 MB of internal memory, enough to hold about 6 full-resolution images. Although the camera doesn’t include external memory, it accepts accepts xD-Picture cards up to 1GB. The panoramic stitching mode, art function, and 3D picture modes also require an Olympus branded xD-Picture card and its serial number, so saving the packaging is important.

Other features* (8.5)

Shock Proof –* Indeed, the "SW" at the end of this camera’s title actually means something. The "S" denotes its shockproof feature, which is completely new to the digital camera market. Olympus tested the Stylus 720SW to 5 feet, so users can drop it right out of their hands - a situation made likely by the lack of good gripping surfaces - and then keep shooting like nothing ever happened.

The Olympus Stylus 720SW has an extremely durable exterior highlighted by a metal casing and sturdy bolts. Supposedly, the insides are equally durable: the camera employs a floating circuit board designed to absorb the shock from falls of up to 5 feet. This Stylus wasn’t designed to be thrown against walls or dropped from 8-story buildings, but can certainly take far more abuse than most cameras can endure. It’s certainly childproof: my own baby tested gravity with it, and it survived perfectly well.

*Water Proof – *"W" in "SW" indicates the waterproof functionality of this digital camera. Olympus markets its entire Stylus line as all-weather, but the 720SW goes above and beyond that distinction with a completely waterproof body. Rubber O-rings and sealants keep the camera’s internal workings from getting wet; these are tested to survive up to an hour under 10 feet of water. Though this isn’t a camera for deep-sea diving or caving, unless users want to purchase the optional PT-033 underwater housing, it’s good enough for snorkeling and swimming in the bathtub or pool.

Sadly, underwater pictures didn’t turn out so well. Viewing the LCD was difficult because it catches glares easily, and the finicky water surface and lack of contrast caused focusing problems. Overall, the Olympus Stylus 720SW didn’t do as well as expected underwater, but its sturdy housing is still convenient in rainstorms and the like.

Panoramas – When an Olympus-branded xD-Picture card is inserted, the Panorama option becomes accessible via the camera menu. With this option, the Olympus Stylus 720SW can shoot up to 10 frames, which can then be stitched together in the Olympus Master Software upon uploading.

*Automatic Pixel Mapping – *This digital camera comes with an automatic pixel mapping function in its setup menu. When users activate the function, the Stylus 720SW reformats the pixels across the image sensor. This process takes about 15 seconds and only needs to be done about once a year: it acts as a tune-up for the image sensor. Usually, this reformatting must take place at the manufacturer’s, but Olympus puts it in the consumer’s hands.

Overall Impressions

Value* (6.5)

*The Olympus Stylus 720SW joins a small niche of digital cameras with sturdy, waterproof housings: the normal Stylus line is weatherproof, but not waterproof, and the few waterproof Pentax Optio digital cameras don’t offer as much resolution on the image sensors. By combining a shockproof and waterproof body with 7.1 megapixels of resolution, the Stylus 720SW justifies its $399.99 retail price. While other waterproof cameras exist, as do others with similar resolution and pixel count, only the Stylus 720SW offers both.

**Comparisons **

Olympus Stylus 710 – This digital camera was introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2006. Very similar to the 720SW, with 7.1 megapixels, the same 3x optical zoom lens, ISO range, and 15 fps movie mode, it also has identical shooting modes, function guide, and editing features. However, the 710 lacks the costlier shockproof and waterproof features of the 720SW. Part of the Stylus series and therefore "all-weather," the Stylus 710 can certainly handle a few raindrops, but isn’t guaranteed to survive a 5 foot drop or immersion in water. While the cameras are about the same size, the 710 model is quite a bit lighter because of its thinner housing. The body is plated in 24K gold and finished with a platinum alloy coat that casts a nice sheen and is supposedly scratch-proof. It retails for $349, fifty dollars less than the 720SW, and is a good bargain for less adventurous consumers on a budget.

