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Olympus Stylus 1030 SW Review
by  -  5/12/2008

The 10.1 megapixel Olympus Stylus 1030 SW is ready to go just about everywhere you want to go with a camera. This rugged camera can handle the elements and can still look good enough for a night out on the town.

Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
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And even if your night out on the town means the possibility of dropping your camera from a height of six feet into an ice-cold pitcher of beer and getting it stepped on by a bouncer, this camera will do just fine.


FEATURES OVERVIEW

At the first glance of the spec sheet for the Olympus Stylus 1030 SW, it looks like your typical compact point and shoot – 10.1 megapixel sensor, 2.7 inch LCD, 3.6x optical zoom lens.

Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
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But dig a little deeper and you'll find that this "SW" model is shockproof (6.6 foot drop), waterproof to 33 feet, cold-proof (to 14 degrees Fahrenheit) and crushproof (up to 220 pounds).

Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
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There is also a built-in manometer which can record air or water pressure and attach that data to your images as altitude or depth. An LED illuminator next to the flash can be used for illuminating close-up shots, or other shots in which you can't (or don't want to) use a flash.

There are plenty of "soft" features as well. The 1030 SW is capable of face detection as one of the focus modes. A Panorama mode will stitch together images in-camera, if you choose, making wide panorama shots (though the results weren't as seamless as those from some other digicams we've tested).

Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
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During playback, you can apply Perfect Fix that can remove red-eye and adjust lighting, using Olympus's Shadow Adjustment Technology.

The shooting modes that you'll find are the typical set that you'd find on most compact digital cameras:

There are a few other camera functions on the mode dial that are worth mentioning here. Olympus has included its Guide feature that can walk you through camera settings for the effect that you're trying to achieve. This menu-based "wizard" is very handy for the beginning photographer. The mode dial can be used to access the Playback mode and the Favorites mode – the latter of which will show images that you've flagged as favorites.

For a detailed listing of specs and features, take a look at the specs table found at the bottom of the review.


FORM, FIT, AND FEEL

Olympus hasn't really changed the design formula much on their SW models. The 1030 SW has the same heavy-duty, industrial look with lots of shiny metal accents and "rivets." They want the camera to feel solid and it really does. The camera measures 3.7 inches by 2.4 inches by 0.84 inches and weighs in at 6.3 ounces without memory card and battery.

Styling and Build Quality

As you would expect from a shockproof, waterproof, crushproof camera, the 1030 SW is very solid, but it also has a "shiny" look to it.

Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
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A mirror-finish face plate "riveted" into place gives it the industrial look that we've seen on all of the SW models. Black plastic accents around the power, shutter release, and around the mode dial give it a little more style.

Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
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Despite the extra build for waterproofing, the buttons are easy to operate and don't have any of the stiffness that waterproof cameras sometimes have. You can see the seals and gaskets in the battery compartment door and door to the USB jack.

Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
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The sliding lens cover provides good protection for the lens, but it can get stuck if you get mud caked in the door slot, which happened to me. To solve however, it was just a matter of letting things dry completely and then blowing or brushing the debris out.

Ergonomics and Interface

For a compact camera, the ergonomics are just fine. Controls are laid out in a very standard manner, with shutter and power at your pointer finger and zoom controls accessible to your thumb. The mode dial is easily accessible to your thumb as well if you need to change modes quickly. The buttons are also prominent enough to be easily accessible when you're testing out the coldproof features with light gloves on.

Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
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If you've used an Olympus camera in the last several years, the user interface hasn't changed much. If you need to change common shooting modes, they're available using the control pad. Once you drill into the menu system, the first screen that you see is an icon-driven main menu. From there, you can drill in to the category that you need. For the first-time Olympus user, especially if you've used other brands before, the Olympus user interface can take some getting used to and is not as intuitive as other cameras. However, it's not hard to use and once you've used it for a bit, it's not a problem to find your way.

Display/Viewfinder

The 2.7-inch LCD has 230K pixels of resolution, which allows for good brightness and resolution.

Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
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The display actually does a pretty good job even in direct sunlight. Yes, it can be a bit difficult, but not impossible. A plastic cover over the LCD provides excellent protection. Another thing that is something that I've experienced with many Olympus digital cameras is that the color representation on the LCD is not always what you get in the final shot.


PERFORMANCE

Overall, camera performance was good. The shutter lag and other timing aspects were good overall and image quality was good. Now, it's not necessarily the best overall image quality that you'll find in a compact camera in its price range, but if you need a rugged camera, the Stylus 1030 SW deserves a good look.

