The most weatherproof Stylus to date, the Olympus Stylus 720 SW is a waterproof, 7.1-megapixel camera that's fully submersible up to 10 feet, for an hour at a time. This ultracompact Stylus also happens to be shockproof (putting the S in SW), rated to withstand a drop of five feet. Sleek, responsive, and outfitted with image stabilization, the Stylus 720 SW makes a rugged and welcome travel companion.
Considering its stainless-steel body and solid, watertight build, the Stylus 720 SW is remarkably thin and light: only 0.7 inch wide and 5.8 ounces with battery and optional xD-Picture Card installed. Contributing to the trim design, as well as the camera's watertight durability, is the fact that the f/3.5-to-f/5.0, 38mm-to-114mm zoom lens (35mm equivalent) doesn't protrude at all from the camera body. The nearly wafer-thin 3.7-volt lithium battery pack doesn't take up much real estate either.
Not unlike a Hollywood cowboy, however, this ruggedly handsome companion is just a little inaccessible; you'll need some time to get to know its intricacies. While the Stylus 720 SW offers some useful features, they aren't always easy to reach. The digital image-stabilization implementation is an example. In other cameras, you can simply press a button to enable and disable image stabilization; in the 720 SW, it's a mode in and of itself. In other words, you have to plan to shoot in image-stabilization mode. If you're shooting in program or full auto mode and notice the effects of camera shake, switching to image-stabilization mode restores the settings (that is, flash or ISO) you were previously using.
Likewise cumbersome is selecting one of the 25 scene modes. A single button on the back controls capture modes; press it repeatedly to select among auto, image stabilization, and scene mode settings. (Neither manual nor aperture or shutter priority are offered.) Combine that with scrolling through a list of 25 scenes, and you end up pushing buttons a lot to access basic features such as movie mode or slow-sync flash.
Thankfully, this camera performs reasonably well under the hood. Shutter lag was 0.8 second in our tests, though it feels shorter while you're shooting. It took about 3.1 seconds to power up the camera and take a shot and less than 3 seconds between shots; flash adds another second. Sequential shooting is sluggish at the highest resolution: just 1.6fps, capped at 4 shots. At 3.8fps for an effectively unlimited number of shots, high-speed burst is better, though it requires dropping to 3-megapixel resolution.
Clearly, the Olympus Stylus 720 SW was designed for the open road, as reflected in the shots it takes. Quality is best under daylight, exhibiting natural color and very good detail. Indoors, picture quality is acceptable but prone to noticeable amounts of visual noise; as is common, noise increases with the ISO, which is user-selectable up to ISO 1,600 and tops out at ISO 2,500 in low-light scene modes. Those willing to apply noise-removal filters after the fact will be pleased by the wide ISO range, but some images taken at the widest lens setting (equivalent to 38mm, which isn't that much) revealed noticeable barrel distortion.
The Olympus Stylus 720 SW's combination of resolution and waterproof durability are, to date, unparalleled for a camera of this size and class. For adventurous types, those benefits will probably outweigh issues with usability and middling indoor image quality.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Typical shot-to-shot time||Time to first shot||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)