For travelers who don't want to handle their digicam with kid gloves, Olympus offers the 10.1-megapixel Stylus 1030 SW, a waterproof, freeze-proof, crush-proof, and dust-proof camera that promises to be the "toughest point-and-shoot in the world." With its durable build, rich selection of scene modes, and speedy performance, this camera has almost everything an active photographer could want. But given its price--and active audience--we wish it had optical image stabilization for taking blur-free shots.
Built for Abuse
The 1030 SW's metal body pulls double duty as rugged armor and a chic accessory. At 6.4 ounces, this camera is about as heavy as most point-and-shoots, despite its metal casing. It can handle dust and dirt, thanks to the covered port holes and three small screws holding down the front plate, which comes in black, silver, and green.
We had our work cut out for us when it came to putting the 1030 SW through its paces: It can withstand 6.6-foot drops, immersion in up to 33 feet of water, temperatures as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit, and up to 220 pounds of pressure. For those who do their own testing, the camera has an on-screen manometer for gauging altitude and pressure.
1030 SW Design and Interface
To the right of the 2.7-inch LCD are two zoom buttons; a scroll wheel containing eight modes; a four-way navigational pad whose buttons double as flash, brightness, Macro, and self-timer buttons; and dedicated menu, playback, delete, and settings display buttons. The power and shutter buttons lie next to each other on top of the chassis. In addition to being scratch-resistant, the LCD is bright, even outdoors. Overall, if it weren't for its chunky 0.8-inch thick shape, this camera would look like any other point-and-shoot.
The 1030 SW's menus are dead-simple to navigate: Press Menu to display and exit menus and OK to select new options. Although it took some getting used to, we like that changing scene modes entails selecting SCN on the scroll wheel rather than getting lost in the settings menu.
Torture Testing the Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
To begin, we tested the 1030 SW's underwater performance by dropping it in a bathtub. We were easily able to select Underwater Snapshot mode and adjust the settings while immersed. When we took it out, the camera dried quickly and continued to function normally.
Next, we dropped the camera from almost 6.5 feet onto hard linoleum. The impact left nary a scratch on the metal chassis or LCD, and we were able to use it normally afterward.
Since we couldn't summon an avalanche with the snap of our fingers, the next best way to test the 1030 SW's pressure limits was to stand on it. When we had a 215-pound man stand on the 6.4-ounce camera, we heard a disconcerting crack. Not to worry: the LCD remained pristine, and we were able to power it on without a problem.
After making sure our freezer wasn't colder than 14 degrees, we put the camera in for 30 minutes (Olympus says there's no limit to how long the camera can stay in a 14-degree environment). Again, we were able to power on the 1030 SW once we returned it to room temperature. Moreover, the condensation that had developed on the chassis quickly disappeared. The camera was still uncomfortably cold to the touch half an hour after sitting at room temperature, though.
Mostly Good Image Quality
Our test shots all showed crisp detail and good lighting. Faces, in particular, looked bright against dimmer backgrounds. While most of our shots showed accurate color, shades of red and pink sometimes looked paler or grayer on the big screen than they did in person. More often than not, though, we were pleased.
The 1030 SW performed respectably in low light: From ISO levels 80 to 400, our pictures exhibited a decent amount of detail, including the shine in hardwood furniture and the texture of dust-covered tchotchkes. Beginning at level 800, however, the flash started to overwhelm our delicately lit shots. Using the camera's Shadow Adjustment mode also improves low-light photos: A dim shot taken of someone in a wrinkly outfit looked brighter and smoother after we enabled this feature.
Digital Stabilization Issues
Although some of our shots of moving subjects taken in Auto mode were clear, others showed motion blur. Selecting Digital Image Stabilization mode from the scroll wheel helped us compensate for movement; our images of moving subjects looked sharp, as did those taken while walking. In a camera this expensive, however--and one that's designed for active use--we expected optical image stabilization. Unfortunately, you can't simultaneously select Digital Image Stabilization mode in unison with a more specific scene mode, such as candlelight.
One of our favorite features of the 1030 SW is Guide mode, which lists common things amateur photographers would like to do better--reduce red eye, brighten subjects, and blur the background. Click on one of these options, and the camera automatically adjusts its settings. Moreover, the 1030 SW makes manually adjusting the exposure easy. When you press the dedicated exposure button, you'll see a live view grid, previewing the kind of shot each setting will deliver.
The camera also has 24 scene modes, and each has an on-screen explanation and preloaded sample pictures, showing the kinds of shots you'd take with each. First, we tried Underwater Snapshot mode, which is ideal for pools or shallower bodies of water. Although our bathtub appeared a hazy yellow in Live View mode, our underwater shots of bath toys were bright and accurately lit--not to mention crisp. We were also pleased with Sport mode: Our pictures of speeding traffic went from blurry to frozen.
1030 SW Video Quality
Finally, the camera records smooth AVI video at up to 30 frames per second. While the volume might not be loud enough for a YouTube audience, the video was fluid, and the sound clear: We could hear both a friend singing and the stereo playing in the background. We only wish it were possible to use the zoom controls while filming.
Speedy Performance, Long Battery Life
Even after we had taken 30 10-MP shots, the 1030 SW continued to perform speedily. It took the camera 1 second to turn on and off and 5 seconds to ready itself for consecutive shots, which is respectable but not impressive. We were also happy with the battery life; a single charge allowed for several days of light use.
Olympus 1030 SW Verdict
You don't have to climb Mt. Olympus to appreciate the 1030 SW. Its durability and ability to capture sharp photos in a wide variety of shooting conditions makes it a versatile camera for travelers and thrill-seekers alike.