DCRP Review: Olympus C-740 Ultra Zoom
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: May 22, 2003
Last Updated: November 29, 2004

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The year 2003 brings us two new Ultra Zoom cameras from Olympus. The C-740 Ultra Zoom (reviewed here) and C-750 Ultra Zoom (see our review) share two major changes: a new ED (extra-low dispersion) lens, plus a more compact body. Both use Olympus' new xD Picture Card format for storing photos. Unlike the C-730 and earlier, these two new models do not support SmartMedia.

The C-740UZ is the more basic model of the two, with fewer bells and whistles. Here's a chart detailing the differences between the models:

  C-740 Ultra Zoom C-750 Ultra Zoom
Resolution 3.2 effective Megapixel 4.0 effective Megapixel
External flash support None Hot shoe
Sound recording support No Yes
Remote control support No Yes
Body Plastic/Metal All-Metal
Est. Street Price $499 $599

In the "old days", there wasn't much competition in the ultra zoom arena. That is changing, with Fuji, HP, and Panasonic now getting into the act. That's good, because it means that consumers will get better products.

One note before we begin: this review will be eerily similar to the C-750UZ review (still in first look status when this was written), as they are almost the same camera.

Ready? Let's begin our look at this camera!

What's in the Box?

The Olympus C-740 Ultra Zoom has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.2 effective Mpixel C-740 Ultra Zoom camera
  • 16MB xD Picture Card
  • Two CR-V3 lithium batteries (not rechargeable)
  • Neck strap
  • Lens cap w/strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Olympus Camedia Master software and drivers
  • Basic manual, fold-out Quick Start guide, plus full manual on CD-ROM

The C-740's bundle isn't as nice as the C-750's for one reason: batteries. With the 750, Olympus gives you a set of NiMH rechargeables, but here you're stuck with throwaway lithium batteries. My advice: get two sets of NiMH AA batteries (1850 mAh or better) and a fast charger -- you'll save money and the environment. You can also use alkaline AAs or CR-V3 lithium batteries to get you out of a jam, of course.

The include 16MB xD card is pretty skimpy considering the resolution of this camera. You'll definitely want to buy something larger right away.

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

There are a number of accessories available for the C-740. You can add wide-angle, telephoto, and macro conversion lenses, but you'll need to buy the CLA-4 lens adapter ($25) first. Other accessories include an AC adapter, NiMH battery kit, camera case, and numerous card readers.

Like all of Olympus' recent cameras, the C-740 is fully compatible with Mac OS X and Windows XP. Most likely, you won't even need to install drivers.

Olympus also includes their new Camedia Master 4.1 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 (sigh), 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.

Continuing with a most unfortunate tradition, Olympus puts the full manual on CD-ROM only, and not in print. You get a printed basic manual , but it's just that -- basic. The quality of the manual itself is about average.

Look and Feel

Both the C-740 and C-750 are smaller than the C-730. The 750 has a nice all-metal body, versus a plastic/metal combination on the 740. That said, the build quality is still quite good.

The 740 is too large to be called pocket size, but it's still small considering the size of the lens. The grip for your right hand is a little too small for my taste.

The official dimensions of the C-740 are 4.2 x 2.6 x 2.7 inches (W x H x D, excluding protrusions), and it weighs about 295 grams empty.

Let's start our tour of this camera now:

Both the C-740 and C-750 use a new 10X ED lens. The ED (extra-low dispersion) lens helps reduce the purple fringing normally seen on "big zoom" cameras like this.

This F2.8 - F3.7 lens has a focal range of 6.3 - 63 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 380 mm. The lens is not stabilized, so you'll need a steady hand or tripod to take shots at full telephoto. There is only one camera currently on the market with a stabilized lens: the Panasonic DMC-FZ1 (see our review).

I have already covered lens accessories in the previous section.

At the top of the photo, you can see the C-740UZ's popup flash. There's a button on the back of the camera that releases it. The working range of the flash is 0.3 - 4.5 m at wide-angle, and 1.2 - 3.5 m at telephoto. Unlike the C-750, the 740 does not support an external flash.

Just above-left from the lens is the self-timer lamp. The C-740 does not support a wireless remote control, like some of the earlier Ultra Zoom models.

Something else missing here is an AF-assist lamp.

