It's stylish and "Lifeproof", but will Olympus' latest compact camera live to see another day after our rigorous tests? Get the answer in our icy Olympus Stylus 1050 SW review.
Review summary of the Olympus Stylus 1050 SW:
Full review of the Olympus Stylus 1050 SW:
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The Olympus Stylus 1050 SW failed to impress us on many fronts, and that's not just because the camera died a ghastly death when we submerged it in a block of ice as part of our "Freezeproof" test. The Stylus 1050 SW survived a couple menacing plummets and withstood water and beer. Unfortunately, the Stylus 1050 SW's image quality left a lot to be desired and we were not big fans of its perturbing interface. We're not jazzed about this camera and we don't think you will be either. Release: October 2008. Price: $250.
Pros: Good-looking camera. Survived most endurance tests. Good menu system.
Cons: Failed Freeze test. Less than desirable image quality. Uninviting interface.
Design - Good
For a rugged camera, the Olympus Stylus 1050 SW is quite the looker, featuring a stealthy black body and lustrous chrome trim. We liked the sliding faceplate and matte finish on this compact warrior, in addition to its overall solid construction. Both the battery chamber and USB terminal are sealed via thick rubber gaskets in order to keep liquid from oozing its way inside the camera's innards. The Stylus 1050 SW can easily slip inside a pocket and weighs just over 6 ounces.
In back, the Olympus Stylus 1050 SW is festooned with silver buttons and a four-way directional pad with a Set button embedded in the middle. The Stylus 1050 SW has a horizontal zoom panel button rather than a wraparound toggle. We had trouble with the zoom panel because it's positioned too close to the Mode dial, leading us to inadvertently switch into a different shooting setting. With a 3x optical range, there's no point in using the zoom. We just walked closer to our subject matter.
The LCD screen is guarded by a thick transparent plastic pane sealed by an adhesive rubber gasket. We would have liked a 3" LCD screen here because it would be more conducive to underwater shooting. It's already hard enough to see through the fog of a snorkeling mask.
Interface - Mediocre
The Olympus Stylus 1050 SW's four-way directional pad is not the pinnacle of comfortable menu navigation. The d-pad is shallow and its hard edges dug into our fingers like little talons. Plus, the buttons are so small that we ended up accidentally mashing the d-pad, which would prompt a quick action that we didn't want. The Mode dial is small, but fully stocked and contains useful options rather than ancillary feature fillers. The Stylus 1050 SW powers on when you slide the faceplate downward or press a tiny Power button.
The Olympus Stylus 1050 SW's menu system is tight, providing quick browsing in an intuitive structure. The Function menu allowed us to make quick manual control adjustments while preserving the majority of the live preview. This way we were able to adjust the image based on what we saw, rather than accessing a general menu and blindly selecting an option. For most shooters, the Stylus 1050 SW's menu system will take little time to acclimatize.
Features - Mediocre
According to Olympus, this is the Marathon Man of digital cameras. The Olympus Stylus 1050 SW is shockproof up to 5 feet, waterproof up to 10 feet and freezeproof down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. In our tests, the Stylus 1050 SW withstood a significant 5-foot drop on a pub floor and held its own in a pint of Hefeweizen, water and soda. However, after seeing the Olympus Stylus 770 SW frozen in a solid block of ice at last year's CES, we knew what had to be done this time around. So, we filled a bowl with water and submerged the Stylus 1050 SW right up to the shutter button. After 2 hours, we removed the Stylus 1050 SW from the freezer to take a couple shots without any issues. We placed the bowl back in the freezer and then checked it the next morning. There was the Stylus 1050 SW, a prisoner within a solid block of ice. As we started thawing the ice block, the LCD screen began to turn various shades of gray and white, leading to the Stylus 1050 SW's inevitable demise. The entire camera was waterlogged, including the ports, which feature heavy gaskets. Sorry folks, the Stylus 1050 SW is not freezeproof. Snowproof for 10 seconds at a time we can see, but it won't survive the ice.
In terms of shooting features, the Olympus Stylus 1050 SW is pretty short-staffed. Regardless, the camera still beats the Olympus Stylus 1040, which skimps on nearly every feature. The Stylus 1050 SW offers manual controls including White Balance, ISO and Exposure, but there's no Shutter Speed or Aperture control. We found that the Stylus 1050 SW has a tendency to underexpose images, which caused us some strife in low light. This is a major problem for those planning on taking the Stylus 1050 SW with them on a scuba trip. All you get is Exposure Compensation control, which is certainly not enough for most low light environments. The Stylus 1050 SW's Panorama mode might be one of its few decent features, automatically stitching together images in the camera.
