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Olympus 850 SW
If your rambles take you through adverse terrain and extreme climate (or if you're just generally clumsy), having a digicam like the 850 SW is a definite plus. Why? Because it's shockproof and waterproof. While such ruggedness is great, are the pictures good enough? We got an opportunity to test the Olympus 850 SW in some interesting conditions, and here’s what we found.
The 850 SW is a sleek, well-designed camera that’s easy to carry around, considering it weighs only about 140 g. The entire camera has been designed not just to withstand some hard knocks but moisture too. If you’re into diving you can sink with it up to a depth of 10 feet. The battery/XD card compartment and USB port (proprietary for some odd reason) which also doubles as an AV-out are all comfortably protected by special waterproof seals and gaskets.
Essentially the entire internal structure and working of the camera is totally resistant to outside forces, including water and sand. Trust me, I should know, it got stuck for a bit in the sand under water. Don’t ask me how it happened (it’s complicated) but I opened it up later to make sure nothing had lodged in the clasps – and it was bone dry.
The 850 SW has a superb 2.5 inch HyperCrystal LCD that’s perfect for watching video and checking images. The well-designed navigation system is easy to use, even for new users. Everything is depicted with small icons so you can’t go wrong. The dial for selecting various shooting modes and other options is smooth, but if I'd had a say I'd have made a couple of changes in the placement of a few functions.
The 850 SW has plenty to offer travelers who, as I said, could use it in some pretty odd places. I especially liked the internal post-processing feature that allows you to add effects to existing images, such as frames, labels and even edit the colors and the size. A 'Perfect Setting' option lets the camera automatically adjust the shadow and red-eye in the selected image.
Another interesting feature is the Guide, which new users will find very helpful. It offers tips on getting the best out of the camera and to implement certain effects. The best part of this inbuilt how-to feature is that it shows you live previews of what each effect will look like. That really is one of the better features in the 850 SW.
This 8 megapixel camera comes equipped with Face Detection, 3x optical zoom, and Super Macro mode with and without an LED to light up the object. It also has many scene modes, with images instead of simple icons to choose your mode. There's also a Shadow Adjustment feature that comes in handy.
One of the easiest modes to shoot in is Available Light. This no-hassle setting picks up all the available light in the frame to get you the best possible picture.
Getting down to the nitty-gritty, first off let me say that I immensely enjoyed using the 850 SW over the past week while I was on vacation. It's been a handy companion both above and below sea level. I’ll start off with its water-resistant capabilities as this is the first time I’ve used a camera underwater without a specially designed casing.
You can’t expect to get brilliant images of course, but the 850 SW will give you some pretty good ones. There are a few underwater modes you can select for different purposes. I didn’t want to show you a picture of something in a bucket of water so this is what I saw on the ocean floor at a depth of about five feet.
Macro shots come out pretty neat, and with the Super Macro mode you can quite literally get up close and personal with your subject. The images may have a bit of noise on close inspection, but are nevertheless quite good. All the same, you will need to have a steady hand if you wish to avoid blurred images.
Here’s an example of what an image in motion (with colors and quite far away) looks like with 3x zoom. The reason the image may appear a bit a dull is due to the overcast sky.
If you happen to be behind glass and need a good image you obviously don’t want the flash going off, but the 850 SW has a separate setting for images behind glass. Here’s an example. Again the weather was a bit dull, but on closer inspection you will notice a slight purple tinge to darker parts of the image with a bit of a painted effect. But the image is still quite decent. I mean, how many of us are going to zoom in to take a close look at the details of the picture, right? But it’d good to know for those of us who are sticklers for detail.
In sports mode, even high-speed objects look quite good and the details quite evident. Thankfully or not (depending on the effect you want) the images seem to be blurred in all the right places.
The night mode, especially in a city that has a lot of night life, will require some attention. Having a steady hand is a prerequisite, but that wont help much for a clear picture. You’ll have to put the camera on a steady surface and I’d also suggest using the preset 10-second timer (not adjustable, by the way). The images aren't too bad, except for the parts where you’ll see a bit of a blur or ghosting of people or objects that moved. But that’s not something you can do much about.
I had one major gripe with the 850 SW and that’s with the video. It allows users to record in VGA (640 x 480) and QVGA (320 x 240) resolutions with 30/15 fps. The catch is it will record in VGA for no more than 10 seconds. I could not for the life of me find a setting to change this. In QVGA there's no time limit. The recordings were really good, but you will not be able to use the zoom while shooting. You’ll have to preset a zoom and go with that.
The 850 SW gives a better-than-average battery life. The company claims up to 190 images on a full charge. I think they were being modest, as I managed to squeeze in almost 200. That’s really great in my book – or anyone else’s for that matter.
The Olympus 850 SW is a great camera for people who go on offbeat vacations and/or are generally clumsy. It’s not a delicate piece of equipment that you’d need to treat with kid gloves. The only thing I’d say to even a child is – go nuts! The price of Rs 16,995 may seem a bit steep, but it includes a 2GB XD card. There's a one-year international warranty and a two-year Indian warranty, but the camera is durable enough to last you a really long time. Consider it an investment.
|Dimensions||93.6 x 60.9 x 21.3 mm|
||USB 2.0/AV out (proprietary)
|Storage||Internal /XD card|
|LCD Type||2.5 inch, HyperCrystal LCD
|Sensor||CCD Contrast Detection
||Auto, 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
|Shutter Speed||1/1000 sec (up to 4 seconds in night mode)|
|Aperture||F3.5 - F5.0|
||Portrait, Landscape, Landscape + portrait, Night scene, Night + portrait, Sport, Indoor, Candle, Self portrait, Available Light portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Food, Behind Glass, Documents, Beach and Snow, Underwater, Underwater Wide, 23. Underwater Macro)|
||Auto, Fill-In, Red-Eye Reduction, Off