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Waterproof but not foolproof
Aug 8, 2009 (Updated Aug 16, 2009)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Olympus Stylus Water, 550 - this is the US version of the u550 (European name) - same camera !
Recommend this product?
So far I have written camera revues for my first digital camera, a Sony and my favourite Canon S3. Now it’s my turn to write about my new waterproof Olympus.
I am a very keen amateur photographer and outdoor sports enthusiast. I love to kayak and try to take pictures from my boat. Not easy with expensive none waterproof cameras, especially in the hot steamy summers of the Carolinas.
My tastes are for AA batteries rather than proprietary ones, for any movie format rather than QuickTime, for folders that open up under Windows and for viewfinders in bright sunlight.
I was able to get a metallic green 550 at a very good price and no single waterproof camera on the market met all my tastes as described above. There is a new Canon out that I would love to have bought but at 4 times the price of this refurbished Olympus it didn’t stand a chance.
In the Box
The box contained a decent printed manual as well as the camera, AV cable set, USB cable, charger, battery and Micros SD to XD adapter card. There is also the CD-ROM of software which I will allow others to comment on as it never gets near my PC. Picasa does it all for me.
A word about the USB cable. This is a special connector, unnecessarily so in my mind. Now, I have a number of devices, Blackberry, camera etc and I use one single mini-B cable for all my devices. Not now. The small connector is the same sort of footprint as the Mini-B but is different and incompatible. I see no reason to do this as a replacement if this gets lost or damaged is sure to be a problem.
The manual is excellent. So many companies are dropping the paper book in favour of a CD manual, yet a PDF will never be as convenient as a paper manual.
My charger came as a single wall mounted unit with power pins that swing away to make an unobtrusive small pocketable device. The charge cycle tales around 2 hours for the small proprietary battery which comes only partly charged. I have also seen where the charger comes as a black block with a separate power cord. It depends on your market or possibly what was been manufactured at the time. I was able to take 180 photographs on a fully charged battery without a lot of flash.
Setting up and using
There is 16 Meg of RAM in the camera without an XD or Micro SD card fitted. This allows the taking of one or two photographs or a few seconds of video to gratify the purchaser. More than that and you have to fit a card. There is a small rubber gasket, sealed compartment that takes both the battery and the card below the camera. The feeling is that the compartment, the seal and in fact the whole camera is well designed. The designers have done a good job of making the case feel metallic and substantial.
A note about the settings. Of course the camera has the obligatory ‘I don’t wanna mess with it’ Auto setting. But thankfully for picky gear-heads like us it also has P or Programmable setting. This allows two quality settings (adjusts the JPEG compression) and are fine (98%) and normal (95%). The first 5 selectable resolutions are at a 4x3 aspect ration is selectable from 10Mega-pixel, 5, 3, 2, 1, 640x480 and 1920x1080. In addition the ISO can be adjusted from 100 to 1600 ISO as well as Auto. All these are done (thankfully) through easy to use and hard to accidentally hit, controls on the rear of the camera. A lot of thought has been put into the controls and of course for a camera of this price range the designers have inclined towards fun rather than fussy function, so the controls are assisted by interesting animated icons on screen rather than dull lists. Personally I am inclined towards the dull.
The camera also takes video and this is selectable between 240 x 320 and 480 x 640 and both formats have sound. Video at the larger format uses about 1.5 meg of memory per second. The video is saved as AVI so can be edited in Windows Movie Maker and viewed in Picasa, amongst other programs.
There is no viewfinder. I could not find a single waterproof camera that had a viewfinder, a fact I consider to be a tragedy ! Waterproof camera are going to be used outside by people wearing sunglasses. How much frustration can a person tolerate trying to look at a washed out LCD screen, in bright sunlight, in sunglasses. OK, that’s my rant over – no one will listen anyway.
The back of the camera is almost entirely LCD screen which is nice and clear and has two brightness levels that is selectable by a well thought out, single dedicated button in the bottom right hand corner of the camera. The screen is 2.5" diagonally, not 2.7" as suggested in the specification. The other buttons are typical of most modern cameras and are rather better designed, ergonomically than the cluttered and clumsy Canon S3. The camera is slightly smaller than the Canon A720 but only half as thick with no significant protrusions so will fit nicely into your cammo tee shirt breast pocket.
Unlike the other camera I am very familiar with, the S3, the camera has a single power save function; ON (or OFF). The power save function sets everything to standby after just ten seconds of idleness which is quite inconveniently short. To turn it back on again, simply press any button. This is stupid ! For instance if it is power save mode, turning it off actually turns it on. If you have a bit of set up, say to take a self portrait or shoot some video that you cannot monitor via the LCD and it goes into standby, instead of starting the video by pressing the shutter button, you turning on. Instead of stopping the video by pressing the shutter, you turn it on again as it will have already gone back into standby after 10 seconds.
Another point to note and has been confirmed in other reviews of this camera, the autofocus is very slow. Don’t expect to take photographs of birds in flight with this camera, they will have migrated before the shutter gets around to firing.
Well don’t say I am not committed to my Epinions reviews. After about 15 minutes of ownership of my shiny, new camera I filled a bowl with cold water and submerged the camera in the water and powered it on. There was a disconcerting rush of bubbles to the surface as the lens cover opened letting out the air between the lens and the cover. I then took a passable photograph of myself from the bottom of the bowl. Not a pretty sight, but that’s more to do with the author than the camera. I dried out the camera and opened up the various compartments and all seemed dry inside. It is supposed to be safe down to 10 ft or 3 meters. I’ll take their word for it as I hardly ever take my kayak down that deep.
The photographs I have taken so far with this tiny camera are well balanced, correctly colored and correctly exposed. There seems to be slightly more blur than on my Canon, but I put that down to the fact that the largest aperture is f3.5, quite slow by comparison to other cameras. There is no discernible darkening in the corners or at the edges of the image but the JPGing at 98% (or 95% on Normal) for that matter, is quite discernible.
The sensor is quite low noise; at ISO 400 the noise was less noticeable on the images than my Canon S3 at ISO 200 so the one stop difference in maximum apature size is negated in my view.
Getting the photographs off the camera is a breeze as long as you have remembered to bring the special USB cable with you on your travels. The Olympus memory just appears as a disk in Windows hence users of Windows will just be able to see it as another drive and drag and drop. Users of Picasa will just see it as an import source and be able to import in the normal manner. Note despite being a special USB connector at the camera end, you still need a charged battery in the camera to power up the camera when connected to the PC.
Overall this camera meets half my criteria, but then there is no waterproof camera on the market that meets all of them.
Read more product reviews on Olympus Stylus Tough 550WP / µ (mju) 550 WP 10.0 MP Digital Camera - Black
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Amount Paid (US$): 80
This Camera is a Good Choice if You Want Something... Easy Enough for Anyone to Use
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