The new Olympus Camedia C-765 Ultra Zoom is in fact an update of the Olympus C-740 and C-750 Zoom from last year. Compared to its predecessors, it has a larger LCD screen, a Li-ion battery and an improved image processor called TruePic Turbo for even better image quality and faster processing speeds. It utilizes PictBridge technology to allow printing without the use of a computer and it has a wide variety of recording modes, ranging from point-and-shoot to full manual control.
Compared to the older model it has retained its 10x optical zoom lens with an equivalent of 38 to 380mm, but for 2004 the camera has received a sleeker body with arguably better looks, making it the world's smallest digicam with 10x zoom lens. So is it worthwhile to trade in last year's model and go for the Olympus C765 or not? Let's find out . . .
Using the camera
Taking into consideration that this camera has a 10x zoom range of 38 to 380mm, you would expect a bulky body and a long lens barrel. However, when you pick up the camera you will be surprised by how small and light this new Camedia is, in fact. It will not fit your shirt or trouser pocket without inconvenience, but a smallish purse or bag will comfortably store the Olympus C-765 with no problem at all. The front of the camera has a stylish, brushed light-metal finish that oozes durability and is pleasing to the eye as well. Thanks to a convenient handgrip the camera is easy to hold while your index finger automatically rests on the shutter release. This is the way all cameras should be laid out.
Switching on the camera by pressing the red button on the back takes about four seconds, which is not fast by any means but about average for cameras of this class. It brings out the long zoom barrel and suddenly the Camedia C-765 doesn't feel so tiny anymore. The large lens increases the bulk considerably and the camera is clearly ready for action now. Choose the program mode you need with the large dial on top of the camera. Opt for full Auto mode - where most menu items are locked up as the camera takes control and decides what is best for your pictures - or choose one of the many scene modes such as landscape; sports; portrait; night scene; movie mode or My Mode which can store up to four of your own settings prepared earlier. More advanced photographers may want to select Program mode or A/S/M mode which lets you select aperture, shutter speed or both whereas most menu items can be set to your own needs.
In full Manual mode the four-way controller is used to select shutter speeds between 15 seconds and 1/1000 and apertures between f2.8 and f8.0. (Mind you, the slowest shutter speed is only available in full manual mode, in other modes it is limited to 1 second). The camera assists you by showing the deviation from the ideal exposure, in white if the difference is up to 3EV or in red if the difference is more than 3 stops. We have to conclude however, that Olympus believes buyers of the Olympus C-765 Ultra Zoom will prefer Program or Scene modes over more creative options such as Manual or Aperture/Shutter priority as these last three items are stored under one single spot on the mode dial. Further selection will have to be done by consulting the LCD screen and using the camera menu. Not impossible to do but it is certainly not the most convenient option. Other, more advanced, Olympus cameras have more sensible solutions to this problem.
The Olympus C-765 features an electronic viewfinder with 240.000 pixels, which provides real through the lens viewing with almost 100% frame accuracy. The EVF is essentially a miniaturised version of the larger 1.8-inch, 180.000 pixel TFT screen next to it. It is bright and clear and has diopter adjustment and a high eyepoint making it comfortable for eyeglass wearers as well. Detailed image information is displayed in the EVF as well as on the large TFT screen.
As the EVF is simply a small colour LCD screen, anything that can be shown on the large TFT screen is also seen in the EVF. This includes accessing the menu system as well as using all the playback features. The button just below the TFT monitor on the back switches between TFT screen and EVF. In low light the electronic viewfinder performs less satisfactory, making it difficult to see the subject, and although the screen gains up a bit in darker conditions this is a traditional weakness of electronic viewfinders as compared to optical viewfinders. The Olympus is no different from other cameras with EVFs in this respect.
However, in dim lighting conditions you will find that, not only is the EVF (or the LCD screen for that matter) too dark to be useable, but the Auto Focus on the Olympus C-765 has serious trouble focusing in the dark, since there is no AF light to assist focusing. We think this is a serious omission, which will be noted especially if you regularly take pictures at parties or gatherings where lighting conditions are dim. Under normal lighting conditions focus speeds are good, as the camera locks focus in about half a second at wide angle or in very good lighting. At the telephoto end or in more challenging focusing conditions, be prepared for a wait of a second or more before the green dot in the viewfinder lights solid to indicate that focus is set.
