Digital World: A camera for the nervous

Like every other company, Olympus wants to stay ahead of the pack and has come up with an offering that will appeal not only to athletes and lovers of the outdoors, but also is perfect for Type A's who finally will have an opportunity to take their revenge on digital devices.

By DAVID SHAMAH
December 5, 2006 08:12
water camera 88 298

water camera 88 298. (photo credit: Courtesy photo)

In the modern "device" era, there is one iron-clad rule we are all required to follow no matter how ornery the device - camera, PDA, laptop computer, etc. - is behaving: Treat your device gently. Don't drop it, expose it to heat or moisture, aggressively hit its buttons/switches, scratch its eminently scratchable LCD screen, or otherwise fold, spindle or mutilate. In other words, the device can act as badly as it wants, making you spend long, frustrating hours getting the thing to work, with no guarantees, of course - but you have to treat it with kid gloves, forcing you to suppress your completely elemental and unquestionably understandable desire to just kick the thing where it hurts and MAKE IT WORK! Well, now you can. In today's digital camera market, even the most common offerings from the major camera makers can take extremely hi-resolution photos (7.1 megapixels is the new hot thing in moderately priced compact/point and shoot cameras), as well as take high-quality video and impose any number of effects on a picture that would have required hours in a darkroom. But what has been a technical feather in the cap for the people at Canon, Olympus, HP and others has been a major headache for their marketing people. As the ability gap between cameras meant for professionals and casual users narrows - i.e. as "regular"cameras are loaded with features once reserved for higher priced equipment - it becomes more difficult to find a sales point that will ring with customers. Is brand A better than brand B? More and more, consumers are seeing them as "Brand X" - all capable, all powerful and all just as good as their counterparts from other camera makers whose products have the same feature set. True, you can still buy digital SLRs - nowadays distinguished from the crowd by a higher megapixel level (8 to 10, depending on brand) and the ability to fit traditional high-powered SLR lenses onto the camera. But in terms of features and capabilities (other than the use of professional lenses), this years's 7.1 megapixel point and shoot cameras are as powerful as last year's SLRs. For some people, compact cameras will always be "second class" - but for most people who buy digital cameras, "they're all the same" is a mantra being heard more often. Like every other company, Olympus wants to stay ahead of the pack and has come up with an offering that will appeal not only to athletes and lovers of the outdoors (especially water sports and activities), but also is perfect for Type A's who finally will have an opportunity to take their revenge on digital devices. Not that you'll have any reason to mistreat the Olympus725SW - it happens to be a great digital camera, and using it is an absolute pleasure. But it's just nice to know that if you wanted to, you could slam it down on the ground from a height of up to a meter and a half - and the thing will emerge from your tantrum unscathed and ready to do your digital photographic bidding. Oh, and it takes pictures underwater, as well - at a depth of up to 5 meters. So as not to keep you in suspense, I'm going to say this at the outset: If you like the idea of taking photos underwater, get this camera. It works as advertised in that it takes good, solid pictures (with flash, no less) at depths of up to five meters, and even further down if you purchase the additional housing accessory that can withstand water pressure of up to 40 meters. The truth is, almost any digital camera can be outfitted to take pictures under water, and all the major camera companies have cases manufactured to the specifications (i.e. the size and shape) of some popular models. These cases, usually made of hard plastic, allow access to buttons and controls while keeping the delicate workings of the camera high and dry. The only problem is that most of these cases are expensive - in fact, many cost almost as much as a good quality camera itself. On Amazon.com, for example, there is a wide range of protective underwater cases for many different models of camera - and the vast majority start in the area of $150, going up to over $300. Of course, for this kind of money, you get a top quality watertight and (hopefully) leakproof product - such as the Canon WP-DC300 Waterproof Case for S30, S40, S45 and S50 Digital Cameras (http://tinyurl.com/y7fnqg), $168.29 at Amazon, which allows user to take photos up to 100 feet (about 32 meters) below the surface of the sea. Other offerings from Olympus, HP, etc. for their cameras have similar capabilities. Obviously, these cases are aimed at professional or semi-professional divers and swimmers - the types that take cruises to obscure spots in the South Seas in order to view exotic fish, or take in lovely coral reefs. For that kind of diving and swimming, spending a couple of hundred bucks to preserve your camera makes a lot of sense. But for those less at home in the water, like me, there are nearly no cheaper options. I haven't come across any offered by Canon et al, and the solutions that are available don't inspire confidence with me, no matter what the BBC said (http://tinyurl.com/y9bnue). That's the most amazing thing about Olympus725SW: It's already got the protective case built in, with a solid metallic body that, despite my best attempts in several not too deep bodies of water (including a fish tank full of vicious piranhas) refused to "drown." For casual swimmers and boaters, this is the perfect way to get photos of the kids swimming underwater, or to take pictures close to shore or in a pool or shallow lake. Considering that the 725SW costs about NIS 1,000 retail, it's a great buy in that you get an excellent camera, even without the underwater capabilities. It has a large (6.4 cm) LCD screen, one of the largest on any compact camera I've seen recently. Indeed, the camera is very compact, barely three quarters of an inch thick, a far cry from other 7.1 megapixel cameras that you'd have a great deal of trouble fitting into a back pocket. Olympus has its own patented picture enhancement system called BrightColor, which livens up darkish photos - even underwater. There are 25 different picture modes - one for almost any occasion you can think of like sunsets and ball games - including three specifically for underwater shooting - as well as having the ability to shoot movies with sound (in 640x480 pixel quality) with no time limit, other than the amount of memory available on your xD data card. And you can drop it, with no seeming ill affect on its capabilities. The 725SW is "Shockproof complying with MIL Standard (MIL-STD 810F)," which turns out to be an exhaustive battery of US Department of Defense tests to check the hardiness of products under potentially hazardous conditions. And although the tests (http://www.environlab.com/mil-Std-810.htm) looked impressive, I gave it my own test - the "balata" test, where you drop an item on an Israeli floor. This is not a simple test to pass, mind you - as anyone who has tested supposedly "unbreakable" Corelle dishes knows. But the 725SW lives up to its promises, making it the perfect camera for Type A Israelis, or anyone else frustrated with the performance of so many digital devices. ds@newzgeek.com


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