Hardware - Mediocre
The Olympus Stylus 1050 SW has a 10-megapixel, 1/2.33" image sensor, a common size, and a 3x optical zoom lens with a 38mm width. This is a very narrow depth of field, and we constantly had to back up in order to fit more subject matter into our images. The Stylus 1050 SW runs on a rechargeable Lithium Ion battery.
In terms of media, the Olympus Stylus 1050 SW records to xD cards or MicroSD cards with an xD adapter. These two cards are fairly unpopular in the digital imaging world, as most cameras have settled on SD and SDHC cards.
Image Quality - Mediocre
On the whole, we weren't very impressed with the Olympus Stylus 1050 SW's image performance, particularly because of the camera's inherent urge to underexpose images captured in less than ideal lighting. Of course ISO can be boosted, but the Olympus Stylus 1050 SW's already subpar image quality cannot afford the added noise. We experienced fringing, hazing and a weak color performance while shooting with the Olympus Stylus 1050 SW in most conditions and attempting to suck up enough light in a dark shooting environment without deploying high ISO levels was not possible.
Scene Test – Times Square
Right off the bat, you can see the Olympus Stylus 1050 SW's tendency to underexpose. The buildings look as though they've been captured at night and Photoshopped onto a hazing morning sky. There's also a light mist of noise throughout this image and some purple fringing along some building edges. The only plus we see here are vibrant reds. Other than that, this dismal image is mediocre at best.
Detail Test – ‘Tis the Season
Even in optimal bright light, the Olympus Stylus 1050 SW casts a light haze over the entire image. Honestly, this looks like it was taken with a really good camera phone. Fringing is climbing all over the wooden beams and 409 bottle and the image is not even focused properly.
Color Test – Fruit Stand
The Olympus Stylus 1050 SW is redeeming itself slightly here with an image that is actually focused properly, but the colors are flat and boring. There's not enough of a palette in this image and colors are just not enticing. Plus, look at the surrounding haze along the left side of this image.
Contrast Test – Chow Mein
Since the Olympus Stylus 1050 SW loves to underexpose, this flaw helps it in certain situations. Here the sky is rendered nicely with no blowing out going on at all. Most cameras in this class would struggle with such a demanding contrast, but the Stylus 1050 SW handles it well. On the other hand, this images is plagued by fringing and the silver box on the right side is blown out.
Macro Test – Leaf
The detail in this Macro shot is great and the Olympus Stylus 1050 SW does a nice job of focusing on the foreground. However, notice the light haze throughout the image and flat color in the leaf. Also, we couldn't get very close with the Stylus 1050 SW, making its Macro feature just another average tool in the camera's belt.
Low Light Test – White Horse Tavern at ISO 80
Low Light Test – White Horse Tavern at ISO 400
Low Light Test – White Horse Tavern at ISO 800
The first image was taken in at the lowest ISO setting to preserve as much detail as possible. We also boosted the Exposure Compensation to full tilt, but our result was this. Sure, it's a dimly lit bar, but most cameras provide enough Exposure options to accommodate a scenario like this. So, we were forced to turn to ISO. At ISO 400, the image is brighter, but a lot more noise has arrived to the party. At ISO 800 we achieve the sensitivity needed to boost the light significantly, but the noise levels look like Times Square at New Year's. Unfortunately, this is the best you'll get in low light with the Stylus 1050 SW.
Underwater Test – Flash
Ice Test – No Flash
In all of our underwater tests we had trouble with glare, exposure levels and simply attaining an overall clear image. The flash reflected off of many surfaces and ended up shooting light right back into the lens. Manual exposure required ample amounts of light. The first image was taken with the flash, which helps to illuminate the Alice in Wonderland style dish rack. In moving water, it was nearly impossible to get a sharp image. We can only imagine what it would be like scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef. After two hours of freezing, the Stylus 1050 SW was able to capture the second image of the faucet, but exposure and white balance are the main viruses floating about this shot.
Price and availability
The Olympus Stylus 1050 SW is currently available online for around $250.