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Olympus Stylus 1030SW

by Theano Nikitas
Review Date: 08/06/2008

Overview

The Olympus Stylus 1030SW is a 10.1 megapixel point-and-shoot digital camera with a rough-and-ready body that is waterproof, crushproof, shockproof, and freeze-proof. A 3.6x optical zoom lens provides a wider-than-average 35mm-equivalent focal length of 28mm-102mm and is complemented by a 5x digital zoom. At f/3.5-f/5.1, the lens isn't the fastest glass in town, but the camera specializes in outdoor shooting, so the speed of the lens should suffice under most outdoor conditions.

As is common for point-and-shoot cameras, aperture and shutter speed cannot be set manually on the Olympus Stylus 1030SW. Instead, you'll find a total of 29 shooting modes, 25 of which are scene modes. The 1030SW's basic feature set is complemented by on-board Help, a Shooting Guide, the very useful Perfect Shot Preview (which gives you a preview of how a photo will look with various settings such as White Balance), a live Histogram and Frame Assist. There's also a Shadow Adjustment feature on the Olympus 1030SW that is designed to balance shadows and highlights in various situations such as backlit scenes, and a Manometer that measures air pressure, so mountain climbers and scuba divers have a reference point of the height (or depth) at which an image is captured. Face Detection and a post-processing automatic Perfect Fix feature add to the Olympus Stylus 1030SW's capabilities. Optical image stabilization is not available. Instead, the 1030SW utilizes its ISO range of 80 to 1600 for what the company calls "Digital image stabilization."

Like most compact cameras, the Olympus Stylus 1030SW does not have an optical viewfinder. However, the camera is outfitted with a high resolution 2.7-inch LCD that has a wide angle of view and 5 brightness settings.

All things being equal, even considering its feature set, the Olympus Stylus 1030SW's real claim to fame is its ability to withstand conditions that other cameras (or their manufacturers) can only dream of.

 

Olympus Stylus 1030SW User Report

by Theano Nikitas

Like its predecessors in the SW lineup, the Olympus Stylus 1030SW is made for the outdoors and can handle just about anything you can think of. You can drop it from 6.6 feet, sit or stand on it (it can withstand up to 220 pounds of pressure), take it underwater to a depth of 33 feet, or outdoors in sub-freezing weather (down to 14 degrees F). But you don't have to be an outdoor adventurer to test the Olympus 1030SW's durability; just think of it as a camera that can go where no other camera can -- or should -- venture. The Olympus 1030SW is a perfect companion for the swimming pool, beach, boat, or anywhere water, dirt, dust, and other elements would wreak havoc with the electronics of most cameras.

At its core, though, the Olympus Stylus 1030SW is a point-and-shoot camera with the standard array of shooting options. But its feature set holds a few pleasant surprises with extras that make shooting easier for novices, and provide more experienced users with a couple of handy options as well.

The camera has a few shortcomings that may detract from its usefulness as your one-and-only digital camera, but the Olympus Stylus 1030SW is a hardcore camera for those who want to take pictures under conditions where other cameras fear to tread.

Look and Feel. Built like a workhorse, the Olympus Stylus 1030SW's metal body is incredibly sturdy. Thanks to special protective seals and gaskets, the camera can be submersed in water to a depth of 33 feet. Because it's so well-sealed, the Olympus 1030SW is impervious to rain, snow, sleet, hail, dust, sand, and other outdoor camera hazards. At the same time, the metal body can be dropped from a height of 6.6 feet with no ill effects; and while you may not make a habit (as I did) of purposely dropping your camera, accidents happen and it's always comforting to know that a slip-through-the-fingers drop or bump won't harm the camera. You should, however, check the sealed areas for specs of dust or sand, which can interfere with the seals.

The Olympus 1030SW's crushproof feature is probably more important than you imagine as I recently found out. After setting the camera on the couch next to me one day, a friend innocently sat down on it. Although he weighs less than 220 pounds, this made me a believer in Olympus' claims that the 1030SW's body and reinforced LCD can withstand up to 220 pounds of pressure. Since freezing temperatures are long gone in my area, I didn't test the 1030SW's ability to function in 14-degree Fahrenheit conditions; but in last year's test of its sibling, the 770SW, there were no problems (other than my frozen hands and face).

Measuring 3.7 x 2.4 x 0.84 inches, the Olympus Stylus 1030SW is small enough to be carried comfortably in pocket or purse. It weighs about 6.8 ounces with the battery and xD-Picture Card, a little heavier than other compact cameras, but the weight certainly adds to the camera's sturdy feel.

