Olympus Stylus 770 SW Review

Olympus Stylus 770 SW

“There is no digital camera available like the Olympus Stylus 770SW.”
  • Toughbook tough; 7.1MP digicam
  • Slow response; few manual options; expensive

Summary

Laptop users have always had the Panasonic Toughbooks if they needed to dash off a document in a war zone. Camera owners never have had a digicam that could take a similar beating without ending up on the scrap heap—until now. The Olympus Stylus 770SW ($379.99 USD) is not only waterproof, it’s freeze-proof, drop proof and crush proof. Want to take this baby to the top of Mt. McKinley? No problem. Feel like tossing it on the sidewalk? No big deal as it can take it and still click away. But you get the idea—this is a truly ruggedized digital camera geared for outdoors men and women who want to take snapshots wherever they go—and who might occasionally drop it during their travels. And when you think about it, this camera wouldn’t be bad trekking through the canyons of New York City during a thunderstorm. We couldn’t wait to put it through our own torture test to see if it could really hack it in the wilds of New Jersey. Did it survive? Let’s see, shall we?

Features and Design

At first glance, the 7.1-megapixel Olympus Stylus 770SW looks like every other silver digital camera. Yet there are a few hints at its sturdy build including a sliding metal lens cover that looks like a tank’s gun port. There are screws and studs on the front and back of the all-metal body, giving it a stark industrial look. As you’d imagine, this one feels sturdy even though it weighs 6 ounces with the battery. It measures 3.6 x 2.3 x .8 (WHD, in inches).

The front of the Stylus 770SW only has a few unobtrusive decals and logos. There’s the hidden, non-protruding 3x optical zoom that translates to the usual 38-114mm in 35mm terms, as well as a flash, AF Assist lamp and tiny microphone. The top features the shutter key and on/off button.

The rear is dominated by a 2.5-inch HyperCrystal LCD screen rated at 230K pixels. This is an excellent screen that holds up very well, even in direct sunlight. The remainder of the controls on the 770 SW are similar to those found on even non-ruggedized digicams. There are two keys to control the zoom, (wide/tele), others for playback, menu, and delete. Rather than a circular mode dial for access to preset scene modes, it’s controlled by a single key. Once you press it there are 24 including four underwater options and movie. Like other Olympus cameras when you scroll through the choices, you’ll see a sample image and get a brief description. This is very well done and a no-brainer to use. There’s also a four-way controller with OK button giving quick access to macro, flash, self timer and LCD brightness adjustments. I like the fact the LCD screen adjustments are readily accessible instead of requiring you to drill down into the onscreen menu system.

The right side has a compartment for a combination USB, DC in and AV out connector. This has a snap switch to keep the door closed as does the battery-memory card compartment on the bottom. Since this is an Olympus, the camera uses optional xD Picture cards. There is 18MB of internal memory to get you started but you’ll definitely need a 512MB card or more for a day’s shooting.

The camera comes with a decent kit including the camera, a 300-shot battery with charger, wrist strap, 84-page Owner’s Manual and Olympus Master 2.0 software on CD ROM. There’s even a separate sheet to help you keep the camera waterproof with such helpful hints as keeping the compartments tightly closed when you go scuba diving (thank God for lawyers!).

Olympus Stylus 770 SW
Image Courtesy of Olympus

Testing and Use

Before we get into the picture-taking abilities of this 7.1MP point-and-shoot camera, let’s get to the really fun stuff. Olympus claims this camera is drop-proof up to five feet (MIL-STD-810F Drop Test Compliant). This means you can drop this baby onto concrete and it will keep working. Holding the camera at arm’s length, I proceeded to drop it many times on concrete and asphalt. The Stylus 770SW kept going, making it great for hikers who might drop it onto rocks while walking along. This spec doesn’t mean you can throw the camera like Nolan Ryan into a wall, just that it can be dropped with no ill effects. Very cool.

Speaking of temperature, Olympus claims the camera functions down to 14 degrees F so I popped into my freezer for a time to see what would happen. Nothing did—and the camera kept operating.

Another rugged aspect of this digicam is it’s crushproof up to 220 pounds of force. I didn’t have a metal press like the one in Terminator 2 so I just stepped on it with my shoes on. Since I weigh 175, the camera was OK with this unscientific torture test as well.

The final claim for the camera is the fact it’s waterproof to 33 feet (JIS Class 8). My pool is closed so there was no chance to try this one out and since my pool is only eight feet deep it was a moot point anyway. Knowing DT wouldn’t think too highly of me asking for a trip to the Caribbean to test this out, I improvised and dropped it into a full bath tub. Again no problem but there wasn’t any way to hit 33 feet in my house! Note the camera has four underwater scene modes, so it’s really targeted to water lovers, whether they’re snorkeling or taking a casual scuba dive. I have to reserve judgment on the underwater capabilities since I couldn’t do it justice but the camera survived the dunking without a hiccough.

The camera has another feature making it a cool toy for outdoorsy types. The Olympus 770SW has a built-in manometer that measures water and air pressures. In other words, you can see how high you were when you went skiing or mountain climbing and how deep you dove since the information is saved in the image meta-data and appears onscreen, if you’d like. The range is 16,400 feet high to 32.8 below the surface—plus it’ll show a warning if you get too deep with the camera while you’re swimming with the fishes

Olympus Stylus 770 SW
Image Courtesy of Olympus

Picture Quality

Given all these rugged bona fides, what kind of pictures did this camera take? First, you have to realize this is a step above a point-and-shoot digicam—and the step is a small one. Besides the many screen modes, this camera offers little in the way of photographic adjustments. You can change the white balance, ISO (up to 1600), metering and focus—that’s really about it. Forget aperture or shutter speed. Olympus claims a fast continuous shutter speed but that’s at 3-megapixel resolution, not full 7.1MP. Use that setting and the camera will take four in a row then give it up, about half the ability of the just-reviewed 8MP Sony DSC-W90. And this camera suffers from the other main problem of Olympus cameras—slow response. The Stylus 770SW really labors saving SHQ 3072 x 2304 pixel files. It’s one of my biggest complaints about Olympus digicams—they just don’t have the processing power of competing cameras from Canon and Sony. The company better step up to the plate with its next generation models or they’ll be left on the tech trash heap. While I’m piling on, this camera only has electronic image stabilization rather than optical, a much inferior method of eliminating blur from your pictures. Also the movie mode is 640 x 480 pixels at 15 frames per second rather than the 30 fps of almost everyone else.

After that riff, how were the pictures? Actually pretty good, especially outdoors. Before the April showers came along, I took many shots of the new spring blooms and the camera did a fine job. Colors were very accurate in my final 8 ½ x 11 prints. My only real complaint was the lag time as it saved the images. There really shouldn’t be a reason for this circa 2007. Shots taken indoors were good as well, thanks to the AF Assist lamp. And—as you’d expect—photos taken above ISO 400 had digital noise galore but that’s to be expected in the vast majority of point-and-shoot digicams.

Conclusion

There is no digital camera available like the Olympus Stylus 770SW. None can take the beating this camera can. If you’re an outdoorsy type and are looking for an easy-to-carry camera to take along on your treks, this is the one. Folks who expect to be at the beach and near the surf should consider this one too—the screen really takes the sunlight well and you can drop it in the water and it’ll be fine—as long as you grab it before it hits 33 feet below the surface. Yes, it has its shortcomings—especially the high price–but this 7.1-megapixel survivor is unique.

Pros:

• Takes a beating
• Accurate photos, especially outdoors
• Excellent LCD screen

Cons:

• Slow response
• Few manual options

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