Here's the back of the camera. The C-740 has a smaller-than-average 1.5" LCD display. It is of very good quality, though -- bright and fluid, with a high resolution.

At the upper left of the photo, you can see the electronic viewfinder (EVF). The EVF is not a traditional viewfinder that you're probably used to -- it's more like a little 0.44" 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. I'd rather have a real optical viewfinder myself, but all these ultra zoom cameras use EVFs.

The EVF here is about the equal to others I've tested. The resolution is fairly good, and images on the EVF move smoothly -- not choppy like on EVFs. 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 Delete photo
Macro mode
Spot metering
Macro + spot metering
DPOF print mark
Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, forced, slow sync) Protect image

To the right of those buttons is the release for the pop-up flash.

Just northeast of the main LCD are the power and "custom" button. I found the power button to be much too sensitive -- in fact, on several occasions I turned the camera on and off with one push of the button. The custom button is AE lock by default, but you can change it to almost anything you like. In playback mode, you can use this button to rotate photos.

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 focus 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). Press this button twice quickly (which is harder than it sounds) and you'll enter playback 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 necessary.

The zoom controls are perfectly placed, and they operate the 10X zoom smoothly (though noisily). 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 items on the mode wheel are the same ones that were on the C-730. They are:

  • 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 (a scary thought).

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 camera 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 - 1/1000 sec. I wish Olympus would open up the full shutter speed range, instead of cutting you off at 1 second.

To get at the longer shutter speeds, you'll 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 expands to 16 - 1/1000 sec.

"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-740 can store four different sets of settings in My Mode.

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

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

Here's the other side of the camera, with the sturdy plastic door opened up.

The C-730 was sort of an "in between" camera with regard to memory cards, reading both SmartMedia and xD memory cards. The C-740/750 complete Olympus' transition to xD for their Ultra Zoom line, as it only supports xD Picture Cards.

You can also see the included 16MB xD card as well. It's tiny (in both capacity and physical size)!

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-740 uses two CR-V3 or four AA cells.

Using the Olympus C-740 Ultra Zoom

Record Mode

The C-740 takes under 4 seconds to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can begin shooting. This assumes that the lens was at the wide-angle position when you last used the camera. If not, it may take longer.

Press the shutter release halfway and the camera locks focus in under a second. At lower light levels, expect longer AF lag times, and some difficulty locking focus (due to the lack of an AF-assist lamp).

In good lighting (with fast shutter speeds), the shutter lag was very short. When taking pictures with slower shutter speeds, the lag will be more pronounced. Of course, you should probably be using a tripod for those shots anyway.

Shot-to-shot speeds are excellent. You can keep shooting with only a 1 second delay (assuming post-shot review is off) until the buffer is full. The exception of course is with TIFF files, which will lock up the camera for 15 seconds while the image is saved -- not bad compared to some cameras.

Resolution and quality settings are pretty complex on the C-740UZ, 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 1360 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

Now you know why I suggested buying a larger xD card! As you can see, there's a TIFF mode. Unless you're a real perfectionist, using JPEG mode is fine.

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 some 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-740UZ uses the recent, customizable Olympus menu system. When you first open the menu, you're presented with four choices:

  • Drive
  • Mode Menu
  • White balance
  • Image Quality

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

The Mode Menu is where most of your options are, and it can be a little intimidating at first. 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, 1st curtain w/redeye reduction, 2nd curtain)
    • Noise reduction (on/off) - reduces noise for shutter speeds 1 sec or slower
    • Multi-metering (on/off)
    • Digital zoom (on/off)
    • Full-time AF (on/off) - keeps the image in focus at all times. Puts extra strain on batteries but reduces AF lag
    • AF mode (iESP, spot)
    • Super macro mode (on/off) - more later
    • Panorama - helps you make panoramic shots. Requires Olympus-branded xD 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)
    • White balance compensation (-7EV to +7EV in 1EV increments) - fine tune white balance
    • Sharpness (-5 to +5, increments of 1)
    • Contrast (-5 to +5, increments of 1)
    • Saturation (-5 to +5, increments of 1)

  • 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
    • Sleep (30 sec, 1, 3, 5, 10 min) - for power saving
    • 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 can take up to 11 shots at 1.4 fps. High speed sequential works in the same way, just faster and for fewer shots: 3 shots at 2 fps. 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 (±0.3, ±0.7, ±1.0) in the menu.

