Rugged goes extreme

Olympus produces an unsinkable digital

Olympus Stylus 770 SW

GCN Reviewer's Choice logo
Performance: A

Features: A+

Ease of use: A+

Value: A-

Price: $379

Reviewer's comments: The Stylus 770 is an amazing little camera that looks fragile but in fact took everything we threw at it, even taking photos underwater.

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Olympus Stylus 770 SW

Underwater coin: It may not be bringing up artifacts from the Titanic, but we were able to photograph several coins in great detail that had been sitting under water for a very long time.

Underwater: This is the salmon statue taken with the 770 positioned underwater with that fish. From here, the fish almost looks real in the murky depths. The camera suffered no damage from several dives.

We see a lot of rugged devices in the lab, but this is the first time we've tested something that is completely rugged against water, including full submersion. And to find that type of functionality, plus being protected against drops as far as five feet, is even more unusual in a digital camera, making it suitable for work in any environment.

When the Olympus Stylus 770 SW arrived in the lab, at first we thought we had been shipped the wrong model. The 770 looks pretty much like a normal, small digital camera. It even has a big 2.5-inch LCD screen on its back so you can aim the camera and also see if you have captured the correct image after taking a shot. It certainly did not scream out rugged, as some rugged laptop PCs do with their heavy frames and rubberized grips.

However, looking a bit closer, you will notice that the 770 does not have the telltale telescoping lens of most tiny digital cameras. Although this limits the zoom on the 770 to just a digital one, it also helps to make the unit more rugged.

Probably the primary reason for the static frame is that the camera is rugged against freezing. It will operate fine down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit, a full 18 degrees below freezing. We left it in our freezer overnight, and in the morning, it started snapping pictures with no problems other than our cold hands.

[IMGCAP(1)]The 770 can also withstand crushing weight up to 220 pounds and drops as far as five feet. We tested the shock-rugged nature of the 770 by putting it through our 810f military specification test lab, which included dropping the device five feet onto plywood over concrete. It emerged without a scratch after 20 drops.

But the 770 goes even one step further because the camera is completely waterproof. An initial test in the sink proved favorable, so we moved out to more dangerous waters ' the large fountain and waterfall outside GCN Lab world headquarters. There, a big waterfall flows into a pond-like structure where ornamental salmon statues appear above and below the water's surface.

It was a natural place to put the 770 to the ultimate test. Lowering the unit into the somewhat murky pond-like water, we noticed a couple of bubbles escaping the camera and feared the worst. But we took aim at one of the underwater stone fish, which is covered with light algae and difficult to see from the surface because it blends with the bottom of the pond.

[IMGCAP(2)]The camera flashed, and we pulled it back to the surface. Surprisingly, the fish was staring right into the lens, and looked quite real and pretty scary close up in the big LCD screen. Moving on down a bit, we found several coins glinting in the sunlight and submerged the camera to get some photos.

The coins too came out well, with details like the date they were minted clearly visible when zoomed in. And although our pond testing was fun, the 700 is built to handle a lot more. It's rated to go down in 33 feet of water and still be fine.

And no matter what depth or altitude you are, the 770 will do a good job at snapping pictures because of a built-in manometer that measures air or water pressure and can adjust camera settings accordingly. There is also digital stabilization technology, which means that even if your subject or you happen to be moving, the camera will try to compensate. In our testing it did well, eliminating most motion lines even when we tried to introduce them to a shot.

Settings feature

Another component to the 770's ease of use are 27 built-in settings. You simply dial up the atmosphere where you are shooting, and you are shown an example image in addition to the text.

You select the proper environment, say candlelight, and the camera will change all its settings to capture perfect candlelight photos.

And in addition to all the amazing rugged qualities, the 770 SW also happens to be a good digital camera. Shooting an incredible 7.1 megapixels, your images can be as large as 3,072 x 2,304.

[IMGCAP(3)]However, at that size, you are only going to get eight photos using the internal memory, though you can of course lower the resolution or insert an XD card. The camera can also capture video, though you will need a lot of memory to make any movies that run more than a minute or so.

One of the things not so typical in a rugged device that we did find in the 770 is a reasonable price. Generally, a rugged model of anything is going to cost between three and six times more than a nonrugged comparable one. But the 770 SW can be found for just $379, which is about what you would expect to pay for a high-end 7.1 megapixel camera.

Traveling companion

The Olympus Stylus 770 SW is a perfect traveling companion whether you need a rugged camera or just need one that is a little more durable than the average, fragile offerings out there. Go to the top of a mountain, document disaster recovery scenes, or dive 33 feet underwater, and the 770 SW will capture whatever images you find. It earns a Reviewer's Choice designation for really changing our perceptions about what a digital camera can be.

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