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DCRP Review: Olympus Stylus 1030SW
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: July 8, 2008
Last Updated: July 8, 2008

Front of the Olympus Stylus 1030SW

At first glance, the Olympus Stylus 1030SW ($399) looks like just another ultra-compact camera, albeit a very well constructed one. As it turns out, the 1030SW is anything but ordinary -- it's "everything-proof". That means waterproof (to 10 m), shockproof (2 m), freezeproof (-10C/14F), and crushproof (220 lb/ft). To borrow a phrase, the Stylus 1030SW can literally take a licking, and keep on ticking.

Did I mention that it also takes pictures? The 1030SW has a 10.1 Megapixel CCD, a wide-angle 3.6X optical zoom lens, a 2.7" LCD display, and a ton of scene modes.

Is this one-of-a-kind camera a good performer? I'm not going to tell you now -- keep reading, our review starts right now!

The Stylus 1030SW is known as the µ (mju) 1030SW in some countries.

What's in the Box?

The Stylus 1030SW has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

Most cameras have built-in memory these days, and that includes the Stylus 1030SW. It has 14.7MB of onboard memory, and if that doesn't sound like much, you're right -- it holds just three photos at the highest quality setting. Thus, you'll want to buy a memory card right away, and I'd suggest a 2GB card to start with.

Olympus Stylus 1030SW with microSD adapter
The camera with its included microSD adapter

The Stylus natively supports xD Picture Cards, and it can also use the tiny microSD/microSDHC cards via an included adapter. The advantage to using the microSD card is that this format supports much higher capacities: they currently top out at 8GB, compared to 2GB with xD. Do note that you may need to update your camera's firmware in order to use high capacity microSD cards. Oh, and if you choose to buy an xD card, make sure it's a "Type M+" (high speed) model.

The 1030SW uses the LI-50B lithium-ion rechargeable battery for power. This compact battery holds 3.4 Wh of energy, which is typical for a camera in this class. Here's how that translates into battery life:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Canon PowerShot SD870 IS ** 270 shots
Casio Exilim EX-Z100 ** 400 shots
Fuji FinePix F50fd ** 230 shots
Nikon Coolpix S600 ** 190 shots
Olympus Stylus 850SW * 190 shots
Olympus Stylus 1030SW * 260 shots
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35 ** 290 shots
Pentax Optio W60 * 205 shots
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T300 ** 260 shots

* Waterproof straight out of the box
** Waterproof via optional case

Battery life numbers are provided by the camera manufacturer

All of the cameras on the above list support underwater photography, but only three can do so right out of the box: the two Olympus models, and the Pentax Optio W60. In terms of battery life, the Stylus 1030SW is just slightly above average.

Something else all of the cameras in the chart above have in common is their use of proprietary lithium-ion batteries. These batteries are on the expensive side (an extra one for the 1030SW will set you back at least $34), and you can't use an off-the-shelf battery should your rechargeable die. That said, proprietary batteries sort of come with the territory in this category of camera.

When it's time to charge the battery, just pop it into the included charger. You'll wait about two hours for the battery to be charged completely. This is my favorite type of charger, too -- it plugs directly into the wall.

Olympus Stylus 1030SW in the hand

This shouldn't come as a surprise, but the Stylus 1030SW has a built-in lens cover, to keep the elements away from your lens (no pun intended).

Now, here's a look at the accessories available for the 1030SW:

Accessory Model # Price * Why you want it
Underwater case PT-043 From $191 Lets you take the camera even deeper underwater -- up to 40 meters
AC adapter D-7AC
CB-MA1
From $28
From $30
Power your camera without draining the battery. You need BOTH of these parts!
Floating strap 202212
202204
From $17
From $18
This comes in handy when you're swimming around with the camera. Comes in red and orange.
Neoprene armband case 202163 $25 Attach the camera to your arm
Soft leather case 200398 From $14 One of many "traditional" camera cases available
Silicon skin 202200
202201
$13 Another way to protect your camera. Comes in clear and gray.
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

Okay, so nothing groundbreaking, but all worth a mention. Let's move onto the Stylus' software bundle now.


