Olympus Stylus 770 SW Overview
by Theano Nikitas
Review Date: 5/24/2007
The third iteration of Olympus's compact shock and waterproof cameras, the Olympus Stylus 770 SW, takes the "SW" classification up a notch. In addition to its ability to withstand a drop from five feet, the latest SW model is now waterproof to a depth of 33 feet -- a depth that no other camera can achieve without an underwater housing. If 33 feet isn't sufficient, an optional underwater housing is available. Adding to its appeal, this 7.1 megapixel point-and-shoot camera can also handle sub-freezing temperatures and withstand 220 pounds of pressure. At the same time, you won't have any problems slipping this tough but slender camera into a shirt pocket.
Other than its tough-guy status, the Olympus 770 SW is a typical point-and-shoot camera, but with some bonus features. Common features include a 3x optical zoom with a 35mm-equivalent focal range of 38-114mm, 24 scene modes with text descriptions, and program and auto exposure options. Extras include a manometer, which records the depth or altitude at which the shot was taken, and a useful set of in-camera post-processing editing functions such as redeye fix, saturation, and brightness adjustments. Black and white and sepia effects are also available in playback mode along with resizing, the option to tag and organize images as favorites, and the ability to retrieve images by the date they were shot via a calendar. An LED Illuminator lamp -- which emits bright white light on demand for composing in low light situations -- is bright enough to double as a flashlight and provides a good source of illumination for macro shots.
The Olympus 770 SW's shockproof, waterproof, freezeproof, and crushproof attributes are its most distinguishing features, and there's no other camera like it on the market. However, without the camera's ability to survive in conditions that would render other models useless, the Olympus 770 SW would be just another decent, but not outstanding, snapshot camera. But as the only totally amphibious camera on the market--with the exception of used Nikonos models--it may well be worth its $379.99 price tag for those who need a camera that can handle whatever conditions you can throw at it.
Olympus Stylus 770 SW User Report
by Theano Nikitas
Intro. Many compact and sub-compact cameras are deemed ready to "go anywhere" because of their size, but the Olympus Stylus 770 SW takes that descriptor to a whole other level. This camera can go where others cannot; in fact, the 770SW may be more resistant to the elements than the person using it. Outdoor enthusiasts, scuba divers and snorkelers, beachgoers, boaters, skiers, and anyone whose shooting habits expose their digital camera to conditions that could easily damage other models will feel at ease when using the 770SW. And with its basic feature set, outdoor enthusiasts -- regardless of whether they're on the slopes or under the sea -- can spend their time enjoying their activities rather than fussing with camera settings. Even those who are less than enthusiastic about the great outdoors will appreciate not having to worry about dropping the camera, and can rest easy if they accidentally sit down while the Olympus 770 SW is stowed in a back pocket. And if there are kids in the house, mom and dad can rest easy that even the most mischievous child will have a hard time damaging this tough little camera.
Some users may find the lack of manual controls frustrating, but considering that the Olympus 770 SW is designed to be used under challenging conditions, such as underwater or at the beach, the on-board editing features to adjust brightness and saturation will come in handy for minor adjustments. Not surprisingly, there's also a post-processing redeye fix. Those who want to be a little more creative can quickly convert color to black and white or sepia, choose from a small assortment of decorative frames and add a text message (Congratulations, Happy Birthday, etc.), all without a computer. With these onboard features, direct Olympus 770 SW's PictBridge printing is more appealing, since you can tweak images in-camera prior to outputting the photo.
Design. The 770SW's body is attractively designed. Our test model featured a duotone stainless steel body with black accents; but the camera is also available in bronze or royal blue for photographers who want to add a little more style to their picture-taking. The Olympus 770 SW is a little heavier than others of its size but its stainless steel body is incredibly sturdy and is sealed against the elements with special gaskets and O-rings. Yet, the Olympus 770SW is small enough to be extremely portable.
Scuba divers and snorkelers will appreciate the Olympus Stylus 770 SW's negative buoyancy, which means that it won't float up and hit your mask while you're underwater. On the other hand, the camera will sink if you let go of it, important to know if you're using the camera on a boat and it falls overboard. If you plan to use the camera underwater, you may want to purchase an adjustable wrist strap to help prevent it slipping off your wrist when you're swimming. Alternatively, you can use a lanyard or attach it to your BCD (buoyancy control device or vest) when diving.
The Olympus 770 SW's 2.5-inch LCD is large enough to easily see the menus, but the controls are very small and can be difficult to use. With gloves -- which you'll surely need to test out its ability to withstand temperatures as cold as 14 degrees -- the buttons are even harder to use. Divers who wear gloves will also find it difficult to operate the camera. The power button is tiny and lies mostly recessed into to the top edge of the camera. The elongated shutter button is easy to identify by feel, resting as it does in a wide, sculpted notch. A half-dozen small square buttons reside on the rear of the camera and may present a challenge to photographers with large hands. I had a few problems locating and pressing the Zoom, Mode, Playback, Menu, and Print/share controls because each button is identified only by a small, white painted word or icon. Until I memorized the function of each button, I had to tilt the camera to read the subtle white-on-silver markings.
