DCRP Review: Olympus C-730 Ultra Zoom
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Sunday, November 24, 2002
Last Updated: Sunday, December 22, 2002

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Back in September, when Olympus introduced their new C-730 Ultra Zoom ($599), there was one group of people who weren't too excited about the announcement. Those people would be the owners of the C-720 Ultra Zoom (see our review), which was introduced just four months earlier. I myself wonder why Olympus didn't just release the C-730 instead, but it's not worth talking about now.

Anyhow, there are five major differences between the C-730 and its predecessor:

  C-730 Ultra Zoom C-720 Ultra Zoom
Resolution 3.2 effective Megapixel 3.0 effective Megapixel
Lens 10X optical zoom 8X optical zoom
External flash support Flash sync port No
Sound recording support Yes No
Memory card support xD/SmartMedia SmartMedia

The C-730UZ is the current king of the jungle when it comes to big zoom lenses. But there is competition, with Nikon, Minolta, and even HP selling digicams with 7X lenses or above. How well does the C-730UZ stack up? Find out now!

Oh, and since the 730 is so similar to the 720, I will be reusing a whole lot of text from that review.

What's in the Box?

The Olympus C-730 Ultra Zoom has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.2 effective Mpixel C-730 Ultra Zoom camera
  • 16MB xD Picture Card
  • 2 CR-V3 Lithium batteries (non-rechargeable)
  • Shoulder strap
  • Lens cap w/strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Olympus Camedia Master software and drivers
  • Basic manual (printed, 51 pages), fold-out Quick Start guide, plus full manual on CD-ROM

Olympus has always been pretty skimpy on the bundles, and that continues with the C-730UZ. The 16MB card will get you started, but you're going to want to buy something larger pretty quickly (64MB at the very minimum). You have the option of using the new xD Picture Cards or "old" SmartMedia cards. xD cards are theoretically faster, and will eventually have a much higher capacity. But as of this writing, both formats are stuck at 128MB.

You'll find two "long life" lithium batteries (CR-V3) in the box. While these really do last for quite a while, they will die eventually and end up in the trash. My recommendation: buy a few sets of NiMH rechargeables instead. Olympus doesn't provide any numbers on battery life, but the C-730 seemed about average during my review period.


It's not a tiny camera, but considering the size of the lens, it's small

Olympus includes a lens cap and retaining strap, to protect that 10X zoom lens.

There are a number of accessories available for the C-730UZ. You can add wide-angle and macro conversion lenses, but you'll need to buy the CLA-4 lens adapter ($25) first. After disappearing on the C-720, you can again hook up an external flash to the C-730. I'll have more on that later. Other accessories include an AC adapter, wireless remote control, camera case, and numerous card readers.

The C-730 is compatible with Windows XP and Mac OS X. In most cases, you won't even need to install drivers.

The C-730UZ includes Olympus' new Camedia Master 4.0 software. This is a dramatically improved version of their photo viewing/editing software that they've been including for the last few years.

The editing tools included with Camedia Master are impressive. You can change all kinds of things like brightness, contrast, and color balance. There are also red-eye reduction and "instant fix" options.

The software is much more responsive than the previous versions. My only complaint is that the interface is non-standard on both Macs and PCs.

For $20 more, Olympus will upgrade you to the "Pro" version of the software. This adds contact sheet printing, image e-mailing, HTML albums, panorama stitching, and slide shows. It seems a bit cruel to nickel and dime someone who just bought a $600 camera, doesn't it?

Keeping with recent Olympus tradition (unfortunately), the only printed manual you get is a "basic" manual. If you want more depth, you've got to load up the one include on CD. The manuals themselves have been improved over previous Olympus manuals, but are still very confusing.

Look and Feel

The C-730UZ is virtually identical to both the C-720 and the original C-700.

The camera is a nice mix of metal and high grade plastic. It's small and fairly easy to hold, though I wish the right hand grip was larger. The camera is a bit too large to be called pocket size, but it's still small considering the size of the lens.

The official dimensions of the camera are 4.2 x 3.0 x 3.1 inches (WxHxD), and it weighs about 310 grams empty.

Let's start our tour of the C-730UZ now:

While I can't confirm it, I think the C-730 uses the same lens as its predecessors -- only the CCD has changed. The lens in question is an F2.8-F3.5, 10X optical zoom monster. The focal range is 5.9 - 59 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 380 mm. The lens barrel is threaded, and with the conversion lens adapter you attach wide-angle or macro conversion lenses.