Olympus Master 2 in Mac OS X

Olympus includes version 2 of their Olympus Master software with the E-420. Olympus Master is pretty snappy, the interface is simple, and it can do just about everything you could ever want.

After you've transferred photos over from the camera (either into albums or folders on your hard drive) you'll arrive at the usual thumbnail screen that is standard in all photo viewing software these days. The thumbnail sizes are adjustable, and you can see shooting data and a histogram on the right side of the thumbnails. There's even a built-in RSS reader for subscribing to Olympus-related newsfeeds, if you're interested.

Here you can organize photos, e-mail or print them, or display them in a slideshow. If you have a bunch of photos that you want to stitch into a panorama, you can do that with a few clicks of your mouse.


Editing JPEGs in Olympus Master 2

Above you can see the edit window, which you access by either double-clicking on a thumbnail or by clicking the Edit button in the toolbar. Functions here include resizing, cropping, brightness/contrast/sharpness adjustments, redeye reduction, distortion correction, and much more. When you're performing one of these edits, the software does a side-by-side before and after comparison, so you can see exactly what changes you've made.

Also included is a 15-day trial version of Olympus muvee theaterPack (Windows only), which is a plug-in for Olympus Master. Muvee theaterPack lets you create slideshows with background music and special effects, and then burn them to a CD or DVD. The full version of the plug-in retails for $30.

Olympus no longer puts the camera manual only on CD-ROM -- you now get a printed copy in the box. As manuals go, it's not great -- expect a lot of confusing tables and fine print, and not a whole lot of detail. You may end up finding the in-camera help more useful than the manual!

Look and Feel

The Stylus 1030SW is an ultra-rugged and compact camera. It has a metal body that is "built like a brick", weather-sealed doors, and a thick glass panel over the LCD. In other words, it feels like you could play baseball, with the camera as the ball. Here's a rundown of everything the camera is protected against:

Now, I wasn't about to test all these things, but I did make a point to drop the camera on the floor and dunk it in the ocean a few times, and it worked as well as it did when I took it out of the box. If you need a camera that can go from the beach to the construction site in a single day, the Stylus 1030SW is it.

Ergonomics are a bit of a mixed bag. While the camera's most important controls are in the right places, some of the buttons are on the small side. The labels for these buttons can be hard to read, as they're the same color as the camera body. Also, watch the fingers on your left hand, as they can easily end up in your photos.



Images courtesy of Olympus America

It seems like every ultra-compact camera has to come in at least two colors. The Stylus 1030SW is available in silver, black, and an attractive green.

Now, let's see how the Stylus 1030SW compares to other cameras in its class in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SD870 IS 3.7 x 2.3 x 1.0 in. 8.5 cu in. 155 g
Casio Exilim EX-Z100 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.8 in. 6.5 cu in. 111 g
Fujifilm FinePix F50fd 3.6 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.5 cu in. 155 g
Nikon Coolpix S600 3.5 x 2.1 x 0.9 in. 6.6 cu in. 130 g
Olympus Stylus 1030SW 3.7 x 2.4 x 0.8 in. 7.1 cu in. 170 g
Olympus Stylus 850SW 3.7 x 2.4 x 0.8 in. 7.1 cu in. 136 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35 3.7 x 2.0 x 0.9 in. 6.7 cu in. 125 g
Pentax Optio W60 3.9 x 2.2 x 1.0 in. 8.6 cu in. 125 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T300 3.7 x 2.3 x 0.8 in. 6.8 cu in. 149 g

While the 1030SW has the same dimensions as its sibling, the Stylus 850SW, it's a lot heavier due to the fact that you can step on it. In the group as a whole, it's fairly small, and even more so when you consider the fact that most of the competition requires a bulky case to go underwater.

