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I don’t know what you folks out there in readerland have been doing to your cameras lately, but there seems to be a trend at the moment for making cameras that are able to withstand the kind of heavy-duty treatment previously reserved for Land Rovers and very expensive wristwatches.
First we had Pentax with its range of waterproof but stylish compacts, the Optio WP, WPi and W10. Then Ricoh got in on the act with the industrial-looking Caplio 400G, which is water resistant and has a rubberised body to resist damage. Now Olympus has decided it wants to play rough too, and has hurled the rugged µ (mju) 720SW at an unsuspecting market.
Of course all of the previous cameras in the Olympus mju range have been water resistant, which has made them very popular with that section of the travelling public whose idea of a refreshing summer break is lugging a dayglo rucksack through the jungles of South-east Asia. They can be used in the rain or in the spray of ocean waves, or washed under a tap if they get dirty.
However the new 720SW raises the stakes somewhat. It is fully waterproof to a depth of three metres, conforming to “IEC Standard publication 529 IPX8”, and is also shock proof “according to Olympus test methods”.
In case you were wondering, “IEC 529 IPX8” simply means that it can be used continuously while immersed in water. It turns out that there are several competing international standards for just how waterproof something is. For example the Pentax W10 conforms to “JIS class 8”, which means it’s good for 30 minutes at a depth of 1.5m. The Ricoh 400G is compliant with “JIS class 7”, so it’s OK in the rain or being rinsed under a tap, but should not be used while swimming.
As for the “Olympus test methods” for shock-proofing, I have been unable to find out exactly what these methods are. The press release claims that it can survive being dropped from a height of 1.5m, but doesn’t state onto what kind of surface. So I decided to test it myself.
I hope nobody from Olympus is reading this, because I took the brand-new £230 camera that the company had entrusted to my care and deliberately dropped it several times from head height onto a variety of different surfaces, including carpet, lino and a hard wooden floor. I stopped short of concrete because I didn’t want to mark the case, but I’m happy (and relieved) to report that it survived the ordeal apparently unscathed.