Olympus SP-720UZ Review

December 6, 2012 | Matt Grayson |


Olympus recently reshaped the structure of their digital cameras to make it easier to understand. The SP-720UZ now falls under the Traveller range of cameras. This type of camera is a high zoom all-in-one model with easy functionality and lots of fun things to try out while you're exploring the world. Featuring a 14 megapixel resolution, 26x optical zoom and 1080p FullHD video, the Olympus SP-720UZ is priced at around £150 and is available in black or silver.

Ease of Use

Superzooms can be a bit of an awkward camera to use. The problem that they have is that they're blocky and cumbersome. They're not very good for nights out as they can't fit into a pocket and they don't have the same manual features seen on a Bridge camera. So what is the point in them? Who buys a superzoom? Well someone does otherwise they'd die out. The ideal person to use this type of camera is someone who likes to travel - either in the UK or abroad and wants to take as many pictures of various things as they can. However, they either don't want or don't care for the intricacies of a DSLR. They want point and shoot simplicity.

The Olympus SP-720UZ seems perfect for this because it's packed with features suitable for the photographer on the go. The 14 megapixel sensor is a CMOS which isn't as sharp as a CCD but is certainly more efficient - ideal for long journeys without chance of charging the battery. To add to the list of benefits for people with itchy feet, the SP-720UZ also sports a 26x optical zoom. At it's widest, the lens gives you a view of 26mm in 35mm terms. The full zoom will push that up to a hefty 676mm. To get that kind of pull in a DSLR, you're looking at paying around £10,000.

Olympus SP-720UZ Olympus SP-720UZ
Front Rear

To house this large zoom, the camera has had to be made that bit bigger. It's more square so the design resembles more of a DSLR than a compact camera. To add to this, Olympus have added a large grip on the right which makes it easier to hold. The correct position to place the other hand is under the lens and give it support. The built-in flash flops over the lens barrel and is a hand operated version. To the right of the flash is a large command dial with seven options on it. This has a replaced the more frequently seen on-screen version. It's firm to operate, but not difficult. The dial slots into place and won't budge easily. A small power button is situated next to the dial and the shutter release - which sports a wrap around zoom switch - is found at the far end of the grip.

On the back of the Olympus SP-720UZ, the large screen occupies most of the available space. A small video button sits in the top right shoulder. A small thumb rest is next to it. Because of the aforementioned command dial, there's only two buttons joining the navigation pad. The top button accesses the playback screen while the bottom one accesses the Main menu. There's still a quick access menu which can be found by pressing the OK button in the centre of the navigation pad.

Olympus SP-720UZ Olympus SP-720UZ
Top Front

The seven shooting modes on the command dial include Program (P), Beauty, Magic (digital filters), Panorama, 3D, Scenes (SCN) and iAuto. The latter is an intelligent auto mode that will analyse the scene and select the appropriate mode for what it sees. The Magic mode has 12 separate filters to make your pictures look prettier. For example, there's the typical Miniature, Pop Art, Pin Hole (usually called Toy Camera), Soft Focus and Watercolour. But the SP-720UZ has a couple of different ones called Fragmented and Dramatic. Fragmented mode takes the photograph and divides it up into smaller rectangles. It gives the appearance that someone has taken lots of individual photos of the scene, printed them up and put them all together. Dramatic mode uses what looks like HDR inspired effects to create a cartoonish high contrast and gritty effect. It has strong colours and halo effects so use it sparingly.

The Olympus SP-720UZ appears to be well made. The body is solid and free from shakes and flexing.  The lens has a slight movement to it at full zoom but that's to be expected and it's considerably less than what we've seen in other big zooms that we've been satisfied with. The doors on the camera let it down a bit. The cover for the HDMI and USB port is a flimsy plastic door that flaps around when not in place. The battery door hasn't got a lock on it and while it seems to have a lot of movement on the hinge, the actual door seems solid enough. On the back, the buttons are firm and responsive. The menu is fast to react until you're in the Magic mode then it all slows down. It's as though the amount of data is too much for the processor to work with. Scrolling through the options is painfully slow - as though it's buffering.

Olympus SP-720UZ Olympus SP-720UZ
Pop-up Flash Side

The main menu of the SP-720UZ is split into several different sections. They're tabbed to the left so you can flick through them quickly. There's four sections for Shooting, Video, Playback and Set-up. In the Main menu, you can set more core features of the camera such as the metering mode, focus and image stabiliser systems. In the Set-up you can change the language, format the card (hard erase), Pixel map, and adjust the date & time. The menu has a black background with a futuristic black checked floor going off into the distance. The lettering is white with the highlight bar in yellow. Wherever you are, a small line of text will appear at the bottom to guide you in that particular menu.

From a cold start, the Olympus SP-720UZ takes around three seconds to get the lens out, focus and take a picture. That's slightly slower than the average of around 2.5 seconds. There are four continuous shooting modes: two Sequential and two Hi-Speed modes. The first mode (Sequential 1) takes three frames per second for the first two seconds. It then has to download those pictures which took us up to 13 seconds (in total). The second continuous mode (sequential 2) takes six pictures in around 2 seconds but has a delay of around a second. Olympus say that this is faster than Sequential 1 so why they bother with the first option is anyone's guess. Switching to the Hi-Speed modes increases the frame rate but at the cost of resolution. The camera drops res to around 5 megapixel and shoots about 60 frames in five seconds. The problem is that it takes another minute to download the information. The screen clears at around 45 seconds though. In Hi-Speed 2, the camera takes 40 pictures in three seconds and followed a similar pattern with opening up the camera screen before downloading had finished.

Olympus SP-720UZ Olympus SP-720UZ
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

Pressing the blue arrow button on the back of the Olympus SP-720UZ transports you to the playback screen. Here you can look at all the pictures you've already taken. By default, there'll be basic information about the photograph such as the date & time. Pressing the Info button will scroll through various viewing options. The best one if you want to improve your photographic knowledge shows the picture as a thumbnail and all picture information surrounding it such as shooting mode, ISO, white-balance, resolution, aperture and shutter speed. There's also a handy histogram to tell you if the picture is under, over or perfectly exposed. Hit the Main menu button and you automatically skip to the playback section. There's no separate menu like you'd find in other manufacturer's cameras. In the playback section, you can create a slide-show, edit the picture which includes basic tools such as resize and crop or beauty, shadow and red-eye fix. There's also provision to erase pictures, set up a Print Order, lock images to prevent them getting accidentally erased, rotate them and set an Upload Order.

In the box there's a lithium ion battery with provision to charge it, a neck strap and lens cap. There are appropriate cables such as USB and video as well as a quick start guide with the full manual on the provided CD. This CD also contains Olympus Viewer 2 - a viewing suite for your pictures if you currently have nothing like that on your computer.