Timing/Shutter Lag

Probably the most important aspect of a camera's timing is the shutter lag. Shutter lag is constantly at the top of the list of things to improve on digital cameras. The Stylus 1030 SW performs well in this category – as well as and maybe even a bit better than similar cameras. Without a partial press of the shutter, I experienced lag times of 0.4 to 0.5 seconds. With the shutter partially press to achieve a focus and exposure lock, shutter lag was almost non-existent at less than 0.1 seconds. A large piece of the shutter lag, when doing a full press of the shutter, is the focus time, which overall is very good. If you take away some light, focus on low-contrast subject, or are attempting to focus on something that is close to the focus range limits of the camera, you will experience slower focus times.

Cycle time (time between shots) was also very good, with the camera able to shoot again within just a few seconds. Flash charge time was also good for a compact camera – with 3 to 4 seconds between discharges.

Lens and Zoom

The compact lens of the 1030 SW provides a 3.6x optical zoom range. The lens is also capable of a wider angle than most compact cameras, with a 35mm focal range of 28-102mm. The maximum aperture ranges from f/3.5 to f/5.1 – not the fastest, but pretty typical.

Auto Focus

There are three focus modes available on the 1030 SW – a face detection AF, spot AF, and iESP (multi-area) AF. The face detection works as it should. iESP focus mode chooses what it thinks is the best focus point in the shot. Finally, the spot mode gives you the most control, since you know exactly where the focus point is.

As far as focus ranges, the Stylus 1030 SW fares well. In normal focus mode, you can focus on subjects as close as 19.7 inches. There are also two macro modes: the first allows you to zoom – at wide angle you can focus as close as 3.9 inches and at telephoto you can focus as close as 11.8 inches.

Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
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The other macro mode, called Super Macro, doesn't let you zoom, but does let you focus on subjects between 0.79 inches and 19.7 inches away from the lens.

Flash

The built-in flash has just a minimal set of shooting modes: Auto, Fill (always on), red-eye reduction, and disabled. At wide angle, the flash range is 0.33 feet to 13.5 feet at ISO 800. At telephoto, the flash range is 0.98 feet – 8.9 feet at ISO 800. A max range of 13.5 feet may sound good, but remember that this is at ISO 800, which is not ideal for nice clean shots (for just about any compact digital camera).

Also worth noting in this section is the white LED illuminator that is right next to the flash. This bright white light can be turned on when a flash is not desired, or when you're trying to illuminate an object very close to the lens.

Image Stabilization

The Stylus 1030 SW does not have any sort of optical or mechanical image stabilization system. It does have a mode called Digital Image Stabilization that will boost the ISO to get faster shutter speeds (and therefore, less blurriness). The nice thing about stabilization of this sort is that it can minimize blurriness from both subject movement and hand shake. The bad thing is that you get a lot of noise/grain when you boost the ISO.

Battery Life

In the camera spec sheet, Olympus states a battery life of 260 shots. As we all know, these battery life numbers are done under lab conditions and you rarely can get that many in real life. The 1030 was not a surprise, but I easily got 200 shots over a several week period.

The 1030 SW uses a lithium ion battery and the included charger will have it charged up in approximately two hours.


IMAGE QUALITY

In fairness to the Stylus 1030 SW, this is a camera that's as much about where it can go as what it's capable of doing when it gets there. That said, it's hard to sell consumers on a camera in this price range without decent image quality, and if the idea of "consistently inconsistent" makes sense, it's a fair description of the 1030's image quality proclivities.

General image quality at baseline sensitivity was not bad. Color reproduction is a bit artificial (more on that momentarily), but sharpness in the center of the lens is good.

Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
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Overall, the camera does a fine job of capturing nuance and detail given the engineering constraints of its design, but it certainly lacks the crispness or the vibrancy of an advanced compact that rings up for the same price.

Exposure, Processing, and Color

Using the 1030's default multi-segment metering, exposure appears to be consistently good, with a fair amount of highlight retention. Out-of-the-box images from the 1030 have a slightly cool cast that doesn't seem to be white-balance related – more a general processing choice. There's also a hair more sharpness processing by default than might be preferable, giving edges a hard, oversharp appearance.

Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
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Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
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Even so, boosted sharpness doesn't do much to help the slightly hazy look all around from the 1030's lens.

Color rendering is a little processed looking as well. Blue and red saturation are both too high for my taste, and at higher ISOs, increased blue-channel noise combined with lots of saturation tends to make solid blue fields (sky, for instance) look noisier than they should. Pure reds are also a little "poppy," and owing to the slightly skewed color across the board, a little magenta. Not surprisingly, purple from the 1030 isn't even close, shifting one direction (cyan) or the other (pink) in every case.

