Right upfront, scuba divers will adore the new 10-megapixel Olympus Stylus 1030 SW. This new top-of-the-line model in Olympus' SW (Shock & Waterproof) series was introduced in January of 2008 as part of the company's announcement of nine new consumer cameras. While sporting a new look that is somewhere inbetween the Stylus 770 SW (33 feet depth) and the Stylus 850 SW (10 feet), it's clear that this is the successor to the 7.1 megapixel Stylus 770 SW that we love so much. Don't let the small size and stylish look fool you: this shockproof, waterproof, crushproof, freezeproof, sandproof, and dustproof may just be the toughest consumer camera ever built. It survives drops from almost seven feet and you can take it diving down to 33 feet, without an underwater housing. And there is more.
What you get with the Stylus 1030 SW
Quite possibly the perfect camera for Scuba divers. That's because its ability to be taken down to a depth of 33 feet clearly sets it apart from other cameras in Olympus' SW series. They are all tough and you can take them all just about anywhere. But when it comes to diving, only this new 1030 (and its 770 SW predecessor) will do. Sure, many dives go deeper but there is a lot of great scenery in shallow waters, and we have no doubt that the 1030 SW, like the 770 SW before, won't mind the occasional descent to 50 or 60 feet. Not needing to take along a bulky underwater case is priceless.
But diving is not all the 1030 SW can do. Thanks to a rugged metal body, extensive sealing and shock-absorbing construction, the 1030 can survive drops from two meters, or 6.6 feet. And there we thought the 5-foot drop spec of the also new Stylus 850 SW was impressive. Freezing temperatures do not affect this camera as it is freezeproof down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. So it's a perfect companion for sledding, skiing and snowboarding as well. Finally, unlike the lesser SW series cameras, this one is crushproof as well. Its tough case and reinforced LCD can withstand 220 pounds of pressure.
Amazingly, the 1030 SW can do all this while still being a very compact, elegant camera you can take anywhere. It has a footprint of 3.7 x 2.4 inches and is 0.84 inches thick -- exactly the same as the 8-megapixel 850 SW. It's, however, packed full of circuitry and tons of little parts and weighs a bit more, though still just over six ounces without its Li-Ion battery, and not much more with it. The new and more powerful 3.6X optical zoom is internal, which means there is no annoying lens barrel that motors in and out. And even though the 1030 SW can stand up to deep water, dust, crushing, sand and freezing temperatures, it's also a regular full-function digital camera with all the features you expect from a modern point & shoot compact.
Like the 850 SW, the 1030 is easy to use right out of the box. In the back there is a mode dial that lets you select automatic, image stabilization, guide mode, movie, playback and favorites, as well as scenes. Below the mode dial is a four-way navigation pad with an "OK" button in its center. Four additional function buttons bring up the onscreen menu and cycle through often used functions.
A word about the internal zoom. While the 770 had a 3X zoom equivalent to the standard 38-114mm equivalent, the new camera has a slightly extended 3.6X zoom that starts at a wide 28mm and goes up to 102mm. This means that it is much better suited to underwater photography where a wide lens always comes in handy while giving up hardly any magnification.
Below is a picture of the bow of the sunken tanker "Prince Albert" that lies in about 65 feet of water off the island of Roatan in Honduras.
Despite its impressive environmental ruggedness specifications, the Stylus 1030 SW is anything but a one trick pony. In fact, with its choice of three colors (silver, black and green), elegant styling, and wealth of functions, this is a camera that can do it all.
Like almost all new consumer digital cameras, the Stylus 1030 has a face detection mode that enables it to find one face or more faces in a setting and make sure that they are in focus and properly exposed. It can do that even when people are moving.
The 1030 has digital image stabilization that uses higher sensitivity and higher shutter speed to reduce or eliminate blurriness in pictures. It doesn't however, have mechanical sensor shift image stablization which would come in especially handy for underwater shooting.
The TruePic III Image Processor that was originally developed for digital SLRs delivers more vibrant colors, smoother edges, less noise and higher overall speed.
Olympus equipped the 1030 SW with its Shadow Adjustment Technology that analyzes shots of subjects in front of bright backgrounds and then exposes things properly. In essence, it compensates for extreme contrast where the shadow areas on the foreground subject are underexposed and lack visible detail.
The Perfect Shot Preview feature displays the effects of various settings including zoom, exposure, white balance and metering - on the LCD so you can select the proper settings and effects
The camera also has an LED Illuminator that works like a mini-flashlight on the front of the camera to enhance focus and exposure for macro shooting. It is also great for underwater close-ups where light is scarce. The LED also works in conjunction with the Bright Capture feature (brightened LCD preview for better composition in low light) to help illuminate a subject when taking low-light portraits.
There is a large 2.7-inch high resolution (230k pixel) LCD that does not only have a very wide viewing angle in all directions, but also uses the Olympus HyperCrystal II LCD technology. According to Olympus, it reproduces true colors with a dynamic contrast ratio of more than 180 percent and a color reproduction performance of more than 160 percent compared to the original HyperCrystal LCD.
While the 1030 SW does not have any manual modes, there are 28 "scene modes" in addition to auto: portrait, landscape, landscape + portrait, night, night + portrait, sport, indoor, candle, self portrait, available light portrait, sunset, firework, cuisine, behind glass, document, auction, shoot & select 1 and 2, beach and snow, underwater snapshot, underwater wide 1 and 2, underwater macro, and underwater movie. New is a pre-capture movie mode where the camera records but only commits to storage once you push the shutter. That way you are certain to capture the seconds leading up to an event.
Shoot & Select lets you take sequential pictures by holding down the shutter. The pics then show up as sort of a filmstrip and you can select which you want to keep and which you want to discard.
