The first Olympus Stylus was a tough, stylish, and very popular compact 35mm point & shoot camera that produced dependably excellent snapshots. Digital Stylus models retained the panache of the original “clamshell” Stylus and added twenty-first century imaging and weatherproofing technology. The third generation Olympus Stylus 790 SW shrinks the Stylus mystique to shirt-pocket size. The 790 SW is a super light, ultra-compact, and very thin digicam with seven megapixel resolution, a 3X “periscope” style zoom, a 2.5inch/6.4cm LCD screen, and face recognition auto focus. The 790 SW also features space-age water/dust seals – the camera is waterproof to 10 feet/3 meters (for up to 1 hour) so it can be taken out in inclement weather, to the beach, to a pool, on a boat, or directly into the water – without damage. The 790 SW is also nearly drop-proof – the camera can survive a fall of up to 5 ft/1.5 meters – the tough as nails metal alloy outer body absorbs impact without passing the trauma on to the camera’s delicate optics and electronic circuitry. Finally, for arctic adventurers, the 790 SW is freeze-proof to 14F/-10C.
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The Periscope style zoom produces images that are consistently a bit soft. Tiny internal focus periscope style zooms are substantially more complex than traditional design digicam zooms and as complexity increases lens aberrations and optical faults are magnified exponentially. Barrel distortion, corner softness, and chromatic aberration are all above average. The 790 SW’s lack of either mechanical or optical image stabilization sometimes results in blurry images. The 790 SW does feature a “digital” image stabilization mode – the camera boosts sensitivity (ISO) and increases shutter speed to counter camera shake. The problem with this approach is that as sensitivity increases, so does image noise. The 790 SW’s most egregious shortcoming is its super shiny LCD screen – the screen is fairly large, color accurate, and relatively fluid, but so shiny that it is virtually impossible to use in bright outdoor lighting – and there’s no optical viewfinder. Default (native) color is accurate and saturation is near neutral, but like many P&S digicams the 790 SW can’t correctly render purple. Battery life is impressively good – the 790 SW’s remarkably tiny battery (like the famous pink bunny) just keeps on going.
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Consumers who place a premium on ultra-compact size must be prepared to accept certain realities – mini-digicams obviously can’t be expected to compete on an equal footing with full sized models. Like the first Stylus, the 790 SW is eminently pocketable and capable of capturing exceptional snapshots and memory photos with little effort on the part of the photographer. If that’s not enough, the diminutive 790SW is built like a tank and can be taken along on adventures (like back country hiking, rock climbing, off-road biking, snorkeling, skiing, kayaking, canoeing, windsurfing, hang gliding, and white water rafting) that would require leaving most other digicams at home.
Check back in a couple of weeks for our full review of the Olympus Stylus 790SW.
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