The overall image look from the 1030 still works just fine for general snapshots, and is extremely printable in most cases (if a little bit artificial looking in a few), but more serious shooters will wish for more color rendering adjustments to tone the 1030 down.

White Balance

The 1030 has enough white balance options to keep most users satisfied, though results from the auto setting were predictably good and only slightly warm under incandescent lighting. As noted, the overall balance of the camera tends a bit toward cool, but given that it seemed to show up across the range of white balance preset options (and in the preset manual option as well), this seems to be more a general processing than a white balance issue.

Lens Faults

Center sharpness on the 1030 SW is acceptable (especially when the camera stops down), though edge sharpness is about what we've come to expect from internally contained, periscope-style zooms, with some doubling and fuzziness going on at the corners. The problem is serious by retractable-lens standards, but not really enough of an issue to turn away potential buyers who like the camera's shock- and waterproof features. Again, if you're a sharpness junky, it should have already been obvious that this isn't the camera for you.

Other faults are kept under control, though the 1030 can be prone to color fringing in boundary areas as well. Distortion, however, is effectively nonexistent throughout the range.

Sensitivity and Noise

ISO-induced noise is decently well controlled up through ISO 400, though even at this relatively low setting there's an alarming amount of blotchiness in solid-field areas. Beyond ISO 400, however, the 1030 simply falls apart, with disappointing detail loss at ISO 800 and one of the most unusable ISO 1600 settings we've come across in awhile.

Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
ISO 80
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Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
ISO 80, 100% crop

Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
ISO 100
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Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
ISO 100, 100% crop

Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
ISO 200
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Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
ISO 200, 100% crop

Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
ISO 400
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Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
ISO 400, 100% crop

Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
ISO 800 (view large image)

Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
ISO 800, 100% crop

Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
ISO 1600 (view large image)

Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
ISO 1600, 100% crop

With noise that in effect creates its own patterns and causes an effect not unlike posterization (fueled to some degree by the 1030's heavy saturation), it's not unfair to ask why Olympus even included this setting, given that even 4x6 prints at ISO 1600 show noticeable spottiness and almost no detail.

Additional Sample Images

Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
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Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
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Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
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Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
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Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
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Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
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CONCLUSIONS

The Olympus Stylus 1030 SW definitely has the rugged qualities needed to fulfill its mission. If you need a waterproof, shockproof, coldproof, and crush-proof camera, it absolutely fits the bill and it even looks good doing it. Operationally, the camera works well and operates quickly, but could have better battery life and an easier user interface.

If you don't need the rugged features, however, then this camera is not a great choice. Image quality is less pleasing than just about any other available compact digital camera over $300, making it hard to justify the high cost if you don't need the ruggedness the 1030 SW offers.

Pros

Cons

 

Olympus Stylus 1030 SW Specifications:

Sensor 10.1 megapixels, 1/2.33" CCD
Lens/Zoom 3.6x (28-102mm) zoom, f/3.5-5.1
LCD/Viewfinder 2.7", 230K-pixel HyperCrystal II LCD with five steps of backlight adjustment
Sensitivity ISO 80-1600
Shutter Speed 4-1/1000 seconds
Shooting Modes Auto, Program, Digital Image Stabilization, Scene, Movie
Scene Presets Portrait, Landscape, Landscape-Portrait, Night Scene, Night Portrait, Sport, Indoor, Candle, Self-Portrait, Available Light Portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Cuisine, Behind Glass, Documents, Auction, Shoot & Select 1, Shoot & Select 2, Beach & Snow, Pre-Capture Movie, Underwater Wide 1, Underwater Wide 2, Underwater Macro
White Balance Settings Auto, Daylight, Overcast, Fluorescent 1, Fluorescent 2, Fluorescent 3, Incandescent, Flash
Metering Modes Digital ESP, Spot, Face Detection AE
Focus Modes iESP Auto, Spot AF, Face Detection AF, Macro
Drive Modes Normal, High Speed
Flash Modes Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill, Forced Off
Self Timer Settings
12 seconds, Off
Memory Formats xD-Picture Card, microSD (with supplied adapter)
Internal Memory
14.7 MB
File Formats JPEG, Motion JPEG
Max. Image Size 3648x2736
Max. Video Size
640x480, 30 fps
Zoom During Video Not Specified
Battery Lithium-ion rechargeable,925 mAh
Connections USB 2.0, AV output
Additional Features Shockproof, Waterproof, Freezeproff, Dustproof, Crushproof, TruePic III processor, Digital Image Stabilization, Face Detection, Perfect Shot Preview, Shadow Adjustment Technology, In-Camera Panorama