The Olympus 1030SW's design is a little different from most, and looks more industrial than sexy. However, the 1030SW comes in three cool color combos: silver/silver, black/silver, and green/silver. A self-covering lens is located in the upper right hand corner (when you're looking at the camera from the front), with the flash just out of the way of your forefinger when gripping the camera. The lens is protected by the automatic cover, which opens when you power up the camera and the lens's surface showed no droplets or other picture-altering effects when wet. But it's a little too easy to let the forefinger on your left hand stray in front of the lens and ruin the shot, so be particularly careful if you have large hands. Generally, though, the Olympus Stylus 1030SW is fairly comfortable to hold.

The Olympus 1030SW doesn't have an optical viewfinder; rather, your sole method of composing is its 2.7-inch, 230,000-dot LCD. The display has a wide angle of view so you can easily see your composition from the side or overhead. This also allows you to easily share images with family and friends right after you've photographed them. The ability to adjust the LCD's brightness in five steps is an extra benefit so you can easily tweak the monitor according to shooting conditions. In low light, the 1030SW's LCD lights up automatically so you can clearly see what you're shooting.

Interface. Olympus' designers had some good ideas when they put the Stylus 1030SW together. Dedicated external controls and a Function Menu make it easy to adjust settings without going into the 1030SW's menu system. The four-way controller on the back of the camera can be used to set Exposure Compensation, Flash, the Self-Timer, and Macro. Nestled into the four corners of the controller are the Menu, Playback/Direct Print, Shadow Adjustment On/Off, and Display/Menu Guide/LED Illuminator buttons. The Function Menu provides access to White Balance, ISO, Single/Continuous shooting modes, Metering, file size, and compression options.

On the rear of the camera, just above the control buttons, you'll find a small Mode Dial that falls in line with your thumb when holding the camera. It's tightly ratcheted so there's less chance of accidentally changing the mode with an errant finger. This design is preferable to the old method, which used a button to cycle through the various modes. The dual-button Zoom sits above the Mode Dial. A nice-sized shutter and a small power button sit along the top edge of the camera, rounding out the 1030SW's external controls.

The control layout is logical and, in many ways, works well. However, as is common with compact cameras equipped with large LCDs, the controls are small. This can pose a problem for photographers with larger hands and, perhaps more importantly, for those wearing thick gloves when putting the 1030SW's freezeproof features to the test. The other challenge for photographers is figuring out what each button does. The identifying icons and fonts are either white or engraved into the silver surface and are almost impossible to see. The identifiers on the Mode Dial, on the other hand, are perfectly legible.

Along the top edge of the camera you'll find a nicely sized shutter button and a small power button. Both are easy to use with bare hands but, like many of the other controls, the low profile power button may be difficult to find with a thickly-gloved hand.

I have to admit that I'm not a huge fan of Olympus's virtual menu system. Rather than breaking up the menu into tabs, the Stylus 1030SW uses separate icons for each section, i.e., Camera Settings, Setup, Image Quality, Reset, SCN (Scene), and direct access to Silent Mode and Panorama. Maybe I'm old-fashioned (if digital photography is old enough for one to be old-fashioned) but I think the tabbed layout format found on many other cameras is more efficient to use since it's easier to jump between options. Given all the external controls and Function Menu, you'll rarely have to access the main menu. Unfortunately, though, you'll have to venture into the menu to activate Face Detection, which is one of the AF options.

Modes. As expected, the point-and-shoot Olympus Stylus 1030SW doesn't offer manual control of Aperture and Shutter Speed; though you do have a choice of Auto or Program AE. With the latter mode, you have access to a number of features, including metering, Exposure Compensation, and others that allow you to adjust the way the camera captures images. Mostly standard stuff, but the Olympus 1030SW shines with 25 Scene modes that range from the standard portrait and landscape to Behind Glass, Auction (a 3-shot exposure bracket mode with Web-ready file sizes), Shoot & Select (continuous shooting but you choose the images you want to save) and several underwater modes. Each Scene mode is accompanied by a very helpful text description of the mode's function and when to use it.

Olympus addresses the issue of blurry images from camera of subject movement with a digital stabilization mode. That means that the camera automatically boosts the ISO, which subsequently increases the shutter speed, to help avoid blur. Fortunately, the Olympus 1030SW's LCD shows the shutter speed and f/stop when you press the shutter button halfway, so you bypass the auto ISO boost and manually adjust the ISO until you get a shutter speed that is fast enough for you to handhold the camera. That way, you have control over the ISO (and the amount of image noise associated with each setting).

