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DCRP Review: Olympus
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: March 27, 2006
Last Updated: April 6, 2008
The Stylus 710 ($349) is the latest addition to Olympus' line of ultra-compact, weatherproof cameras. Being 0.8 inches thick, the 710 is the thinnest camera yet in the Stylus series. Other features on the camera include a 7.1 Megapixel CCD, 3X optical zoom lens, 2.5" LCD display, high ISO capabilities, and a VGA movie mode.
How does this stylish Stylus perform in the very crowded ultra-compact field? Find out now in our review!
The Stylus 710 is known as the Mju 700 in some countries.
What's in the Box?
The Stylus 710 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
Olympus began building memory into their cameras last year instead of including a memory card. The Stylus 710 has 19.1MB of internal memory, which isn't much for a camera with this resolution. So, I'd recommend picking up a memory card right away, with 512MB being a good starter size. The Stylus uses xD Picture Cards, which tend to be a little pricey. Olympus doesn't say if the camera takes advantage of their high speed xD cards.
Like nearly all ultra-compact cameras, the Stylus 710 uses a proprietary lithium-ion battery known as the LI-42B (it can use the older, lower power LI-40B as well). This diminutive battery packs just 2.7 Wh of energy, which isn't much. The chart below shows what kind of battery life the Stylus 710 gets out of that battery, and also shows you how the camera compares against competition:
As you can see, battery life on the Stylus 710 is about average. It's probably not a bad idea to get a spare battery, though be warned: they cost around $50 a pop. Unfortunately, all of the super-thin cameras use batteries like this (Pentax makes a few AA-based models, though they're on the thick side).
When it's time to charge the battery, just pop it into the included charger. This isn't one of those "plug it right into the wall" chargers that I like so much: you must use a power cable. It takes a whopping five hours to fully charge the battery.
As with most ultra-compacts, the Stylus 710 has a built-in lens cover. As you can see, it's a pretty small camera.
There are a couple of accessories available for the Stylus, and some of them are pretty interesting. I've compiled them all into this handy chart:
Geez, $80 for an AC adapter seems a little steep to me!
Okay, let's talk about software now.
Olympus includes version 1.4 of their excellent Master software with the Stylus 710. When you first start it up you'll be presented with the screen above. Options here include transferring images from a camera or memory card or browsing, sharing, and printing photos that have already been transferred. A backup option will save your photos to your hard drive or CD/DVD disk.
Here's the main image browsing screen. In the left pane you can choose how images are viewed: by date or category. Powerful searching features let you find images in a number of ways. The thumbnails in the center of the screen load quickly and you can adjust their size in real time. On the right side you'll find shooting data as well as links to Olympus and their partners.
Items in the toolbar include rotation, editing, printing, e-mailing, and RAW development.
Here is the editing screen, where you'll find rotation and cropping, "instant fix", redeye reduction, and color balance options.
Here's the nicely design photo printing feature. Lots of options, as you can see. There's a similar window for e-mailing your photos to friends and family.
This is the panorama stitcher, which will merge your photos into one giant panorama. It's as simple as it gets -- just one button!
Just like with their old Camedia Master software, Olympus has a "Plus" version available for $20 more. The Master Plus software adds movie editing capabilities, HTML album creation, improved image e-mailing, more printing options, and the ability to make Video CDs.
Olympus has given their manuals a bit of a facelift in recent years. They've tried to make the manuals a bit more user friendly, but I found that information was too spread out, and not detailed enough. It's also too bad that Olympus still includes a (very) basic printed manual, with the full manual on CD-ROM.
Look and Feel
The 710 is arguably the smallest and best looking Stylus yet. It's very compact, and it's wedge-like design will catch the eye of your friends and family. The body is made of metal and plastic, and it feels very solid in the hand. While the controls are all well-placed, I do wish that the shutter release button was a little larger.
Like all the cameras in the Stylus line, the 710 is water resistant, which means it can get sprayed, but not dunked in water. If you want to actually go swimming or diving with the camera then you'll need the underwater case that I mentioned in the previous section. Everything is sealed, so dust, sand, and grime stay out of the important parts of the camera. Olympus claims that the body is also scratch resistant (coated with 24K gold!), and it lived up to that billing in my weeks with teh camera.
Now, here's a look at how the camera compares with the competition in terms of size and weight:
While it's right in the middle in terms of size, the Stylus 710 is one of the lightest cameras in its class.
Enough about that, let's move on to our tour of the Stylus now!
