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Like previous cameras in the mju range the 850 SW has a tough all-aluminium body with rugged styling to match its outdoor performance. The corner-mounted internal lens is recessed and protected by raised bezel and an automatic metal cover. The 2.5-inch 230k LCD monitor has a scratch-resistant surface and the controls have rounded edges and are very solidly mounted. The battery and USB connector hatches are made of metal and have a strong hinges and secure locking latches. The overall styling isn’t quite as militarily macho as some previous models in the range, and it comes in a range of colours, including black, bright metallic pink and the silver of my review sample shown here.
Underneath its rugged exterior the 850 SW is a fairly simple point-and-shoot compact, and as such has a limited but useful range of features. The lens has a focal length range equivalent to 38-114mm, about average for a 3x zoom compact, and compared to the current trend for longer and wider zooms it looks a bit limited. Its main rival, the excellent Pentax Optio W60 has a 5x zoom lens with a wide angle equivalent to 28mm, which is a lot more useful for most outdoor photography.
Like the 790 SW, the 850 has a powerful white LED lamp built into the front, next to the flash. This doesn’t operate automatically like most AF illuminator lamps; instead it has to be activated in the setup menu and then switched on and off manually by pressing and holding the display button. This makes it possible to use the camera as an emergency flashlight, and also helps it focus in the dark at a range of several metres.
The only major new feature not previously seen on its predecessor is the Shadow Adjustment option. Like many similar but differently-named features on many current high-powered compacts, this is a dynamic range enhancement function which brightens shadows and preserves details in highlights, compensating to a certain extent for the limited dynamic range which is a handicap of small overcrowded sensors.
The 850 SW also has one extra scene mode, for a total of 24, although to be honest since I don’t have a 790 SW on hand for comparison I’m not sure which is the new one. There are some useful modes though, including four underwater modes, two “shoot and select” modes for high-speed sequence shooting, and a pre-capture movie mode. The range of the built-in flash has also been improved, with a maximum range in wide-angle mode of over five metres, which is pretty impressive.
Other than that the 850 SW’s feature set is identical to the 790 SW, so if you already own that camera there’s little point in upgrading.