Let's start our tour of the camera now, shall we?

Front of the Olympus Stylus 1030SW

Here's the industrial-looking front side of the Stylus 1030SW. The main thing to see here is its F3.5-5.1, 3.6X optical zoom lens. That's a little "slow" in terms of aperture, but that's typical of cameras that use the folded optics lens design. The focal range of the lens is 5.0 - 18.2 mm, which is equivalent to a very nice 28 - 102 mm. Conversion lenses are not supported on the Stylus 1030SW.

To the left of the lens is the camera's LED illuminator. You can use this to brighten up your photos and videos at the push of a button. This lamp also serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer. One thing this lamp does NOT do is serve as an AF illuminator -- in fact, the 1030SW doesn't have one of those at all.

Right next to the LED illuminator is the Stylus' built-in flash. The working range of the flash is 1.0 - 4.1 m at wide-angle and 0.3 - 2.7 m at telephoto (at ISO 800), which is about average.

The last thing to see here is the camera's microphone, located at the top-left of the photo. Do note that sound is not recorded when you are using the underwater movie mode.

Back of the Olympus Stylus 1030SW

The main event on the back of the Stylus 1030SW is its 2.7" LCD display, which has 230,000 pixels. While this screen uses Olympus' latest "HyperCrystal II" technology, I found outdoor visibility to be average, at best (I think the thick sheet of glass on top of it doesn't help matters). Low light visibility is a lot better. The screen brightens up nicely in those conditions, so you can still see your subject.

As you may have noticed, there's no optical viewfinder on the Stylus 1030SW. In fact, none of Olympus' point-and-shoot models have one. Some people will be bothered by the lack of a viewfinder, though I have a feeling that many people won't even notice.

At the top-right of the photo is the camera's zoom controller buttons, which are on the small side. These buttons move the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in a blazing 1.1 seconds (and silently, too). I counted ten steps in the camera's 3.6X zoom range.

Below that, we find the mode dial, which has these options:

Option Function
Auto mode Point and shoot, some menu options (including ISO and white balance) are locked up
Program mode Still automatic, but with access to all camera settings
Digital image stabilization The camera boosts the ISO in order to obtain a sharp photo; more below
Scene mode You pick the situation and the camera uses the proper settings; choose from portrait, sport, indoor, candle, self-portrait, available light, sunset, fireworks, cuisine, behind glass, documents, auction, shoot & select 1/2, beach & snow, pre-capture movie, underwater snapshot, underwater wide 1/2, underwater macro; see below for more
Guide mode The camera gives you step-by-step instructions for performing common functions; more below
Movie mode More on this later
Favorites mode View photos you tagged as favorites
Playback mode More on this later

As you can see, the Stylus 1030SW is a point-and-shoot camera, with no manual exposure controls.

I want to talk about some of the auto and scene modes before we continue the tour. The first item of business is the digital image stabilization feature, which has a dedicated spot on the mode dial. This feature works by boosting the ISO sensitivity until the camera obtains a shutter speed that's fast enough for a sharp photo. The problem with this idea is that image quality drops rapidly as the sensitivity goes up (see example). Thus, I'd avoid using this feature, instead boosting the ISO manually as needed.


Selecting photos to delete in the Shoot & Select scene mode

The 1030SW has a ton of scene modes, and here are the notable ones. Shoot & Select activates the camera's continuous shooting mode, and instead of just saving everything to the memory card, it gives you a chance to review each photo before it's saved. Shoot & Select 1 uses a higher frame rate (5 fps) than Shoot & Select 2 (0.6 fps), though it lowers the resolution to 3 Megapixel and boosts the ISO to 800.

The pre-capture movie mode works in much the same way as the regular movie mode, except that it saves the 2 seconds of video that it was buffering before you pressed the shutter release button. Do note that movies recorded in this mode can only be seven seconds in length.

