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Olympus Stylus 850 SW

8 megapixel now, several improvements, and still shockproof, freezeproof and waterproof
(by Carol Cotton Walker)

The shock and waterproof Olympus Stylus 850 SW was introduced in January of 2008 as part of the company's big winter announcement that included no fewer than nine new consumer cameras. The 850 SW appears to be the successor of last summer's Stylus 790 SW. There are 8 megapixel now and some new goodies, and it all comes at the same list price of US$299.99 as the 790 SW was. The stylish Stylus comes in five colors, with black, silver and yellow carrying over, and pink and cyan replacing orange and dark blue. What you get here is an attractive 8.0 megapixel camera that is shockproof, waterproof, freezeproof, sandproof, dustproof, packed with features and ready to be used virtually anywhere, including the desert, underwater, or skiing. And if you drop it, no big deal as it can survive a 5-foot fall.

What you get with the Stylus 850 SW

The Stylus 850 SW is a very compact, elegant camera you can take anywhere. It has a footprint of 3.7 x 2.4 inches and is 0.84 inches thick. It weighs under five ounces without the little Li-Ion battery, and not much more with it. The 3X optical zoom is internal, which means there is no annoying lens barrel that motors in and out. And even though the 850 SW can stand up to water, dust, sand and freezing temperatures, it's still a full-function digital camera with all the features you expect from a modern point & shoot compact.

The 850 SW is easy to use right out of the box. In the back you find a mode dial that lets you select automatic, image stabilization, guide mode, movie, playback and favorites, as well as scenes. Below the mode dial is the ubiquitous four-way navigation pad with an "OK" button in its center. Four additional function buttons bring up the onscreen menu and cycle through often used functions.


As stated, despite being a "specialty camera," the 850 SW has a variety of nice features that make it suitable for everyday picture-taking, and not just trips outdoors.

Like almost all new consumer digital cameras, the Stylus 850 has a face detection mode. This means that the camera is able to find a face or even multiple faces in a picture and make sure that they are in focus and properly exposed. That even works when people are moving.

Digital image stabilization uses higher sensitivity and higher shutter speed to reduce or eliminate blurriness in pictures. It doesn't however, have mechanical sensor shift image stablization which would come in especially handy for underwater shooting.

The TruePic III Image Processor, developed for digital SLRs, delivers more vibrant colors, smoother edges, less nose and higher overall speed.

Olympus equipped the 850 SW with its Shadow Adjustment Technology that analyzes shots of subjects in front of bight backgrounds and then exposes things properly. In essence, it compensates for extreme contrast where the shadow areas on the foreground subject are underexposed and lack visible detail.

The Perfect Shot Preview feature displays the effects of various settings including zoom, exposure, white balance and metering - on the LCD so you can select the proper settings and effects

The camera also has an LED Illuminator that works like a mini-flashlight on the front of the camera to enhance focus and exposure for macro shooting. It is also great for underwater close-ups where light is scarce. The LED also works in conjunction with the Bright Capture feature (brightened LCD preview for better composition in low light) to help illuminate a subject when taking low-light portraits.

While the 850 SW does not have any manual modes, there are 27 "scene modes" in addition to auto: portrait, landscape, landscape + portrait, night, night + portrait, sport, indoor, candle, self portrait, available light portrait, sunset, firework, cuisine, behind glass, document, auction, shoot & select 1 and 2. beach and snow, underwater wide 1 and 2, and underwater macro. New is a pre-capture movie mode where the camera records but only commits to storage once you push the shutter. That way you are certain to capture the seconds leading up to an event.

Shoot & Select lets you take sequential pictures by holding down the shutter. The pics then show up as sort of a filmstrip and you can select which you want to keep and which you want to discard.

"Guide" sort of guides you through various scenarios and sets the camera properly. This mode also lets you preview a scene through a multi-frame window that shows how the picture looks with four different settings. You then pick what suits you best.

The Stylus 790 SW predecessor, like other Olympus cameras, had both a macro and a super-macro mode. The macro mode goes from eight inches to infinity whereas super-macro goes from 2.8 inches to a bit over two feet. The website did not reflect that and the 850 specs also do not show it. We suspect the 850 does have a super-machro mode. The Stylus 850 SW has a 640 x 480 movie mode with sound, and it shoots at 30 frames per second for lifelike video. We don't know if the camera still has the 10 second limit for recording in fulle VGA format. Sound has never been a strong side of Olympus consumer cameras. The 850 SW has a Shooting Assist function for voice recording but we're not sure if that includes a full voice recording mode. You can attach short sound clips to still images.

New and improved

Compared to the 790 SW, which likely is its predecessor, the 850 SW has some welcome new features.

There is the pre-capture movie mode discussed above. This means you'll never again miss a once-in-a-lifetime moment in a movie. Just record, and the the big event happens, push the button. The camera will then store the seconds leading up to the event.