Video clip (1.9MB)

Movie buffs will appreciate the Olympus 1030SW's AVI movies with sound at 640x480 or 320x240, both available at 30 and 15 frames per second. There's a Pre-Capture Movie scene mode that starts recording immediately but doesn't save the footage permanently until after you press the Shutter button. Unfortunately, the video in this mode is limited to a total of 7 seconds (two seconds from the pre-record and 5 seconds after you press the Shutter button).

On the Mode Dial, you'll also find Favorites and Playback modes but more important is the Olympus 1030SW's Guide option. This on-board system addresses 14 different photo issues such as Shooting into Backlight, Shooting at Night, and Reducing Red-Eye. All you have to do is choose the shooting situation, select one of the solutions (such as "Activate Shadow Adjustment" or "Set to fill-in flash"), press a button and the camera automatically makes the adjustments; you don't even have to go into any other menus. Perhaps one of the coolest features, which can be accessed from the Guide, is the ability to preview how different settings would affect an image. For example, you can see seven different white balance settings or exposures. There's even one to judge how different settings will impact the smoothness of a movie.

Storage and Battery. Don't expect much from the Olympus 1030SW's 14.7MB internal memory; you get only three high resolution images. Like most Olympus non-SLR digital cameras, the 1030SW has a single slot for an xD-Picture Card. Frankly, I'll be happy when the xD card goes the way of SmartMedia, but meanwhile you might want to pick up a 1GB card, which holds a little over 200 high-resolution images.

The Olympus 1030SW's lithium-ion rechargeable battery is, of course, pretty small. It's supposed to last for 260 shots according to CIPA standards, which is a decent amount of shots considering the camera's size. Keep in mind that if you use the flash a lot, you won't get nearly as many shots from a single charge. You can always pick up an extra battery pack for vacations or dive trips when you might not have time to recharge the battery during outings or between dives.

If you're a scuba diver and want to expand on the 1030SW's 33-feet-for-one-hour underwater capabilities, check out the Olympus housing for this camera (good to 130 feet). Olympus also makes an underwater strobe, so you can get the full treatment. Still, if you want the full underwater kit, you're much better off spending the extra money for a digital SLR and housing.

Shooting. One of the great things about the Olympus 1030SW is that you don't have to worry about when and where you take pictures, since you're more likely to be affected by the weather or other elements than the camera will. It's really nice not to have to worry about the rain or sand or anything else wreaking havoc with the electronics. Additionally, since the camera is compact, it's easy to carry around -- you can even put it in your back pocket (as long as the pocket is big enough) and generally not have to worry if you accidentally sit on it. I did, however, put the camera in a small pouch when it was placed in my bag so it wouldn't get damaged by loose keys.

The Olympus 1030SW's LCD works well outdoors and inside (and even underwater), so not having an optical viewfinder really isn't an issue. As mentioned earlier, the biggest problem revolves around not being able to see the identifiers on the external controls. But once you have them memorized, the ability to access most of the settings from dedicated buttons or the Function Menu gives the Olympus 1030SW extra points for usability (as long as your hands aren't too large).

The lens is set high and to the left of the camera (when viewing it from the shooting position) so I ended up with more than a few shots with a stray finger in front of the lens. This was true even when using a forefinger/thumb grip with my left hand. This can be even more problematic when wearing gloves in cold weather or for cold-weather diving. It shouldn't be a problem if you're diving in warm water in the Caribbean since most dive operations won't let you wear gloves as a deterrent from touching delicate coral underwater.

Of course, having the 35mm-equivalent of a 28mm lens comes in handy for wide shots that would be difficult to capture with a narrower lens. Unfortunately, though, even at wide angle I had some problems getting the subject in focus. The camera would sometimes focus in the back of or to the side of what I was shooting, which became frustrating. But the camera focused quickly and, when pre-focused, there was minimal (0.04 seconds) shutter lag. Otherwise, shutter lag was still quite good, measuring 0.52 and 0.61 seconds (wide angle and telephoto, respectively).

I didn't have to wait long for the camera to start up -- or shut down -- which is always helpful when you want to shoot spontaneously. Start-up time measured 1.45 seconds and the camera powered down in 1.6 seconds. You also won't have to wait long between shots, even when the Olympus 1030SW is set to its highest resolution. Figure about 1.74 seconds. Just beware when you use the flash, because you may have to wait more than 5 seconds for it to recharge.

The Olympus 1030SW has a couple of different continuous shooting modes. At full resolution, the camera snaps off images at only 0.79 frames per second. If you want to capture some action shots and don't mind a drop in resolution to 3 megapixels, you may be better off using the high-speed continuous mode. You'll get about 5.16 frames per second without slowing down for more than a dozen images.

I.Q. Though there should be plenty of detail in this shot, it's just a little soft everywhere. You can also see the chromatic aberration in the leaves above right without even enlarging it. Not terrible, but certainly not excellent performance.

