Flash Off • Auto Flash • Fill-in Flash • Red-eye Reduction Flash
With LCD Panel
LCD Panel Size
LCD Screen Resolution
LCD Protected Position
Without LCD Protected Position
With Built-in Microphone
Without Built-in Speaker
Apple Mac OS 9 • Apple Mac OS X • Microsoft Windows 2000 • Microsoft Windows 98SE • Microsoft Windows ME • Microsoft Windows XP
Blue • Pink • Silver
Software • USB Cable • Video Cable • Hand Strap • Lithium Battery • Battery Charger
Less than 0.8" thick, this versatile, compact digital camera is designed with the signature style and performance for which the Stylus line is renowned with the added benefits of Shock and Waterproof technology - perfect for any situation, durable enough for shooting in any conditions.
The Olympus Stylus 720 SW is a super sturdy, compact digital camera designed with the active outdoor photographer in mind. It has a 7.1-megapixel sensor, a 3x optical zoom lens, 2.5-inch LCD display, and it's waterproof and shockproof so you can take it almost anywhere without worrying about dropping or getting it wet.
Introduction Every once in a while a camera comes along that really gets my attention. The Olympus Stylus 720SW is one of those cameras. I had
the opportunity to test a previous Olympus Stylus Digital, the Stylus 800 Digital, and really liked it. So when I got the press release for the Stylus 720SW and saw that it wasn't just weatherproof, but waterproof to ten feet, and shockproof too - I knew I had to get a hold of one.
A lot of my professional work is mountain bike photography so I'm always on the lookout for a compact camera that can deliver high-quality photos and save me the weight and hassle of riding with a digital SLR. With 7-megapixels of resolution, a waterproof chassis, and a drop-worthy build, I can stick the 720 SW in my pocket and not worry about a thing besides riding. On paper this camera looks like the ultimate mountain bike camera (or rock climbing, paddling, canyoneering, hunting, fishing, boating, or skiing).
I've had the 720 SW for a couple of months longer than I was supposed to. That's at least partly because it's been good to me and I don't really want to give it up. Since I've had it so long I've been able to give it a very well rounded test. I've done all the normal point-and-shoot digital camera stuff, local mountain bike rides, a couple of mountain bike trips to Utah, and even a trip to Italy. The only thing I didn't do was take underwater photos with it. However, I did give it a good dunking to make sure that it was really waterproof. Still works!
Olympus Stylus 720 SW Features
The Olympus Stylus 720 SW is a basic point-and-shoot digital camera housed in a waterproof and shockproof body. The durable, waterproof chassis is the 720 SW's most compelling feature. Other features are fairly standard - it's got a 3x optical zoom lens, built-in flash, 2.5-inch LCD, 7-megapixel sensor, etc. Besides the camera construction, the standout feature is the big, bright 2.5-inch LCD. Like most compact digital cameras now, the 720 SW can capture video and sound as well as still images. The 720 SW's movie mode captures 15 frames-per-second at a maximum resolution of 640x480.
As far as exposure goes, the 720 SW is a pretty basic point-and shoot camera. It offers exposure compensation and 25 scene modes, including Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Sport, Sunset, Museum, and four underwater scene modes. The camera has a wide sensitivity range for a compact digital camera, offering ISO 64 to ISO 1600.
One of the trends in compact digital cameras right now is image stabilization to help photographers correct for shaky hands. Not to be
left out, Olympus has given the 720 SW an "image stabilization" mode. The 720 SW doesn't have actual optical stabilization, though. The image stabilization mode simply increases the ISO setting and shutter speed to eliminate motion blur caused by camera shake. This isn't the same thing at all as optical image stabilization and the high ISO settings mean that image quality is definitely compromised. I tried it, discovered how noisy it was, and didn't use it again.
The macro ability of the Olympus Stylus Digital 720 SW is very nice. I got really nice close-up photos of wildflowers and mountain bike parts. The camera has two macro modes. One allows you to focus as close as 8-inches (20 cm). The second lets you shoot as close as 2.7 inches (7 cm), but doesn't allow you to change the zoom at all.
Olympus Stylus Digital 720 SW capture mode with Function menu
Olympus Stylus Digital 720 SW playback mode with info
Olympus Stylus Digital 720 SW main menu
Olympus Stylus Digital 720 SW Sport Scene Mode, with description
Olympus Stylus 720 SW Design
Camera design is what makes the Stylus 720 SW special. The body is all metal with big chunky screws holding it together. Upping the ante on previous, weatherproof Stylus Digital cameras, the 720 SW is waterproof to ten feet and shockproof from five feet. Olympus not only made this camera to take a lot of punishment, they made a visual statement with the design. When you look at the 720 SW and pick it up, you know it's designed to last. It's heavy, all the controls are made of metal, and although it fits in your pocket comfortably, it's not a light or tiny camera.
