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Despite its size, weight and warthog-like ugliness, the C-7070 has surprisingly nice handling. The sculpted rubberised handgrip on the front and the shaped thumbgrip area on the back make it very comfortable to hold, and the fold-out flip-and-twist LCD screen means that you can hold it at any angle and still see the monitor. The screen folds up and over the viewfinder to face forwards for self-portraits.
The menu system is necessarily complex to cope with the huge range of features, but many of the settings can also be altered by pressing a single button and rotating the command dial, which is surprisingly quick once you’re used to it.
The C-7070 is also light on its feet when it comes to overall performance. It starts up in an impressive 2.5 seconds, and in continuous shooting mode it can capture five shots in about four seconds in SHQ JPEG mode, which is pretty fast considering the file sizes it is chucking around. In lower resolution SQ mode it can shoot stills at an awesome 30 shots a second and keep going until the memory card is full.
The camera can record in JPEG at three different compression settings, uncompressed TIFF and also in RAW mode. In the highest quality JPEG mode it records files that are nearly 5MB each, so you’re going to need a big memory card to get the best out of it. Shooting in RAW mode and then converting to TIFF using the supplied Olympus Master software yields huge 20MB image files, which is comparable with the results from a digital SLR.
Shooting this way also produces the best image quality, and it is here that the C-7070 really shines. Converted RAW file images from this camera are as good as anything I’ve taken on any mid-range digital SLR. Colour balance, sharpness, noise control and level of detail are as good as it gets, and the camera copes well with even the trickiest lighting situations. The superb Olympus iESP metering system is so good that it’s hardly ever necessary to use the spot metering.
The only downside to all this is the software. The Olympus Master suite is not at all well suited to professional or even hobby photography. When you convert and save a file, it gives you the option to save it in a folder of your choice, but you have to choose it every time or it defaults to a ridiculous calendar system and hides your photo somewhere in the Program Files folder, so well hidden that even I couldn’t find it. The C-7070 RAW mode is included in the latest update of the RAW camera file converter for Adobe Photoshop, but unfortunately only for the new Photoshop CS2, so unless you’ve got the £450 price of that program to spare you’re stuck with the Olympus Master software.
This review barely scratches the surface of this camera‘s capabilities. The Olympus C-7070 is quite simply one of the best semi-pro cameras available, and a real alternative to a digital SLR for the enthusiast photographer. Performance, build quality, photographic versatility and image quality are all of the very highest order. It is quite expensive, but it offers features and performance that you won’t find anywhere else for the price. It’s just a pity that the supplied software is such a pig to use.