Olympus Stylus 750 Review

...it's tough for me to recommend this camera because the overall quality of the photos lags behind the leaders.
...it's tough for me to recommend this camera because the overall quality of the photos lags behind the leaders.
...it's tough for me to recommend this camera because the overall quality of the photos lags behind the leaders.

Highs

  • 5x optical zoom; slim; weather-resistant case; mechanical (not digital) image stabilization

Lows

  • Pokey response; high noise levels; lackluster picture quality

DT Editors' Rating

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Summary

Stylus is storied name in Olympus history, with the company selling zillions of the weather resistant film and digital cameras over the years. The beauty of the Stylus is its ability to be taken almost anywhere. If you’re out on a rainy day, you can still take photos without worrying about zapping it. It’s not a camera you can take into the ocean—more like in the boat than in the water. The fact you can bring it almost anywhere is one of its key attractions. Its thin, very compact size, 7.1-megapixel imager and 5x optical zoom are also pluses as is a more advanced anti-shake system (mechanical and electronic). There isn’t too much competition in this category other than Olympus itself. Along with the 7.1MP 750, the company sells the similar Stylus 740 ($349) with only digital electronic image stabilization, the 10MP Stylus 1000 ($399) with a 2.5-inch LCD and 3x zoom as well as the Stylus 730 with a 3-inch LCD and a 3x optical zoom. Olympus also has the Stylus 720 SW that can take a drop into the water up to 10 feet and it’ll even take a bounce on concrete ($399). We weren’t too thrilled with the new Olympus SP-510UZ with its poor quality and electronic image stabilization rather than optical IS; let’s charge this one up and take some photographs to see if there’s any guilt by association…

Features and Design

The Stylus 750 is an attractive credit card-sized camera with an all-metal case. It has a swooping curve on the face plate. Along with the Olympus logo and Stylus 750 on the front, there a few too many embossed items such as “7.1 Megapixel,” “All Weather” and “5x Optical Zoom.” Olympus should lose them and then they’d have a really sophisticated-looking camera. The camera really is credit-card sized, measuring 3.7 x 2.1 x .9 (WHD, in inches). It weighs 4.2 ounces without battery and xD Picture card, 4.8 with both items. Popping this one into a pocket is as convenient as carrying a cell phone. The 5x optical zoom with built-in lens cover dominates the front; the lens is equivalent to 36-180mm, a very nice range, and much better than most cameras this size. For the record, Kodak has the 7.1MP V705 ($349), a slim digicam with 5x optical zoom and a 23mm lens but it doesn’t have mechanical IS, just electronic. Beyond the flash and mic, there’s not much else to comment upon other than the fact there’s no AF Assist lamp, an important tool for shooting in low light.

The top of the camera only has three buttons: power, image stabilization on/off and a rectangular shutter button. The right side has a compartment with a USB out port; cables are supplied to transfer images to the PC and TV. There’s nothing on the left while the bottom has a tripod mount and compartment for the battery and xD Picture Card.

The rear of the Stylus is dominated by a 2.5-inch LCD rated a solid 215K pixels—if Olympus used this one on the SP-510UZ, our rating wouldn’t have been as dismissive. But they didn’t and life goes on. To the right of the LCD monitor is a wide/tele toggle switch, a mode dial and a four-way controller with center OK/Function key. Next to the four points of the controller are four more buttons for Menu, Quick View/Printing, Delete and Display to bring up grid lines or eliminate any of the clutter onscreen.

The mode dial has only five settings: Camera, Playback, Scene, Guide and Movie. Camera lets you shoot in Auto or P for program. In Auto, the camera is a typical point-and-shoot. When you enter “P,” you can adjust white balance, exposure compensation, ISO (up to 1600 maximum), burst mode and type of metering (ESP or spot). And that’s as far as it goes. No aperture or shutter priority, manual focus and so on. This is really an aim it and forget it camera. There’s nothing wrong with that, just be aware.

Move into the Scene mode and there are 23 options for everything from portraits to underwater (you’ll need an optional housing for that); this is a weather-resistant digicam, not waterproof. Guide offers 13 options such as “Reducing blur,” “Reducing red-eye” and other basic instructions. If you want to reduce red-eye, just choose that guide, hit the right controller and the camera will be put in the red-eye reduction mode. This is very helpful for beginners. People who know their way around cameras would just hit the flash option on the controller and pick the one they want. We’re all for making life easy for photographers of all levels so this is a good feature.

The camera lets you grab video clips at up to 640 x 480 pixel resolution but only 15 frames per second, unlike the 30 on many other digicams, a definite negative. However, this digicam or any other is a mere shadow of a Mini DV camcorder.