The Stylus has a rather "slow" F3.4 - 5.7, 3X optical zoom lens. The focal range of the lens is 6.5 - 19.5 mm, which is equivalent to 37 - 111 mm. Not surprisingly, conversion lenses are not supported.
To the lower right of the lens you'll find the microphone. Jumping to the upper-left, we find the built-in flash and self-timer lamp. The working range of the flash is 0.2 - 4.0 m at wide-angle and 0.5 - 2.4 m at telephoto (presumably at Auto ISO). You cannot attach an external flash to the Stylus 710.
There's no AF-assist lamp on the Stylus. We'll see how that affects low light focusing later in the review.
On the back of the Stylus 710 you'll find a large 2.5" LCD display. While the screen is large, the resolution is not, as the LCD has just 115,000 pixels (as much as some 1.8" screens). In real world usage I found the screen to be just acceptable in terms of sharpness. Outdoor visibility was average, while low light visibility was excellent (since the screen "gains up" in those situations).
As you can probably tell, there's no optical viewfinder on the Stylus 710. Whether this is a bad thing depends on your needs. Some people require an optical viewfinder, others don't.
Now let's look at all the buttons and dials to the right of the LCD, starting at the top. The first thing to see here is the zoom controller, which moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.7 seconds. I counted eight steps throughout the 3X zoom range.
Below that is the mode dial, which has the following options:
The Stylus 710 has a very elaborate in-camera help system, made up of menu hints (more on this later) plus the "guide" option found on the mode dial. The guide not only gives you hints about how to take better pictures -- it actually changes the settings for you!
As you can see, there are TONS (and I mean tons) of scene modes on the camera. Most of those are pretty self-explanatory, though I should mention that the two "shoot & select" modes are for continuous shooting (more on this feature later).
The digital image stabilization feature is different from what you'll find on cameras with true optical image stabilizers. Those systems move lens elements in order to counter the effects of "camera shake". Here, the Stylus just boosts the ISO sensitivity until the shutter speed is fast enough to ensure a sharp photo. The problem with this method is that high ISO settings bring out a lot of noise in your photographs (example). When printed at 4 x 6, the noise was noticeable, and I certainly wouldn't want that print on my refrigerator. Even after cleaning up the image in NeatImage (and how many Stylus owners will do that?), the print quality was mediocre.
My advice is to skip the anti-blur mode and turn the ISO up manually, as high as you need to in order to get the shutter speed above 1/30 second. Otherwise the camera may go a little too high, giving you images that are too noisy to actually use.
The "available light" scene mode works in a similar way as the image stabilization mode, except that the camera reduces the image size in addition to increasing the ISO sensitivity. This helps to mask the noise a bit.
Moving down below the mode dial we find the four-way controller, which is surrounded by four more buttons. The four-way controller is used for menu navigation, and also:
Pressing the center button on the four-way controller opens up the Function menu, which has these options:
What about those two continuous modes? Well, at the normal speed, the camera took just three photos at a sluggish 1.1 frames/second. The high speed mode took a lot more shots (eighteen) at a much faster frame rate (3.6 fps), but the Stylus accomplishes this by lowering the resolution down to SQ1 (2048 x 1536), which is more than half the native resolution of the camera. On the positive side, the LCD does keep up nicely with the action, so following a moving subject shouldn't be a problem.
The four buttons around the four-way controller are for:
The top view of the Stylus 710 really shows off that "wedge" design, doesn't it?
The only things to see up here are the power and shutter release buttons. I wish the shutter release button was a little larger, but that's just me.
Nothing to see here...
On the other side of the Stylus 710 you'll find all of its I/O ports. Actually there's just one port, but it's where you'll attach the USB and A/V cables, plus the optional AC adapter. Remember that you'll need to buy the CB-MA1 power coupler along with the regular AC adapter in order to use "shore power" with the camera.
The Stylus 710 supports the USB 2.0 Full Speed standard, which is also known as the "slow USB 2.0". The one we want is USB 2.0 High Speed.
On the bottom of the camera you'll find the battery and memory card compartment along with a plastic tripod mount (not visible here). The battery/memory card slot is covered by a fairly sturdy plastic door, which is sealed, to keep out water and dust. As you can probably guess, you cannot swap xD memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.
Using the Olympus Stylus 710
It takes a little over two seconds for the Stylus 710 to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures. That's about average.
There's a live histogram in record mode
Focus speeds were very good. The Stylus typically took between 0.2 and 0.4 seconds to lock focus, and slightly longer if it had to "hunt" a bit. Low light focusing was average, and could've been a lot better had Olympus included an AF-assist lamp on the camera.
