DCRP Review: Olympus C-700 Ultra Zoom
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Wednesday, May 9, 2001
Last Updated: Monday, December 24, 2001

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As the resolution of digital cameras has started to level out in recent months, camera manufacturers have found other ways to make their products stand out. One way in which they are doing so is selling cameras with large zoom lenses: case in point, the Canon PowerShot Pro90, Olympus C-2100 Ultra Zoom, and several Sony cameras.

Olympus already had an "ultra zoom" camera out there -- the C-2100 Ultra Zoom -- so it came as a surprise to many when they introduced a second one. The C-700 Ultra Zoom is billed as the smallest camera with a 10X zoom, and I believe it (even with the lens extended, it's still pretty small). And I found it to be a great value for the price as well. Where the C-2100UZ sells for about $800, the C-700UZ is just $600.

Where did that $200 go? The cameras are very similar internally, with one major difference: the C-700UZ lacks any kind of image stabilization. On the C-2100UZ, when you're at full telephoto, an image stabilization system helps keep things from shaking too much. On the C-700UZ, you're on your own. Aside from that, there wasn't much to keep me from really enjoying this tiny camera with a very powerful zoom. Read on...

What's in the Box?

The C-700UZ has a pretty good bundle, typical for Olympus. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 2.1 Mpixel Olympus C-700 Ultra Zoom camera
  • 8MB SmartMedia card
  • 2 CR-V3 lithium batteries (non-rechargeable)
  • Lens cap w/ strap
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Olympus Camedia Master software and drivers
  • 44 page "basic" manual and 200 page "reference" manual (on CD)

Now I don't want to take all the credit for this, but I think all my complaining about lens caps is paying off. Olympus seems to be including both a lens cap and strap with their newest cameras. Hurrah!

One area where Olympus is sorely lacking is in the battery department. Olympus includes two "long life" CR-V3 batteries, which are non-rechargeable. While they do last a long time, they end up polluting our landfills, and you end up needing to buy batteries. I recommend picking up a set or two of NiMH rechargeable batteries (and a charger of course). Interestingly enough, the C-2100UZ includes batteries and a charger. I guess that's part of the price difference.

Another difference between the C-700 and C-2100 in this department is the remote control: you don't get one with the C-700.

I covered Olympus' Camedia Master software in a previous review. Overall, I found it to be better than the average software that comes bundled with the camera, but you won't be throwing out your copy of Photoshop.

A new feature of the C-700UZ is what Olympus calls USB AutoConnect. What that means is that if you're using a modern Mac, or a Win98/2000 system, you won't need to install any drivers. I'm all for that!

I tested the C-700UZ in Mac OS X, and not only did the Image Transfer utility open, but the camera mounted on the desktop as well.

The included 8MB SmartMedia card is rather skimpy -- I wish Olympus (and all manufacturers) would bundle larger cards with their cameras.

With the C-700UZ, Olympus has done something that I really don't like: they put the manual in PDF format, on the CD. They are partially forgiven for including a printed "basic" manual, but I hate having to dig out the CD to look something up in the manual. I suppose you can print it, but it's 200 pages!

One thing I can say about the manuals, however, is that they are improving. There's a new layout here, and it's easier to follow than previous Olympus manuals.

Look and Feel

The C-700UZ's design is familiar -- it looks and feels like their C-2000/3000 series. But there are a few important differences, as you'll see below.

The body itself is mostly plastic, but it feels solid. The camera is very easy to hold, with a grip for the right hand, and plenty of room for the left. With the exception of one button in particular, everything is well-placed.

The cameras dimensions are pretty small: 4.2 x 3.0 x 3.1 inches. The weight (empty) is just 310 g, amazing for a camera with a big lens. The C-700UZ is just a little larger and heavier than the C-3040Z, and quite the opposite from the C-2100UZ.

The main attraction on the C-700 is, of course, its 10X optical zoom lens. This F2.8-F3.5 lens has a focal range of 5.9 - 59mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 380mm. I'm 99% sure this is the same lens that's on the C-2100UZ as well as the Canon PowerShot Pro90. Since it shares the same problem with chromatic aberration as those two, I assume I'm right. But more on that later.

Update 5/11/01: The lens is not threaded. If you want to use a filter or conversion lens, you'll need to buy the "tube" from Olympus which permits this.

Above the lens you can see the pop-up flash, which is probably in that position to reduce redeye. In my own fooling around with the camera, I didn't notice a problem with redeye.

Now onto the back of the camera. The LCD at 1.5" is a little smaller than most of Olympus' LCDs, but it's just as bright and fluid. Nose smudging will only be a problem for those who use their left eyes to use the viewfinder.

You'll see this in both the LCD and EVF

Like all of these "ultra zoom" cameras, the C-700 uses an EVF, or electronic viewfinder. While you get to see through the lens, the quality isn't the same as the big LCD, and not even close to a true optical viewfinder. That said, you do get a wealth of information in the EVF that you wouldn't get otherwise. There is a diopter correction knob to assist those of us with glasses.