I found the control layout to be pretty standard and straightforward. The controls were all placed comfortably for me and the big LCD is bright and crisp. There's no optical viewfinder, which always disappoints me. I find that panning is next to impossible with only an LCD display. But for a camera of this size, with an LCD this big, no optical viewfinder has become the standard.
Left: The Olympus Stylus 720 SW's metal lens cover and one of the chunky screws that holds it together.
Right: Olympus Stylus 720 SW controls
Camera Experience I was very excited about the Stylus 720 SW. With real waterproofing and a shockproof body, it looks like the ultimate mountain bike point-and-shoot camera. In rain, sand, or any situation where there's a high likelihood of dropping or smacking a camera against something, this camera can't be beat. I took it on rainy mountain bike rides, on sandy desert rides, on scary rocky rides, dropped it on the pavement once, and gave it a good dunking just to make sure it could take it. At no time did it fail to perform as promised.
I have a lot of great photos taken with the Olympus 720 SW. However, I think the camera has a few big problems. Shot-to-shot time is very poor, exposure is on the unpredictable side, and there's no shutter speed information or histogram display to help ensure good exposure. The shot-to-shot time was very frustrating. After pressing the shutter release button, you have to wait about 3 seconds before you can take another picture. If there's any kind of continuous action where you want to get in more than one shot, you're out of luck. With a lot of the cameras I've used in the past year I can squeeze off two shots with one pass of a mountain biker. With the 720 SW, there's no chance of getting more than one. For a camera that appears to be aimed at the active, outdoor market, I think this is a pretty glaring problem. On a positive note, shutter-lag is very minimal and it's no problem at all to get that first shot if you plan a little and prefocus.
Although most of the photos I shot with the 720 SW were useable, I had a hard time getting the exposures perfect. Lack of a histogram display or exposure info on the LCD make it hard to really know what's going in the 720 SW's little electronic brain. I often ended up taking two or three pictures to make sure I'd get one good one. In the woods, where a lot of my mountain bike photography is done, my usual technique is to use the flash and pan the camera so that my subject is sharp. But panning is almost impossible without an optical viewfinder and the Stylus 720 SW's flash is only good for subjects five to ten feet away. I've got a lot of Photoshop experience so I can squeeze a good photo out of all but the worst image files. But this camera doesn't inspire confidence in me when it comes to exposure. And photographers who don't know how to massage a good image out of an underexposed or overexposed file are likely to experience some frustration and disappointment.
The good news is that, even though there are some important features missing and the exposure is less than perfect, I really enjoyed using the Stylus 720 SW. The camera was great at capturing a wide range of tones and composing with the big LCD worked really well. It's funny - with some cameras I just take better pictures and sometimes I have a hard time actually identifying exactly down why. This is one of those cameras. Maybe I was inspired by Moab, Lago di Garda and other cool places I took the 720 SW. Whatever the reasons, I feel like I ended up with some very nice photos from this camera. Even if the exposure was a little spotty, I managed to work around it and when I look back at the pictures I've taken with it I'm very happy.
Image Quality Like a lot of compact digital cameras, the Olympus Stylus 720 SW digital has good image quality at ISO 100 and lower, and average to poor image quality at ISO 200 and higher. It's about on par with most other 6 and 7-megapixel cameras, although I do think that at ISO 100 and 64 it's very, very good. Noise is visible at all ISO settings and becomes very obvious at ISO 200 and above. That's pretty standard for all but a few compact digital cameras. The expanded sensitivity is nice on paper, but I don't think I'd ever be tempted to use the ultra-chunky ISO 1600 setting. However, I do think the wider range has resulted in better than average noise levels at ISO 200 and 400. I made some 8.5x11-inch prints from my 720 SW images and noise was obvious in the sky and other smooth areas. But I didn't find it to be distracting or offensive.
Color from the 720 SW is excellent. I like my photos a little warmer and richer than normal so some tune-up is standard procedure for me. Images from the 720 SW required very little correction, though. The same is true for the Olympus SP-350, the Olympus Stylus Digital 800, and the Olympus E-1 digital SLR - all cameras I've had the pleasure of using in the past year or so. I think Olympus is doing a very, very good job on white balance and in-camera color processing. I did have to do some fairly heavy adjustments for underexposure. As I said earlier, lack of a histogram display made it hard for me to get accurate exposures so I ended up with a lot of underexposed images, which needed to be lightened up in Photoshop. Luckily, the 720 SW files hide a lot of detail in the shadows and they were reasonably easy to lighten up. The dynamic range of the 720 SW seems to be better than most compact cameras I've used. I found that there was a lot of room for adjustment and I could work a lot of magic on my images with Photoshop. Since a lot of Photoshop adjustment is pretty standard for me, the extra latitude makes me happy. It also makes up for the spotty exposure metering.
