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You are hereHome > Digital Camera Reviews > Olympus Stylus 790 SW Review


Olympus Stylus 790 SW Review

Review Date: Sep 17, 2007

Category: Point-and-Shoot

Olympus Stylus 790 SW


Thursday, Aug 28, 2007 - Here's what I receive in the box:

  • Stylus 790 SW (Silver)
  • No memory card [I received an Olympus 512MB xD-Picture Card for this review]
  • Li-Ion rechargeable battery LI-42B (3.7V 740mAh)
  • Battery Charger LI-40C with Power Cord
  • Wrist Strap (still no fastener)
  • USB and A/V Cables
  • Documentation: Quick Start Guide (English, French and Spanish versions); Basic Manual (includes English, French, Spanish)
  • Software CD: Olympus Master 2. [Note that the Advanced Manual is now optional and can be purchased online.]

If you've ever bumped, dropped and knocked a digital camera -- and ended up damaging it so it became inoperable -- you'll understand my fascination with the Olympus Stylus 790 SW. In an ultra compact body, Olympus engineers have managed to seal the camera with enough rubber gaskets and shock absorbing mechanisms to create a camera that is waterproof down to 3m (10 feet); shockproof, certified to withstand a fall from up to 1.5m (5 feet); and, winterized to perform at below-freezing temperatures (-10°C/14°F) -- which means that you can take this digital camera with you just about anywhere you want to go without worrying too much about damaging it in a fall, bump, downpour or snowfall.

The Stylus 790 SW is built tough and rugged and its latest design lends it a more elegant line. It is ultra compact and so you can easily slip it into your shirt or Jeans pocket.

[Editor's Note: It seems the 790 SW "for casual active users" is not the replacement to the 770 SW which has 2 features that are not present on the 790 SW. The 770 SW is certified: 1) waterproof to a depth of 10m (33 feet); and, 2) crushproof (220lbf). The 790 SW is certified waterproof to a depth of 3m (10 feet) and is not certified crushproof. The replacement to the 770 SW is probably the Stylus 1030 SW "for real active users."]

One improvement is the Mode Dial. I like it since it is easier and quicker to use than repeatedly pressing a button, but it also has taken away the space reserved for the thumb to rest at the back of the camera, with the result that it is a bit arkward to hold. The good news is that the Mode Dial is stiff enough that it won't rotate when you place your thumb on it, but I've inadvertently zoomed in or out when all I wanted to do was hold the camera stable.

All said, it is incredibly liberating not having to worry about damaging the camera in any way!

Soaking the camera in fresh tap water for 10 min.

Here is a 10 min soak underwater, requisite after each water adventure. Shake off the water, wipe the lens dry and it is immediately good to go!

One thing you have to be careful when using the camera in the water is that water droplets will inevitably get splashed onto the lens and just one water droplet on the lens will result in a foggy patch on your pictures. Wipe or shake the water droplets off the lens before taking pictures again.

I personally find it pretty difficult to obtain good underwater pictures in the ocean or in the swimming pool, but your experience may be different. I guess you need lots of light and crystal clear water, two preconditions to any successful underwater photography. Using flash underwater just seems to result in glare.

As with the Stylus 770 SW, the wrist strap that comes with the 790 SW unfortunately does not have an eyelet to fasten the strap tightly around your wrist. If you are going to take this camera underwater, on the boat or skiing, it is just too easy to accidentally let go of the camera -- and watch it sink to the bottom of the ocean floor or crash to the floor. (Just because it is shockproof does not mean that we want to drop it all the time.) I strongly recommend that you purchase a strap with an eyelet, and it can be from a different compact camera model and brand. [I use the wrist strap with eyelet that comes standard with my Fujifilm FinePix F30. Or, tie a knot in the wrist strap to make it slightly shorter and less loose.]

Floating StrapThere is an optional Floating Strap that keeps your camera afloat in case you should drop it in the water. It is packed with foam.

A floating camera is easier to retrieve than one that has sinked to the bottom of the swimming pool or sea bed. [MSRP: US $14.99]

Clear Protective Silicone SkinThough the camera's internal mechanism may not get damaged by bumps and falls, the outer metal surface itself is surprisingly not quite scratch-resistant. If you want to keep your Stylus 790 SW's protective armor shining for a long time to come (though there is a certain charm to a "battered" looking camera that keeps ticking), we recommend the optional durable silicone protective skin which protects your Stylus 790 SW against dust, bumps and scratches while giving you complete control of all the camera functions. Built-in feet stabilize the camera on uneven surfaces. It should also provide a better grip in wet conditions. [MSRP: US $14.99]

Underwater HousingAnd if you plan to dive into the deep for the ultimate underwater experience, the optional PT-041 Underwater Housing has been specially customised for the Stylus 790 SW and is waterproof up to a water pressure equivalent to 40 m depth.

It features simple handling above and under water and all camera functions can be controlled. [MSRP: US $299.99]

I find that the AF works well most of the time, only hesitating when the subject is not contrasty enough. There is no AF-assist light but there is a LED light that you can use to light your subject (and provide the light needed to lock focus). The LED light is bright enough to damage your subject's eyes, so do not shine into the eyes.

I was a bit disappointed with the shutter lag, but prefocusing easily solves this problem.

Exposure Compensation Previews

A brand new feature that Olympus is marketing is the Perfect Shot Preview which displays small thumbnails with the range of effects displayed. For example, in the screen shot above, the different effect of applying exposure compensation is displayed in small preview thumbnails on one screen. I guess the operative word here is "small" since the screen is divided into 4 rectangles. At times, the previews are too small to be able to tell the difference at a glance. But it's a good idea nevertheless and helpful in some cases.

Olympus Master 2

The Olympus Master 2 software is very user-friendly. It displays all info on one screen, including very complete EXIF info. You can do image editing, resize, crop, insert text, brightness & contrast, color balance, tone curve, gamma, auto tone correction, hue & saturation, monochrome & sepia, sharpness & blur, distortion correction and red-eye reduction.

It also processes RAW files (though the Stylus 790 SW does not record images in the RAW file format) with the usual functions: exposure compensation, white balance, picture mode, contrast, sharpness, saturation, B&W filter, picture tone, gradation, noise filter and color space.

The Olympus Stylus 790 SW is well designed and well-built, and the "SW" designation means that you do not have to worry about damaging it either from a fall or from the elements. It gives good results and should be a favourite of anyone who requires a camera "tough enough to take anywhere." Recommended for the casual user who loves hiking, boating and traveling. I would also recommend getting the optional durable silicone protective skin if you also want to protect the 790 SW from scratch (no, it's not scratch resistant) and, more importantly, to somehow purchase a wrist strap with an adjustable eyelet.

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