Olympus Stylus 790 SW|
Shockproof, freezeproof, waterproof
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)
Perhaps the most stylish of all the cameras in the Summer 2007 lineup of new Olympus consumer cameras is the Stylus 790 SW. Not only does it come in five attention-getting colors (orange, blue, lime, black and silver), but it is also shockproof, waterproof, freezeproof, sandproof and dustproof. What you get here is a 7.1 megapixel camera that is packed with features and that you can take practically anywhere, even into the desert, underwater, or skiing. If you drop it, no big deal.
So far so good, but the Stylus 790 SW may also throw devotees of Olympus waterproof cameras a bit for a loop. See, there have been other waterproof Stylus cameras and we tested each in great detail.
The 720 SW was a 7.1 megapixel camera that was waterproof down to ten feet. We reviewed the 720 SW for our ScubaDiverInfo.com sister site both with and without its optional deepwater housing and liked it. Having a waterproof camera meant much less anxiety when placing the camera in its waterproof case and using it for diving. It didn't have a lot of features and the LCD wasn't the greatest, but we found it to be a great combination of consumer and special purpose camera.
Then came the Stylus 770 SW and though it remained at 7.1 megapixel, it just blew us away. Looking very similar to the 720 SW, the 770 was built to withstand a depth of 33 feet of water and even had a built-in depth gauge. The difference beetween 10 and 33 feet is significant as it is the difference between snorkeling and diving. Theoretically you can take a 10-foot camera diving, but few dives only go down ten feet. 33 feet, that is a different story. There is always a safety margin, and the 770 SW could actually handle much larger depths. It was terrifically liberating to be able to take a camera diving as is, without any bulky deepwater case whatsoever.
So needless to say, when word of the 790 SW reached us, we expected two things. A) More resolution, and B) the ability to take it deeper yet. Alas, the 790 SW is still a 7.1 megapixel camera. Worse, it is again rated at just 10 feet, like the old 720 SW. What happened?
The only thing we could imagine was that divers were just too tempted to take the 770 SW deep, and as a result some may have gotten flooded and eliminating the temptation by returning the line into strictly snorkel territory could have been the answer to this problem.
Well, we checked with Olympus, and the answer is that the 790 is the replacement of the 720 rather than a follow-up to the 770. This makes much more sense.
What you get with the Stylus 790 SW
That would be a camera you can take anywhere. It's attractively styled and you can buy it in all those bright colors. It has a footprint of 3.7 x 2.4 inches and is 0.84 inches thick. It weighs under five ounces without the little Li-Ion battery, and not much more with it. The 3X optical zoom is internal, which means there is no annoying lens barrel that motors in and out. And even though the 790 SW can stand up to water, dust, sand and freezing temperatures, it's still a full-function digital camera with all the features you expect from a modern point & shoot compact.
Should you agonize whether to get the 770 SW or the 790 SW, all their specs are essentially identical. Same CCD, same lens, same optical and digital zooms, same (excellent) display, same shooting modes. The 790 SW, as a newer model, has face recognition an a couple of other new goodies, and its list price is $80 less. But you can't really take it diving. So if you want to dive without buying an extra deepwater case, get the 770. If that is not an issue, get the 790.
As stated, despite being a "specialty camera," the 790 SW has a variety of nice features that make it suitable for everyday picture-taking, and not just trips outdoors.
Like several new Olympus models, the Stylus 790 has a face detection mode. This means that the camera is able to find a face or even multiple faces in a picture and make sure that they are in focus and properly exposed. That even works when people are moving (though not quite as well).
Digital image stabilization 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, developed for digital SLRs, delivers more vibrant colors, smoother edges, less nose and higher overall speed.
Olympus equipped the 790 with its Shadow Adjustment Technology that analyzes shots of subjects in front of bight 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.
The camera itself
The Stylus 790 SW is small, handy and easy to use right out of the box. Those who have used the 720 or 790 will notice that Olympus switched back to splitting operating mode selection from all-menu to a combination of mode dial and menus. The mode dial takes the space where the speaker is on the 770 and lets you select automatic, image stabilization, guide mode, movie, playback and favorites, as well as scenes. Mode dials are usually more difficult to operate when the camera is in an underwater case, but as of yet, the Olympus website does not list one for the 790, and neither does the product page.
Anyway, the scene mode is extensive. There are 26 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 wide 1 and 2, and underwater macro. The "smile" mode of other new Stylus models is missing but that's no big deal.
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.
Although not listed in the website specs, the Stylus 790, like other Olympus cameras, actually does have both a macro and a super-macro mode. The macro mode goes from eight inches to infinity whereas super-macro goes from 2.8 inches to a bit over two feet.
Movie and audio
The Stylus 790 has a 640 x 480 movie mode with sound, and it shoots at 30 frames per second for lifelike video (the 770 could only do 15 frames per second). Unfortunately, recording in VGA mode is limited to unacceptably short 10-second clips wheres rescording at lower resolutions is unlimited. Sound is not a strong side of this camera. There is no voice recording mode, and sound clips attaached to still images are limited to just four seconds.
Memory and Storage
The Stylus 790 comes with just 15MB of built-in storage. That won't last very long, but it can tide you over till you can put in a new memory card or upload pictures from the camera. As far as removable storage goes, the Stylus 790 SW uses the xD-Picture card format, which we just can't quite warm up to because the cards are harder to find and generally costs more than more common formats like SD Card.
The attractive ultra-compact water, shock and shockproof Stylus 790 SW is perfect for those who love to take their camera outdoors without having to baby it. The camera can take a beating and you can even use it underwater, down to a depth of ten feet. It has the same features as standard consumer models, which means it is useful anywhere and not just as a sports camera. We like the internal zoom, the excellent 2.5-inch LCD with its very wide viewing angle. If you want a camera you can take diving without a housing, you need the Stylus 770 because it can go deeper than the 720. But if you just want something waterproof, the less expensive 790 SW is just right. Plus you get all those cool new features.
Not so much:
- Attractively styled sports and outdoor camera
- Snorkeling possible with 10 feet depth limit
- Inherent waterproofing provides peace of mind when handling in/around water
- Can survive 5-foot drops and 14 degree temperature!
- Superb wide-angle, high-res 2.5-inch LCD
- Very good underwater macro mode
- LED illumination useful.
- We had hoped for a higher res CCD and 33 foot water rating or more
- Return to mode dial not an improvement for this type of camera
- Strictly point & shoot
- 640 x 480 movies limited to 10-second clips
- Uses often hard-to-find xD-Picture Card