DPInterface Olympus Stylus 850SW Review
Brad Soo - October 10th, 2008

Besides looking pretty and coming in a variety of colors, the 8 megapixel Olympus Stylus 850SW is not your typical ultra-compact camera. The Stylus 850SW is one of the latest shock and waterproof Olympus cameras of 2008. Did I mention freezeproof as well? So you can take the Stylus 850SW almost anywhere (including the North Pole), but can it take good pictures everywhere? Let's take a look now.

By the way, the Olympus Stylus 850SW is the USA name for the camera. It's also known as the Olympus mju 850SW in other parts around the world.

Size and Weight

(163.6) 86.8 x 54.8 x 22.0 mm (125 g) - Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS Digital ELPH
(160.4) 86.0 x 54.0 x 20.4 mm (130 g) - Canon PowerShot SD770 IS Digital ELPH
(160.4) 89.7 x 51.7 x 19.0 mm (100 g) – Casio Exilim Z85
(174.1) 96.7 x 57.3 x 20.1 mm (126 g) – Casio Exilim Z150
(167.7) 92.0 x 55.7 x 20.0 mm (150 g) - Fujifilm FinePix Z200fd
(172.2) 93.7 x 57.8 x 20.7 mm (126 g) - Kodak EasyShare M1033
(179.5) 97.5 x 60.0 x 22.0 mm (145 g) – Nikon Coolpix S60
(175.893.6 x 60.9 x 21.3 mm (136 g) - Olympus Stylus 850SW
(174.3) 93.0 x 62.0 x 19.3 mm (152 g) - Olympus Stylus 1050SW
(170.8) 94.9 x 53.4 x 22.5 mm (119 g) - Panasonic Lumix FS5
(168.6) 94.7 x 51.9 x 22.0 mm (125 g) - Panasonic Lumix FX37
(180.4) 99.0 x 56.0 x 25.4 mm (145 g) – Pentax Optio W60
(165.8) 93.6 x 57.2 x 15.0 mm (126 g) - Sony Cyber-shot T77
(174.7) 94.0 x 59.3 x 21.4 mm (151 g) - Sony Cyber-shot T300

The Olympus Stylus 850SW sits in the middle of the group of cameras, although it is a tad larger (yet lighter) compared to its 'more everything-proof' sibling the 1050SW. Besides the Pentax W60 and its other Olympus siblings, the 850SW is the only waterproof compact camera that you can find out there.

Box packaging

Along with the Olympus 850SW, you'll also find the following box contents:

  • LI-42B rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger LI-40C
  • microSD to xD-Picture card adapter
  • Wrist strap
  • USB and A/V cables
  • Camera software CD
  • User's manual

The Olympus Stylus 850SW does not come with a memory card and instead, ships with an almost-redundant 14.7 MB internal memory (useful only for storing a small album of your favorite pictures).

The Stylus 850SW supports xD-Picture cards but can use microSD memory cards via the included adapter. It may be better to start using microSD cards with the Stylus 850SW, unless you already have some xD-Picture cards lying around; the reason being microSD's are more widely used (in electronic devices such as mobile phones) and available in capacities up to 8 GB (versus 2 GB for xD cards). Whichever type of memory card you choose to use, I'd recommend at least a 2 GB memory card to begin with

The Olympus Stylus 850SW uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and comes with a charger. The Stylus 850SW is rated to approximately 190 shots (CIPA Standard) and we'll see how that compares to other cameras:

240 shots - Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS Digital ELPH
300 shots - Canon PowerShot SD770 IS Digital ELPH
240 shots – Casio Exilim Z85
280 shots – Casio Exilim Z150
170 shots - Fujifilm FinePix Z200fd
275 shots - Kodak EasyShare M1033
140 shots – Nikon Coolpix S60
190 shots – Olympus Stylus 850SW
200 shots – Olympus Stylus 1050SW
300 shots - Panasonic Lumix FS5
310 shots - Panasonic Lumix FX37
205 shots – Pentax Optio W60
220 shots - Sony Cyber-shot T77
260 shots – Sony Cyber-shot T300
All the battery life numbers above are rated according to CIPA Standard.

Compared to other cameras, the Olympus Stylus 850SW is below the average 240 shot battery life in the group above. But then again, only the Olympus siblings can survive falls and being dunked directly in water. And the Pentax Optio W60 is just waterproof.