Shooting Guide menu The options for the "shooting into backlight" selection

The Guide feature has been around for a few years now, and it remains a helpful feature for those who want to perform more complex tasks, without resorting to the mediocre manual. For example, if you want to know how to "shoot into backlight", the camera gives you four options. If you don't know how to change the displayed settings, the camera will do it for you.


White balance preview

The first item in the Guide menu is known as Perfect Shot Preview. This lets you see the effect of various zoom, exposure compensation, white balance, metering, or (for movies) frame rate options. I think this is a really useful features, and I wouldn't mind seeing it on more cameras.

Back to our tour, now: below the mode dial is the four-way controller, which is surrounded by four more buttons. All of these are on the small side, and are a little too close together for my taste. The four-way controller is used for menu navigation and playing back images, plus these functions:

Pressing the center button options up the Function (quick) menu, which lets you access popular camera settings. They include white balance, ISO, drive, metering, image size, and image quality. I'll describe all of these in detail later in the review.

The four buttons that surround the four-way controller do the following:

The help button will give you a description of each menu option or scene mode. As I've said before, help features should be standard on every camera. The Shadow Adjustment feature will brighten the dark areas of your photos, like so:


Shadow Adjustment off


Shadow Adjustment on

As you can see, there's a noticeable improvement when you use Shadow Adjustment. The downside is that there will be increased noise in the image, though this shouldn't matter if you're sticking to smaller-sized prints.

And that's all for the back of the camera!

Top of the Olympus Stylus 1030SW

There's very little to see on the top of the 1030SW. All you'll find here are the power and shutter release buttons.

Nothing to see here. Since the lens is all internal, nothing protrudes out of the body.

Side of the Olympus Stylus 1030SW

On the other side of the camera you'll find its sole I/O port, plus the speaker. The I/O port, which handles USB, A/V output, and DC input, is protected by a sturdy weather-sealed door. As you'd expect these days, the 1030SW supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard.

Bottom of the Olympus Stylus 1030SW

Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the Stylus 1030SW. Here you'll find the battery and memory card compartment, as well as a plastic (!) tripod mount. The door over the memory/battery compartment is very sturdy, and sealed against the elements. Do note that you will not be able to swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.

The Stylus' LI-50B battery is shown at right.

Using the Olympus Stylus 1030SW

Record Mode

The Stylus 1030SW starts up almost instantly -- you'll be able to start taking pictures in less than a second.


Not only is there a live histogram on the 1030SW -- there's even a manometer, which provides atmospheric pressure and altitude

Focus speeds were fairly good. At wide-angle, the camera usually locked focus in 0.2 - 0.4 seconds. Telephoto and low light focusing times approached (but rarely exceeded) one second. If you need some extra light, you can turn on the LED illuminator that I mentioned earlier in the review.

I didn't find shutter lag to be a problem, even at slower shutter speeds where it sometimes appears.

Shot-to-shot speeds were good as well. You'll wait for just under two seconds before you can take another photo without the flash, and for 3-4 seconds with it.

There's no way to delete a photo immediately after taking it. You must first enter playback mode.

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the Stylus 1030SW:

Image size Quality # images on 14.7MB onboard memory # images on 1GB xD card (optional)
3648 x 2736 Fine 3 205
Normal 5 404
2560 x 1920 Fine 6 410
Normal 12 841
2048 x 1536 Fine 9 627
Normal 19 1305
1920 x 1080 (16:9) Fine 14 984
Normal 28 1938
1600 x 1200 Fine 15 1066
Normal 30 2063
1280 x 960 Fine 24 1640
Normal 47 3198
640 x 480 Fine 89 5815
Normal 163 10661

See why you need a memory card right away? I don't know why camera companies even bother include so little internal memory on their cameras.

The Stylus 1030SW does not support the RAW image format, nor would I expect it to.

Olympus' file naming scheme is a little different than on most cameras. Files are named PMDD####.jpg, where M = month, DD= day, and # = 0001-9999. The numbering is maintained as you swap memory cards.

