The Olympus mju 1050SW is very pretty. Too pretty to dunk in 3m of water, drop 1.5m onto a hard surface or stick in your freezer, but apparently it's designed to take it. Usually, 'ruggedised' cameras look as if they're made out of oversized Lego, but this one looks just like any other classy, superslim camera. Priced at £190, you can even choose from five different colours.
Startup is easy -- you just slide back the lens cover to power up. The lens uses folded optics so it doesn't extend, which also means you can slip the camera back in your pocket temporarily without having to switch it off first.
It's all very beginner-friendly, too. You can shoot in full auto mode or choose from one of 23 different scene modes, all illustrated with full-screen examples and descriptions. There's even a guide mode that walks you through the settings and techniques needed for some of the trickier subjects you might encounter.
Finally, Olympus has relented ever so slightly over card formats. You're not stuck solely with the xD format any more because this camera also comes with an adaptor for using microSD cards -- though not standard SD, unfortunately.
Other things aren't so good. The startup is leisurely, the autofocus is quite noisy, and the buttons on the back are cramped. And the Tap function is just plain bizarre. You can tap the right side of the camera to change the flash mode, the left side to activate the shadow enhancement feature and the back to enter the playback mode. These options are just a small and a seemingly arbitrary subset of all the controls you might actually want to use often. You often 'tap' a control without meaning too and a camera like this isn't the easiest thing to hold one-handed at the best of times, so if you're going to keep tapping it to adjust it you're going to drop it. Just as well it's shock-proof, eh?
The digital image stabiliser doesn't seem to do much except encourage you to take chances with the shutter speed that the stabilisation can't really cope with, and the overall picture quality turns out to be pretty ordinary for a 10-megapixel compact.
Perhaps the main thing, though, is that with a camera this pretty you're going to want to put it on a velvet cushion and feed it chocolates, not bounce it down mountainsides. You might want to consider the slightly more expensive mju 1030SW instead. It's tougher still, has a wideangle zoom and a slightly more macho exterior.
The 1050SW is both pretty and tough, but this leads to compromises. In normal use it's not as slick or as elegant as, say, a Sony T-series CyberShot, and in more extreme environments you're going to want something fat and grippy, not a slippery little superslim like this one.
Edited by Cristina Psomadakis