Price: £340 plus VAT
Olympus’s C-740 isn’t the first digital camera to have a 10x optical zoom, but it is the first we’ve reviewed that costs under £400. At its maximum focal length, the zoom is the 35mm equivalent of a 380mm telephoto lens – sufficient for sports, nature, and other outdoor shooting. This camera takes the kitchen-sink approach to exposure controls: in addition to a full-automatic mode, you can switch between six scene modes, aperture and shutter priority, a program mode, and full manual. It also has manual focus. The useful My Mode option lets you save up to four customized groupings of control settings – typically, different combinations that you use frequently. The C-740 earned the highest scores we’ve recorded among 3mp cameras. Although most of its shots were a shade underexposed, they had nice detail and solid, accurate, well-saturated colours. Our outdoor photo, taken on a bright, sunny day, showed almost no noise in the blue sky, although the blue appeared a bit flat. The C-740 also captured shadow details that many units tend to miss. The one knock: a shot taken indoors with flash displayed slightly cadaverous skin tones. Most of our casual photos looked surprisingly sharp and nicely exposed, except for an outdoor portrait with fill flash, in which our model’s skin was badly overexposed. We found the C-740 easy to use. Though we prefer optical viewfinders for their clarity, the C-740’s electronic eye-level viewfinder is bright, sharp, and eyewear friendly. It has one big advantage over most, too: you can check out your settings without looking at the LCD. A large dial on the top of the camera lets you switch among the exposure modes (including the scene settings), and dedicated buttons let you turn on the self-timer, macro mode, and flash settings. Typical of recent Olympus cameras, when its menus are activated, you can use the four-way navigation buttons as shortcut keys. The menus are typically four layers deep, but they’re well organized. The optical zoom works smoothly, but the camera seems slow to refocus. Olympus addressed one complaint we’ve had with its previous cameras: the lens cap now attaches to the end of the lens, not the body. That lets you leave the camera on and use the cap to protect the lens between shots – especially useful in dusty conditions. Another improvement is the ability to edit video in the camera, albeit on a simple level: you can trim scenes from movies. When playing back video, you can fast-forward, reverse, or view it frame-by-frame. Like all Olympus digital cameras, this model comes with Camedia Master, a robust application for managing, sharing, printing, and editing. The documentation didn’t thrill us. Though the C-740 comes with a nice getting-started poster, the booklet covers the basic controls and functions while mentioning the more complex stuff only in passing. Olympus does include a full PDF reference manual, but it isn’t easy to thumb through. Printed, the Acrobat file spanned over 200 single-sided pages. Other gripes: about half the size of a postage stamp (or an SD Card), the XD-Picture Card media is easy to lose, and most media readers and kiosks don’t yet support it. And because it’s relatively new, it tends to be more expensive than more common types of media. Using the flash during close-up photography can be a problem, too – if you get within five inches of your subject, the lens can cast a large shadow in the bottom of your shot.