The lens is not stabilized, so you'll need a steady hand or tripod to take shots at full telephoto. There are no digicams with stabilized lenses currently being manufactured.

At the top of the photo, you can see the C-730UZ's popup flash. There's a button on the top of the camera that releases it. The working range of the flash is 0.1 - 5.5 m at wide-angle, and 1.0 - 4.4 m at telephoto.

The C-730UZ brings back the external flash sync port that mysteriously disappeared on the C-720 (you'll see where it is in a second). You'll need to buy the flash bracket and a bracket cable (if you don't have one already), and then you can use either the Olympus FL-40 flash, or one of your own. If you use your own flash, it will only work when the camera is in full manual mode. There is a lengthy list of requirements for non-Olympus flashes in the manual -- I will not repeat them here.

Between the flash and lens are the self-timer light as well as the remote control receiver. Still no autofocus illuminator! Come on Olympus!

Here's the back of the camera. The C-730 has a smaller-than-average 1.5" LCD display. It is of very good quality, though -- bright and fluid.

At the upper left of the photo, you can see what looks like the optical viewfinder. But it's not a traditional viewfinder that you're probably used to. This is an electronic viewfinder (EVF), which is like a little LCD display. An EVF is a mixed bag: you get to see what the CCD sees (thus, no parallax error), and menus and settings can be viewed on it. The negatives include increased power consumption, and difficult viewing when it's too bright or too dark outdoors. I'd rather have a real optical viewfinder myself, but all these ultra zoom cameras use EVFs.

The EVF here is about the same as others I've tested. The resolution isn't nearly as high as the main LCD, and it shows. The images on the EVF move smoothly, though -- not choppy like on some. The EVF has a diopter correction knob for those without perfect vision.

The three buttons to the right of the EVF serve multiple purposes, depending on which mode the camera is in. From left to right:

Record Mode Playback Mode
Self-timer
Remote control
Delete photo
Macro mode
Spot metering
Macro + spot metering
DPOF print mark
Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, forced, off, 1st curtain slow sync, 2nd curtain slow sync, slow sync w/redeye reduction) Protect image

The flash slow sync options have been expanded since the C-720UZ.

Getting back to our tour now. Just northeast of the main LCD are the power and "custom" button. The custom button is AE lock by default, but you can change it to almost anything you like.

To the right of the LCD, you'll find the usual four-way switch, with the OK/Menu button in the middle. Besides operating the menus, the switch is used for changing the shutter speed and aperture while in the manual modes, plus exposure compensation (±2 in 1/3 increments).

Press and hold the OK button and you will activate the manual focus feature. You can then adjust the focus yourself, using the four-way switch. The camera enlarges the center of the image on the LCD/EVF so you can make sure the subject is in focus. There is also an indicator showing you the current focal distance.

The final button on the back of the camera is the Disp(lay) button, just below the four-way switch. This turns the LCD on and off (the EVF is always on in record mode).

Moving on to the top of the camera now. Normally, I'd complain about the lack of an LCD info display up here, but since you're forced to look at the main LCD or EVF, it's really not needed.

The items of note here are the microphone (new to the C-730), flash release button (just left of the mode wheel), zoom control with shutter release button, and the mode wheel.

The zoom controls are perfectly placed, and they operate the 10X zoom smoothly. The zoom is quite responsive -- you can move from the wide to tele position in about 3 seconds. You can also make precise adjustments to the lens by just slightly pushing the zoom controller.

The mode wheel has been greatly expanded since the C-720. Where there were eight items on the 720, there are now twelve on the 730. These include:

  • Auto record
  • Portrait
  • Sports (action)
  • Landscape-Portrait
  • Landscape-Scene
  • Night Scene
  • Self Portrait
  • Movie mode
  • My Mode
  • A/S/M modes
  • Program mode
  • Playback mode

Many of those items are what we call "scene modes". You pick a scene and the camera uses the best options for that situation. Self portrait lets you turn the camera on yourself (yikes).

Auto record is pretty much point-and-shoot. You can't change many options.

In program mode, you have full control over everything except the shutter speed and aperture.

In aperture priority mode, you choose an aperture, and the C-730 picks an appropriate shutter speed. The apertures available range from F2.8 - F8, depending on the zoom position.