Moving to the right of the EVF, you'll find buttons for:

  • Drive [rec] / Delete [play]
  • Macro & spot metering [rec] / DPOF print marking [play]
  • Flash [rec] / Protect [play]

A quick word about the Drive button. That moves you between the following settings:

  • Single Shot
  • Continuous
  • Continuous w/AF (focuses for each shot)
  • Self-timer
  • Auto-bracketing

The C-700 can shoot at 1.2 frames/sec for up to 3 shots in SHQ or 6 in HQ. Sorry, there's no continuous TIFF mode shooting (yet).

Getting back to our tour now: around the LCD are a number of other buttons:

  • Power
  • AE Lock or Custom button [rec] / Rotate [play]
  • Four-way switch
  • OK / Menu invoke
  • Display (toggles between EVF and LCD)

Something that's completely new here is the "custom button" feature. You can replace the AE lock button with a number of other functions from the menu. On the whole, Olympus has made the menus quite customizable on the C-700.

Earlier, I mentioned that everything was well-placed except for one button: the Ok/Menu button. For as long as I can remember, these two have always been separate, and it doesn't seem logical to have them as the same button. Maybe it's just me.

Now onto the top of the camera. You can see the microphone, flash release button, mode wheel, and shutter release / zoom control. There's no LCD info display on this camera since the same information is found on the EVF and LCD.

The mode wheel has the following options:

  • Play
  • Auto Record
  • Landscape
  • Action
  • Portrait
  • Program Mode
  • Aperture Priority / Shutter Priority / Full Manual mode
  • Movie Mode

As I mentioned in the C-3040Z review, I wish that the A/S/M choices were separate, saving a trip to the menu. The three "scene modes" (landscape/action/portrait) choose the best settings for those situations. As for the manual modes, here are the choices available:

  • Aperture priority: choose between F2.8 - F8 in wide-angle and F3.5 - F8 in telephoto
  • Shutter priority: choose between 1/2 sec and 1/1000 sec
  • Full manual: same aperture values; shutter speed range of 16 sec - 1/1000 sec

If you're going to do any serious night shooting (or anything that requires a slower speed than 1/2 sec), you'll have to use full manual mode.

Here's a look at the side of the camera, where you can see the various I/O ports. Here, you'll find:

  • Flash sync (5 pin)
  • DC in
  • A/V out
  • USB

Yes, you can use the fabled FL-40 external flash with this camera, but you'll need to buy the flash bracket as well. Both are available from Olympus. Update 5/11/01: You can use other flashes, but Olympus has a lengthy section of warnings about doing so in the manual.

And here's the other side, with the included 8MB SmartMedia card shown. This is one of those "grab it yourself" slots, meaning it's not spring-loaded.

Finally, that brings us to the bottom of the camera. Down here, you'll find the battery compartment as well as a plastic tripod mount.

Using the Olympus C-700 Ultra Zoom

Record Mode

The camera takes approximately 5 seconds to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures. On the whole, the C-700UZ is quite responsive. There's little delay while the camera locks focuses or takes the picture, and you can take another in under 2 seconds.

Here's a look at the many resolution and quality options on the C-700UZ, and how many fit on the included 8MB card, as well as a 32MB card (for reference sake).

Record Mode # of Pixels File Format # of photos
8MB card 32MB card
TIFF 1600 x 1200 TIFF 1 5
1280 x 960 2 8
1024 x 768 3 13
640 x 480 8 33
SHQ 1600 x 1200 JPEG 7 28
HQ 1600 x 1200 16 64
SQ-High Quality 1280 x 960 11 47
1024 x 768 13 53
640 x 480 33 132
SQ-Normal Quality 1280 x 960 24 99
1024 x 768 38 153
640 x 480 82 331

As you can see, there's a whole lot of choices. Do note that full-size TIFF files take over 15 seconds to write to the card, and you cannot take additional photos during that time.

The C-700UZ uses an entirely new menu system, that allows quick access to the settings that you want. It is more complex than the old system, and it takes some getting used to, for sure.

When you first press the menu button in record mode, you are presented with the screen above. The ISO, Quality, and White Balance choices are customizable, so you could put whatever setting you want in those spaces. The Mode Menu choice enters the menu system at the top level.

Here's the full menu. There are tabs on the left for Camera, Picture, Card, and General settings. In the main area you'll actually change the settings. There's lots of moving right and left in this system, and I'm not sure if I like it that much. Perhaps it will grow on me.