The Stylus 750 has a good kit. In the box you’ll find the camera, USB and A/V cables, battery/charger and a CD ROM holding Olympus Master software for editing and image transfer. Unlike the SP-510UZ, this camera comes with an 80-page owner’s manual that you can take with to learn the camera’s finer points. As noted, the Stylus 750 uses the xD Picture Card so budget another $35 for a 512MB card. After unpacking the box and charging the battery, it was time to take some photos.

Olympus Stylus 750
Image Courtesy of Olympus

Testing and Performance

No surprise here: the Made In China camera is ready to go in less than 2 seconds as the lens extends and the LCD comes to life. As usual, I began in Auto with image stabilization on and then moved to the various options in the P mode. As a 7.1MP camera, it was set to SHQ 3072 x 2304 pixels. One of the reasons this camera costs more than the usual point-and-shoot digicam is its more powerful zoom and its dual IS system. Rather than using just a digital system to eliminate blur, the Stylus 750 adds a mechanical CCD shift setup that uses electro-gyro sensors to record camera movement and adjust the CCD to compensate. According to Olympus, the light remains centered on the imager and this reduces blurry images. Digital image stabilization raises the ISO and shutter speed to help the CCD shift system. Bottom line: this is a much better system than the purely digital SP-510UZ and I could really see the difference when shooting in macro in available light. Tiny flower pistils were much sharper and quite usable as large prints (8.5×11). Typically you can’t use a flash with macro since it obliterates the subject. Here the camera worked well with the flash off. The camera’s size is another reason for this system. Since the Stylus 750 is similar to a thick credit card, you hold it with your fingertips rather than in your palm. Image stabilization is a big help here as well. It’s one of the reasons we prefer models like the Sony DSC-T50 compared to skinny digicams without IS.

Even though a tiny camera, I enjoyed shooting with the 750. I gave the weather-resistance a workout since it was a rainy day and just keep on shooting. People thought I was crazy but that’s their problem. The camera was reasonably responsive but it definitely labored when saving the big files and using the flash. Olympus engineers better boost processor performance for the next batch of cameras or they’ll be further behind the competition. Focusing was decent, without a lot of drift but an AF Assist lamp would’ve been a big improvement when shooting indoors.

The 5x optical zoom is a real plus, giving you the flexibility to move between 36 and 180mm. Very few cameras this size have lenses as powerful but there are some competitors beyond the Kodak V705. The 6MP Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5 ($229) has optical image stabilization and a 6x optical zoom but it’s bigger than the 750 or V705.

After shooting tons of images and offloading them to the PC it was time to make 8.5×11 prints. And the results? They were O.K., nothing more. At higher ISOs (above 200) they were definitely less, with lots of digital noise. This camera hits 1600 ISO and the photos looked as speckled as can be. That said quality is better than the SP-510UZ, another 7.1MP Olympus digicam, a reason you shouldn’t be seduced by specs alone.

This camera has a fun feature called in-camera editing. Once you take and move into playback, you can perform some simple editing tasks such as removing red-eye, adjusting saturation and brightness, drop the images into a postcard-type frame, overlay phrases such as Happy Birthday or Happy Holidays. You can even adjust the color of the type. Neat stuff but if you’re really into it, you would do this on your monitor, rather than a 2.5-inch screen. In all cases, the originals are saved along with the edited image.

Olympus Stylus 750
Image Courtesy of Olympus

Conclusion

There’s a reason Canon, Kodak and Sony have close to 60 percent digital camera market share between them. Yes, they’re huge corporations that can throw their weight around and get the distribution i.e. placing their wares on shelves at your local retailer or e-tailer. Those companies also spend huge amounts on R&D and have the clout to purchase better camera components at lower prices. Unfortunately a company like Olympus doesn’t have these deep pockets and is forced to make cameras at specific “price points,” as they say in the trade. That means they must save pennies wherever they can—and you end up with digicams like the SP-510UZ and the Stylus 750. Although they sound good when looking at the specs, the actual cameras are weak. For all its good points, it’s tough for me to recommend this camera because the overall quality of the photos lags behind the leaders. Continue your search—check out the Kodak and Panasonic mentioned here–and keep your non-weather-resistant camera out of the rain.

Pros:

• Compact 7.1MP digicam
• 5x optical zoom
• Good LCD quality
• Mechanical and electronic image stabilization
• Weather resistant

Cons:

• Lackluster picture quality
• No AF Assist lamp
• Overall slow response
• Few manual options