If the Olympus SW shockproof and waterproof cameras are the go-anywhere paratroopers of the camera world, this flexible top-end 10-megapixel model is Special Forces: it can be dropped from higher, sunk lower and crushed by heavier loads than any other snapper on the market. The mju 1030SW is available now for around £250.
Each generation of Olympus SW cameras gets a little smarter and a little tougher. The 1030SW is the flagship of the ruggedised range, with a specification that is little short of awesome. Waterproofing is extended to 10m deep, taking it beyond the previous 3m splash-about ratings and into the world of serious scuba diving. Drop-proofing is up to 2m (from 1.5m), so even the lankiest snappers can afford to be butter-fingered, and a 100kg crush-force should cope well with vigorous trampling.
In the past, we've found Olympus' ratings to be on the conservative side, so you can probably push these figures another 20-30 per cent (although don't come crying to us if your shiny new camera springs a leak while exploring the Great Barrier Reef).
The photo side of things has been improved, too. A wide-angle 28mm lens is an excellent addition to a camera that will be used in extreme outdoor conditions, being much more forgiving of framing and focusing errors. There is a touch of distortion at this wide-angle setting, but you don't sacrifice much at the top end -- the 3.6x zoom extends to a respectable 102mm equivalent telephoto. The 69mm (2.7-inch) screen is crisp and colourful.
Face Detection and Shadow Adjustment technologies are on-board and worth having, although neither is as effective as cutting edge systems from other camera companies. Overall, though, control and responsiveness have improved. The menu system gives speedy access to most key functions (although not the Face Detection auto-focus), and shutter delay is annoying but not prohibitive, at under half a second.
While other models in the SW range -- notably the 850SW -- are slim, stylish and could easily be mistaken for normal cameras, the same can't be said of the 1030SW. With its functional rivets, aggressive metal front-plate and macho-toughened LCD, the 1030SW will be the perfect partner for the Humvees, Aviator shades and camouflage netting in your life. You can even buy it detailed in forest green for those Ray Mears survival moments. That's not to say it's truly ugly: just very noticeable, very solid and surprisingly heavy (nearly 200g) for its compact size.
The controls are very easy to use, except with gloves (when diving or skiing, for instance), when you'll find the zoom, mode dial, menu and particularly the power button difficult to operate.
The 1030SW's auto-focus system is rather stupid for such a premium-priced camera and detail in the 10-megapixel shots is definitely below average, even when shooting at the highest 'fine' quality setting. Colours are muted but accurate, while the built-in flash could also do with more grunt. Battery life also leaves a little to be desired, at around 260 shots per charge.
Make no mistake, this is a genuinely tough camera, suitable for genuinely tough expedition work -- as well as family daytrips to the beach. It's easy and fast to use in most conditions, has a lovely wide-angle lens and just enough modern photo smarts (such as face detection) to hold its head up in company. Image quality doesn't quite reach the heights of similarly priced rivals -- but then those cameras can't literally reach the heights (or depths) that the 1030SW attains with ease.
Edited by Jon Squire