Now, onto the menus!

The Stylus 1030SW has a somewhat unusual menu system. When you press the menu button, you are first presented with the screen above. From here you can adjust the image quality, enter the record or setup menu, put the camera into "silent mode", or return all camera settings to their default values. If you're in movie mode, here's where you can select between non-water and underwater movies. The list of scene modes can also be accessed from this screen, assuming that the mode dial is at the SCN position.

For panorama mode 1, you need to get the diamond (center) into the box (left). The more traditional panorama composition tool for mode 2 and "combine on PC" mode

This menu is also how you can access the camera's panorama shooting mode. There are three modes to choose from, and all require that you're using an Olympus-branded xD card (groan). The first two modes will stitch the panorama right on the camera, with "mode 1" being pretty neat: after you take the first photo, the camera gives you a "target' that you need to point the camera at. Once you hit the target, the next photo is taken automatically. After three photos are recorded, they're stitched together into a single image. Panorama mode 2 has the more traditional "box" layout: you want the contents of the box on the right to end up in the box on the left in the following shot. Again, after three shots are taken, they're stitched automatically. The "combine on PC" mode uses the same composition system as mode 2, but photos are saved separately for later stitching on your PC. Up to ten photos can be taken in this mode. By the way, I noticed that the camera boosts the ISO very high (to 2500) for the two auto modes -- you've been warned!

Choose the "camera menu" option from that first screen, and you'll find a more traditional record menu. Pressing the Help button shows a description of the selected menu item. Keeping in mind that not all of these options are available in every shooting mode, here's the full list of items in the record menu:

I've got a few things to point out before we move on. First, keeping with the point-and-shoot theme of this camera, there's no custom white balance option available here. You'll see the effect of that when we get to the photo tests in a moment.

There are two continuous (sequential) shooting modes on the Stylus 1030SW. The "regular" one keeps taking pictures at a sluggish 0.8 frames/second. This mode is so slow because the camera refocuses before each shot. The high speed mode took seventeen photos in a row at a speedy 5 fps. Unfortunately, the resolution is lowered to 3 Megapixel and the sensitivity boosted to ISO 800, so the resulting photos won't look great.

The fine zoom feature is the same as Extended Optical Zoom on Panasonic cameras, and Smart Zoom on Sony's. It allows you to lower the resolution in exchange for lossless digital zoom. You can get up to 21X combined zoom using this feature, if you don't mind the low resolution.


I had to zoom in to our test scene in order for the camera to detect two faces

Like all cameras these days, the Stylus 1030SW features face detection autofocus. Olympus doesn't say how many faces the camera can detect at one time, but I certainly wasn't impressed with its performance. At best, the camera found two of the six faces in our test scene -- and that required zooming in so the faces were larger (which I normally don't have to do).

There's also a separate setup menu available, which you access from that first menu screen. The options here include:

Alright, enough about menus, let's talk photo quality now.

Our macro test scene didn't turn out very well. The thing that sticks out the most is the bluish color cast -- the camera's white balance system can't get a handle on my studio lamps. And, since there's no custom WB option available, there's nothing I can do about this. If you mostly shoot in "normal" light, then this shouldn't be an issue. However, if you often take photos under mixed or unusual lighting, you may want to consider a camera with a custom white balance option.

Aside from that, the figurine looks decent. My only complaints are the slight hint of noise reduction artifacting, and the blurring at the top of the "hat".

There are three macro modes to choose from on the 1030SW. The standard macro mode has a minimum focus distance of 10 cm at wide-angle and 30 cm at telephoto. If you want to get closer, try super macro mode. This lets you position the camera just 2 cm away from your subject. The lens is fixed at around 2X in this mode. The third macro mode is similar, except that the LED illuminator is used.

The Stylus 1030SW won't win any awards for its night scene performance, either. Since there's no manual shutter speed control on the camera, you have to use one of the scene modes to take long exposures. For this shot, the camera boosted the ISO to 250, which makes everything look soft and muddy. While there's no purple fringing here, there's definitely some "cyan fringing" going on.

