By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net ONLY a few things would make a splash buff blush, and among them is getting a c amera that can be taken underwater, be frozen down to below five degrees Celsiu s, and be dropped from a height of 1.5 meters (shoulder length). This sounds familiar because Olympus already did this with the mju 725 about th ree years ago. Then it followed up with the mju 750 in 2006 and now, the compan y has recently introduced the mju 790 SW. So far, the mju 790 is the most high- tech all-terrain consumer camera from Olympus and it certainly lives up to the hype of the best underwater camera in the market. Two months ago, I was able to test th e mju 770 by sinking it in a bucket of water and chucking it inside my free zer. This time the mju 790 SW took a more sustained test when I brought it to M iniloc island in El Nido, Palawan. Of course, thatâs the juicy part -- and here 's an underwater video I took to show the mju 790 SW in action. But Iâll have to describe the device first. The mju 790 SW comes from the same family as the mju 725 and is among the very few waterproof and shockproof digit al cameras available in the market (other models are the Pentax Optio W30 and t he Sanyo VPC-E1 Xacti camcorder). Its predecessor was the mju 770 SW and in a l ot of ways, both models are basically just the same, except for a few aesthetic and technical differences. The mju 790 SW was redesigned to look more sporty t han the boxy mju 770 SW and comes in four colors (black, blue, orange and silve r). It's also smaller and lighter at 136 grams versus the mju 770's 156 grams. Nevertheless, the mju 790 still has a solid construction with no metal seams th at would give away its underwater or shockproof capability. It still looks and feel like an ordinary digital camera. The features of the mju 790 are still standard as with the mju 770: it uses a 7 .1 megapixel image sensor on a Â½.3 CCD sensor. The lens can go up to 3 times o ptical zoom and 5 times digital zoom. The lens seems completely hidden under a metallic hood. It's a surprise that unlike most digital cameras with optical zo om, this one doesn't have any external moving parts since all the lenses (a tot al of 10) are effectively squeezed beneath the hood. For the more serious photographer, the mju 790 packs a lot of macro-shooting ca pabilities. It has automatic and manual ISO film speeds from 100-400 (automatic ) to 80-1600 (manual). It also has six white balance modes for different enviro nments and at least five shooting modes for its internal flash. Olympus has added a "Guide" feature on the unit, ostensibly to help point-and-c lick users to decide what pre-set scene modes will be useful under certain cond itions. It has a total of 23 scene modes, including basic portrait, night shot, sunset, document photography, beach and snow, and underwater shots. It's almos t difficult to actually get confused on how to use the device tanks to the "Gui de' button. Still recording will give a user an option from as low as 640x480 pixels to as high as 3072x2304 (a photo taken in this mode will show up on a 40" screen with out being stretched or pixellated). Likewise, videos can be recorded in the hig h-speed 30-frame 640x480, mid-speed 320x240, or low-speed 15-frame 160x120. How ever, the downside to recording videos is that there are time limits for each o f the speed quality recordings. For example, the high-speed mode will only give a user 10 seconds for each recording, 30 minutes for mid-speed and about 1 hou r for low-speed. The file format is AVI, which has high memory requirements. A 10-second high-definition video will already need at least 20 MB of space on th e XD card; this points to the need for a higher-capacity XD card and it is reco mmended that you get the 2-gigabyte XD card instead. Another problem is that the digital camera could only record sound directly in front of it. Any small movement and the mic sensitivity will shift to almost qu iet to compensate for the loss of the sound coming from a source. It should be handled steadily in one direction if the purpose is recording sound as well. And so the actual torture test comes in. Despite any initial hesitation to use the camera under water (in seawater for that matter), I decided to take the mju 790 to the beach where most digital camera users fear to tread due to the corr oding effects of saltwater on electronic devices, as well as the fine sand that could clog moving parts. According to Olympus, the mju 790 can be dunked in up to 10 feet of water. The initial test involved dipping the camera in about two feet of water; so far the camera worked perfectly, even with loose sand gettin g into the lens. One method of removing sand from the lens hood is to put it un der running water and switching the power on and off to make the lens hood open and close. While this looks straining to the camera it is how it really works. After its two-feet dip, the camera was sunk in about seven feet of water. The LCD screen can still be viewed even without the aid of goggles or a snorkeling mask, as long as the water is clear up to 10 feet. The camera worked smoothly u nder different water conditions, including overcast (light penetrating below wa ter surface is reduced) and murky water. It could still take photos and videos and could even record sound at short distances (about five feet). The downside, however, is the camera's weight: unless it is attached to a perso n via the rubber strap, the camera will sink to the bottom so a lot of consider ation should be taken before bringing the unit out to sea. It's also difficult to snorkel while holding a digital camera in one hand and it would have been a treat if it were attached to an armband or a waistband. And yes, the unit was dropped, albeit accidentally, from about three feet on a concrete floor. It's still working but did show some scratches on its metal cas ing. Overall, the Olympus mju 790 SW is the best waterproof digital camera in the ma rket and is also one that costs nearly the same as regular digital cameras (at a suggested retail price of P24,000). Above water, the camera packs a lot of fe atures that other digital cameras in the same price range have, but its underwa ter functions can sink the competition -- literally.
