Olympus Tough 850SW

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Olympus Tough 850SW
  • Olympus Tough 850SW
  • Olympus Tough 850SW
  • Olympus Tough 850SW

Pros

  • Shockproof, waterproof, snow-proof, speedy, sharp images, lots of features

Cons

  • Some colour issues, slow burst mode

Bottom Line

Another great tough model from Olympus, the Tough 850SW only improves on its predecessor in a few small ways but it is still one of the best options if you're after a camera that can take a little more grief than normal.

Would you buy this?

Olympus is really keeping the pressure on its competition with consistent, high quality refreshes of the company's compact camera range. The Tough 850SW is the cheaper of two new models in its Tough range and while it doesn't make many improvements over the Tough 790SW we looked at a while ago, it is still a great option for the more rugged photographer, or those who just want to take the worry out of their picture taking.

Packing in an 8-megapixel sensor, the 850SW captures some good quality images. They have a few issues but should satisfy the majority of users and are perfect for happy snap 4x6in prints.

Sharpness was no concern; our images came out with crisp clear edges and good resolution. There was some minor corner softening but it was in line with our expectations of a camera at this price point. Chromatic aberration was a little higher than normal, resulting in some purple fringing and flaring around areas of high contrast. This was mostly noticeable in our outdoor shots and was quite prominent towards the edges of the frame.

Colour balance has been improved a little from previous models, but it is still the weakest element of the 850SW's performance. There is no custom white balance mode, which results in some fairly inaccurate hues, most notably in indoor shots. Outdoors on the other hand was generally okay and the overall colour balance was soft and natural; typical of Olympus' other compacts.

Noise was kept well under control at low ISOs, with everything up to ISO 400 being adequate for small prints. If you plan on making enlargements you may wish to stick to ISO 200 and below, but even then the noise isn't so prominent that it really detracts from the image.

In our speed tests the 850SW performed surprisingly well. Past Tough models have been a little on the sluggish side but not this time. It exhibited 0.09 seconds of shutter lag, 1.7 seconds shot-to-shot time and a very speedy 1.4 seconds power up time, which should help capture those spontaneous shots in time.

Of course the real standout feature of this unit is, as you'd expect, the tough build. Shockproof from up to 1.5 metres it can survive the day to day knocks that other models would crumple under. Furthermore it is waterproof to 3 metres, which makes it ideal for the pool or beach. It also means you can throw it around at parties and not worry about drink spills. For a little extra toughness Olympus has also packed in snow-proof technology, meaning the 850SW will operate at temperatures down to -10 degrees Celsius.

Supporting all the tough features is a fairly robust feature set typical of Olympus compacts. There is face detect focus mode for all your portrait needs as well as a a basic two-frame per second burst mode. Image stabilisation is included and although it isn't as effective as the optical stabilisation present on some competing models it does the job. Shadow adjustment is also on board, which is designed to help bring detail out of dark areas. It is a mixed bag; it does increase detail in shadowed places but it often messes with the exposure a little, so use it sparingly. Olympus' panorama mode is also included, allowing even novice users to easily stitch together extremely wide shots without any kind of third-party software.

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