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Just like Pentax with their Optio range Olympus have made a bit of a splash with their mju range of compacts, which are all the more notable because they are also weatherproof. The 780 offers a standard 7Mp resolution with a handy 5x optical zoom.
- Sensor: 7Mp CCD
- Resolution: 3072x2304
- Lens: 36-180mm f3.3-5.0 (5x zoom)
- Focus: TTL Auto
- Macro mode: 20cm, Super Macro: 3cm
- ISO Range: 80-1600
- Exposure: Program AE and 19 Scenes
- Shutter speed: ½-1/2000sec
- Metering: ESP/Spot
- Monitor: 2.5in. TFT LCD (230k pixels)
- Movie Mode: Yes (with sound)
- Storage: 18Mb Internal, xD Card
- Batteries: Lithium-ion
- Mechanical Image Stabiliser: Yes
- AC Adaptor: Optional
- Video Output: Yes
- Size/Weight: 99x55x24mm, 125g
- Transfer: USB
At £209 the mju 780 is up against the Canon Ixus 850 which offers 7Mp, 3.8x optical zoom and costs £20 more, the Panasonic DMC-FX30 with 7Mp and a 3.6x optical zoom for £25 more and the waterproof Pentax Optio W30, with 7Mp and 3x optical zoom for £20 more.
Olympus mju 780 Modes and features
Three buttons adorn the top of the camera, covering power on/off, fire and shake-reduction. Everything else is around the back, next to the pleasingly bright 2.5in. LCD screen. The zoom rocker sends the camera from wide angle to telephoto, while next to it, and half hanging out the side of the camera is the mode dial.
This nails its colours to the flag from the start by offering Program, Scene, Video or Guide modes. There are no aperture or shutter priority modes. The Guide mode is notable for containing a list of tricky-to-shoot subjects which, when selected, offer up advice on how to take the shot and switch to the most appropriate mode. Nice one for beginners with a little patience.
Program mode is the standard shooting mode, which offers access to all the other photographic features like ISO control, a choice of zone or spot metering and exposure compensation. Obviously though, it will produce an average exposure for the conditions, and may not give the best result for landscapes or portraits. Really then, you'll be spending some time with the Scene modes so bring a bottle and come on in. These offer the usual array of photo scenes, starting with landscapes and portraits, and then blending the two and offering sunsets, snow, underwater, beaches, items for auction etc.
There's the standard, and confusing if you don't know, twin-menu setup where the button marked Menu, offers tinkering to the less-used items, while pressing OK/Func brings up the most common shooting options. There's also a macro button which has a choice of standard macro with some zoom, or super macro, with no zoom. Pick that one for bug shots.
Finally, down on the bottom right of the camera is a rather handy little button and feature. It's the sunny day portrait fixer. It even has a little picture of someone in the sunshine on it. The purpose of this is to even out dark shadows that are cast on bright days.
Olympus mju 780 Build quality
The metal finished body is a pleasing silver or sexy black on the front and brushed gun-metal grey on the back, with a central chrome that runs around the centre. It' a little chunky at one end, but bends past the lens to a point at the other. The buttons on the top are solid, but when we get round the back, rather like an estate agent inspecting a house seller's DIY efforts, there's evidence of some corner cutting. The menu, playback, joypad buttons and the display and sunny face buttons are all made of fairly flimsy plastic. Good point is that when pressed, the lettering illuminates across all of them. Bad point is that they are so close together it's easy to press two buttons at once. Apart from that, it looks stylish and would suit a family of four.
Olympus mju 780 Flash options
Well I wouldn't get too excited about this aspect of the 780. you've got flash off, auto, forced on and red-eye reduction. That's your lot.
Olympus mju 780 Performance
The mju rouses itself from slumber and gets its lens out ready for shooting in around 3secs which is average. In the burst mode test, it manages a wheezing four shots in the 10secs test, which is pretty average. A bad performance would be under three, average would be four or five, and six or more would be good for a compact.
Autofocus is slightly slow for a compact, but not hugely so and it is reasonably tenacious at hitting the subject. Metering is a choice of spot or zone, which makes it a real oversight to preclude centre-weighted from the mix. The zone metering can be relied on to over-expose the sky most of the time, unless there is very little contrast in the scene. So, it's spot metering then, or simply using zone with a side order of exposure compensation at every meal.
The colour chart gave a good result but the scene modes will optimise all the colour renditions and tones. The problem with the scene modes is that you are left hoping they come up with the optimum aperture settings for what you want to do. The landscape test shots came back in with an aperture of f/3.4. Even taking into account that compacts have much more depth-of-field at equivalent f-stops than SLRs, this is totally the wrong aperture setting to use for a landscape.
The Macro mode which uses the zoom is a frankly feeble 20cm range, so to get closer the Super Macro mode needs to be employed, which can get right in to 3cm, but this doesn't use the zoom.
Olympus mju 780 Noise tests
Rather surprisingly there is noise evident on the grey and black cards on the ISO80 test, and in the shadow areas it's green and purple. This is easily the worst low ISO results we've seen on a compact. However, the detail is still good and it won't be too dramatic on full scale pictures. ISO100 is only slightly worse as might be expected. At ISO200 the shadow area noise is stronger and the patterns on the grey card are more distinct. Noise is more defined at ISO400 and detail is starting to disappear in the middle. The ISO800 result is very noisy, clearly visible at 25% viewing, with harsh, striking noise over the card areas, slightly darker petals and a loss of detail in the petals and central yellow area. At ISO1600 the colours are much darker, the noise is a riot of colour and detail has disappeared.
Olympus mju 780 Verdict
Well it has looks and charm, make no mistake of that. With a decent resolution the 780 can happily sit playing with its ISO controls with no overt concerns about digital noise, unlike the 12Mp brigade who would turn away and play with their cufflinks at the merest mention of ISO200. Once the twin-menu system is grasped it's easy to use, the features are all easily accessible and the illuminated panel of buttons on the back will please small children. You'll need that small child handy to change the settings mind you, as they are too close together.
While some might lament omitting an aperture or shutter mode, this camera really is aimed at the person who hasn't got to that stage yet. The Guide mode is a nice idea, and if you are starting out in photography, quite educational. The other noteworthy point is of course that its weather proof so there's no need to worry about a few splashes of water short-circuiting the electronics. I would let little Johnny jump in the paddling pool with it mind you. At the end of the day, the camera is judged on the image quality and here the mju performs well enough providing the ISO is kept to 200 or under. Over that the results are poor.
The landscape scene mode has a mind of its own, which results in limited depth-of-field, but portraits are nice, light and evened out and the shadow removal feature is novel and useful. For the market the camera is aimed at, it works well enough and is a little cheaper than most rivals. The fact that it looks good and can survive the odd splatter of rain in our dismal summer can only be a good thing too.
Olympus mju 780 Minus points:
No centre-weighted metering
Fairly mediocre performance
Plastic buttons on the back
ISO performance poor
The Olympus mju 780 costs around £209 and is available from the ePHOTOzine shop here.