Do you like to drop your digital camera on the floor? Dunk it in water? Bury it in snow? Who doesn't? But usually, that can cause some problems, since most cameras hate water, won't operate in freezing cold temperatures, and don't take well to falls. However, Olympus' Stylus 790 SW, like the Stylus 770 SW before it, is tough enough to shoot in 10 feet of water or when it's 14 degrees Fahrenheit. Plus, it can withstand drops of up to 5 feet, so if you're klutzy, you won't have to worry quite as much. If you swim deeper than most, the 770 SW might be better for you than this model, since it can operate down to about 33 feet. Other than that, a slightly different body design, and a new feature or two in the 790 SW, the two cameras are basically the same.
If it didn't say so on the front of the camera, you might not think that the Stylus 790 SW is a waterproof camera. While last year's 770 SW's body design screamed rugged, with its all-metal construction and tougher-than-nails look, the 790 SW has a softer look, with plastic accents on the top, side, and front. Also, the 790 SW is about one ounce lighter and comes in five bright colors, while the 770 SW only had three, more-muted colors.
All of the camera's buttons are on the right side of the camera back, except the shutter and on/off buttons, which are on the top. The mode dial, also accented with black plastic, is on the back, and in my opinion, a bit small. The plastic has little notches in it, though, so it's thankfully not all that hard to turn. Menus are separated into the shooting menu, accessed by pressing the OK button in the center of the four-way rocker, and the main menu, which you get to by pressing the Menu button. The main menu lets you activate the silent mode quickly, but makes you choose a submenu before proceeding to anything else. This slows things down a bit, but Olympus does organize the menus well, and the shooting menu and four-way rocker let you quickly change anything you need while shooting.
In our lab's performance tests, the Stylus 790 SW had decent shot-to-shot times, but otherwise didn't impress. The camera took 1.3 seconds to start up and capture its first JPEG. Thereafter, it took 2.3 seconds between images with the flash turned off. With the flash turned on, that wait increased to 3.2 seconds. Shutter lag measured 0.6 second in our high-contrast test and 1.6 seconds in our low-contrast test, which mimic bright and dim shooting conditions, respectively. In burst mode we were able to capture an average of 1.5 full-resolution frames per second.
Image quality isn't the 790 SW's strong point, but it isn't particularly bad either at lower ISOs. Colors aren't quite as saturated as they can be on some other cameras, but they do look fairly accurate. The images also aren't as sharp as I'd like to see, but the clarity is not terrible, and given that this is a waterproof camera, it's not totally unexpected. The 790 SW's automatic white balance leaves photos shot under incandescent lights to look slightly warm, but it does a good job with fluorescent lighting and, of course, natural sunlight.
Olympus keeps noise down through ISO 200. While you can see the beginnings of noise at ISO 200, it's only visible as a slight mottling of colors and won't mar prints. At ISO 400, this gets a little more pronounced, but you can still make good prints and there's only a slight loss of fine detail. At ISO 800 noise becomes heavy, there's a significant loss of fine detail (the markings on the measuring tape in our test scene became illegible), but only a mild loss of shadow detail. At ISO 1,600 noise is extremely heavy, fine details are obliterated, and a lot of shadow detail is lost. I suggest staying below ISO 800 when using the Stylus 790 SW and avoiding ISO 1,600 at all costs.
While the Stylus 790 SW is far from perfect, it's one of the few cameras on the market, especially in this price range, that can take a beating and actually operate well under water or at the top of a ski resort. If you need a camera that can face up to those challenges, then the 790 SW makes sense. If not, you're probably better off with a regular compact camera that can perform faster and give you better image quality.
|Typical shot-to-shot time||Time to first shot||Shutter lag (typical)|