A surprisingly large speaker sits above the Olympus 770SW's Four-way controller and to the right of the Mode and Playback buttons and provides a thumb rest for the otherwise gripless camera. Unfortunately, the lens is positioned high and to the left, making it easy to inadvertently place a finger (or two) in front of it. Generally I noticed the misplaced digit in time to avoid ruining the picture.
Of all the controls, the most annoying -- besides the power button -- was the Four-way controller. Although not as tiny as some I've used on small cameras, it's not very responsive to the touch, and with the large extension of metal that holds the wrist strap, it's sometimes awkward to press the right side of the controller to change the flash mode. It's also too easy to mistakenly press the Olympus 770 SW's Function button that sits in the center of the controller. However, the Function button's size and slight rise above the controller's inner ring makes this the easiest control to access.
The camera's virtual menu is attractive, but because it's different from the more standard tabbed menu systems, it may take a little while to get used to. And since you have to exit one menu system to access another, it's far less convenient than the more traditional tabbed navigation.
Display/Viewfinder. The Stylus 770 SW, like most cameras in its class, does not have an optical viewfinder. Its 2.5-inch LCD is sufficiently bright to use comfortably under almost all conditions, but it was often too reflective to use effectively in direct sunlight. Although the monitor brightens under low light conditions, the monitor sometimes lagged when gaining up so it appeared to blink from dark to light and back again.
In unusually dark conditions, I used the bright white LED Illuminator on the Olympus 770 SW to light up the scene, which made it easier to compose the shot, helped autofocus lock in and seemed to eliminate the "blinking." This lamp can also be used as a lamp for macro shooting, or just as a flashlight.
The refresh rate on the Olympus 770 SW's display was a little slow and the visual blurred for a split second when I moved the camera to re-compose. But the monitor exhibited very little grain under low light.
Unfortunately, the LCD's information display did not show the shutter speed or aperture, so there were times I was concerned about whether or not I could handhold the camera in low light. In Playback, full image data -- including shutter speed and aperture -- was available on-screen so I used that to gather shutter speed information and assume that a similar shutter speed would be used under the same conditions. But not seeing the shutter speed prior to depressing the shutter fully is one of my pet peeves and I was disappointed that this information was missing from the LCD in Record mode.
Performance. The Olympus 770 SW certainly won't break any speed records when it comes to performance. Powering on the camera was a little slower than average and operation slowed every time the camera accessed the xD card to read or write image data. Shot-to-shot time was sluggish, and was noticeably slower when the flash was engaged. While shutter lag increased under low light conditions thanks to a somewhat pokey autofocus, both AF and shutter lag performance were improved under bright light. Scrolling through images in Playback mode was sufficiently speedy.
As mentioned earlier, operating the controls can be frustrating because of their diminutive size and the unresponsiveness of the Four-way controller. Having to cycle through the mode button to switch from standard Record to Digital image stabilization mode, and then having to push the button again to reach the Scene mode menu is something most people can get used to, but the multiple button pushes, as well as the separate menus, added a little extra frustration to camera navigation. There's no dedicated button for the Olympus 770 SW's Movie mode; rather, you have to first get into the Scene mode menu, then scroll down to Movie mode to shoot video clips.
Though the Olympus 770 SW is powered by a small rechargeable lithium-ion battery, battery life is below average for a camera of its class, particularly if you spend a lot of time editing or reviewing images in Playback. For extended outings, such as camping trips or long vacation days, you might want to buy an extra battery.
But the Olympus 770 SW's small built-in flash has a decent reach of 12.5 feet at wide angle, which is slightly above average for cameras in its class. With and without flash, the camera's auto white balance did a good job of producing accurate colors under a variety of lighting conditions. Still, image quality was definitely a mixed bag. Colors were generally accurate, although less than vibrant, and the 770SW did a good job making well-balanced exposures. On the other hand, images were slightly soft and we noticed purple and green aberrations along high-contrast edges. Image noise was also a problem at higher ISOs, further exacerbating the images' soft quality. When shooting in the available light scene mode, the camera reached ISOs of 2000-2500, resulting in high image noise and color artifacts. However, I was surprised that the results weren't worse. Bottom line, though, is that image quality is not this camera's strong suit; the Olympus 770 SW's rugged build is where it shines. Nevertheless, images shot at lower ISOs will be fine for smaller sized prints where the lack of sharpness and fine detail won't be as visible as they might be with larger output. Given the right shooting conditions (bright light, with good contrast) and perhaps a little sharpening in Adobe Photoshop or Elements, 8 x 10 inch prints hung on the wall should be okay, too.