Shutter priority mode is just the opposite; you choose the shutter speed, and the camera selects the aperture. The shutter speed range is 1/2 - 1/1000 sec. I wish Olympus would open up the full shutter speed range, instead of cutting you off at 1/2 second.

To get at longer shutter speeds, you need to use full manual mode. Here, you set both the aperture and shutter speed. The aperture range is the same, but the shutter speed range changes to 16 - 1/1000 sec (improved since C-720UZ).

"My Mode" is a feature that I wish more cameras had. This mode allows you to store your favorite settings for easy retrieval. For me, that's SHQ, ISO 100, no flash, with all other settings normal. The C-730 can store four different sets of settings in My Mode -- as opposed to one set on the C-720.

I'll have more on movie and playback modes later in the review.

On this side of the camera are the I/O ports, found under a fairly sturdy plastic cover. The ports are DC in (for optional AC adapter), USB, and A/V out.

To the left of that is the speaker, a new feature on the C-730. Below that is the also-new flash sync port. This port was on the original C-700 and then disappeared on the C-720.

Here's the other side of the camera, opened up.

One of the C-730's biggest design flaws, in my opinion, can be found here. Olympus advertises that the C-730UZ can read both SmartMedia and xD Picture Cards. What they don't tell you is that there is only one slot. It's xD or SmartMedia, just not at the same time.

That means you can't copy between cards, like you can on dual slot cameras. Why would this be useful? Let's say you go to Wal-mart to have your digital photos printed. Odds are that they don't yet accept xD cards. But if you could copy your photos over to a SmartMedia card, you'd be okay. Alas, you can't do that here.

Oh, and you can also see the included 16MB xD card as well. It's small!

Finally, here is the bottom of the camera. Down here you'll find the battery compartment as well as a plastic tripod mount. The C-700 uses 2 CR-V3 or 4 AA cells.

Using the Olympus C-730 Ultra Zoom

Record Mode

The camera takes about 6 seconds to extend the lens and "boot up" before you can start taking pictures -- not terribly quick. The C-730 isn't going to win any awards for autofocus speed. It takes about one second to lock focus at wide-angle, and I clocked it at nearly 3 seconds at full telephoto. Since it has no AF-assist lamp, the C-730 has trouble focusing in low light conditions. Shutter lag varied, depending on the shutter speed being used. It was nearly unnoticeable at 1/100 sec, but was quite frustrating at slower speeds.


All right! A live histogram in record mode.

Shot-to-shot speed is decent. You'll wait about three seconds between shots in SHQ mode. Taking a photo in TIFF mode will lock up the camera for about 13 seconds. I could've sworn that the C-720 didn't do this.

There is no option to delete photos as they are being written to the memory card.

Resolution and quality settings are pretty complex on the C-730UZ, as you'll see below:

Quality Resolution # photos on 16MB card (included)
TIFF 2048 x 1536 1
2048 x 1360 (3:2) 1
1600 x 1200 2
1280 x 960 4
1024 x 768 6
640 x 480 16
SHQ 2048 x 1536 8
2048 x 1360 (3:2) 8
HQ 2048 x 1536 20
2048 x 1360 (3:2) 22
SQ1 - High 1600 x 1200 11
1280 x 960 17
SQ1 - Normal 1600 x 1200 32
1280 x 960 49
SQ2 - High 1024 x 768 26
640 x 480 66
SQ2 - Normal 1024 x 768 76
640 x 480 165

Confused? I'm not surprised. As you can see, there's a TIFF mode. Unless you're a real perfectionist, using JPEG mode is fine. You can also see that a larger memory card is almost a necessity.

Although I didn't list it in the chart, in SHQ and HQ modes you have the option of saving images at 3200 x 2400. That involves interpolation, and your images will lose quality as a result.

Olympus uses one of the better file numbering systems that I've seen. Files are named Pmdd####.jpg, where m is the month (1-9, A-C), d is the day, and #### is 0001-9999. This way your file numbers are always unique (well, for one year at least). File numbering is maintained as you erase and switch memory cards.

The C-730UZ uses the newest Olympus menu system, and it's customizable too. When you first open the menu, you're presented with four choices:

  • Drive
  • Mode Menu
  • White balance
  • Quality

Don't like those choices? With the exception of Mode Menu, you can put other items in this menu.