Extras

There aren't many accessories to soup up the Stylus 850SW with: Just various camera cases and 'premium' colored wrist straps. There's a waterproof case as well, which let's you bring the camera deeper, up to 40 meters, compared to without the casing.

 

Camera Tour

The Stylus 850SW has a design which is a typical giveaway that it's an SW Olympus camera - the internal lens with the sturdy looking front, and the right side being a little curved. Ergonomics wise, the clump of small buttons concentrated together makes the five way controller and the buttons around it hard to operate if you have large hands (like I do) or wearing gloves.

The Olympus Stylus 850SW is a well built camera: everything, including the LCD, is sealed and protected from the outside environment. After all, the Stylus 850SW is waterproof up to 10 feet (3 meters), shockproof to 5 feet (1.5 meters) and freezeproof till temperatures of -10 degrees Celcius. The Olympus Stylus 850SW is available in your choice of colors: black, silver, yellow, pink and blue. And this one here is the yellow model...

Over here you'll see the Olympus Stylus 850SW's non-protruding 3X lens , equivalent to 38 – 114 mm. The lens is a little on the slow side with an aperture range of f3.5 – f5.0. Further from the lens towards the left is the camera's LED lamp and flash unit. The LED illuminator lamp turns on via the torchlight function or optionally to light up close subjects in macro mode (you can also turn it on yourself for AF-assist in low light).

The flash outputs some pretty powerful distance figures for a compact camera; having a working range of 20 cm to 5.3 m at wide-angle and 30 cm to 3.7 m at telephoto. These numbers are at ISO 800 though (which you wouldn't want to use all the time due to image noise) so expect the flash range to be somewhat lower when you reduce ISO. Finally, we have the microphone somewhere in the middle of the camera – do be careful to not block it with your fingers while recording sound though.

On the back of the Olympus Stylus 850SW is a 2.5 inch LCD with 230,000 pixels. The display is nicely lit outdoors and brightens up in low-light (It could be a little brighter though).

You can also find the zoom controller here which is used for operating the lens in shooting mode and zooming into photos in playback mode. Below that is the Stylus 850SW's mode dial, which consists of seven modes. I'll go through them clockwise:

  • Playback
  • Shooting mode
  • Digital image stabilization – The camera boosts ISO in order to get a sharp photo
  • Scene mode – Select one of many scene modes available on the Stylus 850SW
  • Guide – Access the camera's built-in guide here; it contains steps to get certain effects in your photos
  • Movie mode
  • Favorites – Sorta like an album mode which stores photos you'd like to access easily

The mode indicator next to the mode dial also doubles as the camera's activity indicator.

Then we head on to the group of buttons, which are on the small side and not well spaced out; on more than one occasion, I found myself accidentally pressing one of the neighboring buttons while trying to use the five way controller.

The top two buttons bring up the camera's menu and playback mode respectively. The playback button also brings up the print marking function of the camera.

Skipping the five way controller for a moment, we head on to the bottom two buttons. The one on the left performs three (!!) functions, but thankfully, the confusion isn't as bad as it sounds. It brings up the built-in help in the camera's menu system; and toggles the LCD information in any place other than the menus. A long press of this button activates the Stylus 850SW's LED illuminator which I talked about earlier on.

The other button brings up the option to toggle Shadow Adjustment on/off and doubles to delete photos in playback. Shadow Adjustment is brightens dark areas of your photos at the cost of some increased noise in your photos.

Alright, now we're back to the five way controller. Besides serving to navigate menus and pictures, here are these options available on it:

  • Up – Exposure compensation (+/- 2 EV in 1/3 steps)
  • Down – Self-timer for 12 seconds (Off/On)
  • Left – Macro mode (Off, macro, super macro, super macro with LED)
  • Right – Flash setting (Off, on, auto, on with red-eye reduction)
  • Center - OK/FUNCtion

Here's what the function menu contains, with most of the options only available in program mode:

  • Sub-mode (Automatic or program mode)
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, overcast, tungsten and three fluorescent modes)
  • ISO sensitivity (Auto, 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600)
  • Drive mode (Single-shot, normal continuous, high speed continuous)
  • Metering mode (ESP, spot metering, Face Detection AE)
  • Image size and quality

Deeper in the camera's menu system, you can also select the camera's focus mode between iESP mode, spot (center) and Face Detection autofocus. Olympus doesn't mention how many faces the camera can detect but based on my testing, it usually picks 4-5 faces in a scene of less than ten people. With more people, the camera seems to have a harder time detecting faces, presumably due to smaller faces in a large scene.