"Guide" sort of guides you through various scenarios and sets the camera properly. This mode also lets you preview a scene through a multi-frame window that shows how the picture looks with four different settings. You then pick what suits you best.
Like other Olympus cameras, the 1030 has both a macro and a super-macro mode. The macro mode goes from eight inches to infinity whereas super-macro goes from an amazing 0.8 inches to a bit under two feet. This is great as Olympus underwater cameras excel at macro photography.
The Stylus 1030 SW has a 640 x 480 movie mode with sound, and it shoots at 30 frames per second for lifelike video. The VGA movie mode does not have a time limit as the Stylus 790 SW had as long as you shoot at 15 frames per second; at the full 30 frames you're limited to a disappointing ten seconds. Sound has never been a strong side of Olympus consumer cameras. The 1030 SW has a Shooting Assist function for voice annotations but there is full voice recording mode. You can attach short sound clips to still images.
Sequential shooting is quite fast for a 10-megapixel camera. You can shoot seven frames at 0.7 frames per second in full resolution, and 11 frames at 5.2 frames per second at 3 megapixel resolution.
There is an in-camera panorama mode that lets you capture three images and then stitches them together to create a panoramic picture. As you pan, special markers shows up on the display. Align them to take the next picture.
The flash range has been extended to 17.4 feet in wide mode and 12 feet in tele mode.
You are no longer limited to the often somewhat hard-to-find xD-Picture cards. The 1030 SW comes with a special adapter so you can use microSD cards as well. Internal storage remains a meager 15MB.
The camera uses the new 925-mAH LI-50B that charges much faster (in two hours instead of five) and is rated at 260 pictures.
The pictures on this page were all taken with a Stylus 1030 SW on a dive trip to the Honduran island of Roatan where I stayed at the wonderful CoCo View resort. Unfortunately, the PT-043 underwater housing for the 1030SW was not available yet, and so we had to stay within the 33-feet depth limitations of the camera as it is, without housing. The 1030 accompanied us on almost every boat dive trip where it was wonderful not having to worry about getting the camera wet. All cameras should be waterproof.
In addition to giving the camera a good workout snorkeling I did take it on a couple of "real" scuba dives. One of them was to the wreck of the "Prince Albert," a 140-foot tanker/freighter that was sunk off Roatan in 1985. The Prince Albert sits in about 65 feet of water, with the upper part of the wreck at 30 to 45 feet. Taking the 1030SW along was wonderfully liberating as the camera is so small that it never was in the way. Traditional underwater cameras with their big, bulky housings tend to take over a dive as you're always aware of the camera and have to make sure you're not bumping into things. That's never an issue with the 1030SW. It's simply there when you need it, and out of your way when you don't.
Operating the camera during a dive couldn't be simpler. There's no need to get used to a new set of controls as is the case with underwater housings. You just use the camera as you always would. Underwater picture quality, as you can see, is amazingly good, even with little practice. Just use one of the camera's special underwater modes.
The 1030 SW is a great camera for underwater movies as well. If you read the manual carefully you find some interesting features. For example, there is a land movie mode and an underwater movie mode. In land mode you get sound but no optical zoom whereas in underwater movie mode it's the other way around. When in underwater movie mode you also get three special underwater white balances. Each adds progressively more red as the color red is the first to disappear underwater. Adding red makes for more colorful, lifelike movies.
There are some things I'd change. First, any strap that comes with an underwater camera should tighten around the wrist; you don't want to lose the camera. Second, the small mode dial with its tiny icons and writing is almost impossible to read underwater where you're wearing a mask and lighting can be dim. Likewise, the tiny gray-on-silver labels and writing etched next to buttons and controls becomes essentially unreadable. A couple of times the camera's lens cover got jammed, possibly with very fine debris floating in the seawater, making it inoperable. Flushing with fresh water fixed the problem. Finally, as you approach the 33 feet depth limit, the camera starts beeping and flashing warnings on the display. A warning is good, but constant beeping and flashing is not.
None of the above takes away from the usefulness of this amazing camera. Being able to take it on, into and underwater is wonderful, and image quality is excellent. For outdoors people, and divers, the Olympus Stylus 1030SW is about as perfect an all-around camera as it gets.
The Stylus 1030 SW is the camera a lot of divers have been waiting for. It brings 10-megapixel resolution to scuba diving without the need of an underwater case. It's also the most rugged Olympus Stylus camera yet, being able to survive huge drops from almost seven feet and freezing temperatures.
Despite its ruggedness, the 1030 SW is small, light, elegant, and has a wealth of features. Its large 2.7-inch wide viewing angle LCD is brighter than before and offers better contrast. The new 3.6X 28-102mm internal optical allows both wide angle photography and good magnification. The camera has underwater and pre-capture movie modes as well as state-of-the-art features like face detection, in-camera panorama, shadow adjustment, perfect shot preview, in-camera editing and more. Add to that the ability to use microSD cards via an included adapter and a very powerful battery and you have all the makings of a big hit.
Not so much:
- Attractively styled sports and outdoor camera
- Real diving possible with 33 feet depth limit
- Inherent waterproofing provides peace of mind when handling in/around water
- Can survive 6.6-foot drops and 14 degree temperature!
- Superb wide viewing-angle, high-res 2.7-inch LCD
- Pre-capture movie mode
- microSD adapter included
- 3.6X 28-102mm optical zoom allows wide angle shooting
- Very good underwater macro mode
- LED illumination comes in handy
- Optional PT-043 deepwater housing
- Strictly point & shoot
- Small mode wheel hard to read underwater
- Over-zealous underwater depth warnings
- Tiny gray on silver labels difficult to read
- LCD not always bright enough for underwater viewability
- Elegant metal body can get scratched
- Integrated automatic lens cover can get clogged and stuck
- Included wrist strap does not tighten around wrist