Shutter lag was not a problem, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes occurs.
Shot-to-shot speeds were also snappy. You can take another picture in a little over a second, assuming the post-shot review is turned off.
There's no easy way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken. You must enter playback mode and delete it from there.
Now, here's a look at the image quality settings on the Stylus 710:
See why buying a memory card right away is a good idea?
There's no support for the RAW or TIFF image formats on the Stylus 710.
Olympus uses one of the more sensible 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, at least a year). File numbering is maintained as you erase and switch memory cards.
The Stylus 710 has a pretty simple (and not terribly attractive) movie mode. When you first press the menu button, you'll get the screen above, which has these options:
Selecting "'Camera Menu" from the initial screen opens up the complete record menu. By pressing the display/help button, you can get more information about each menu item (see above). And now, here's what's in the record menu:
I explained the important items a bit earlier in the review. Look for an ISO test below.
The setup menu, which you get to from that initial menu screen, has these options:
Alright, enough menus, let's talk photo quality now.
The Stylus 710 surprised me with a strong performance with our macro test subject. The tungsten white balance setting was almost perfect for my studio lamps, though there's a very slight bluish cast. Otherwise the image is very sharp (perhaps too much so) and colors are saturated.
There are two macro modes on the camera. In normal macro mode, you can get as close as 20 cm to your subject at wide-angle and 50 cm at telephoto, which isn't very impressive. In super macro mode that distance drops to 8 cm (still not that close -- if that's what you're looking for), though the lens is locked near the wide-angle position at that setting.
While the night shot looks good when it's been downsized (see above), it's not impressive at all when viewed at full size or printed. Why? One word: noise. Since the only way to get long exposures on the camera is to use one of the scene modes, you're stuck with whatever ISO the camera selects. For this night test shot, the Stylus chose ISO 125, which really blurred out a lot of detail. If you want clean looking long exposures, this is not your camera.
Since I can't control the shutter speed I was not able to do the night ISO test. I do, however, have an ISO comparison taken in the studio a little further down the page.
There's mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the Stylus' 3X zoom range. While I didn't see any vignetting (dark corners), I did see some blurriness in the corners of some of my photos.
As you can see, there's a lot of redeye in the flash photos taken with the Stylus 710. I tried using the redeye fix feature in playback mode, but sadly it made no difference.
Now here's that ISO test I promised earlier. The above shot is taken in our "studio" and you can use it to compare ISO performance between the Stylus and other cameras I've reviewed.
Let's take a look at the crops:
The Stylus has somewhat "fuzzy" images to begin with, and that doesn't change much through ISO 200. At ISO 400 you start to see some loss of detail, and it's all downhill from there. I did print out the ISO 800 image and got an acceptable 4 x 6 inch print, but the ISO 1600 print was not a keeper.
Overall, the Stylus 710's image quality was good, but not great. The good news is that photos were generally well-exposed with accurate and vivid colors and low purple fringing levels. The bad news is that images have a real "fuzzy" look to them, which makes details look really "mushy" (example 1, example 2). There's also a fair amount of blurriness in the corners, which just makes details in that area of the frame even softer. These issues won't matter if you're printing 4 x 6's, but any larger and you'll probably want to pass on the Stylus 710.
Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery, print the photos if you'd like, and then decide if the Stylus 710's photo quality meets your expectations.
The Stylus 710's movie mode isn't terribly exciting. You can record video (with sound) at 640 x 480 (15 frames/second) until the memory card is full. While the resolution is nice, the choppy frame rate is not. The built-in memory holds just 17 seconds of video at the high quality setting, so you'll need a memory card for longer movies (a 512MB card holds about seven minutes worth).
Two other movie resolutions are available: 320 x 240 and 160 x 120, both with a frame rate of 15 fps.
As is usually the case, you cannot use the zoom lens during filming.
Movies are saved in QuickTime format, using the M-JPEG codec.
Here's a sample movie for you. As you can see, the quality leaves something to be desired.
Click to play movie (9.9 MB, 640 x 480, 15 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
The Stylus 710 has a very nice playback mode. Basic features include slide shows, voice annotations, thumbnail mode, DPOF print marking, image protection, and playback zoom. The camera supports direct printing using the PictBridge system, as well.
An picture edit feature lets you rotate or downsize images, convert them to black and white or sepia, or adjust the brightness and color saturation. A redeye removal feature is supposed to reduce this annoying phenomenon, but it did absolutely nothing for my test photos.