Pentax Optio W10 – The Pentax digital camera has 6 megapixels on a 1/2.5-inch CCD, a 3x optical zoom lens, and 10.5 MB of internal memory. 22 scene modes and some interesting editing features offer the user variety, as do similar frames and color filters to those featured in the Olympus. The calendar mode and resizing, trimming, and red-eye removal features are the same in both cameras. Although the Pentax Optio W10 can be immersed in water, it cannot take the same falls as a 720SW. Furthermore, the time and depth for which the W10’s been tested are half that of the Olympus 720SW: 5 feet of water for up to 30 minutes. However, the W10 offers a far better movie mode, shooting video at 640 x 480 and 320 x 240 resolution at a selectable 30 or 15 frames per second. The W10 also uses the more common SD memory card and, although it has a smaller ISO range (64-400, going to 800 in candle scene mode) shoots its scene modes at full resolution. The Optio’s 4.2 x 2.1 x 0.9-inch body has a 2.5-inch LCD screen with 115,000 pixels of resolution and 100 percent coverage. With many of the same features as the 720SW, the Optio retails for $299.99, $100 less. For those who think they’ll take their cameras into less risky situations, the Optio may be a better and more affordable alternative.

Pentax Optio WPi – The WPi is also part of Pentax’s waterproof series of digital cameras, and has a classification that allows it to submerge to 5 feet underwater for 30 minutes. It has 6 megapixels in a 0.9-inch thick camera body, a 3x optical zoom lens, and a 2-inch LCD screen with 100,000 pixels. This model is equipped with automatic and scene modes, as well as a movie mode that shoots 320 x 240 and 160 x 120 at 30 or 15 frames per second. Pictures and video are recorded onto a SD card or the 10.5 MB of included internal memory. Introduced in August 2005, the Pentax Optio WPi initially sold at $349 but can be found for much less now.

**Who It’s For **

Point-and-Shooters – This camera was designed for point-and-shooters who are a little klutzy. The Olympus Stylus 720SW has automatic modes and can take a few drops and swims without real incident.

Budget Consumers – At $399, this Stylus is at the high end of automatic digital cameras. Sure, it’s small and rugged, and its ability to be dropped and immersed is definitely unique, however, its image quality isn’t worth that much.

Gadget Freaks – The Olympus Stylus 720SW does have what it takes to attract this crowd. Even though many of the modes and controls are automatic, the words ‘waterproof’ and ‘shockproof’ are sure to attract the gadget-oriented users. These are the types of people who will drop-test the camera at the store to see if it really can survive a 5 foot fall.

Manual Control Freaks – Manual control freaks will be sorely disappointed in the lack of manual control on the 720SW. Users can select the ISO setting from a nice range, but other options are scarce.

Pros/ Serious Hobbyists – Professional photographers will snub their noses at the Stylus for its poor picture quality.



**The Olympus Stylus 720SW has a great set of specifications on paper: 7.1 megapixels, 3x optical zoom lens, 2.5-inch Bright Capture LCD screen, and an extremely durable body. It has a great ISO range, more sensitive than that of most compact digital cameras, with options reaching ISO 1600 at full resolution. A built-in help guide will aid beginners who can’t distinguish between the many scene modes. Also built into the camera are plenty of editing options, including standard cropping and resizing tools as well as the more unique frames and calendar modes. While the included software is poor, everything available in it can be done within the camera itself.

Perhaps the camera’s best asset is its thick metal body: the Olympus Stylus 720SW can be dropped from 5 feet without incident because of its floating inner circuitry and sturdy outer body. This digital camera, with a waterproof classification that allows it to be immersed for an hour in 10 feet of water, also takes the all-weather Stylus line to a new level. On paper, the Olympus Stylus 720SW looks extremely attractive. In practice, however, many of its features fail to impress.

The Olympus Stylus 720SW is hyped up much in the same way that the Stylus Verve was. The Verve was touted as an innovative pocket camera with a brand new unique design, but, in the end, took horrible pictures. Just as the hype made that camera even more disappointing, the letdown with the Olympus 720SW is even greater for the anticipation. This digital camera is a new release with a great durable body, but has the inner workings of far older models, with lengthy shutter lag, slow and inaccurate auto focusing, and an overly-convoluted menu structure. The camera also shoots choppy movie clips and lacks resolution for many of its scene modes. What’s the use of 7.1 megapixels that you can’t use in all of the shooting modes?

And what is the use of a shockproof, waterproof digital camera which often produces blurry pictures? The Olympus 720SW is fantastically rugged and can take a few beatings, but, in the end, doesn’t produce shots which merit its $399 retail price. We hope to see Olympus continue to develop this body design, with modifications made to improve imaging capabilities on future models.

Specs / Ratings

**Specs Table


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