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By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net FEW digital camera companies make produc ts that are resistant to shock. Fewer still make camera models that are waterpr oof. The rare breeds make digital cameras that are shock- and waterpro of. Japanese firm Olympus already had a product that could be truly called a bring-anyt ime-anywhere digital camera, the Mju Stylus 720SW, launched a year ago. However, Olympus took it a notch higher when it released the Mju Stylus 770SW a year later. This particular model retains much of the same form factor as its older brethren, the 720SW, but now it comes in three types of industrial type c olors (titanium gray, bronze and royal blue). Likewise, the 770SW also has much of the same features as the 720SW with a lot of new add-ons, particularly its antifreeze feature that allows the 770SW to work in weather as cold as 10 degre es below zero without its internal electronic components ever freezing up or it s lens and LCD cracking. The first thing one would notice with the 770SW is its solid but surprisingly l ightweight body. For such a small device (91.8 millimeters by 59.2 mm by 20.6 m m) it can withstand external forces most digital cameras its size and even bigg er could not. Olympus makes several claims regarding the unit, particularly bei ng shock-proof at a height of five feet, waterproof at 33 feet, freeze-proof at negative 10 degrees Celsius and crush-proof at 100 kilograms (thatâs the weigh t of almost two men). Normally, no one would want to do extreme stress testing on any electronic device unless allowed by the manufacturer (in my case, distri butor Axis Global) but I was tempted to do so -- of course with a little control. For the waterproof test, the 770SW was sunk in water for about 20 minutes in of f mode, then turned on while still underwater, taking pictures and some videos. It worked as if it were still on dry land. In fact, the 770SW has one pre-set scene function that allows it to snap images underwater, which makes it extra-a dvantageous to use. Clear water and available sunlight, however, are necessary to get better images and usually the subject has to be at least six feet from t he camera to get a decent shot. Nonetheless, the 770SW does a good job in an un derwater setting. Next was the shock- and crush-proof test: the camera, while turned on, was drop ped from a height of five feet. Of course, it was wrapped in its cotton bag to prevent scratches, and, if disaster strikes, prevent debris from flying all ove r. So far, the unit was still intact and in good working condition. Then I step ped on it for a brief three seconds to test its crush resistance. Still working . Both tests were never done again. Why? I canât risk intentionally destroying a P30, 000 digital camera in the name of proving Olympus claims. I give Olympus the benefit of the doubt. For the freeze-proof claim, the best testing ground for that is none other than a refrigerator. My freezer goes below negative 5 degrees Celsius and can make ice in about 45 minutes. The 770SW was placed inside the freezer while it was p owered down and left for about five minutes. Afterwards, the unit was switched on and left inside for another five minutes (take note that the LCD monitor tur ns off after one minute if not used to save battery). Fearing that Iâve frozen the unit, I took it out after five minutes and switched it on. If it had a mind of its own, it would have told me, âYouâre pwnd.â I was also tempted to do a heat resistance test out of curiosity. Of course, I couldnât expose the 770SW to an open flame unless approved by the manufacturer or distributor. Nor did I let it be electrified to see its resistance to electr ic shock, but then I donât have a way to do so without risking injury to myself . Those tests, despite being somewhat controlled, do prove that the 770SW does an outstanding job in protecting itself from normally dangerous incidents that co uld be fatal for any electronic device, much less a digital camera. Some digital camera users lose their units for several reasons, mostly due to f atal five-foot drops or electrical shock due to water seeping into the sensitiv e components. The 770SWâs body is made up of solid metal plates perfectly screw ed together and blocked with rubber lining inside to prevent water seepage. Eve n potential entry points (the gaps between the buttons, the battery/memory card slot, video output, lens and speaker holes) are perfectly covered to keep wate r out. What still makes me curious is how the huge 2.5-inch LCD screen remains in perfect working condition despite all the stress tests. Normally, this would be the first to go during extreme temperature changes or sudden drops. Perhaps itâs the thick plastic glass that is appropriately screwed down. Nevertheless, the manufacturer did a pretty good job of protecting the entire unit. But the 770SW as a digital camera also has brains apart from brawn. It has seve ral key digital camera features that are mostly found in mid-level models. Basically, the Mju Stylus 770SW has a resolution of up to 7.1 megapixels, a 3x optical zoom (mechanical parts are neatly stored inside the small frame), a 5x digital zoom; speedy shutter speed of 0.5-1/1000; 15 frames per second video r ecording with resolution of 640x480; ISO Auto from 80, 100, 200 and 400 and man ual from 800 to 1600. The 770SW also has pre-set 24 scene modes depending on the scenery and availabl e light. This allows the user to just activate a mode appropriate to the scene. These include landscape, portrait, nigh scene, sunset, fireworks, behind glass , documents, underwater and snow, among others. The camera also has a redeye fi x to remove those freaky red spots on the eyes of your subjects. The main menu shows all the camera functions, from playback, slideshows, calend ar, photo erasing/transfer and favorites. It does take a while to learn the int erface -- the learning curve is about one to two hours. For a camera with so many internal features, the 770SW makes sure that everythi ng is light and simple. It has no more than nine separate buttons (including th e round multi-directional button). Normally, the rest of the buttons have only one function but the Menu, Function and Photo mode buttons have two and can be activated by either holding them down or pressing twice consecutively. The Olympus Mju Stylus 770SW deserves the praise of digital users who want a si mple yet ready-to-go unit. It has most of the high-end functions that would sat isfy amateur photographers but is tough enough to survive being dropped on a ha rd surface, drowned in water or frozen for minutes on end. It is a bit expensiv e at around P30, 000, but being tough does come at a price.