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Reviews > Cameras > Digital > Olympus Stylus 770SW > Owner Review by Timothy Daniel Williamson
Owner Review Olympus Stylus 770 SW 7.1 Megapixel Digital Camera
Date of Review: July 5, 2007
I've day-hiked since I was about 12. Recently made the transition to lightweight backpacking with a pack weight around 10 kg (22 lb). I'm always looking for ways to cut down on weight, due to old back, lower leg and foot injuries. I plan on two or three overnight trips a year, with shorter hikes interspersed. Most of my hiking experience is in the Southeast and Southwest, but I've also hiked in the Pacific Northwest, the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains. Backpacking experience limited to overnights in the Blue Ridge Mountains, spring and early summer.
The camera has a brushed metal case. The front panel is available in three colors: silver, blue and bronze. The panel is surrounded by a black rubber seal, part of which is raised on the edge to act as a finger hold. When facing the front of the camera, this finger hold is on the left and the lens is in the upper right corner. Slightly left of center on the front panel are the LED illuminator and the flash. The microphone is just beneath these. On the rear of the camera, eight buttons share space with the 6.4 cm (2.5") LCD monitor. The buttons are not recessed into the body of the camera, but protrusions on the body prevent the buttons from being pressed when the camera is on a flat surface.
On the bottom are the battery/media compartment and standard 1/4"-20 tripod socket. Facing the rear of the camera, the USB connection port is on the right side of the camera, protected by a sealed cover. Beneath the connection port is the manometer. On the top are the power button and the shutter button. The power button is protected by a raised metal platform, so there's less chance of accidentally turning on the camera.
I was looking for a lighter camera than my five year old Olympus C4000 Zoom (295 g/10.5 oz) to carry while backpacking. It had to be shock resistant, because I'm prone to dropping things. It had to be water resistant, in case of inclement weather or in case I dropped it in water. It had to operate in conditions of high humidity, since I live in and travel to very humid environments. It had to be small enough to fit in my pocket, so I didn't have to carry a camera case. It also had to be resistant to dirt and dust, since I'd be using it on the trail. I had originally considered carrying a digital camcorder, but decided not to due to weight considerations. Therefore, a camera that could capture video with sound would be preferred.
I chose the Olympus Stylus 770 SW based on prior experience with at least five different Olympus digital cameras, two of which were Stylus models. It is about half the weight of my previous camera and much smaller. It fit my requirements by being shockproof from 1.5 m, which is just below my shoulder height and is higher than the height from which I expected to drop the camera. It was advertised as waterproof to 33 m, which far exceeds my requirements, since I didn't expect to be diving with it. Because it is waterproof, it will operate in high-humidity environments and can be easily cleared of dust and dirt.
I used this camera for a week-long trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia, where I hiked a total of 12 miles over five separate mountains with a total climb of approximately 3600'. Temperatures were between 7 C and 30 C (45 F - 85 F) and the relative humidity was between 25% and 95%.
When I returned home, I used the camera for a two-day trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama, where I tested the waterproof features under daytime conditions. Temperatures were between 21 C - 35 C (73 F - 95 F) and relative humidity between 37% and 100%.
The Olympus Stylus 770 SW performed very well on the trail. The shock resistance allowed me to carry the camera in the side pocket of my hiking pants, where I repeatedly whacked it with my wooden hiking stick. I didn't have to worry about dust, because the outer surface shed dust readily. Even the view-screen (the camera doesn't have an optical viewfinder) seemed to resist fingerprints and dust. The automatic lens cover was an unexpectedly welcome feature, as I didn't have to worry about taking the lens cover off and remembering to put it back on. The camera is equipped with a battery-saving feature which "sleeps" the camera when it hasn't been used for 10 seconds. Also, the battery-low indicator, unlike some of the other digital cameras I've used, alerted me to the low battery state well in advance of the camera's battery reaching its minimal operating voltage. I was able to take approximately 20 more pictures and five more minutes of video after the indicator showed a low battery, by using the power save feature and choosing my shots before I turned on the camera.
I was also very happy with the onboard LED lighting for macro shots. Most digital cameras deactivate the flash when in macro or super-macro mode. The Stylus 770 SW compensates for this with an LED illuminator. The LED can also be used to illuminate a subject in low light situations in the normal shooting mode when the subject is close enough.
This brings me to the only problem I had with the camera: focusing. Even well-lit subjects seem to be slightly out of focus if there's not some edge the camera can use to focus on. There's no manual focus, so I'm at the mercy of the auto-focus. I tried using the built-in image stabilizer, and that seemed to get better results. Interestingly, there was no problem with focus in macro or super macro modes. All of my bug and flower shots came out perfectly sharp. There are 27 separate shooting modes, in addition to the normal and image stabilized modes, and experimenting with these resulted in better focusing. Still, for a point and shoot camera, the focusing left something to be desired. I will continue to experiment with various settings to see if there is some combination of lighting and features which results in sharper images.
Other than the focusing issue, all photos were of excellent quality. Images which were in perfect focus were otherwise very vivid and I had no color issues.
The camera's zoom functioned perfectly. The response of the wide angle and telephoto buttons is immediate and transitioning from the wide angle to telephoto was very quick. There is some image degradation when using the digital zoom (above 3x), but it was no worse than other digital cameras I've used in the past.
The camera is equipped with a manometer which is supposed to record depth or altitude of the pictures I take (from -10 m (-32.8') to 5,000 m (16,400')) and display the barometric pressure. However, it needs to be manually calibrated and can only be calibrated at multiples of 600 (meters or feet). This means I have to wait until I'm at an even elevation (i.e. 1200 m or 1200') to calibrate the manometer. Since I carry a GPS, I'm not concerned with keeping track of my altitude when I take pictures, but I could see this being an issue with divers.
The Movie Mode turned out to be very useful. The picture quality was very good and the exposure quickly adjusted to various light levels. I recorded two and three-minute movies of the trail and myself (from arm's length and using a tripod) and put the movies together later on my PC into one long presentation. In this way, I was able to record my thoughts and experiences in a way that still photos wouldn't have captured alone.
Another feature I found useful was the Sound Recording mode with still photos. With this setting activated, I could record about 4 seconds of audio immediately after taking a picture. In this way, even without recording video, I could record where I was and what I was taking a picture of, for future reference. This comes in handy when taking multiple shots from a single vantage point, like a mountain summit. I could take a picture facing North, and record a short audio file indicating that the picture was of the North view from a particular point.
After I got home from the mountains, I took the camera to the beach for a day to test the waterproof features. It operated perfectly in depths up to 2 m (6.5') in both still and movie modes. I was able to take pictures and video of my family swimming underwater and even some curious fish. The only problem I encountered was water stuck in the microphone. If I had realized this, I could have blown the water out. As it was, the video was muffled above water. Sound recorded underwater was muffled, but this is to be expected. When we were finished, I rinsed the camera off in tap water and let it air dry, according to the manufacturer's directions. After it was dry, I checked the battery port (which also houses the memory card) and USB port and found no water inside either. The camera has continued to function correctly.
This camera has served me well as a rough-and-tumble alternative to a heavier, more full-featured camera. I'll probably buy a larger camera later for home use, but the Stylus 770 SW will continue to be my choice for outdoor use. After reviewing the product manual, I believe that the focus issues could be avoided or eliminated with better knowledge of the different camera settings and shooting modes. Also, in the future, I'll know to blow the water out of the microphone before taking pictures or video above water after shooting underwater scenes.
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