I was excited to try the 10 mega-pixel Stylus 1030 SW by Olympus because I would be allowed to put the company's claim that the camera works in tough conditions to the test. Marketed for outdoorsy types, Olympus boasts that this camera works in dust, water, and can even survive a drop from over 6 feet.
This camera is more than just a pocket sized tough guy, though. Technical attributes include an enhanced LCD screen for better viewing and a 28 mm (equivalent) wide angle lens that promise easy use and more versatility than other point and shoot cameras. The on-camera editing features and manual shooting options are bonuses that make this camera worth the price.
Waterproof to a depth of over 33 feet: Is it all wet?
While this is the first feature I'm writing about, it was the last feature on the camera I tested. I wanted to at least be able to test and write about other features of this camera, and had it failed this test, that would've been impossible. The Stylus 1030SW claims to be waterproof to 33 feet (10 meters), but I don't have access to a pool. I live too far from the ocean and I'm not jumping into the Potomac River, so I used the next best thing; my bathtub. This camera works before, during and after being submerged in water (as seen in the picture below). Rubber seals on the battery compartment and USB cable connection compartment keep the water out of the electrical connections, and the airtight metal body keeps the water out of the rest of the camera.
The six foot drop: It takes a lickin' and keeps on clicking
This was the second to last feature I tested (once again, for fear of breaking it). The camera not only survived, but works through the drop. This camera checks the block on the six foot drop and even works when hitting hard wood floors. For those prone to clumsiness (like me), this camera is a definite insurance policy for your budget.
Enhanced LCD Screen: Bright enough
Taking photos with a viewfinder might seem a bit "old-school," but personally, I prefer it. Viewing an LCD in bright sunlight can be tough and straining on the eyes. When I saw this camera did not have a viewfinder, I grimaced.
But testing it on a bright sunny day at a winery proved the Olympus' HyperCrystal II LCD screen would not be drowned out by the sun. The screen not only has a wider viewing angle, but is easy to see in bright light as well as darker situations. You can even adjust the screen's brightness level to your liking.
Wide Angle Lens: Fit it all in
While the 28mm equivalent lens might not be wide enough for interior design and architectural photography, it is fantastic for wider landscape shots and large group photos. Basic shots of housing interiors aren't bad if you can stuff yourself far enough into a corner. But if you're into taking outdoor photos or vacation photos, which are the environments this camera was made for, you're not going to be taking pictures inside too much anyway.
One thing to mention: having a wider lens at the minimum zoom will limit the maximum zoom you can achieve. At 3.6x optical zoom, this camera goes to an equivalent of about 100mm (140mm at the 5x digital zoom). This might not get you as close to the action as you want.
On-camera Editing: Is software obsolete?
On-camera editing has come a long way in the past few years, and this camera is up to snuff. I took a few pictures in auto mode and found them to be a bit on the dark side. The 1030SW's on-camera editing functions are easy to use and actually do a good job. See the before and after photos of Steve the cat below. In the before picture, it's hard to see the contours of his coat, but after using the "Perfect Fix" function to fix all features on the photo, the shine and levels of his coat come out brilliantly.
We have all taken photos at an outdoor get together that are drowned out by a bright background. While the beautiful blue sky in the background is great to see, we really didn't want shadows of our friends. This camera has a shadow adjust feature which brightens the picture so your friends and family are once again viewable.
The Stylus 1030SW not only does these basic editing functions but will also crop photos, tone photos as sepia or convert them to black and white right on the LCD. You can also add frames, labels and even build a calendar!
These types of features usually require extra software on your home computer, but not anymore.
If you're worried about not liking the changes you've made, this camera saves the original image and creates a duplicate with your changes. You can always go back and use the original as long as you don't delete it from the camera.
Manual Shooting Modes: Lend them a hand
When compared to my digital SLR, the manual features on this camera come up a bit short. While this is the case for many compact digital cameras, I found the manual features on this camera were a bit cumbersome when compared to other point-and-shoots I've used. While you can adjust the white balance, ISO, and exposure levels manually, they aren't as intuitive as one would like. For a casual photographer, these limitations might be something they never use and should not take away from the overall quality of the camera.
This camera truly lives up to the claims by Olympus and is perfect for winter and summer sports (it will even work down to 14º F). Not everyone is an adventure seeker though, and this camera is still a great option for casual users as well. The auto-shoot mode works well and the on-camera editing features help ensure better quality photos. The water, drop and crush proof features make this durable camera a rugged travel companion for adventure seekers and family vacationers alike; it has moved to the top of my wish-list of vacation cameras.