Located on the top of the Olympus Stylus 850SW are the camera's power and shutter buttons. They are much easier to press than the buttons on the back of the camera.

Alright, moving on... there's nothing on this side of the camera.

And on the other side of the Olympus Stylus 850SW is the single port for USB and A/V connections to the camera. The Stylus 850SW supports USB 2.0 High-Speed. The cover over the port has a metal hinge and has a rubber seal (the black parts on the door) to keep outside elements from getting in... why? This is a waterproof camera after all! The other thing on this side of the camera is the wrist strap mount.

At the bottom of the camera is a plastic tripod mount and battery/memory card compartment. The door over the compartment is just as nicely built and sealed as the connector port cover above. My only qualms over here are about the plastic tripod mount (why couldn't they have put a metal one here on a shockproof camera?!) and that the door can't be opened when the camera is on a tripod. And to end the camera tour of the Olympus Stylus 850SW, the final thing to see here is the built-in speaker, marked by the three holes.

Taking pictures (Shooting mode)

Put the Olympus Stylus 850SW in shooting mode and you'll see a decent amount of information – camera settings and such. A histogram and grid lines are also available. You can select a range of image resolutions from 8 megapixels (with a widescreen 16:9 setting) to VGA with two compression options. The widescreen image option shoots at 1080p resolution (1920 x 1080) which is essentially two megapixels and enough to fit your television perfectly while the other lower resolutions available include 5MP, 3MP, 2MP, 1MP and VGA.

For those who wanna take better shots, Perfect Shot Preview splits the screen into four areas, each showing the photo effects of various settings. Thus this allows you to preview effects and make changes to achieve the desired effect before taking a photo. Kudos to Olympus for introducing such a useful feature; it saves the time and hassle needed to take multiple photos and sort thru them.

The Olympus Stylus 850SW has three macro modes for you to choose from. Normal macro allows you to shoot from 20 cm onwards at wide-angle and 30 cm onwards at telephoto, not really impressive for macro. If you want something better, there's Super Macro mode, which locks zooming but lowers the focusing range to 7 – 50 cm. There was Super Macro with LED I mentioned – the focus distance numbers are identical to Super Macro, except the Stylus 850SW turns on the LED illuminator to light your subject; very useful so your photos don't get blown out by the flash.

If you're a big fan of using scene modes, then you'd appreciate the Stylus 850SW. It features more than twenty scene modes; which I think is plenty and better than cameras which go overboard with over thirty or fourty scene modes. And now, I present you with the scene options available on the Stylus 850SW: portrait, landscape, landscape + portrait, night scene, sports, indoor, candle, self-portrait, available light portrait, sunset, fireworks, cuisine, behind glass, documents, auction, shoot & select (1 and 2), beach, snow, underwater snapshot, underwater wide (1 and 2) and underwater macro. Whew, sometimes I think it's better to stick with Program or good ol' Auto mode if that's too much for you to digest (Personally, I'm good with just Program mode on compact cameras). A panorama mode is available and you can take up to ten photos so they can be combined; this requires an Olympus-branded xD Picture card though.

Video Recording

The Olympus Stylus 850SW has a standard 30 FPS VGA movie mode with sound. Nothing special about the movie mode here; you have the option to reduce resolution to QVGA (320 x 240), cut the frame rate by half (15 FPS) or do both to record longer video clips. Neither autofocus or optical zoom are usable while recording. Overall movie quality is decent and sound quality was acceptable; just don't expect to be producing indie movies out of this camera ;-).

Performance

The Olympus Stylus 850SW has a quick boot up time of 1.2 seconds; there's no lens to extend after all. Focusing times average from 1/6 to 1/3 second which is pretty quick. Low-light autofocus can be on the slow side and you'll probably want to turn on that LED illuminator so to help the camera lock focus.

Shot-to-shot speed - 1 shot every 2.2 seconds, about average
Flash recharge time using a fully charged battery - 6 seconds on average

Shutter lag isn't much of an issue on the Stylus 850SW unless you're in really low-light (where you should be really using a tripod and timer anyway).

The Olympus Stylus 850SW has two continuous shooting modes available. The 'normal burst' mode takes up to six shots at a little over 1.1 FPS while high-speed mode snaps up to ten shots at a blazing 7 FPS. Do note that high-speed burst makes it a must to lower resolution to 3 megapixels or below.

