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You can take the Stylus 720 SW into the deep end of the pool - as long as the deep end is 10 feet or less.
The Stylus 720 SW brings the term "shock and awe" to mind - the fact that it can handle the shock of a 5-foot drop is awesome. It's also a pretty darn good camera.
About the size of a deck of cards (it measures 3.6 by 2.3 by .78 inches), the 7.1-megapixel Stylus 720 SW eschews the traditional look-through viewfinder for a large, 2.5-inch LCD monitor that is brighter than most; it didn't wash out excessively when hit by direct sunlight nor become overly grainy under low lighting conditions.
The 720 SW has a 3x optical zoom lens with a 35mm-camera focal length equivalent of 38mm to 114mm, a maximum aperture of f3.5, and can store 19.1MB of images internally, just enough to use in a pinch if your xD card maxes out at an inopportune moment. Shutter speeds range from 1/1000 to 4 seconds, and 28 scene modes handle everything from soup (choose Cuisine) to nuts in a jar (choose Objects Behind Glass).
The camera records images in JPEG format only, and has eight image resolution settings from 7.1 megapixels down to 640 by 480 pixels; we usually shot at 3MP reserving the memory-hogging 7.1MP setting for when we couldn't get close enough and would need to enlarge small areas of the image later - kids playing soccer, for example, or race cars at the track. Shutter lag (the time between the press of the shutter button and the actual picture being taken) is negligible, and shot-to-shot time is less than a second, even when shooting at 7.1 megapixels. Reviewing images is virtually instantaneous.
The 720 SW has a Digital Image Stabilization mode to reduce camera shake, but it's not the conventional (and expensive) technology where the lens or sensor is moved to compensate for motion. Instead, the camera's ISO is upped to as high as 1,600 to allow shooting at faster shutter speeds (the ISO range is from 64 to 1,600). It's a poor man's solution, but it worked well with prints up to 4 by 6 inches. Larger photos, though, began to show noise.
The 720 SW's rechargeable lithium ion battery gave us 260 shots - that's with 100 percent usage of the LCD monitor, about a quarter of our shots made with flash, and the camera powered on for 30 minutes to print images. Buy a spare, since it takes five hours for the battery to recharge.
The camera is PictBridge-ready; we plugged it into an Olympus P-11 dye-sub printer, chose our images from the camera's monitor, pressed the Print button on the camera. A 4-by-6-inch, borderless, glossy print of excellent quality came out 33 seconds later. For more serious work, we printed using a Mac and an Epson Stylus Photo 2200 to output sharp and color-perfect 12-by-15-inch images.
If we had any quibbles with the 720 SW, it's that you have to remember to keep your left hand's fingers from getting in the way of the lens and LCD. Also, when you review images on the LCD, the camera displays data that intrudes on your image for two seconds, and there's no way to turn it off. We did drop the camera a couple of times (on purpose) and submerged it in a koi pond to see if it kept on tickin' after it took a lickin'. It did.
The bottom line. The Stylus 720 SW is a camera we easily fell in love with. It's stylish, rugged, and waterproof - perfect for rafting, climbing, skiing, or just lazing around on the beach. It takes great pictures, too.
Action photos shot at twilight are difficult to do, but the 720 SW delivered. It can shoot at ISO ratings of up to 1,600, something most others in its class can't.
CONTACT: 888-553-4448, www.olympus.com
REQUIREMENTS: Mac OS 9 or later, or Mac OS 10.1 or later, USB
Shock- and waterproof. Excellent image quality. Strong flash.
No viewfinder. Skimpy printed manual. Annoying info overlay during image playback.