Let's take a look at the Mode Menu now. It can be confusing to navigate, as you've got to hit "OK" to choose and option and then back out of the menu. Here are the menu options:

  • Camera Setup
    • Drive (Single-frame, sequential, high speed sequential, AF sequential, auto bracketing) - see below
    • ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400)
    • A/S/M - switches between aperture priority, shutter priority, and full manual modes
    • My Mode (1, 2, 3, 4) - choose from four sets of camera settings that you have saved
    • Flash strength (-2.0EV to +2.0EV, 1/3EV increments)
    • Flash slow sync (1st curtain, 2nd curtain, slow sync w/redeye reduction)
    • Noise reduction (on/off) - reduces noise for shutter speeds 1 sec or slower
    • Multi-metering (on/off)
    • Digital zoom (on/off) - using the 3X digital zoom will reduce the quality of your images
    • Full-time AF (on/off) - keeps the image in focus at all times. Puts extra strain on batteries.
    • AF mode (iESP, spot)
    • Voice annotations (on/off) - add 4 second sound clips to each photo you take
    • Super macro mode (on/off) - get as close as 4 cm from subject. More on this later.
    • Panorama - helps you make panoramic shots. Requires Olympus-branded SmartMedia card
    • 2 in 1 - two shots in succession combined into one
    • Function (Off, black & white, sepia, white board, black board) - various photo effects
    • AF Area (on/off) - lets you choose the AF target by using the four-way switch. Must put camera in spot metering mode first.
    • Info (on/off) - toggles info shown on LCD/EVF
    • Histogram (on/off) - toggles live histogram on LCD/EVF

  • Picture Settings
    • Quality (see chart)
    • White Balance (Auto, sunlight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent x3, manual) - manual WB is new to the C-730
    • White balance compensation (-7EV to +7EV in 1EV increments) - fine tune white balance - also new to the C-730
    • Sharpness (-5 to +5, increments of 1)
    • Contrast (-5 to +5, increments of 1)
    • Saturation (-5 to +5, increments of 1) - new to C-730 as well

  • Card Setup (Format)

  • Setup (the interesting ones, at least)
    • All reset (on/off) - retain settings after camera is powered off
    • Language (English, Français, Deutsch, Español)
    • PW on/off setup (choose startup screen/sound)
    • Rec View (on/off) - shows image after it's taken on LCD
    • My Mode setup - save your favorite settings for easy retrieval
    • File naming (Auto, reset)
    • Pixel mapping - helps eliminate "bad pixels"
    • Monitor brightness - affects both the EVF and main LCD
    • Video output (NTSC, PAL)
    • Short cut - configure the first page of the menus, as I explained above
    • Custom button (AE lock, info, ISO, P/A/S/M, digital zoom, quality, white balance) - customize what the AE Lock button does

Some further explanation is required on some of those. First, the drive options. There are three continuous shooting modes. Regular sequential mode will lock the focus and exposure settings on the first shot, and fire up to up 11 shots at 1.4 frames/second. High speed sequential works in the same way, just faster: up to three shots at 2.4 frames/sec. AF sequential mode will redo the focus and exposure for each shot, which slows the rate down considerably.

Auto bracketing will take 3 or 5 shots in a row, each with a different exposure compensation value. You can set the EV increment in the setup menu.

And how about that fine-tunable white balance?

Enough chit-chat, let's talk photos now!

The C-730UZ did an impressive job with the macro test shot. The image is a little softer than I like, but you could fix this easily by cranking up the in-camera sharpness, or just doing in later in Photoshop. The colors are spot-on, as well. In regular macro mode, the focal range is 10 - 60 cm at wide-angle, and 1.2 - 2.0 m at telephoto.

The 730 also has a "super" macro mode, which I used to take the above photo. The lens is locked just a bit above wide-angle, and you cannot use the zoom. You can get as close to 4 cm to your subject. A subject of 44 x 33 mm will fill the frame.

Aside from the purple fringing, the night shot came out pretty well. I zoomed in more than I usually do -- gotta take advantage of that lens, you know. The noise reduction did a really great job as well -- there is very little noise for a 3.2 sec exposure.

The C-730UZ also did a nice job in the redeye department. There really isn't any red to speak of. There's a little reflection from the flash, but that's about it. Note that I enlarged this a bit so you can see the detail. Oh, and I had a heck of a time getting the camera to focus in the dim light this shot is taken in. I ended up using manual focus.

The 730's photo quality is good, but not great. Photos are usually well-exposed, but they suffer from two problems: noise and chromatic aberrations (purple fringing).

