Olympus Stylus 770 SW Introduction

Hands-on Preview: 1/25/07

The second shock and waterproof digital camera in Olympus USA's new rugged line, the Stylus 770 SW improves on last year's Stylus 720 SW in a number of ways. The basic SW spec includes a rugged, waterproof body that can handle rain, sleet, or snow, or even snorkeling, which means that you can now take pictures where you previously wouldn't dare take a camera. You can also drop an Olympus SW-series camera from five feet onto concrete. What's new with the Stylus 770 SW is that you can go down to depths of 33 feet instead of 10; you can freeze the camera down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10C); and you can subject it to up to 220 pounds of pressure.

In addition to ruggedness, Olympus has added a bit of technology aimed to please the extreme sports lover. They've built a manometer into the Stylus 770, which measures water and air pressure, enabling depth and altitude to be recorded with each image. Now you can reinforce your bragging rights with photographic and measured evidence.

The Olympus 770SW is shockproof to the MIL-STD-810F standard, meaning that the camera can withstand drops of up to 5 feet from any angle without harm. The new physical reinforcements mean that you can take the Olympus Stylus 770 SW into some very extreme conditions, including freezing weather on backpack trips, and you can even put it into your back pocket without fear of damaging it when you sit down.

Despite its array of waterproof seals and shock absorption technology, the 770SW remains pocket-friendly. Other features include an Olympus-branded 3x optical zoom with a 38 - 114mm equivalent focal length range and f/3.5 - 5.0 maximum aperture. Because the lens is a folded optic, no lens elements protrude from the camera. This helps protect the delicate lens components, and makes sealing the camera body easier. The lens is coupled with a 7.1 megapixel imager, and the 2.5" LCD display has 230,000 pixels. There is no optical viewfinder.

Autofocus is via contrast detection, and ISO sensitivity ranges from 80 to 1,600 equivalent, and can be controlled automatically or manually. The Olympus Stylus 770 SW also offers what the company calls "Digital Image Stabilization" mode - which should not be mistaken for true hardware image stabilization. The 770SW instead boosts ISO sensitivity to gain a faster shutter speed and uses software de-blurring technology, both of which will reduce blur, but can create noise and sacrifice image detail.

By default, exposures are determined with Olympus' Digital ESP multi-pattern metering, with spot metering also available. Users can also tweak the exposure with +/-2.0EV of exposure compensation, in 1/3EV steps. Shutter speeds range from 1/1,000 to 4 seconds, and the Olympus 770 offers automatic or preset white balance control courtesy of six presets, but no custom white balance mode. The 770SW also includes a four-mode internal flash, and offers beginner-friendly control over images courtesy of over 20 scene modes, including four underwater settings.

As well as still images, the Stylus 770 can also capture movies at VGA or lower resolution, at a rate of 15 frames per second with clip length limited only by available storage space and battery life. The 770SW also has a twelve second self-timer to let you get into your own pictures. The camera stores images on xD-Picture cards, or 18MB of built-in memory. It also offers video and USB computer connectivity. Power comes from a proprietary Li-42B Lithium Ion battery.

The Olympus Stylus 770 SW is expected to ship in March 2007, at an estimated street price of US$380.


Olympus Stylus 770 SW Hands-On Preview

by Shawn Barnett

Olympus is improving. Not just their line, but they're raising the bar on camera design. They're taking a look at how electronics are being used -- and abused -- in the real world, and building a camera that can handle it. I've called for this kind of change in consumer electronic design since I used my first Panasonic Toughbook, a ruggedized notebook computer that can be used outdoors in a downpour. After all, if even the most basic car can stand exposure to the elements, including water, bumps, and minor impacts, shouldn't our electronics be able to handle the same real world?

When I reviewed the Stylus 720 SW last year, I really liked it for its physical design and durability, but I wasn't as crazy about its image quality. Since we've only received a pre-release unit, I can't comment on whether they've made an improvement in that area with the 770. The 720 SW's images did print very well, so if they at least maintained that, the new camera's specs will make the 770 SW far more attractive.

Greater durability. The Stylus 770SW's waterproof seals can now withstand water pressures down to 33 feet (10 meters), compared to the 720's 10 feet depth limit (3 meters). Now it can also handle below-freezing temperatures, for those folks enduring sub-freezing temperatures on a regular basis. 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10C) is pretty cold for a camera to handle; and most often it'll be nuzzled in a coat pocket in such climes, where its waterproof build will presumably keep the steam from its 98.6F owner from damaging it.

It can still withstand a five foot drop, as well, which is something so many people do to their cameras.

So real. But the true brilliance in the Stylus 770 SW is in the new crush resistance standard. The 770 can handle up to 220 pounds of pressure. What does that mean in the real world? When are you going to apply that much pressure? When you do like so many people do with thin cameras and stick it in your back pocket. I weigh 210 pounds. Since I'll only put a fraction of that weight on the camera when I sit down, I could put on another 100 pounds (Lord, please no) and still not crush the Stylus 770SW. That's real-world durability.

I've received so many emails from people whose cameras have died. When I asked how they carried them, it was most often either loose in a backpack or in a front or back pocket. We have no idea how much pressure we apply to objects that we put in our bags and pockets. But I know that I have tossed backpacks to the floor without a thought before I remembered that I had a camera or computer in there, and leaned against a wall with a backpack in-between. It's easy to forget that you have precious items in a pack or pocket.

If I've described your camera handling habits, the Olympus Stylus 770 SW is the one camera more likely to withstand your world. I hope other manufacturers follow Olympus's lead.

Look and feel. Olympus has made a lot of changes to the Stylus 770 SW, none of them bad; but I'm not as pleased with its appearance. While the 720SW looked and felt like it was machined from a solid hunk of steel, the 770SW looks more like aluminum composite. The feel is still solid and hefty, though, which helps stabilize the camera when shooting, unlike the other Stylus cameras we've reviewed recently. The shutter button, which I raved about on the 720SW, is the same on the 770, and easier to release than other Stylus models as well.

Controls on the back are largely the same, except for the shape of the buttons, which are square rather than round. I love the large lip on the back that serves as both a thumb grip and wrist strap lashing point. It's another design accent that shows off the 770SW's solid build.

I'm disappointed to see the continued use of the term Digital Image Stabilization for their High ISO mode, but we can't change them overnight. I would prefer a mode switch to this button arrangement, because it's too easy to switch modes with an accidental thumb press; but at least the new buttons make it less likely, as they jut out a little less than the round ones on the Stylus 720 SW.

Other stuff. There's also the manometer built in to record depth and altitude for improved record-keeping of where you've been; and the LED illuminator on the front for use while focusing and shooting underwater, or even above ground.

But we'll have to wait for the full shipping version before evaluating all that cool stuff. I'll have to psych myself up for the parachute jump and diving expedition I'll need to take, and that could take some therapy and soul-searching.

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