Although it shares a 7-megapixel sensor and key features with its stablemate, the C-7000, the Olympus C-7070 Wide Zoom is an entirely different beast. With an expansive 27-110mm zoom (35mm equivalent), full manual controls, support for both xD and CompactFlash cards, and a macro mode accurate to 25mm, this looks like a photo enthusiast's compact alternative to a digital SLR or an electronic-viewfinder-equipped camera. However, though a similar price to its dSLR and EVF competition, it offers only an optical viewfinder and a colour LCD.
Adding to this camera's semipro allure is a rugged magnesium-alloy body; bountiful exposure, focusing, and flash sync options; and optional add-ons that include a vertical grip/battery holder with integral shutter release/zoom lever, an underwater case, and three wide-angle and telephoto adapters. Although a full range of JPEG, TIFF, and raw file formats are available, undistinguished photos and some low-light focusing performance issues add a few sour notes.
Compared to the C-7000, its pocketable 255g sibling, the Olympus C-7070 Wide Zoom measures 117 by 86 by 66mm and weighs over twice as much at 538g. Although its chunky shape is well balanced, you'll want to hold this camera with both hands, the better to survey and use the panoply of external controls.
The top surface alone has more buttons and dials than the typical point-and-shoot model. These include separate keys for cycling among focus options, a combination metering-mode select and protect photo key, buttons to activate the self-timer and rotate the image, and a custom function button that also marks images for printing. When pressed in tandem, the last two buttons reset the camera. These left-side buttons are direct controls; hold down the key and rotate the command dial to select a setting from the pop-up menu.
Also on top are a hot shoe and a shutter release with a concentric zoom lever. Nestled between them is a small LCD status panel that can be difficult to read under dim light. However, you can opt to display the status panel's information on the rear screen. The panel also sports a knurled mode-change dial, which is on top of the power switch. If you forget to remove the lens cap before turning the C-7070 on, the camera helpfully ejects it as a reminder for next time.
On the back you'll find an articulated 46mm (1.8-inch) LCD that flips up and rotates to allow viewing from a variety of angles, including overhead and at waist level, or inward to protect from scratches, as well as a viewfinder window with dioptre correction. The key array includes a pair of direct buttons under your left thumb that control exposure compensation settings, flash modes, and when pressed simultaneously, flash compensation. On the right, you'll find an autoexposure lock/trash key, a quick-view button, a four-way cursor pad with embedded OK/Menu button, a command dial, a speaker, and a button that makes it easy to switch between the CompactFlash and xD cards -- even if you hadn't intended to.
More options are available in the multilevel menus. For example, pressing the Menu key produces a top menu with access to drive, image quality, and white-balance settings, as well as an additional four levels of camera, picture, memory card, and settings adjustments. Once you've learned how this daunting system works, it provides fast access to the C-7070's rich set of features.
Serious photographers looking for creative control should be satisfied with this Olympus C-7070 Wide Zoom's ability to fine-tune virtually every setting. The basic manual, shutter-priority, aperture-priority, and programmed modes are there, along with seven scene modes, including Portrait, Sports, Landscape + Portrait, Landscape, and Night Scene, as well as both Underwater Wide and Underwater Macro for use with the optional PT-027 underwater housing. There are also four user-definable MyMode settings.
Automatic exposure defaults to an eight-point multiarea system, but you can also choose from spot or centre-weighted metering or set shutter speeds from 16 seconds to 1/4,000 second and lens apertures from f/2.8 to f/11 in manual mode. Preview your tonal values using a live histogram on the LCD, then adjust exposures over a ±2EV range in 1/2EV or 1/3EV increments. ISO values from ISO 80 to 400 can be set automatically or manually.
The sophisticated autofocus system uses predictive AF (Olympus calls it Oracle) to stay one jump ahead of moving targets, using an external AF sensor located just above the lens to measure how far a subject has moved toward or away from the camera. In AF Target Selection mode, you can choose from 143 target focus zones when your main subject is not centred in the frame. Alternatively you can switch to manual focus and use a magnified onscreen central area and a focus scale bar to zero in on correct focus down to 200mm in normal mode and 30mm at the supermacro setting.
The wide-angle view of the extra-low-dispersion glass lens is attractive and its modest telephoto reach adequate, but you can expand its horizons with a 19mm super-wide-view (35mm equivalent) or 187mm and 330mm telephotos with the same optional bayonet-mount converter attachments used by the Camedia C-8080.
Choose from JPEG, TIFF, and raw file formats in both 3:2 and 4:3 aspect ratios down to 640x480 resolution, and edit raw data right in the camera to correct white balance, sharpness, or tonal range before saving as a new JPEG. You can also reduce the resolution of an image, apply a red-eye fix, or crop images in the camera.
The electronic flash range extends from 150mm for efficient macro photography to 3.8m at the wide-angle setting but only about 2.1m when the lens is set to the telephoto position. Take those specs with a grain of salt, though, because Olympus doesn't cite the ISO setting at which these apply. A hot shoe allows for slipping in a dedicated flash unit when you need more light. The Olympus offers both front- and rear-curtain slow-sync flash options to let you capture the background using ambient light during flash exposures, or front-curtain slow sync with red-eye prevention.