One of the few constants of digital cameras (and most consumer electronics) is that substance should always be more important than style. Style can be a great boon, but it can't be the only aspect of a camera. Olympus' 7-megapixel µ (mju) 730 (£249, exclusive to John Lewis) doesn't quite get that message.
The µ 730's slim, rectangular metal body has several striking characteristics that set it apart from other style-minded snapshot cameras. Its 38-to-114mm-equivalent lens uses an internal zooming mechanism, so it always remains flush with the camera body. A large, 76mm (3-inch) LCD screen somehow leaves enough room for a set of large, tactile buttons on the back panel. The buttons are backlit and look striking in any light, with glowing red, green and white icons that make the different controls easy to find in the dark.
Though very pretty, the µ 730's body isn't the most comfortable to use. The big, bright buttons on the back panel are great, but the shutter release and zoom control on the camera's top edges are small and not very responsive. The camera's LCD, while large, is grainy and prone to image ghosting, which can make framing quick shots awkward. The camera also doesn't have an optical viewfinder, so you're forced to use the LCD.
Apart from the design touches, the camera's most notable feature is its Simple Mode: an extremely simplified shooting mode activated by pressing a button on the side of the camera. Simple Mode automates nearly every aspect of the camera, leaving the user with only flash, macro and timer adjustment options. This minimalist control set is similar to the options found on Olympus' budget FE series of cameras. Simple Mode also increases the size and readability of the display, blowing up what little text and icons are shown. This combination of large, easy-to-read text and simplified controls makes the mode a great feature for elderly users.
Aside from Simple Mode, the µ 730 doesn't differ very much from the other members of Olympus' µ family of point-and-shoot cameras. As with the other µ models, its metal body is sealed so it can shoot in rain and snow, and it includes two dozen different scene presets, including a 30fps VGA movie mode.
Performance was a weak point of the µ 730. After waiting 2.5 seconds from powering it on to taking the first shot, we had to wait an additional 2.9 seconds between every shot after that. With the onboard flash enabled, that wait increased to 3.5 seconds. The shutter lagged a disappointing 0.9 seconds from button press to shot in bright light. That lag more than doubled to 2 seconds in dim light. Burst mode was acceptable, snapping four shots in 3.6 seconds for a rate of 1.1 shots per second.
The µ 730's most disappointing aspect is its image quality. We saw massive noise at all sensitivity settings, a snowy grain worse than any we've seen recently. Even at ISO 100, images were fuzzy and mottled with colour. And, though the most prominent, noise wasn't the only issue; the lens produced distinct chromatic aberration (purple fringing along high-contrast edges) and notable barrel distortion, resulting in images that ballooned out when shot at the wide end of the lens.
The Olympus µ 730 is a pretty camera with some impressive design aspects, but it simply doesn't hold up for photography. If you really want a camera that can take a splash, consider the waterproof, shock-resistant Olympus µ 720 SW. The 720 SW shares some of the 730's flaws, but its images are less noisy, and it can take much more abuse with regard to being dropped or getting wet.
Seconds (Shorter bars indicate better performance.)
||Typical shot-to-shot time||
||Time to first shot||
||Shutter lag (typical)|
Frames per second (Longer bars indicate better performance.
||Typical continuous-shooting speed|