The camera's lens moves from wide-angle to telephoto quietly in about 1.9 seconds; and it doesn't extend at all, everything moves internally within the camera. With no lens to retract, the Stylus 850SW turns off almost instantly. As of whole, the Stylus 850SW is a very decent performer; startup and shut down are both quick and so is focusing. The Stylus 850SW isn't blazing fast in taking pictures; but is still on par with most other compact cameras and definitely won't keep you waiting.

Image Quality

Time to check out the Stylus 850SW's image quality:


ISO 64 (f3.5, 1/4 sec)


ISO 100 (f3.5, 1/6 sec)


ISO 200 (f3.5, 1/13 sec)


ISO 400 (f3.5, 1/25 sec)


ISO 800 (f3.5, 1/60 sec)


ISO 1600 (f3.5, 1/125 sec)

At lower ISO settings; 64 and 100, image quality is generally good, clean. There's an increase in noise and a little softness at ISO 200, and it happens again when you step up to ISO 400.

At ISO 800, you can see image quality getting quite blotchy with a mix of increased noise and noise reduction. I doubt you will be able to salvage these kind of shots much. And with that happening, you wouldn't want to use the noise-plagued ISO 1600 setting either.

Chromatic aberration (color fringing) was a fair issue in some shots as well (you can even see signs of it in edges of the crops above). Redeye is an issue but thankfully it can be removed via the built-in redeye fix tool in playback.

Overall, I can't say that I found the Olympus Stylus 850SW's image quality that stunning. Sure this may be a rugged camera, more sturdy than anything else out in the market, but that's no excuse for a compromise in image quality!

Photo gallery

Be sure to view some full-sized photos taken by the camera in the Olympus Stylus 850SW photo gallery!

 

Playback

 

In playback mode, you can view pictures and movies on the Olympus Stylus 850SW. The usual playback functions are here too, including image protection, rotation, resizing, print marking and voice clip tagging. Images can be played back as single photos, by date in calendar view or in sets of 4, 9, 16 or 25. thumbnails play slideshows, image rotation and attach a voice clip to photos. You can magnify still photos by 10X and take a look around using the 4 arrow buttons.

The Stylus 850SW also features what Olympus calls 'Perfect Fix' which is a handful of editing functions you can use on your photos. With that, you can easily apply shadow adjustment, redeye removal and add frames and text labels to your photos too. Photos can be converted to monochrome or sepia and adjusted in terms of saturation.

 

The Olympus Stylus 850SW shows everything you need to know about your photos in playback mode, including exposure information and a nice histogram.

Conclusion

Colorful and durable, that's what the Stylus 850SW is. Not only is it waterproof, shockproof and freezeproof, the Olympus Stylus 850SW is compatible with two kinds of memory cards and comes with an LED lamp which you can actually use for various purposes.

This point-and-shoot solid (except the plastic tripod mount) camera may not have any manual controls but offers plenty of scene modes and photo features to make your pictures come out better on screen, or on print. Usability wise, the camera has a very useful help and guide system built in, the former bringing up tooltips on the camera's features. Unfortunately, the Stylus 850SW's tiny buttons grouped in a small space don't help ergonomics much. Image quality wasn't too pleasing to the eye either with softness and presence of noise, as well as some chromatic aberration (aka color fringing).

And so it all boils down to a single question: Looking for a camera that you can take swimming and diving, and a lot of abuse? If you are, check out the Olympus Stylus 850SW. But otherwise, you mind as well treat your camera well and take a look at other similar (but less rugged) cameras which offer better image quality.

What's hot:

  • Waterproof, shockproof, freezeproof and comes in many colors!
  • Compatible with both xD-Picture and microSD cards
  • Very usable LCD outdoors and indoors, with backlighted buttons
  • LED illuminator is useful for macro shots (and low-light focusing too)
  • Helpful built-in guide and help system
  • Perfect Shot Preview to preview effects before snapping
  • Shadow Adjustment brightens photos and Perfect Fix playback tools

What's not:

  • No manual controls
  • Slowish lens without optical image stabilization
  • Below average battery life
  • Plastic tripod mount and tiny, packed buttons
  • Noise + detail loss at high ISO speeds

Recommended Accessories:

  • 2 GB microSD/xD-Picture card
  • Spare rechargeable lithium-ion battery

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