The fine-tunable white balance lets you make the white balance redder or bluer. If you can't get good white balance with this camera, then you may be out of luck.

Okay, enough about menus. Let's take a look at some photo samples now.

I have two night test shots for you: one wide-angle, one telephoto.

Though a little noisier than I'd like, both test images were well-exposed and fairly sharp. With full manual controls, you can get pretty creative with the C-740. Do remember that for the longest shutter speeds, you'll need to use the full manual mode.

I've got no complaints about the 740's macro abilities. There are actually two different macro modes: regular and super. With regular macro mode (used for the nice shot above), you can get as close as 7 cm at wide-angle, or 1.2 m at telephoto. In super macro mode, the lens is fixed in the middle of the focal range, and you can get as close as 3 cm to your subject.

No complaints about the redeye test either -- there's none to speak of. Note that I enlarged this crop slightly so you can see the details.

The distortion test shows mild barrel distortion at wide-angle, and no vignetting (dark corners).

Overall the photo quality on the C-740UZ is very good. Both color and exposure were accurate, but what impressed me the most was how much the ED lens helps reduce purple fringing. It's still there, but in much smaller concentrations when compared to older Ultra Zoom models. The 740's images are sharp, but at the expense of noise, which is higher than I'd like.

Don't just take my word for it -- have a look at the gallery and decide for yourself if the 740's photo quality is right for you.

Movie Mode

The C-740's movie mode would be pretty nice if the camera recorded sound. Unfortunately, it doesn't -- you'll need to upgrade to the C-750 for that.

You can record for as long as there is space on the memory card. For the included 16MB card, that's 48 seconds at 320 x 240. Get a 32MB card and the number jumps to 96 seconds. And so on. Use the smaller 160 x 120 resolution and those numbers are 211/424 seconds, respectively.

Movies are saved in QuickTime format, with a 15 fps frame rate.

The zoom lens can be used during filming.

Here's a sample movie for you:


Click to play movie (4.7MB, QuickTime format)

Can't play it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The C-740 has the standard (and very good) Olympus 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.

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

Deleting an image is a piece of cake -- just hit the delete button on the back of the camera. You can delete one photo, or all of them -- but not several at a time.

Normally, you don't get much information about your photos in playback mode. When you want more info, you can turn on "info" in the menu, or better yet, the histogram feature.

Moving between photos on the C-740 is fairly quick: it takes about 1.5 seconds to load another photo.

How Does it Compare?

Most of the new features in the Olympus C-740 Ultra Zoom are pretty dull, but there's one that stands out: the extra-low dispersion (ED) lens noticeably reduces purple fringing, which should make owners of the older Ultra Zooms a bit jealous. It doesn't eliminate it, but it's much better than before. Other nice features of the C-740 include good photo quality, full manual controls, support for add-on lenses, and of course that 10X lens. On the other hand, I'm a bit disappointed that Olympus got rid of the remote control option, flash sync port, and microphone on this model. Also, the photo quality is just a bit noisy for my taste, and the bundle could be better. For most folks who want a big zoom camera, the 740 is a fine choice. For more resolution plus sound recording and a hot shoe, check out the C-750.

What I liked:

  • 10X zoom lens
  • Less purple fringing than earlier models
  • Full manual controls, including white balance which you can fine tune
  • Customizable buttons and menus
  • Can store four sets of your settings
  • Very good image quality (though a tad noisy)
  • Nice playback mode
  • Pixel mapping feature blocks out bad pixels from CCD

What I didn't care for:

  • Noise levels higher than they should be
  • No AF illuminator
  • Over-sensitive power button
  • EVF difficult to see in low light
  • No more sound recording, flash sync port (which C-730 had)
  • Slowest shutter speeds only available in full manual mode
  • Bundle could be better (larger xD card, full printed manual, rechargeable batteries)

Some other big zoom cameras with a big zoom (7X or greater) include the HP Photosmart 850 (8X), Minolta DiMAGE 7Hi (7X), Nikon Coolpix 5700 (8X), Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1 (12X), and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F717 (5X).

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the C-740 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Check out our C-740UZ photo gallery!

Want a second opinion?

Get another opinion at Steve's Digicams!

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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