Since I am unable to control the shutter speed, I cannot perform the low light ISO test. Look for our studio ISO test in a bit.

There's fairly mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the Stylus 1030SW's 3.6X lens. While there's no vignetting (dark corners) to speak of, the 1030SW has substantial blurring around the edges of the frame. Add in the fact that photos are already soft and mushy and you've got some pretty lousy-looking images (example).

Ultra-compact cameras almost always have a redeye problem, and the 1030SW is no exception. Thankfully, there's a tool in playback mode that lets you get rid of this annoyance, like so:

Much better!

Here's the studio ISO test that I promised you. As you can see, there's a noticeable blue color cast to the scene, just like in the previous tests. Since we're looking at sharpness and noise, that's not a huge deal. Here we go:


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

There isn't much in the line of noise or noise reduction artifacting in the first two crops. You start to see some detail loss at ISO 200, though this shouldn't keep you from making a midsize or perhaps even large print. This trend continues at ISO 400, with further softening of fine details. Noise really starts to kick in at ISO 800, so I'd avoid this setting unless you're absolutely desperate. The ISO 1600 setting has too much detail loss to be useable, in my opinion.

Overall, the Stylus 1030SW produced photos of mediocre quality. On the positive side, photos were well-exposed, with accurate, saturated colors. Purple fringing wasn't a problem, either. The bad news is that the 1030SW uses way too much noise reduction, producing photos with smudged details and mottled skies. Add in substantial edge blurriness, and things just don't look good (example). While I didn't take any underwater photos, you can find some on Olympus' website. As you can see, there are some serious tradeoffs that come with buying this ultra-rugged camera.

Don't just take my word for it, though. Have a look at our photo gallery, printing a few photos if you can. Then and only then can you decide if the 1030SW's photo quality meets your expectations!

Movie Mode

The Stylus 1030SW has a pretty good movie mode. Assuming that you've got firmware 1.1 or greater, you can record video at 640 x 480 (30 frames/sec) with sound, for up to 29 continuous minutes. Do note that a Type H or M+ xD card is required for this. A 1GB card holds just under 9.5 minutes of video. To save memory card space, you can cut the resolution (to 320 x 240), the frame rate (to 15 fps), or both.

As is often the case, you cannot use the optical zoom while recording movies on the 1030SW. The one exception comes in underwater mode, where sound is not recorded.

Movies are recorded using the M-JPEG codec.

Here's a sample movie for you, recorded at the highest quality setting:


Click to play movie (18.6 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime
.

Playback Mode

The 1030SWUZ has a pretty fancy playback mode. You've got all your basic features like slideshows, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, voice captions, image protection, and zoom & scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge a photo by as much as 10 times, and then you can scroll around to check focus or look for closed eyes.


Edit Menu

Some of the more unique features include editing, "perfect fix", and favorites. The edit menu lets you downsize, crop, and convert photos to black & white, sepia, etc. You can also add virtual frames to a photo, put text labels on them, and even create a calendar.

The "perfect fix" option is where you'll find the tools to use Shadow Adjustment on your photo, or remove redeye. You can even do both at the same time, if you wish.

You can tag photos as favorites, which are then accessible via the My Favorites spot on the mode dial.

By default the camera doesn't tell you much about your photos. Press the display button and you'll get more information, including a histogram. The data recorded by the manometer is displayed as well.

The Stylus 1030SW moves through images without delay.

How Does it Compare?

How one rates the Olympus Stylus 1030SW depends on how you view it. If you view it as an ultra-compact camera, it's average, at best. However, your typical ultra-compact can't take nearly the beating that the 1030SW can. It can be dropped, dunked in water, stepped on, and frozen, without missing a beat. If you need a camera that can handle those sort of things, then you'll have to be willing to accept the 1030SW's tradeoffs -- namely, mediocre image quality.