The menu system is laid out in true Olympus fashion. Some might call it complicated but once you get used to it, it works a treat. Pressing the OK button calls up the customisable menu system. All settings are laid out in circular fashion and the various items are selected by using the four-way buttons. At start-up you are presented with four choices, metering; macro; image quality and the mode menu. With the exception of the latter all these settings can be replaced by your own preferences. If you find you regularly change ISO settings or AF mode for instance, or bracket exposures a lot, these items can be set in the start-up menu. They are in fact all short cuts into the mode menu. Take some time to get to know the system and you will appreciate how convenient it really is.
The Olympus C-765 has a built-in flash, which flips up by pressing the small button on the back located exactly where you thumb rests when you hold the camera. Flash will not automatically kick in without you choosing to do so, avoiding the risk of drawing unwanted attention to you as a photographer. The small button above the on/off switch selects the usual flash modes while second curtain flash or slow flash with red eye reduction are available through the mode menu. Flash intensity can be set between +/- 2EV in 1/3 stop increments. The quality of indoor flash shots is excellent and pictures of people look very natural. The fact that the flash sits fairly high above the camera helps in reducing the risk of red eye in normal picture situations although when zooming in on far away subjects, red eye may still present itself in flash pictures. The reason for this is that if the angle of reflection between flash and lens is less than 2.5 degrees red eye will occur.
Consequently the farther the subject is from the lens, the smaller the angle of reflection becomes and the greater the risk of red eye. See the example of the singer on stage taken at 100mm (eq.) with fill-in flash at ISO 400 and a shutter speed of 1/30.
The nice thing about Olympus cameras is that they always provide a wealth of white balance settings. Apart from the obvious choices of auto, sunlight, cloudy and tungsten, they include 3 fluorescent settings plus a custom setting where the user shoots a white or grey card to determine the right setting in any lighting. Besides this you can fine tune white balance in either the red or blue direction over +/- 7 in 1 step increments. In day to day picture situations it turns out that it is hardly ever necessary to adjust Auto white balance as set by the camera. This tells you how good the system really is, but it is nice to know that you have a choice when needed.
In the box
The big blue box contains the 4.0 effective mega-pixel Olympus C-765 Ultra Zoom; a 10B lithium-ion battery with a projected run time of about two hours; a battery charger which fills up the empty battery in two hours flat; lens cap with retaining strap plus a comfortable neck strap. There are USB and AV cables to transfer your images to your PC or show them on TV. A basic printed manual is included but for full instructions you should really consult the complete manual on CD-rom.
Olympus include a 16Mb xD Picture Card, which is way too small to be of much use. As always we would advise you to buy a larger card straight away. xD cards are available in sizes up to 512Mb by now. Prices are still higher than good old CompactFlash cards, but unlike some other Olympus cameras this one only takes xD cards, so you really have no choice. One thing worth mentioning is that the Panorama function of the Olympus C-765 is only available with Olympus own brand xD cards. So if you do want to use this function and have already bought a larger card from a third party manufacturer, the included 16Mb Olympus xD card might be put to good use here.
Software provided contains Olympus Camedia Master V4.2; drivers for Windows and Mac and the full camera manual. Olympus Camedia Master contains some nice editing tools. Its main function is to act as a browser and to transfer your images from camera to computer. But apart from this you can change things like brightness, contrast, saturation and colour balance in an image. Apart from sepia or monochrome functions, there are red-eye reduction and "instant fix" options. In the start-up screen you can choose several print formats like postcards, indexes, calendars or just photos. There is an Auto Panorama function and you can create wallpapers. Enough to keep you happy for a few winter nights we should think. However if you need even more options, the PRO version is available as an aftermarket extra and offers extra functions like e-mailing images, creating HTML albums or printing contact sheets and compiling slideshows.