Image Quality. Before I launch into the ups and downs of the Olympus 1030SW's image quality, let's get one thing straight: if you're looking for the ultimate in image quality, you're not going to find it here. However, depending in the images, you should be able to make prints up to 8x10 inches that will look fine hanging on the wall or sitting on the coffee table in a frame. Just don't look too closely.

Image noise is a problem, even at low ISOs, so keep the light sensitivity set as low as possible. At ISO 400, an 8x10-inch print looks pretty good, if a little soft. ISO 800 is better at 5x7, and ISO 1,600 produces grainy 4x6-inch prints.

Chromatic aberration (such as purple fringing along high contrast edges) was apparent and images were generally very soft, especially around the sides and corners.

The Olympus 1030SW does a decent job with color rendition, but I recommend using the camera's Perfect Image Preview for white balance when shooting indoors so you can choose from among the different white balance options. Some indoor shots (without flash) were a little warm (yellowish) on automatic white balance.

Soft detail. Even at the lowest ISO setting, the Olympus 1030SW's output is quite soft, only sufficient for a soft 8x10-inch print, while most other 10-megapixel sensors can easily do 11x14-inch prints.

Detail capture was soft. Still, regardless of lighting conditions, the Olympus 1030SW usually delivered accurate exposures. When faced with moderately contrasty scenes, the Shadow Adjustment feature helps maintain shadows and highlights so, all in all, the 1030SW actually exceeded our relatively modest expectations.

Appraisal. The Olympus Stylus 1030SW has a lot of competition when it comes to image quality, but it can hold its own in the small rugged category. Being impervious to the elements and rough-handling is what this camera is all about, and that's where it excels.

Beyond its ability to function safely where other cameras cannot, the Olympus 1030SW offers a nice set of features for a point-and-shoot model. Snapshooters and beginner photographers will appreciate the on-board explanations of features and Scene Modes, as well as the helpful Guide that provides assistance in shooting under challenging conditions.

Performance is actually pretty good for a snapshot model. And, although image noise is present even at low ISOs, the camera is capable of producing decent-sized prints. The addition of a 28mm lens makes the Olympus 1030SW more useful for scenic photography.

While the camera has its shortcomings, its ability to function under severe conditions and withstand rough handling is its main selling point. If you're an adventurer or simply want to take pictures in challenging conditions, you're likely to be forgiving of the camera's image quality.

The Olympus Stylus 1030SW is good, but it's best thought of as a second camera that you take out to shoot in challenging conditions. If you don't need the 1030SW's toughness, then you'll be better off with other models in the same size and price range.

 

Olympus 1030SW Basic Features

 

Olympus 1030SW Special Features

 

In the Box

The retail package contains the following items:

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Olympus 1030SW Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Compact, attractive design
  • Rugged build
  • Waterproof
  • Freeze proof
  • Crushproof
  • Shockproof
  • Submersible to 33 feet with no time limits
  • Special underwater scene modes
  • 28mm wide-angle optical zoom
  • Macro illumination lamp
  • Face Detection
  • 2.7-inch LCD
  • Shadow Adjustment
  • Live preview of effects, exposure, and white balance
  • Helpful on-board Guide
  • Quality mode dial replaces mode button
  • Pre-Capture movie mode
  • External control identifiers difficult to read
  • Image noise even at low ISO
  • Chromatic aberration
  • Soft images
  • Face Detection buried in main menu
  • Image quality not as good as "non-rugged" competition
  • Poor autofocus system
  • No manual aperture and shutter speed controls
  • Digital image stabilization isn't what it sounds like
  • Weak flash
  • No optical viewfinder

 

This tough little point-and-shoot camera can withstand conditions -- and handling -- that would wreak havoc with other cameras. The Olympus Stylus 1030SW also offers a nice selection of features that are helpful for novices and snapshooters. You won't find the best image quality, although if you don't look too closely you'll be happy with prints up to 8x10 inches at lower ISOs; and you can still get decent 5x7's as long as you don't go above ISO 800. You don't have to be an outdoor enthusiast to benefit from this camera's ruggedness, though -- think beach, pool, boat, or the slopes in winter. The Olympus Stylus 1030SW is small enough to take anywhere with you and strong enough to hold up under any conditions.

Olympus gets points for again producing a very rugged digital camera with a 28mm wide-angle lens, but they should have been able to improve the image quality over the last two years; unfortunately, despite the increased resolution, printed output is actually worse in the 10-megapixel 1030SW than it was in the 7.1-megapixel 720SW. So though it doesn't earn a Dave's Pick, the Olympus Stylus 1030SW is a decent choice for rugged conditions.