There aren't many cameras in the compact category that qualify as "built like a brick", but the Stylus 1030SW is one of them. Its solid, weather-sealed design allows you to take it to the beach one day, and the construction site the next. Ergonomics are a mixed bag, with the buttons on the back of the camera being too small for my fingers. The Stylus features a 3.6X optical zoom lens, which is equivalent to 28 - 102 mm. Like most "folded optics" lenses, the 1030SW's lens is on the slow side, with a maximum aperture range of F3.5 - F5.1. Also, watch your fingers: it's really easy for them to end up in one of your photos. On the back of the camera is a 2.7" LCD display, with 230,000 pixels. Outdoor visibility was just average, though in low light conditions, the screen was still easy to see. There's no optical viewfinder on the Stylus 1030SW. The camera has a unique LED illuminator, which you can use to brighten up the scene, for both movies and stills.

The Stylus 1030SW is a 100% point-and-shoot camera. Fans of scene modes will love the Stylus: they cover virtually every possible shooting scenario. There's even a panorama mode that will automatically take the pictures for you, and then stitch them together into a single image (though at a very high ISO setting). The camera has a unique Guide system, which not only tells you what to adjust in order to perform certain tasks -- it'll even change the settings for you. If that's still not enough, there are help screens for each and every option in the menu system. The Stylus' Shadow Adjustment feature effectively brightens up the dark areas of a photo as it is taken, which is handy when you're shooting a backlit subject. There are plenty of toys in playback mode, as well. You'll find shadow adjustment, redeye removal, cropping and resizing, calendar creation, virtual frames, and much more. There's also a movie mode which allows you to record up to 29 minutes of continuous VGA quality video (and sound).

Camera performance was very good. The Stylus is ready to shoot less than a second after you turn it on. Focusing performance was very good, with only the occasional slip-up in low light situations. I didn't find shutter lag to be a problem, and shot-to-shot delays were minimal. The 1030SW has several continuous shooting modes, though none are terribly impressive. At full resolution, the camera shoots at just 0.8 frames/second. The high speed mode boosts the frame rate to 5 fps, but it lowers the resolution to 3MP and boosts the ISO to 800 to do so. The Stylus 1030SW's battery life is about average in the ultra-compact group.

Undoubtedly, the Stylus 1030SW's weak spot is its photo quality. On the positive side, the camera took well-exposed photos, with pleasing, saturated colors, and it also keeps purple fringing at bay. The bad news is that these photos have heavy noise reduction, and substantial blurring around the edges of the frame (no doubt due to the lens design). Now, if you're mostly printing at 4 x 6, then this won't matter. But if you're willing to give up the build quality of the camera, you can certainly do better in the photo quality department. Redeye is also a problem on the Stylus 1030SW, though there's a tool in playback mode that gets rid of it for you.

There are a few other issues that I want to mention before I wrap things up. First, I'm not a fan of the plastic tripod mount (on such a well built camera, no less) or the fact that you can't get to the memory card while the Stylus is on a tripod. Second, the amount of built-in memory is tiny, holding just three photos at the highest quality setting. Finally, while I'm pleased that Olympus provided the manual in printed form, its quality leaves much to be desired.

Do you need a camera that can stand up to whatever you throw at it? Then the Stylus 1030SW is worth a look, as long as your photo quality expectations aren't terribly high. If it's an ultra-compact camera you're after, I'd consider something better, and just get the underwater case if you want to take it swimming.

What I liked:

What I didn't care for:

Some other ultra-compact cameras that support underwater shooting include the Canon PowerShot SD870 IS, Casio Exilim EX-Z100, Fuji FinePix F50fd, Nikon Coolpix S600, Olympus Stylus 850SW (waterproof out of the box), Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35, Pentax Optio W60 (waterproof out of the box), and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T300.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Stylus 1030SW and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Check out the photo quality of the Stylus 1030SW in our gallery!

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