The noise problem isn't severe, but it's still worse than other 3MP cameras. Pictures appear grainy, rather than smooth. My example below isn't the best: I'm using it because a) they were taken at the same time and b) they're both from big zoom cameras.


HP Photosmart 850
View Original Image

Olympus C-730 Ultra Zoom
View Original Image

While the Photosmart isn't exactly the resolution leader, it does illustrate my point about noise levels. The sky, the windows, and the roof are noticeably noisier on the C-730. For more noise examples, have a look at the gallery.


Purple Fringing
View Original Image

The other issue I mentioned was purple fringing. This is very common on big zoom cameras -- kind of a fact of life. I didn't take many pictures that really bring out this phenomenon, but above is a crop from one shot, as an example.

In my opinion, neither of this issues are deal breakers. The noise levels are higher than they should be, but for websites and smaller-sized prints, it won't be a problem. For larger prints, it may be. As for the purple fringing, like I said, it's a fact of life with big zoom cameras, and there's not much you can do about it.

For more photo samples, visit the gallery!

Movie Mode

The movie mode on the C-730UZ has been dramatically improved over its predecessor. Thank you Olympus!

You can now record for as long as there is space on the memory card. For the included 16MB card, that's 46 seconds at 320 x 240. Get a 32MB card and the number jumps to 93 seconds. And so on. Use the smaller 160 x 120 resolution and those numbers are 186/374 seconds, respectively.

Movies are recorded with sound, and are saved in QuickTime format.

If you turn on sound recording, you cannot use the optical zoom during filming. As I learned with the Photosmart 850, this is a good thing.

Here's a short, very unexciting sample movie:


Click to play movie (2.9MB, QuickTime format)

Can't play it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The C-730 has a very good playback mode. Slide shows, DPOF print marking, thumbnail mode, and image protection are all available.

The zoom and scroll feature is here too, allowing you to zoom in as much as 4X into your photo, and then move around in it.

If you didn't do so when you took the photo, you can add a sound clip to your photos in playback mode.

 

Three other handy features are image resizing (to 640 x 480 or 320 x 240), trimming, and rotation. The trimming (cropping) feature is quite well-implemented. You can resize the cropping box and move it around. Hit okay and a new image is saved.

Normally, you don't get much information about your photos in playback mode. You can move through images with about a second delay between them.

When you want more info about your photos, you can turn on "info", or better yet, this histogram feature, which you can see above.

How Does it Compare?

The Olympus C-730 Ultra Zoom is a nice improvement over its predecessor, the C-720. I've covered the changes throughout this review. In terms of features, it's an exceptional camera. You get a high resolution CCD, a huge 10X zoom, tons of manual controls (including white balance you can fine tune), and very good movie and playback modes. The photo quality did leave something to be desired, with higher than average noise levels and purple fringing (which, again, is common for big zoom cameras). The lack of an AF illuminator made low light focusing very difficult, and shutter lag was a problem when indoors and at slower shutter speeds. Finally, the electronic viewfinder is basically unusable when it's dark. There is a lot more competition in the big zoom camera market, and I would definitely consider the C-730UZ -- but be sure to see what else it out there as well.

What I liked:

  • 10X zoom lens
  • Full manual controls, including white balance which you can fine tune
  • Customizable buttons and menus
  • Can store four sets of your settings
  • Good job with macro, redeye, night shot tests; generally good image quality.
  • External flash support returns
  • Movie mode, with sound, until memory card is full
  • Nice playback mode
  • Pixel mapping feature blocks out bad pixels from CCD

What I didn't care for:

  • Chromatic aberrations a problem
  • Noise levels higher than they should be
  • No AF illuminator
  • Single xD/SmartMedia slot prevents copying between cards
  • Shutter lag when shutter speed isn't fast; Slow autofocus too.
  • EVF useless in low light or darkness
  • Bundle could be better (larger SM card, full printed manual, rechargeable batteries)

Some other cameras with a big zoom and 3+ Megapixels include the Fuji FinePix 3800 and S602 Zoom (both 6X), HP Photosmart 850 (8X), Minolta DiMAGE 7Hi (7X), Nikon Coolpix 5700 (8x), and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F717 (5X).

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the C-730 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Take a look at our extensive photo gallery to see how the C-730's pictures looked.

Want a second opinion?

Be sure to read Steve's Digicams review of the C-730 Ultra Zoom.

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions about this review. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not write asking for personal recommendations, missing software/manuals, or technical support.

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