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Olympus Stylus 750 and PT-034 Underwater Housing

7.1 megapixel, big zoom, and dual image stabilization
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

The Olympus Stylus 750 is a small and handy point and shooter hat packs some punch. You get 7.1 megapixel - enough for just about any imaging project - and a terrific 5X optical zoom. Olympus claims the Stylus 750 is the smallest and lightest camera in its class with a full 5X optical zoom. The Stylus 750 also has a very high resolution 2.5-inch LCD which makes it very easy to see if a picture is really sharp. That can be invaluable in the field.

Further, the camera is weather-proof, which means you don't have to worry about minor spills, a bit of rain or snow, or whatever else you might encounter out there. It is not waterproof to the point of where you can actually immerse the camera in water as some other Olympus cameras (such as the Stylus 720 SW). However, much to Olympus's credit, the company makes a dedicated deepwater case for it, the PT-034 Underwater Case that fits both the Stylus 740 and the 750.

So what you get here is an extremely pocketable camera with a gratifying 36-180mm 35 mm equivalent lens and a 5.6X digital magnification that actually works. There are 27 scenes - specially optimized settings for a variety of situations. There is also an onscreen "guide" that asks what you want to do and then tells you the solution and settings.

The controls are fairly standard and easy to operate. The mode wheel is not overloaded with options, and all the rest of the hardware controls are combined into a very condensed nine-button navigation/control area. It all works well.

We wish Olympus would use SD Cards as they are generally easier to find and less expensive than the xD-Picture Card Olympus has mostly settled on. We also lament the omission of an optical viewfinder. Even though the 750's LCD is very good, it doesn't take much to wash out even the best LCD in sunlight. Having an optical backup is always nice.

Olympus equipped the Stylus 750 with some "buzzword" technologies that all work. "Bright Capture Technology" brightens the LCD image when the subject itself is low-light, and that helps in getting better shots. The camera's very high ISO 1600 capability helps in getting sharper pictures as it enables faster shutter speeds. And even high ISO pictures do not suffer from excessive graininess.

There are decent movie modes and three special underwater shooting modes for those who spring for the PT-034 deepwater case (you can take it down to 133 feet, which is the recommended depth limit for recreational scuba divers). For a detailed review of the Stylus 740/750's underwater talents, see our review of the Stylus 740.

A word about how cameras differentiate themselves

The following paragraph is sort of unrelated, but it needs to be said anyway in order to understand the subsequent discussion of the Stylus 740 versus the Stylus 750:

In the fast-moving world of digital imaging it's often difficult to differentiate between cameras and figuring out what, exactly, is better in the new model, or one from another manufacturer or even between two from the same company. Unfortunately, it's rarely easy. For example, a new model may have a 2.5-inch LCD instead of the older one's dinky little 1.8-incher. Progress for sure. Or is it? We've seen manufacturers move from a smaller high-res LCD to a larger one with fewer pixels and thus less resolution. Was this really progress? Or the newer model has a larger screen but lost its optical viewfinder. Or the new model costs less, but gone is the 5X optical zoom, replaced by a run-of-the-mill 3X mechanism. Even megapixel aren't a surefire way to gauge a camera's "must-have" rating. While it's absolutely better to have 5-8 megapixel than just two or three, if the higher resolution comes at the cost of inferior optics or crappy auto-focus, you simply get a blurry high-res picture instead of a sharp one with lower resolution. I'd take the latter anyday. And what defines "speed"? Yes, most new cameras start up quicker and are ready for the next shot faster, but that is all difficult to measure unless you can directly compare two cameras.

Olympus Stylus 740 and 750

None of these little marketing tricks, of course, get past us seasoned pros here atScuba Diver Info. Almost none, that is. I must admit we were a bit puzzled when we requested, and received, two of Olympus's latest "Design & Performance" series cameras, the Stylus 740 and 750. In the olden days, like 18 months ago, we'd have expected that to mean one was a 4-megapixel camera and the other a 5-megapixel one. Not so. Both pack the same 7.1-inch imager, and both seem to look exactly alike. Olympus probably knew that and wisely sent us a 740 with a black front whereas the 750 was the silver version. Else you really cannot tell them apart. Even the boxes do not yield any additional clues. But, oh wait, there is one: The 740's box lists "Digital Image Stabilization" whereas the 750's proclaims simply "Image Stabilization."

Well, turns out that is the difference between the two cameras, one that accounts for the 750 costing US$50 more. Marketing materials describe the 750's stabilization as follows: "The 750 incorporates Dual Image Stabilization - mechanical CCD shift and Digital Image Stabilization. This advanced imaging solution further prevents the blur caused by camera shake and moving subjects."

Two kinds of image stabilization

What exactly does that mean? In essence, the Digital Image Stabilization mode of the 740 uses a high ISO sensitivity that allows a fast shutter speed to reduce blurriness caused by camera shake or a fast-moving subject. The 750 uses digital image stabilization also, but adds CCD Shift as a second, optical image stabilization. CCD Shift Image Stabilization uses internal electrical gyro sensors to detect camera movement and then attempt to adjust the CCD image sensor. The goal is to keep light centered on the image sensor so that the image remains clear despite the camera not being held totally steady.

