Prior to embarking on Camp Tour 2001, the editors of Scout Camps USA spent many hours over many weeks and months researching digital camera offerings. Our research included numerous articles on the web and in print magazines and newspapers, hands-on trials of different brands and models at camera shops and shows, and conversation with digital camera owners. As we learned more about the newest generation of digital cameras, we also developed criteria for our purchase. We wanted the cameras to be lightweight, versatile, affordable, sturdy, and to "feel like a camera."

Our final choice, the Olympus C-700 Ultra Zoom, met all our criteria quite nicely. On an intended-audience scale, we'd place the C-700 UZ at the top end of the consumer bracket and the low end of the professional bracket. We gave up a few of the advanced features we would have liked (such as accepting our existing lenses and an optical viewfinder) and in return saved a thousand or more dollars per camera. A very fair trade, we think, as the cameras we coveted most were between $1500 and $2000, while the C-700 UZ came in at an extremely affordable $599.

Under a pound and designed to fit in your palm and handle nicely even with just one hand, the C-700 UZ was easy to use whether we were perched on rock outcroppings, hanging out the windows of a climbing tower, jostling about in a motorboat, or just leaning against a tree.

The camera's features include the expected filmless color photography as well as sepia, black and white, blackboard, and whiteboard modes. When using Olympus media cards, we were able to take 360-degree panoramic photos (this does not work with non-Olympus media). For capturing those quick descents down a zipline, the camera's video mode proved indispensable. In lieu of filters, the camera has automatic and manual white balance control. The C-700 UZ includes automatic point-and-shoot features but also allows full manual control of all settings.

The diminutive size of the C-700 UZ is deceptive -- it's a powerful little camera: 10x optical zoom, 2.11 megapixel photos, and digital zoom (which we never used owing to digital zoom's grainy qualities). Our editors fall nicely into two groups: the camera-savvy and the computer-savvy. Our camera enthusiast found enough familiar elements in the C-700 UZ to make the transition from 35-mm SLR fairly seamless, and our computer enthusiast found enough familiar elements in the menus to finally begin to understand the inner workings of a camera and even become a better photographer over the course of the summer! We think the unit is a happy, high-powered marriage between 35-mm cameras and computers.

Because we'd be taking hundreds of photographs at every camp, we added 128mb media cards to the 8mb that the camera ships with, and because we'd be tramping around camps for hours at a time, we also purchased two sets of rechargeable batteries for each camera. Add in a few accessories like digital-proportioned camera bags, and we spent a little over $300 on upgrades and accessories.

Just as important to us as the camera's features was its ability to interface with our PCs. The C-700 UZ ships with a USB cable and transferring 250+ photos from camera to PC takes only a few minutes. The Camedia software allowed us to view, sort, rotate, and edit photos. Typically, though, we used the Camedia for first-pass editing and deleting, and we used Paint Shop Pro and Adobe Illustrator for fine manipulation, compression, and printing. PSP is preferable for compression owing to its batch mode, and, while it's easier and faster to print from Camedia, AI allows full control of all graphic elements in a printed page, including backgrounds, relative size of photos, and the like.

In short, we really like the C-700 UZ. If you'd like to find out what others think of the camera, visit Digital Camera Resource for a professional's review.