Shooting. Although there were some constraints, I tried to test the Olympus 770 SW under a variety of conditions to see whether it lived up to its rough-and-tumble claims. I dropped it several times on a variety of surfaces. I took it out in sub-freezing temperatures (although they were just-barely below freezing). Weighing far less than the camera's crushproof threshold of 220 pounds, I even stood on the camera with one foot for a few minutes. This might not be the ideal test, but the camera was no worse for the wear after I completed my circus-like balancing act. Perhaps more telling was the 45 minutes the camera spent sitting outside in a late spring snowfall with the video mode engaged. Again, the Olympus 770 SW was fine afterward, there was no fogging of the lens when I brought the camera into the house, and aside from some low grade hissing, the video looked pretty good.
Because of its small size, I was able to carry the Olympus 770 SW around easily, whether on a long walk or just around the neighborhood. It was a little too big to slip into a small shirt pocket but it tucked away nicely into a daypack and was fairly comfortable around the neck hanging from a lanyard. High noon isn't the best time to take pictures, but an early afternoon walk meant that I had to deal with the bright light, which made it difficult to see the LCD unless I was careful about how I positioned myself and the camera when shooting. To review images, I tried to step into the shade to avoid the reflection of the sun on the monitor.
Most of my test shots were landscapes, and I was pleasantly surprised that the 770 SW's auto white balance managed to provide even, natural lighting when shooting a lake, its shores covered in snow. The exposure was accurate as well. Late afternoon/early evening shots were a little more difficult, however. I had no way of knowing the shutter speed, since there's no manual shutter speed (or aperture) control, nor does the shutter speed appear on the LCD when the shutter button is depressed halfway. At wide angle, minimum aperture is a relatively slow f/3.5, and I didn't want to risk high image noise using digital image stabilization, so a few blurry landscape shots told me it was time to head home and put the camera away. I did feel comfortable knowing that I didn't have to treat the Olympus 770 SW with kid gloves when I was outdoors.
Summary. This point-and-shoot camera's rugged body, which is sealed against the elements and capable of withstanding rough handling, is otherwise fairly standard for its class. But the fact that the Olympus 770 SW is water/freeze/crush/shock-proof makes it stand out from the rest. Outdoor enthusiasts may well be able to overlook some of its performance and image quality shortcomings, as well as its basic feature set, knowing that the Olympus Stylus 770 SW can handle whatever physical challenges are thrown its way. Caution when using Digital Image Stabilization, the Available Light Scene mode, and high ISOs should help prevent most image noise, giving snapshooters a way to capture decent -- albeit not great -- images of their outdoor adventures.
- 7.1-megapixel CCD
- 3x optical zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera)
- 5x digital zoom.
- 2.5-inch color LCD monitor
- Automatic exposure
- Built-in flash with red-eye reduction
- xD Picture Card up to 2GB
- 18MB internal memory
- USB full speed connection
- Rechargeable Lithium battery and charger included
- Software for Mac and PC; Windows Vista compatible
- Shockproof, waterproof, freezeproof, and crushproof (to a limit)
- ISO from 80-1600
- Digital image stabilization
- Twenty-four scene modes, including movie mode, with text descriptions
- Black and White, Sepia effects in playback
- Post-capture on-board editing for redeye, brightness, saturation
- Decorative frames and text greetings
- Organizational tools (favorites, calendar)
- Image resize
- Built-in alarm clock
- Panorama stitch assist
- Shutter speed from 1/2 sec. - 1/1000 sec; up to 4 sec. in Night Scene Mode
- Multi-metering and Spot metering modes
- White balance (color) adjustment: automatic and six presets
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format), PictBridge printing compatibility
- Movie recording with sound
In the Box
The retail package contains the following items:
- Olympus 770 SW camera
- Wrist strap
- Rechargeable Lithium battery and charger
- USB cable
- AV cable
- Printed manual; "Maintaining Water Resistance" instruction guide; software installation guide
- Software CD Olympus Master 2; User Registration; muvee theaterPack (trial version; Windows only)
- Large capacity xD card (These days, 512MB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity but you'll need a larger card, preferably high speed, for shooting long video clips.)
- Extra battery pack for extended outings
- Adjustable wrist strap for underwater shooting so you can snug it down around your wrist
While its image quality may not stand up to some of the competition and its feature set won't necessarily impress, the Olympus Stylus 770 SW is one tough camera that will go where no other point-and-shoot models can (or should) go. The Olympus 770SW won't let you down when it comes to withstanding all types of weather, accidental roughness and intentional underwater adventures. We had a little trouble with the camera's image quality when zoomed in close on a computer monitor, but few shooters actually use resolution this high, even printing up to 8x10 size, and few of these defects are strongly visible at those resolutions. So long as potential buyers are aware of these limitations, they can enjoy the truly excellent aspects of the Olympus Stylus 770 SW, and tweak the color somewhat before printing. With the addition of crush resistance, an altimeter, and even a flashlight, the Olympus 770 SW is the best ruggedized point-and-shoot camera on the market, making it a Dave's Pick.