Olympus goes for another slice of the ultra-compact digital camera market with its new, wedge shaped Mju 700, a weatherproof and very stylish high resolution camera with plenty to shout about.
The 700's high resolution 7.1MP sensor can create image files easily large enough and with enough detail for prints up to and over A3 in size, enough for the majority of snappers among you. Twenty-three scene modes provide a great range of auto-shooting presets such as (the more usual) Landscape, Portrait and Night Scene modes for example.
There are some more novel modes too, such as Text, Candle, Cuisine, Behind Glass and an Auction mode for those EBay made snappers among its potential market. Three (yes three) underwater modes do not mean it can be submerged (the weatherproofing allows the 700 to withstand splashing from any angle), it cannot - you'll need one of the accessory housings for that, which arrive around springtime I believe.
Olympus' proprietary BrightCapture Technology is a system that uses neat processing tricks to help improve snaps. The camera's computer looks at blocks of nine pixels, which are then all treated as "super pixels", and their values averaged out. In theory, this reduces noise and improves colours. However, the processing associated with it I found removed some of the detail from a shot and introduced some unwanted and unwelcome noise in shadow areas.
The 700 has a built in 19.1MB memory capacity and accepts external xD Picture Cards that can range up to 1GB capacities. The camera's lens is an F3.4-F5.7, 37-111mm (35mm equiv.) 3x optical zoom which works quite well (even if the maximum aperture is a little restricting) but does display barrel distortion at the wide end of the zoom range and some odd corner softness.
Two metering modes: ESP (similar to a matrix set up) and spot work wonderfully well, I had nary a poor exposure, so top marks here. Plus, there's the usual run of white balance presets and ISO settings up to 1600 while focusing is accomplished using Olympus' iESP TTL contrast detection AF system.
The small wedge shaped body is attractive and lends itself to one-handed operation, but that can cause camera shake. However, as the 700 boasts an anti-shake setting this is less of a worry, I found the anti-shake system worked well, it's just a shame it is only available as a separate mode and not usable across all the camera's shooting settings.
There are a seemingly confusing number of menus and more than one way to get at them, depending on the mode you're in. However, a neat Guide mode sets the camera for you depending on the chosen setting selected from the list presented in that menu, so that's very handy indeed. Other menus are straightforward once you've spent a little time sussing them out.
All the camera's controls are very small but are also simple to use, as is the large 2.5-inch colour screen. It's bright, usable in even very bright conditions but suffered from heavy reflections so it could be improved with an anti-reflection coating.
Colour rendition is natural while focusing seemed a tad awkward in macro or super-macro settings or when shooting in low lighting. The lens is on the soft side and all my shots benefited from a small amount of sharpening on PC.
As for overall image quality, apart from those issues with softness and slight barrel distortion they're fantastic. Getting closer on screen reveals the excess noise in shadows and the flattening of some detail due to the camera's image processing algorithms. If you want to crop into an image or make those larger prints the sensor makes possible, you'll need to invest in a bigger memory card and shoot in Super High Quality mode to get the most out of the camera.
Being very critical, image softness and slight lens/optical performance problems reduce captured detail. However, prints up to around 10x8 inches won't show most of these image problems and the camera's many great shooting features easily outweigh those drawbacks, making the Mju 700 a great value slice of photo-technology well worth a look.