Click on thumbnails to see photos.
Click on thumbnails to see photos.
Conclusion I was very excited the about Olympus Stylus 720 SW. Being waterproof to ten feet and able to survive a 5-foot drop, it represents a big step forward for outdoorsy people who want a high-quality compact digital camera they can carry anywhere, anytime. I took the 720 SW on all kinds of adventures and didn't worry much about damaging it. It performed as promised regarding water and impacts.
Unfortunately, the camera is missing a few features that I think are basic. I don't understand why there's no histogram and no exposure information display. Sure, most users probably won't notice they're missing. But I did. And since they're standard on most compact digital cameras now, why not include them? A lot of the time I felt like I was guessing on exposures and my image files reflect that. A histogram display would eliminate a lot of overexposed and underexposed photos.
Overall, I've been happy with the 720 SW and wouldn't hesitate to use it again. I took a lot of pictures with it that I'm very, very happy with. I've also recommended it to people who want a camera that they can safely use in all outdoor conditions. In the final analysis, the Olympus Stylus Digital 720 SW seems like an unfinished product to me. It's a good camera. But it could have been a great camera. Maybe the next Olympus Stylus SW digital camera will have all the features that were missing in this one. If so, I'll be first in line to pay full price.
Who Should Buy The Olympus Stylus 720 SW This camera is unbeatable if you need something that can take a lot of abuse and might get dunked or rained on. Mountain bikers, climbers, fisherman, law enforcement workers, paddlers - this is your camera. If I was taking a trip to the Amazon and had to travel light, this would be my camera. I am confident it would last the trip.
The Olympus Stylus 720 SW will also be a good vacation camera for a family that needs a simple, durable camera that can go from the beach to the mountains to the pool, and get dropped a couple of times along the way.
Strengths: It's taken the toughest treatment I would expect from anything, in fact more, and it has just kept going, so rugged must be up there amongst its strongest features. waterproof it surely is.
The body is strong and rugged and can take a beating.
Weaknesses: Zoom is only 3.0X Optical.
On/Off button is not easily accessible under difficult circumstances.
The function selection is difficult under "action" circumstances.
I've had my Olympus U725SW for between 5 & 6 years now and used it in all kinds of situations. I've used it roaring down the rapids while river rafting on Java Island, Indonesia, snorkling and swimming on a number of islands in Indonesia, roaring on a river boat in Borneo, canoeing down rivers in South Africa & kayaking 400km down the mighty Orange River in Lesotho & South Africa, swimming in swimming pools, lakes and rivers. I also take it kayaking in the sea in South Africa and really have given this camera a hard and tough time. It goes with me everywhere and so often gets used in factories, hiking in the mountains and generally everywhere.
I've always been very happy with the results and quality of photographs and videos. I've always carried a spare battery and memory card with me where ever I go.
While roaring down the rapids on our 400km kayaking trip I had the camera rigged onto the front of my kayak taking video of the trip down the rapid. I did a very successful capsize and bumped down the rapid on my behind, hitting rocks and gaining many bruises, as did my camera which was now upside down under the capsized kayak for a good 500 meters (or more). It took some beautiful video of the dirty, muddy water until I managed to right the kayak and test the camera.
Everything was fine and that was only the first day of nine.
I took some beautiful photos & videos the rest of the trip, but now the camera was slung around my neck for easy access.
On the second last day I was again capsized by the mother of all rapids and washed up, upside down (again) onto a sand bank. Still the camera kept going.
My other (fancier Sony) camera, which was tucked away in a waterproof box inside a dry bag, did not come off so lightly (a quote of half the price of the original camera made me decide to dispose of that camera without repairing it).
Only some months later did I discover that moisture must have got into the Olympus and I took it to a "non-agent" chap who fixed it ecause some moisture had corroded the battery terminals.
Unfortunately I now discover that there must have been more damage because it no longer takes still photographs, but does still take video.
I'll be having that fixed this week (hopefully).
I've been scouting around the internet and shops for a possible replacement, but find that to be a most difficult task.
I read too many bad reports about the newer models and wish I could just get another model like the U725SW. Any offers?
Of course the zoom can be imrpoved and access to the function buttons made simpler because, with gloves or cold and wet fingers, the on/off swith in particular is most difficult.
This is no longer a pretty camera and bears the scars of much abuse, but has served me well. I would hate to say goodbye.
Well, what do you know, there is life in the old girl yet! I've just switched the camera on and it now agrees to also take still photos. Maybe it's just getting cranky like me. We don't all age well.