You can also add titles and borders to your photos, and you can even create a calendar with your photos right on the camera.
There's also an album feature, which seems to be getting more popular these days. Each xD Picture Card can have twelve albums, and each album holds up to 100 photos. The albums are stored on the memory card, so if you erase or remove the card, the album goes bye-bye.
By default the camera doesn't tell you too much about the photos you've taken (see above left). Press the Display/Help button a few times to get the much more useful screen on the right.
A calendar view of your photos is also available. Just pick a date to see what photos you took that day!
The camera moves through photos at a fairly good clip. There's about a one second delay between high resolution images.
How Does it Compare?
The ultra-compact arena has some tough competitors, so you really need a really strong product in order to come out on top. While the Olympus Stylus 710 has a nice design and some neat features, it ultimately has too many flaws, thus relegating it to "average" status.
The Stylus 710 is a very stylish, wedge-shaped ultra-compact camera. Olympus touts its scratchproof finish, and sure enough, the Stylus was the only metal camera to survive my ten camera Stanford trip without even a mark. Not only is the body scratchproof, but it's also water resistant as well. While you can't go swimming with it (without the optional underwater case, that is), the Stylus can get splashed, and since everything is sealed, dust, sand, and dirt stay out of the camera's important parts too. The camera is well designed for the most part, though it would've been nice if some of the buttons were a little bit larger. The Stylus has a large 2.5" LCD display that's great in low light, but the 115,000 pixel resolution left something to be desired.
The Stylus is a point-and-shoot camera with quite a few bells and whistles (too bad none of them are manual controls). They include an elaborate in-camera help system (that goes as far as automatically picking the settings for you), scores of scene modes, title, border, and calendar creation, and various high sensitivity modes. Those high sensitivity modes (called digital image stabilization and available light), which are all the rage these days, weren't terribly impressive. While yes, they do result in blur-free photos, you'll have so much noise in them that you'll be stuck with a 4 x 6 inch print if you're lucky. Instead of using those modes, my advice is to set the ISO manually, and try to keep it at 400 or below. The Stylus' movie mode wasn't great, with so-so video quality and a choppy frame rate.
Camera performance was fairly good. The Stylus starts up in an average 2 seconds, but then it focuses quickly, lacks any noticeable shutter lag, and can take another shot without any major delays. The Stylus' burst mode wasn't much to write home about. At the normal speed it takes just three shots in a row at 1.1 frames/second. While the high speed mode takes more photos (and at a much faster rate), it does so by cutting the resolution down to 3 Megapixel. Battery life on the Stylus was average for its class.
Photo quality is the Stylus 710's weak spot. While it took well-exposed photos with accurate color and low purple fringing levels, fine details in my photos were quite muddy, even at the lowest ISO setting. In addition, there was noticeable corner softness in many of my sample photos. While this may not matter to the typical buyer of a camera like this, those who want to make larger prints or view them at full size on their computer screen will see this and will likely be disappointed. One thing that will get you no matter what size the print is redeye, which is quite bad on the camera. The built-in redeye reduction feature did not improve the situation, at least in my testing.
There are a few other things that I want to mention. While nearly all cameras in this class are point-and-shoot, most offer at least manual white balance and slow shutter speed options. The latter feature would've really helped on this camera, as the night shot was quite lousy since I was forced to use a scene mode. Second, the camera lacks an AF-assist lamp, which led to just average low light focusing. Third, you cannot swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod, which may or may not bother you. And finally, the included 19MB of memory is very little for a 7.1 Megapixel camera.
While there are some nice features on the Stylus 710, I was ultimately disappointed with its photo quality, which is the most important feature on any camera. If you're only going to be making 4 x 6 prints and can live with the flaws I mentioned in this review, then I suppose it's worth a look, but the bottom line is that there are better cameras out there in this class.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other ultra compacts worth considering include the Canon PowerShot SD600 Digital ELPH, Casio Exilim EX-S600 and EX-Z600, Fuji FinePix F30 and Z1, HP Photosmart R727, Kodak EasyShare V603, Nikon Coolpix S5, Olympus Stylus 810 (the 710's big brother), Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX01, Pentax Optio S6 and T10, Samsung DIgimax i6, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T9 and DSC-W70.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Stylus 710 and its competitors before you buy!
See how the photo quality turned out in our gallery!
Want a second opinion?
Read another review at Steve's Digicams.
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.
To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.
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