Interestingly, the 740 and 750 actually share a user's manual, but even it contains only little information on the differences in anti-shake technologies. Still, once you're on to the image stabilization features, you do find areas where the 740 and 750 differ: While the 740 has a anti-shake setting on its mode dial (an icon that depicts a shaking hand), the 750 lacks that dial setting and instead has a push button to the right of the shutter. It toggles between engaging the feature and leaving it off.

Testing the anti-shape modes in the 740 and 750

A first test between the two technologies consisted of enabling digital zoom, holding the camera by hand and then zooming in on the text of a poster hanging on the opposite wall. In each instance the very high total magnification made it difficult to even keep the target subject on the screen, yet each camera yielded a sharp picture. Upon magnification, however, the 750's image was richer and had far fewer color artifacts than the 740 (see below; 740 top, 750 bottom).

Subsequent tests included shots at full 28X optical/digital zoom, shots while moving the camera pre-focused, shots while moving the camera without pre-focus, and simple optical zoom shots. The comparison shots each have the 740 on top and the 750 picture at the bottom. The 750's dual stabilization quite obviously resulted in better pictures.

What is not immediately clear is whether the digital anti-shake mode of the 740 is only available when its mode dial is set to it. That seems the most likely assumption. The manual, under image stabilization, says, "By switching to the other mode, most settings will be changed to the default setting of each mode." So my guess is you can shoot in a special digital anti-shake mode, but that feature is not available in any other mode. The 750, on the other hand, allows engaging its motion sensor-driven anti-shake mode to be used in any of the scene settings.

Yes, the dual stabilization works better

As evidenced by the three sample comparisons, in each case the 750's dual image stabilization produced a sharper image. That alone is impressive. Add the fact that the 750's anti-shake technology is available in all scene modes and the fifty extra bucks start looking like a bargain. I could not help but wonder how the 750 would have performed in the PT-034 deepwater case during a recent scuba trip. The 740 had struggled in its wide-angle modes, in part due to our lack of familiarity with the camera, and the CCD-Shift optical anti-shake technology might have helped quite a bit underwater. Ironically, the "anti-shake" button on the 750 is the only hardware control not accessible once inside the PT-034 underwater case, so you'll have to remember to set the camera into that mode before you close the housing.

Do realize that anti-shake does neither guarantee consistently sharp snapshots nor does it alleviate the occasional need for a tripod. There are limits to these technologies. However, after having played with two cameras that were identical with the exception of one containing a gyro sensor-based optical image stabilization system and the other not, we feel that having it is a significant benefit.

Bottom line

Deciding between the Stylus 740 and 750 is not easy. Both are up-to-date, competent cameras small and light enough to take anywhere. Their 5X optical zoom is a definite plus, as is the very good 2.5-inch high-res display. The 750's additional optical image stabilization works and will absolutely increase your chance of getting sharper images in long zoom and high speed settings. If a lot of your pictures are taken in such settings, the 750 is worth the $50 premium. Same if you go underwater a lot where the second image stabilizer will definitely come in handy.

We like:

  • Small and light 7.1 megapixel camera with hi-res LCD
  • Weather-proofed to handle splashes, a bit of rain and snow
  • Great 5X zoom, superior dual image stabilization
  • Optional PT-034 underwater case good for 133 feet diving
  • Love the many scene modes and the special guide mode
Not so much:
  • Strictly point & shoot
  • Extra cost of dual image stabilization may not be worth it to some
  • Use of underwater wide-angle modes requires practice
  • Somewhat odd-looking wedge design
  • Uses often hard-to-find xD-Picture Card

Olympus 750 pics
Images taken with almost identical Stylus 740 at Devil's Den underground spring and cavern, Williston FL, and during Manatee tour at Crystal River, FL.
Specifications Olympus Stylys 740
Status Added 11/2006
Camera Type Compact; 133 feet with optional TP-034 Waterproof Case
Protection "All-Weather construction"
Size 3.8 x 2.1 x 0.96
Weight (oz.) 4.6 with battery
Effective Pixels 7.1 mp
CCD Type 1/2.33
Max pixel size 3072 x 2304
File formats JPEG, Quicktime motion JPEG
Compression Super High, High, Standard
Movie recording (best) til full with sound @ 15fps
Max movie pixels 640 x 480 with zoom
Voice recording/sound annotation None/4 second
Lens 6 elements, 4 groups
Focal length 6.4-32mm (36-180mm)
Zoom (optical/digital) 5X/5.6X
Aperture f/3.3 - f/5
Focus modes iESP auto, spot auto
Focus minimum/macro 1.2 inches, 2.2 feet
Shutter speed 1/1000 to 1/2 sec (4 sec in night scene mode)
Sensitivity (ISO) auto/80/100/200/400/800/1600
Autofocus system CCD Contrast Detection
Metering Digital ESP Multi-Pattern, Spot Metering
White-balance modes auto, 6 presets
Shooting modes 27 modes, including three underwater modes
Exposure compensation +/-2EV in 1/3 steps
Viewfinder Type none
LCD size 2.5" LCD (215k)
LCD type outdoor viewable
LCD construction fixed
Flash type built-in
Flash range up to 12.5 feet (land)
Flash modes 4 (auto, off, red-eye reduction, fill-in)
Camera internal memory 17MB
Storage Medium xD-Picture Card
I/O multi-terminal (USB, AV, DC)
Battery type Li-Ion Li-42B (3.7V, 740mAh)
CIPA Battery life NA
List Price $399.95 (TP-034 Waterproof Case US$249.99)

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