Similar Products Used: I've not used any other camera with an underwater capability other than way back and then only in an underwater housing. This is a FAR better option other than a more professional camera with a proper housing for the really serious guys.
Type of photography: Outdoor
Date Reviewed: September 25, 2007
Strengths: Definitely durable. I have owned it almost a year and it has been through a lot plus dropped 2x. There are only minor scratches on it.
I am happy with the pictures it takes. They are great for my purposes. I usually keep the image quality set to SQ1 (2560 X 1920) which has produced good quality pics but doesn't take up too much room on my memory card.
Weaknesses: I like to use the digital zoom on it, but for some reason it shuts itself off each time I shut the camera off. It is a pain to have to go back into the menu and turn it back on every time I want to use it. I would give this camera a 5 star rating if it weren't for the digital zoom issue I have with it.
I bought this camera after I accidently threw our canon powershot in the pool and needed to replace it. (it was inside a bag of snorkeling gear we had just taken to the beach and I didn't realize it until it was already in the water). I am very active with my camera and take it almost everywhere with me and besides ruining my other camera in the water, it was already pretty banged up from being shoved in pockets, purses, backpacks and cars so I decided to shop for something more rugged. I have been using the camera for almost a year now and love it. People ask me about it periodically and I can't give it enough praises. I have not had image quality issues at all. It is a wonderful camera for my husband's and my purposes. (email, website and personal photo albums). I have unintentionally tested its "shock resistance" twice in the past year and it has held up amazingly well without a dent or crack. I have not yet tested it underwater. Frankly I am scared to. I have had it out in the rain and on a tubing adventure on a river and felt confident that it was fine. I am just afraid to submerge it entirely.
I love my Olympus. It is the best camera for my needs and lifestyle.
Strengths: Solid construction, waterproof without using a housing. It's the best option on the market right now. Big LCD monitor and lots of functions. ISO settings go as high as 1600, and while fairly noisy are much better than similar cameras of a few years ago.
Weaknesses: Proprietary battery, XD cards and a zoom that only goes out to an equivalent 38mm - but small size requires this; at least the first two. The LCD viewfinder isn't terribly bright in sunny conditions but for my use of it an optical viewfinder would almost be more difficult. The printed manual is very basic. There is a detailed manual also included but it's on CD which isn't convenient.
There aren't many compacts that are waterproof without having to use a housing. I bought this camera for two purposes; sea kayaking and since it's so small, for carrying around when I normally wouldn't have a camera with me.
The LCD is pretty bright, and much more visible in daylight than compacts from a few years ago. It's still difficult to see in bright sun but my choice is either this or going back to film which wasn't something I was interested in here, plus it would mean a much larger camera which defeats my second purpose. It's about the size of a deck of cards so there's no reason not to have it with you.
I agree about the images being a little soft and lacking saturation/contrast but those things are easy to do quickly in Photoshop. I'd definitely choose not enough rather than too much of any of these. The distortion is a little surprising at the wide end but that was first noticed in taking a shot of a bridge - not that I hoped to do architectural photoraphy with a camera like this. In most of my uses with this camera it isn't a concern. Since the actual focal length of the lens is so short (actual, not equivalent length), this is almost to be expected. I do wish the wide end of the zoom was wider, but the 38mm equivalent is fairly standard among cameras of this type.
There are good and bad points about a camera this size. It uses tiny XD cards which seem somewhat fragile so I got a 1-gig card and plan on leaving it in there. The proprietary battery doesn't last as long as I'd hoped but it's easy to swap and charges quickly. It has a surprisingly solid feel to it and claims to handle a five foot drop but hopefully I won't find out if that's true!
It's a good camera for my use and better than other options available today. It might not be the best all-purpose camera for everybody but it works well for me.
Similar Products Used: Pentax waterproof 35mm P&S film camera, Nikon Coolpix 5000.
Type of photography: Outdoor
Date Reviewed: June 14, 2006
Strengths: Well it's allegedly a rugged beast (not that I have dropped it to find out).
It's fairly small and looks nice.
That's about it.
Serious distortion at the 'wide' setting which I think is about 38mm. Same as most compacts but it's certainly not really wide angle and distortion should not be present - and it's very pronounced.
Images are soft, and very soft at the corners and edges.
Images lack contrast and colour.
Images are noisy.
AF is slow.
Functions are not intuitive and navigation is not great.
This is an OK camera but the results are disappointing. Yes it's tough and waterproof and that's why I bought it (for skiing, mountain biking etc) but you sacrfice a fair amount of image quality. See below...
Also, the functionality is far less intuitive than Canon cameras, and the software is really crap.