Sequential shooting is twice as fast. You can now shoot seven frames per second at 3 megapixel resolution. At full resultion (8MP), you can shoot six frames in one second intervals.

There is an in-camera panorama mode that lets you capture three images and then stitches them together to create a panoramic picture. As you pan, special markers shows up on the display. Align them to take the next picture.

The flash range has been extended to 17.4 feet in wide mode and 12 feet in tele mode.

You are no longer limited to the often somewhat hard-to-find xD-Picture cards. The 850 SW comes with a special adapter so you can use microSD cards as well. Internal storage remains a meager 15MB.

Shock and waterproof

Unlike most digital cameras, the 850 SW can take a beating. Thanks to a durable metal body, floating circuitry inside, and shock-absorbing construction, it is rated to survive 5-foot drops (we recommend the optional US$15 silicon clear skin).

The camera is also waterproof thanks to a combination of seals and gaskets. The 850 SW is rated waterproof to a depth of ten feet, which makes it suitable for playing in the pool, rafting, snorkeling, freediving and perhaps even shallow scuba diving (it can likely handle 15 feet, though we do not recommend it). For serious diving, there is the optional US$279.99 PT-041 underwater housing rated 133 feet.

Freezing temperatures do not affect this camera as it is freezeproof down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. So it's a perfect companion for sledding, skiing, snowboarding and such.

Bottom line

The attractive ultra-compact water, shock and shockproof 8-megapixel Stylus 850 SW is perfect for those who love to take their camera outdoors without having to baby it. The camera can take a beating and you can even use it underwater, down to a depth of ten feet. It has the same features as standard consumer models, which means it is useful anywhere and not just as a sports camera. We like the internal zoom, the excellent 2.5-inch LCD with its very wide viewing angle. Keep in mind that if you want a camera you can take diving without a housing or one that is crush-proof as well, you need the older Stylus 770 or the new Stylus 1030. But if you just want something waterproof, the less expensive 850 SW is just right.

If you're comparing it to the Stylus 790 SW, you get more resolution, the pre-capture movie mode, a stronger flash, the ability to use microSD cards instead of just xD-Picture cards, faster burst mode, and in-camera panorama shooting.

We like:

  • Attractively styled sports and outdoor camera
  • Snorkeling possible with 10 feet depth limit
  • Inherent waterproofing provides peace of mind when handling in/around water
  • Can survive 5-foot drops and 14 degree temperature!
  • Superb wide-angle, high-res 2.5-inch LCD
  • Pre-capture movie mode
  • microSD adapter included
  • Very good underwater macro mode
  • LED illumination
  • Optional deepwater housing
Not so much:
  • Strictly point & shoot

Specifications Olympus Stylus 850 SW
Status Added 01/2008
Camera Type Waterproof Compact (10 feet)
Protection IP68; Shock: MIL-STD-810F Shock Compliant (5ft.), Waterproof: JIS Level 8 (10ft.), Freezeproof: MIL-STD-810F Low Temp Compliant (14F)
Size 3.7 x 2.4 x 0.84
Weight (oz.) 4.8 w/o battery
Effective Pixels 8.0 mp
CCD Type 1/2.35
Max pixel size 3248 x 2436
File formats JPEG, AVI motion JPEG
Compression Super High, High, Standard
Movie recording (best) til full with sound @ 30fps
Max movie pixels 640 x 480 with sound and zoom
Voice recording/sound annotation yes/4 second
Lens 10 Lenses in 8 Groups, 3 Aspherical Lenses
Focal length 6.7-20.1mm (38-114mm)
Zoom (optical/digital) 3X/5X
Aperture f/3.5 - f/5
Focus modes iESP auto, spot, face detection
Focus minimum/macro 8 inches, 1.7 feet
Shutter speed 1/1000 to 1/2 sec (up to 4 sec. in Night Scene Mode)
Sensitivity (ISO) auto/64/100/200/400/800/1600
Autofocus system CCD Contrast Detection
Metering Digital ESP Metering, Spot Metering, Face Detection AE
White-balance modes auto, 6 presets
Shooting modes 28 modes, including three underwater modes
Exposure compensation +/-2EV in 1/3 steps
Viewfinder Type none
LCD size 2.5" HyperCrystal LCD (230k)
LCD type outdoor viewable
LCD construction fixed
Flash type built-in + LED illuminator as additional lightsource
Flash range up to 17.4 feet (land)
Flash modes 4 (Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill-In, Off)
Camera internal memory 15MB
Storage Medium xD-Picture Card, microSD (via included microSD adapter)
I/O multi-terminal (USB, AV, DC)
Battery type Li-Ion Li-42B
CIPA Battery life 190
List Price $299.95


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