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Here in Britain we're having a terrible summer. It snowed in April for the first time that I can remember, some areas of the country have seen nearly double the usual rainfall for this time of year, and I don’t think there have been two sunny days in a row. Now whether this is simply part of the normal climatic variation or part of trend, and whether any such trend is due to man-made climate change, is a debate that will no doubt continue to exercise experts, pundits and opinionated idiots until we’re all 70m under water, but it’s not a topic for these pages.

One thing is certain however; the summer of 2008 has shown beyond doubt that if you want to take photos outdoors in this country, a waterproof camera is a very sensible investment. It is perhaps surprising therefore that only two manufacturers produce consumer-oriented waterproof compacts; Pentax with its Optio W-series and Olympus with its mju (or Stylus in the US) range. Both appear to sell in sufficient quantities to justify regular updates, most particularly from Olympus. One of the latest mju cameras is this, the 850 SW.

First announced in January, the mju 850 SW is an updated version of the 790 SW launched at about this time last year. It has the same body design as the earlier model, and shares many of the same features, but improves on the formula with (inevitably) a more powerful 8.0-megapixel sensor, an increase over the 7.1 megapixels of the earlier model. Like the 790 the 850 SW is capable of surviving three metres underwater, falling from a height of 1.5m, and being subjected to freezing temperatures of minus ten centigrade (although see this article)

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September 3, 2008, 5:53 pm

I just bought the Olympus U 1030 SW camera (10MP and fully water proof etc...) in the thought that it would be useful to have a camera that could take a battering and take pictures where other cameras would fail to operate. I was prepared to take a hit in image quality in order to have this 'go anywhere' feature...BUT be warned - the image quality it absolutely atrocious, terrible metering, a lot of noise at 100 iso (forget 400!), the sound on the video's is muted at best and the XD cards take an age to write the images, then there's the 10 second limit on videos at VGA 30FPS resolution (unless using the XD 'H' cards - max 1 GB! which are hard to find). All in all this entire range of cameras are very poor at best when comparing directly to other cameras in it's price range - the Canon Ixus 860 IS wipes the floor with it as far as image quality goes (to be expected).

But I suppose that I shouldn't ignore the killer feature of this camera - shooting underwater. If you absolutely have to have a camera that can shoot and film underwater, on a budget (until it leaks and breaks - as they all seem to do eventually), then get the 1030SW. It will keep the kids happy and if your not that bothered about image quality then go for it.

I suggest you buy the Limux or the Ixus and get a good case and take care of it more and invest in a proper underwater case.

John Miles

March 24, 2009, 3:10 am

I bought this camera based on this article. I own and operate a Panasonic FZ50 but wanted another pocket camera with all weather capability. I have been thoroughly impressed and thought I'd add my opinion here to help others.

OK I knew this camera wouldn't have image stabilisation or manual controls, so my imediate quest was to see what I could do with the controls available. It turns out plenty. Beyond the words of the article here, in random order, are my observations:

- The flash is said to be strong and too strong with close portraits. Well the camera seems to set flash against ISO 400. If you manually set ISO lower, you achieve the same as a camera with flash strength control. Neat.

- The image quality is based on a small sensor and therfore prone to noise and highlighting. This camera displays no distinct problems in the use of such a sensor. The colour control, especially of the very tricky pastel violet, pink and purple colours, a real problem for many cameras, is the best I have ever seen. I saw natural rather than muted colour, with a true, natural photos being captured.

- The movie was small, the 320x240 size. I went for the 640x480 firmware upgrade but only got continuous recording at 15 FPS. But in fact my Windows Vista plays the small movies within a slideshow on my 32" HDTV at a respectable size of around A3. At 30 FPS the movies were clear enough in good light. I will be using movies without issue. The firmware upgrade apparently improved the microphone. I couldn't comment as I didn't test the original version. Sound is OK, not stereo etc, but OK.

- I definately took up the option to use the adaptor for a mirco SD card. I bought an 8GB card for it. My phone came with an adaptor to regular SD card size, so in one step I have a means to use the card in my FZ50 and use it in the SD card slot on my laptop.

- The shadow adjust feature on the camera is superb. It is like D-Lighting on Nikons and a very useful feature indeed. One of the main considerations with using a small sensor camera is backlight control. To show foreground detail bakground light blows out. This is a common issue, since many natural scenes are like this. For example a walk round the garden of a stately home will present close foliage with a bright sky between the higher plants. The common result is blue skies burning to turquise. Shadow adjust will help to keep the sky blue without tending the foreground to silhouette.

- The LED torch on the front of the camera is a fun feature which I have played with a lot already. The super close macro with LED is good to both compose and capture your shot. But better than that the torch aids capture of regular shots because you can see more on the screen. I also used it to just tip close but not macro shots from blurred to not blurred; there being just enough light to make the difference in esposure time.

- The screen IS difficult to see in bright sunlight. I can't really see any way round that. But I was able to compose pictures, albeit not assess them for things like correct exposure. However in bright sunlight the camera needs no assistance; just point and shoot. I can easily live with this.

- Changing EV is great. entering the option displays EV options with actual copies of the photo you are about to take at the various brightnesses. It's simple I know, but a real help.I can see anyone being able to improve their photography a tonne just because of this one feature alone.

- Battery power is limited, compared with my FZ50. But the camera has a "determined" energgy saving mode that is reactivated by half pressing the shutter (or any other buttom really). This mode blanks the screen to save energy after ten seconds. It can in fact shut the camera down as I compose the shot! However the only result so far is to make me laugh and press the shutter to bring it back; which happens pretty much instantly. My battery life seems to be under the same level of control a children in the care of a Victorian nanny. That'll do the trick then.

So there you are. Great camera, thoroughly impressed. Add to this that it's available at a knock down price at the moment and I feel I have bought a good camera for a great price. With the XD card avoided I will be tempted by Olympus again in the future.

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