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Hands-on: Olympus Stylus 790 SW

Don Reisinger gets the Olympus Stylus 790 SW in-house and explains why the water-, shock-, dust-, and freezeproof device may be worth a look.

Olympus Stylus 790 SW
Photo taken by Don Reisinger

The Olympus Stylus 790 SW is one of those devices that may not provide the best image quality and is lacking in overall functionality, but does something other products do not. And just what does the 790 SW do that many other digital cameras of this ilk do not? It takes a beating (and drenching) and continues to snap images and record video.

Underwater Photo taken by Don Reisinger

While many may find this shockproof, waterproof, freezeproof, and sand/dustproof device to be exactly what they're looking for when they scuba dive or spend time in the outdoors, the picture quality and price preclude me from being able to recommend the 790 SW to everyone else.


The Olympus Stylus 790 SW comes in a host of colors (silver, blue, yellow, orange, and black) that will fit anyone's taste. A point-and-click by nature, the silver version I tested is small and thin enough to fit in your pocket, and sports a nice LCD that doubles as a viewfinder and display. For some reason, it seems the point-and-click industry is slowly moving away from a tried-and-true viewfinder and towards the LCD screen to view your target. Not only does it degrade your ability to take better pictures, I think it degrades the experience.

Besides that, the 7.1-megapixel Stylus 790 SW is a nice looking digital camera that should satisfy any user. One of my favorite features on the device is Olympus' decision to include a door that, when opened, unveils a mini-USB port that allows you to connect the camera to any computer.

All in all, the 790 SW won't blow you away with its design. By and large, its stylish design is easily matched by other devices and it doesn't break the mold in any way. That said, Olympus didn't necessarily have style in mind when it made this camera, and generally speaking, it does the job you expect.


If you want to go out and buy the Olypmus Stylus 790 SW, chances are you're doing it for its unique ability to protect itself from a fall on concrete or a quick swim in a pool. In fact, the camera allows you to take pictures in up to ten feet of water, or drop it from a height of five feet without any damage. Besides that, you can leave it outside in the middle of Winter, and as long as the temperature doesn't fall below 14-degrees, you can pick it up and continue to take still shots.

Olympus Stylus 790 SW
Take the picture Photo taken by Don Reisinger

The camera sports a 3x Optical Zoom, plus a 5x Digital Zoom, and a slightly anemic 6.71-20.1mm lens that still captures the image quite well. The Stylus 790 SW also captures video in 640x480, 320x240, and 160x120. In 640x480, video is smooth and quite appealing. It would have been nice if Olympus added greater capabilities to the camcorder (a better microphone and better resolution options, please?), but for the price of this device, it performs quite well.

The Stylus 790 SW also sports digital image stabilization, which makes your pictures look much better. As I mentioned before, I usually don't like holding a digital camera away from my face to take a picture, and when I had image stabilization off, I found the images to look a bit blurry. With image stabilization turned on, the pictures looked much nicer.

Another nice addition to the camera is Olympus' decision to include face detection. With a few clicks on the buttons on the back of the camera, you'll have the ability to find the subject and make the camera focus in on their face to get the best result. This function works quite well, and I was surprised by how quickly and easily it performed.

Far and away, my favorite feature is the Perfect Shot Preview function. While trying to take a picture, you can press a button on the back of the device that allows you to see contrast dynamics, zoom effects, and a host of others. By using this function -- which, once I found it, I always did -- the pictures look much better. Of course, when using this function, you'll need to know the effect bright lights can have on a picture, and understand picture balance, but once you do, you'll find the images to be far more appealing.


I couldn't finish this hands-on without describing how this camera performs on its main selling points -- shock and water resistance.

Underwater, the camera takes great pictures. Unlike the majority of cameras on the market, I can see this camera being used at an ocean or pool party to capture special moments underwater.

To test out its ability to resist a fall, I started out easy -- I dropped it on a carpet. Upon passing that test with flying colors, I decided it was time to go outside, find some concrete, and start dropping it for all it's worth. The camera says it can withstand an impact from a height of five feet, but at 6-foot 3, there is little chance I'll be holding it at just five feet. With that in mind, I decided to drop it from eye level and found that it was safe and sound after the fall.

Video quality on the Stylus 790 SW is satisfactory if you're looking to capture a funny moment, but if you want to capture something special, this camera is not for you. Then again, this camera wasn't specifically designed to capture video, so chances are it's not something the average owner cares about anyway.

Taken with the Olympus Stylus 790 SW Photo taken by Don Reisinger
Taken with my own Nikon D-SLR Photo taken by Don Reisinger

On its default settings, snapshot image quality is adequate and pictures tended to be a bit grainy. In bright shots, faces tended to get a bit washed out and overall picture quality was degraded. That said, the camera features a host of editing options that help fix this issue. And while it's still not as nice as I hoped it would be, a few modifications to settings helped considerably.

Epson Stylus 790 SW
Taken with Stylus 790 SW Photo taken by Don Reisinger
Taken with my Nikon D-SLR Photo taken by Don Reisinger

Bottom Line

All in all, the Olympus Stylus 790 SW is a unique digital camera that has set the tone for others. As the market moves towards the ability to do more with a digital camera, devices such as this will become more prevalent. And while there is a market for it, I don't think it's significant enough to make this camera a top seller. Worse, with a $299.99 price tag and picture quality that doesn't justify the price, I simply can't recommend this camera for everyone.

But if you're looking for something that will capture images underwater and you don't mind spending $300 to do it, the Stylus 790 SW may be for you.

For another opinion, check out what the CNET Reviews team had to say about the Olympus Stylus 790 SW.

Check back each Friday on The Digital Home as Don performs a hands-on evaluation of some of the hottest home products around. Next week: TBA. If you want to see prior Hands-on Friday articles from Don, click here.