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Shock and Awe(proof)!

Olympus Mju 720SW camera and PT-033 housing


There is a time all underwater photographers dread, the moment when their pride and joy is open to the elements outside its case or while changing film. My girlfriend and I each have cameras and are both painfully aware of their vulnerability when unhoused and their bulk when housed. Will there ever be an answer?

Introduction
The new olympus Mju 720SW would seem to be the result of many maidens praying hard. A sleek, flat, 7 Megapixel camera where the blurb even invites you to drop it from 1.5m and snorkle to 3m with it uncased... We noticed that wasn't enough for much of a dive but Olympus offer a housing too. Now this combination appealed to the fatalist in the glass-half-empty, lost and-cracked aspect of my character.

As luck would have it on our last trip one of our main cameras flooded, under suspicious circumstances (in the deck bucket of a liveaboard!) and we were able to see if this indestructible mite could step into the breach. We never expected it to match our primary cameras, Olympus 7070(RIP) and Canon S70, but thought it should probably be on a par with some of our previous digital cameras...

First Impressions
Fresh out of the box the camera is irresistible, clearly hardened for battle but a colourful, chromed little trinket which sparkles even more when the 2.5" inch display, which takes most of the back panel, is fired up. It feels like a good watch rather than a camera and it's hard not to like it. Its not significantly bigger than any of the other flat cameras around but I wouldn't give much for their chance against this Mju in a game of conkers. Like a growing number of cameras it comes with a tiny amount of internal memory (19MB). Forget about this and buy yourself a big memory card, xD in this case so upto 2GB is possible.

The dive housing isn't as good looking as the camera but still cute in a Fisher-Price kind of way as it crams lots of controls onto its clamshell halves to operate the tiny camera inside.

When the tough get going
The first few pictures taken around the house and garden were in fact pretty good, bright summer sun and flowers were an easy combination for the flash free super macro mode and showed very good detail. Indoor shots using the skyhigh higher ISO rating (upto 3200!) were not nearly as grim as I would have expected. One of the most intriguing features is its ability to continuously shot at about 2 frames per second until you fill your card - though this mode has reduced resolution (3.3Megapixels)

There is a certain reassurance in knowing that the camera you are using should continue to work even if the housing was full of water, it might even be tricky to decide when to abort the dive if you noticed bubbles trailing from the polycarbonate outer case! The camera is really cute and feels brilliantly made but the case has a couple of weak points. The most serious is that the OK button is offset and so it doesn't press well onto the button on the camera itself as there is a bit of play in the shaft through the case. You can overcome this by pressing the very inner edge of the button but it's not intuitive. You need to press the OK regularly to confirm changes to flash and macro mode. I suspect this would wear if you weren't careful.

The next ‘feature’ is that the flash is pretty weak and the diffuser reduces its power even further. As a result it is difficult to light even macro subjects effectively. It's non flash performance is pretty good though and it worked better with an external flash. As it's only a point and shoot you'd need a strobe which would mimic what the built in one does rather than simply being triggered (as quite a few of the cheaper ones are) as it doesn't give you much control to compensate.

Epoque, Sea and Sea, Inon and now Olympus themselves all make 'TTL slaving' strobes, I can't vouch for how well they work as I haven't tried them. We had a simple slave triggered Epoque which was very compact and reliable but now have a Digital Adaptor made by a German chap which fits a standard Sea and Sea strobe (like the very common YS60) and makes it into a TTL slaving strobe. It costs £60 and a strobe £60-100 on ebay. It works very well and can be used with any other camera to give you a good, cheap, external  strobe (which will look way too big beside the camera :-)

For details see http://www.heinrichsweikamp.net/blitz/indexe.htm

Conclusion

We bought the 720Sw as a spare camera and have mixed feelings about it. It is a great looking, tough feeling camera and feels pretty fast and ok to use on land but has a weak flash and difficult housing to use for diving. We haven't used it shallow without the housing, I'd guess it would behave more as though it was on land where its pretty good.

It's a good choice as a general purpose wet’n’dry camera or backup. It's unusually solid and the waterproofing is convincing even without the case. On top of that it’s so small you could actually carry it as a spare on a dive.


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