Here's a look at all the choices available in the menu, and what they mean:

  • Camera Settings
    • ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800)
    • A/S/M (chooses the manual mode to use)
    • Flash intensity (-2.0EV to +2.0EV)
    • Slow flash settings (first or second curtain)
    • Auto bracketing
    • Multi-metering (on/off)
    • Digital zoom (2.7X, on/off)
    • Full-time auto-focus (on/off)
    • Sounds after stills (on/off)
    • Sound with movies (on/off)
    • Panorama helper (requires Olympus-branded SM card)
    • Function (black & white, sepia, black board, white board)
  • Picture Settings
    • Quality (see chart above)
    • White balance (auto, sunlight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, manual)
    • White balance color (makes color bluer/redder)
    • Sharpness (hard, normal, soft)
    • Contrast (high, normal, low)
  • Card Settings
    • Card Format
  • General Settings
    • All Reset (choose which camera settings are stored, or if they're all reset to defaults)
    • Info (displayed with picture)
    • Beep (on/off)
    • Rec View (shows picture after it's taken - on/off)
    • Sleep timer
    • File name (reset, auto)
    • LCD/EVF brightness
    • Date/time
    • Measurement units
    • Battery save (on/off)
    • Short Cut (lets you customize that first menu screen, as described earlier)
    • Custom Button (change the AE Lock button to something else)

OK, now onto some photo tests. Before I do that, I wanted to illustrate the power of the 10X optical zoom with the following example:

From the left: No zoom, 3X zoom, 10X zoom

One of the problems with this particular lens is that it exhibits a lot of chromatic aberration, also known as purple fringing. The shot below illustrates it very well.

You'll probably have to blow this up to see what I mean. While it's not in all pictures, don't be surprised to see it on the edges of objects with a bright sky behind it.

Aside from that, I was very pleased with the photo quality. The zoom allows you to really get close to things that would be tiny otherwise. But don't take my word for it, take a look at the gallery and judge for yourself.

The macro test turned out well (as it did on the C-3040Z), and I didn't even need to adjust the white balance for a change. In macro mode, you can get as close as 0.1 m (0.3 ft) in wide-angle mode, and 1.2 m (3.9 ft) in telephoto mode. [Updated 5/15/01]

The original nightshot: ISO 451

The nightshot test didn't turn out nearly as well as I was expecting. In addition to the reddish coloring, the photos I took very quite grainy as well. I tried changing white balance settings and still got the weird colors -- and not just in this location.

Updated 5/16/01: Some readers speculated that the reason my night tests weren't turning out so well was a high ISO setting. The camera was set to Auto and it used an ISO over 400 for the shot you see above. So I went out again (albeit to a different location) and tried again, with lower ISO values. I was surprised to see that it made little difference. Both shots below were taken in full manual mode, F3.5, 1 second exposure.

New nightshot #1 - ISO 100

New nightshot #2 - ISO 200

Movie Mode

Just like the C-3040Z, the movie mode on the C-700UZ isn't quite as nice as on the E-100 Rapid Shot, also made by Olympus. That camera features higher resolution (640 x 480) and faster frame rates (30 fps). Oh well, this is pretty good as it is.

You can record movies in 16 second (HQ, 320 x 240) or 70 second (SQ, 160 x 120) clips.

You cannot use the optical zoom while filming on the C-700 -- only the digital zoom. You can set the optical zoom to roughly the range you want before filming, and use the digital zoom to zoom in additionally (of course the quality will go downhill).

Here's a thrilling sample movie of a 747 taking off for you (filmed in HQ mode):

Click to play movie (QuickTime format, M-JPEG codec; 3,8MB)

Playback Mode

The C-700 Ultra Zoom has a competent playback mode. All the basics are here: slideshows, thumbnail mode (4, 9, or 16 at a time), DPOF print marking, photo protection, and zoom & scroll.

The camera moves between photos quickly -- less than a second for HQ photos. TIFF photos will take at least 15 seconds to view.

In zoom and scroll mode, you can zoom in as much as 3X into your photos, and then scroll around in them. I found the scrolling feature to be way too slow, however.

One nice feature is the ability to rotate your photos in the camera, saving a trip to the photo editing software later.

Additional information about a photo is available -- no histograms though (though most people won't care).

How Does it Compare?

With the C-700 Ultra Zoom, Olympus has taken the already very good C-2000/3000 series, and popped a 10X optical zoom in it -- and the results are very positive. Yes, there's that problem with chromatic aberrations, but you won't notice in most situations. But overall, this little camera with the very big zoom takes superb pictures, is fairly easy-to-use, and packs a lot of features into it's silver body.

How does it compare with the more expensive C-2100 Ultra Zoom? Very favorably, in this reviewers opinion. The major differences are the lack of image stabilization, a few bundled features, and about $200 in cash. You may have to use a tripod for some of those long range shots (like you probably should anyhow), but I'd say the C-700UZ is a better value for the money.

What I liked:

  • Holy smokes - 10X optical zoom for about $600 street?
  • Very good photo quality in most cases
  • New, customizable menu system (though it takes getting used to)
  • Manual white balance
  • Support for external flash
  • Compact, good looking body
  • Movies with sound!

What I didn't care for:

  • No optical zoom in movie mode
  • Chromatic aberrations noticeable in several photos
  • Playback mode could use some more features
  • Placement of OK/Menu button
  • No rechargeable batteries included

I've already mentioned the competition earlier in this review: the Canon PowerShot Pro90, Olympus E-100RS and C-2100 Ultra Zoom, and perhaps the Sony MVC-CD1000.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the C-700UZ and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion? How about a third?

Check out Steve's Digicams review of the C-700UZ. If that's not enough, DP Review has one too.

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com.


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