Rugged cameras have being doing battle with the elements for many years now. We were rather taken by Vivitar’s Vivicam 6200W recently despite its lifejacket styling, and Olympus’ 770 SW has long been a rucksack favourite for Stuff’s extreme breaks.

Well, now Olympus’ tough guy has returned for more action as the 790 SW. It packs the same 7.1MP sensor and 3x optical zoom as its predecessor, but strangely drops the waterproofing depth from 10m to 3m. Still, features like face detection make it a respectable step up.

New paint jobs

As if this camera wasn’t distinctive enough, Olympus has also decided to supply it in a number of shades – ours was a kind of burnt orange. Elsewhere the silver edging makes it look pretty smart, and it doesn’t look rugged in the way the overly macho way that, say, a Panasonic Toughbook does.

The buttons on the back are all off to the right of the screen, and this whole area looks a little bit confusing. This feeling isn’t helped by the fact that the sturdier construction needs mean the buttons tend to be a little less responsive than on wimpy normal cameras.

Still, the menu system is very friendly, and Olympus has taken hand-holding to new levels with its Guide mode. This is selectable from the sturdy mode wheel on the back, and it lets you scroll through a selection of possibly problematic picture scenarios – such as shooting at night – and tells you what to do about it.

This adds a certain degree of tutoring, which we like, and supplements the otherwise well stocked selection of scene modes, which includes a whopping four underwater offerings.

Solid performance

In action the 790 is actually very competent, with a good all round performance even if you are shooting on the fly, which bodes well for the sporty types it’s aimed at. Detail resolution is good, colours are reasonably natural and there’s little in the way of unsightly noise until you set the ISO above 200.

There’s some lens distortion at the extremes of the zoom, but as the lens doesn’t extend from the body for safety reasons this is to be expected. But beyond that, this is one hell of a sporty little camera, and well worth the additional expense if you are planning on using it in extreme conditions.

Stuff says... 

Olympus 790 SW review

If used properly this rugged camera is well worth the money and makes you feel a little more manly into the bargain