Included with the camera is a nice little booklet that tells you everything about the available accessories for the Olympus C-765. They range from mains adapters and leather cases to underwater housings and conversion lenses. The WCON-07 0.7x wide converter brings the 38mm of the standard lens down to 26mm (eq.), whereas the TCON-17 1.7 teleconverter expands the tele end to 646mm. For those who want to examine things even closer the MCON-40 macro conversion lens lets you get as close as 4cm from your subject. All these converters require the CLA-4 lens adapter which can be used to fit 55mm filters as well.
With its all-glass zoom lens of 38 to 380mm as the most striking feature, the C-765 offers an enormous range of image possibilities. The wide angle is about average but the tele end is what really sets this camera apart from the competition. At 380mm sport and nature photographers can really draw distant subjects close for a full frame image. The f2.8 - f3.7 Olympus lens, which uses ED elements and is constructed with 11 elements in seven groups, delivers strikingly sharp and detailed results throughout its zoom range. There is some barrel distortion at wide angle, but this gradually disappears once you zoom in a bit and there is no vignetting to speak of. All images are properly exposed with well-saturated colours and accurate white balance. Skin tones look very natural in pictures taken with and without flash. Sharpness, contrast and saturation can be set over a wide range should you prefer images with more or less "bite" than the standard setting.
Although the ED lens elements certainly help in reducing chromatic aberrations, some purple fringing is still visible in situations with a lot of contrast, such as with leaves or tree branches against a bright sky. It is not as bad as it was with older Olympus cameras and still better than most of the competition in this area, but it is still not completely gone.
ISO settings can be set between 64 and 400 and - as is common with this type of compact camera, which has a much smaller CCD than a digital reflex - some noise is noticeable at higher ISO settings, in much the same way that faster films show more film grain. Still, images taken at ISO 400 are perfectly useable especially if Noise Reduction is used.
Images can be saved as uncompressed TIFF or compressed JPG files at various compression levels ranging from SHQ (super high quality) to HQ and Standard settings (SQ). No less than seven image sizes are available, going up from 640 x 480 to 2288 x 1712 pixels plus an interpolated maximum size of 3200 x 2400 pixels.
Taking into consideration that in 2003 more than 400 different digital camera models were released by various manufacturers and that this number is expected to rise to about 600 models for 2004, it should come as no surprise that every manufacturer wants to claim their slice of this cake. That is the main reason why every self-respecting manufacturer produces a new model every year and adds to this annual product refresh cycle.
But do specifications really get so much better that we have to trade in last year's model every time? And do we - the consumers - really need the latest camera model as soon as it is released? Of course not! Although fact is that more often than not the price of the newer model is lower than what you paid for its older brother or sister last year. And yes, specifications really do get better and more advanced every time. However, the thing to consider is if you have been satisfied with the quality of your pictures up till now. If your answer to this question is yes, you don't need a new camera at all and you will live happily ever after with your present model. It is only when you personally feel that the quality of your images is lacking, as compared to results from the latest "state of the art" models and your present photographic needs, that you should trade up to a newer model.
Now where does that leave Olympus with their C-765?
Olympus have long been innovators in the long-zoom category and have maintained a leading position there for some years now, bringing out new models at regular intervals. With the Olympus C-765 as their latest model it continues to offer very good value as a 4-megapixel digicam with a 10x zoom lens. It is certainly not the fastest camera around but it offers flexible exposure control with ample creative image adjustment tools and useful preset functions. Its best feature is undoubtedly its long zoom lens while image resolution is high enough for sharp A4 prints. Our main complaint would be the focusing issue in low light. This is due to the nature of the EVF system and the lack of a focus assist light and therefore the Olympus C-765 is certainly not a "party camera". Although if your photography centres around typical holiday or family photography with the bias on sweeping vistas, group shots or capturing far away subjects then the Olympus C-765 is certainly a camera to consider.
Add to this its compact and durable built, and the fact that it is equally practical for novices and enthusiasts alike, and the C-765 could well be everything you have been looking for in a digital camera.
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