The Olympus Camedia C-70 ZOOM comes across as unsure of its station in life. It presents itself as a simple point-and-shoot digital stills camera, but hidden in its innards are a hefty 7MP sensor and photographic controls that prove it's a serious piece of kit.

The box offers a very neat and compact battery charger, 32MB xD card and hand strap. The software bundle includes the Olympus Master software application but, disappointingly for a camera that's bristling with controls, the only printed manual is a quick-start guide that doesn't even label all the camera controls: if you want to know more, you have to read the instructions on the CD.

When you pick it up, first impressions of this camera are good. The hold between thumb and second finger is secure, thanks to a rubbery grip, although the smoothness of the shutter button is spoilt by the knob for the zoom action. There are no controls on the front of the camera, leaving the back highly populated. Here you find a mode dial for the thumb, a rosette of navigation buttons and buttons for flash mode, self-timer and exposure lock.

Screen star

Pride of place on the back of the camera is the LCD screen. Although small by today's standards, it's perfectly formed, and the image is sharp, clear and it can be viewed in relatively bright light.

Best of all, there's virtually no refresh lag - the screen easily keeps up with movement, refreshing frequently, so it doesn't jerk like screens on some cameras.

To underline this, the dioptre correction control for the eyepiece is omitted, which shows this camera is meant to be used with its excellent LCD screen.

One unusual little button remains: a separate lock for the flash to pop up. At other times, the flash remains tucked away under its cover.

A dab on the power button next to the shutter button offers a delight which doesn't diminish with age: the lens zips out in just over a second and the camera is ready to shoot almost immediately. By default, the LCD screen is live and displays not only the camera settings of shutter time and aperture but also exposure override, quality, number of frames remaining and a continuous histogram display.

From this view, pressing the central button in the navigation rosette takes you to a menu display, enabling you to turn the monitor off, set white balance and speed and turn to a more complete mode menu. This in turn is divided into four separate tabs. A camera can be made or broken by its menu (and ways of accessing it), and the C70's menu system is easy to navigate, with large and clearly labelled offerings.

The menu buttons pretty much cover all the usual suspects, such as setting up, sensitivity, drive settings (single or series frames) and so on. One button can be set up as a short-cut either to close-up or to flash, and My Camera favourite settings can also be created. It's worth noting, however, that using these is definitely for those people who can concentrate hard for more than a minute at a time!

The rapid start-up of the camera is reassuring, and will no doubt be a selling point. Again, this is great in theory, but in use there's a little less snap. Focusing speed on dull days is lacklustre, and sometimes it manages to miss completely - particularly shots taken at the far, telephoto end of the zoom range.

In poor light, the camera sends out a beam of light to aid focusing. Unfortunately, the beam not only disturbs people, but doesn't always work. In good light, however, images delivered with characteristic Olympus crackle and pop: good colours and sharpness. White balance is on the conservative side, leaving room for you to improve further if you wish.

Exposures with flash are well controlled, especially in the slowflash mode that balances ambient light with flash. But the flash itself is awkward to use, having to be popped up manually, and its range is limited - much further than a meter is beyond its power.

On a more positive note, connections with a computer work very well: plugging the USB lead into a computer turns on the computer or printer connection. The memory mounts quickly and transfer is typical for USB.

The C-70 ZOOM provides a mix of strong and weak points and, compared with other 7MP cameras available at the moment, we think it will struggle to impress users. Although the competitive price may be enough to tempt some people, its performance could certainly do a lot better. Tom Ang

Via PhotoRadar