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Underwater Camera Review - Olympus 770SW

In recent years underwater photography has gone from something available only to those with thousands of dollars to spend on equipment, to something that is within the grasp of most consumers. The average camera buyer however, doesn't realize this. In their mind, underwater photography options are limited to cheap, low quality disposable cameras sold on snorkeling boats and near tourist beaches. Recent underwater additions to the digital camera market from both Pentax and Olympus look ready to change the marketplace.

We recently tested the waterproof, shockproof 7.1 Megapixel Olympus 770SW, and look forward to the new world of underwater photography.

The first thing you notice about the 770SW is that it doesn't look like an underwater camera. It looks like your standard issue compact digital camera. When we showed the camera to people, they didn't believe that it was waterproof - they expected a waterproof camera would be bright yellow with big rubber gaskets. This is one of the best things about this camera - this can be your #1 camera - and you can take it from a hiking trip to a birthday party to a day of snorkeling.

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Screen: The screen is large and bright - no complaints. Even underwater you could generally see the screen.

Photos: We were generally satisfied with the quality of the photos. The autofocus feature sometimes was a bit flighty and focused on the wrong things - it seems especially important to be in the right mode at all times (more so than with most digital cameras we've used). View Sample Photos

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Movie Mode: A standard on digital cameras these days, the camera features a movie mode (with audio) that proves especially cool underwater. You can even hear the breathing from your snorkel. View Underwater Movies

Waterproofness: No problems here - in our tests the camera probably made it down to about 14 feet. (It is waterproof to 33ft). Besides the ergonomics (see below) we were very impressed with this camera underwater.

Shockproofness: Though we didn't have the guts to drop it from 5 feet to test their "shockproof" claims, the camera definitely took plenty of bumps and knocks during testing - including smashing into rocks underwater. No ill effects were seen.

Resolution: 7.1 megapixels - more than enough for this type of camera.

Price: The list price is a fairly high for a standard camera - $379. Take away the waterproof factor, and you can buy a 7.1 megapixel digital camera with movie mode for $150-$200. For many divers, snorkelers and sportsman the extra $175 will be well worth it.

Ergonomics: Ugh. For such a cool camera, somewhere, somehow an engineer needs to be taken out to the woodshed. The biggest complaint is that the movie mode is only accessible via the on-screen menu. This might be ok for a normal camera - but for a camera that will be used underwater this is one of the all time bad decisions in camera history. Rather than flipping a switch on the outside to go into movie mode, you need to press the "mode" button, then press the down button twice to go from "underwater" mode to "movie" mode then press ok to set things on movie mode. All the while you are underwater trying to see the screen and not miss the fish that is swimming by. This is an issue that must be fixed on the next version of this camera. One other small complaint is that the lens is located a bit too close to the top left corner of the camera, and we have a number of photos that include a part of our finger as a result.

Accessories: Comes with a battery charger, wrist strap and transfer cables. One small issue is the battery charger has a big long cord that plugs into the base that holds the battery. We much prefer the chargers that have no cord, and just plug into the wall themselves - much easier to take with you.

Memory Card - Uses XD memory cards. Given the 7megapixels, you'll want to buy at least a 1gb card.

Overview: If you are regular scuba diver, snorkeler, hiker or beachgoer, this camera is a great choice for you. The ability to bring a camera with you and not need to worry about it getting wet is a great feeling, and actually taking photos (and video) underwater is even better.

Rating: 7.8 out of 10 . With a slightly lower price and a fix to the movie mode ergonomics, this camera would be an easy 8.5

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