Olympus waterproof camera ride report

Brain the size of a planet. It, not me.

What I noticed is that despite my Olympus 550 WP costing just $120, it was not lost on their engineers that hey, they have a computer, power, a display and tons of memory available. Not to mention a vast reservoir of software already written for other cameras. Thus for instance, on the screen at default there are 20 variables displayed around the edges . Usual stuff like f-stop and shutter speed, plus the mélange of modes, flash status, level of zoom (electronic and optical), battery charge level, various warnings if the subject is too dark, or shaded or not able to be focused upon, and more. And you can add more by customizing the frame.

There are at least 15 shooting modes, each of which you can customize by selecting around 15 variables buried inside each one. There are 3 automatic modes (it seems less than automatic if you have to pick which automatic mode – like an automatic transmission with three speeds) but there are, it turns out, two super automatic modes which choose among the 3 automatic modes best suited, which in turn picks among the 15 options inside it, each of which has its own 15 variables, any and all of which you can change… One of those superautomatic modes senses the type of scene you are shooting – profile, night etc. Sensible. But I am drawn to the other one. It is so automatic they don’t tell you how it chooses. I like that – the Wizard of Oz Mode.

As if that isn’t enough, you have the option to record sound, to pick the frame rate, to decide among 3 types of florescent lighting and a couple types of tungsten lighting and two types of sunlight (for planets orbiting double stars, I guess). Of course you can take movies, but that’s another 20 pages of the manual I skipped over. I did note that the optical zoom doesn’t work for movies – but the electrical one does. And the audio defaults on, but you can turn it off, or toggle it on and off, or add sound later, or subtract.

In both movie and still mode you can pick your resolution among about 10 options, and within each of the ten, the type of compression you do or don’t want. A total of about 50 resolution settings. Then of course you can’t live without the power saving modes. Another few pages of the catalog tell you how to display your pictures on the camera’s screen, on various types of TV Screens (HD, widescreen, PAL etc.) and then on various Mac and PC compatible computer screens. Manually or in slide show mode – skipping some or showing all of them, with your recorded voice over, or the audio you recorded with each scene.

Oops, almost forgot to mention the self timer. 12 seconds. Fixed. What the hey?

If you are smart enough to wade through all that you must own a computer. But in case you left it at home, or on shore, you can image process all your stuff, including image improvements like contrast and gamma, and cropping, and adding audio later, or deleting audio you don’t like, or editing the audio. And you can print without a computer by “simply” (they use that word a lot) enabling PicBridge software. Which opens up a menu of menus so you can manage your printing in a million ways.

Did I mention it has an MP3 music player? Not an add on, they figure you might want to narrate your shots with music. not a problem.

It would be easier to say what it doesn’t have – a phone, a GPS, and a V-8 for driving to where you are taking the photos, with submenus to choose the comfort vs. handling of the suspension, performance vs economy shifting schedules, and presets for the temperature the seat heaters come on (separately for the driver and front seat passenger, but everyone in the back has to live with the same setting until the software update comes out – which you can download from OlympusUSA.com. Don’t forget to register online!!!).

It was little comfort to note that the 80 page manual, including 3 pages of safety warnings (for a camera that weighs 4 ounces? – I suppose they have to remind you it can be a choking hazard) is only the start and “lots more” (not just a little more) information is available on-line. Lucky – I was worried what I was going to do for reading in 2011. Plus there are user groups you can join for discussions on special topics. Lucky thing. If you don’t like the plug in the wall charger, a cord option is available (in some countries). Handy if you want to operate while plugged in – on the tripod (mount included, tripod optional). It takes several memory card formats, but don’t lose the little plastic adapters. Or swallow them.

There are a few pages not so much on using it underwater, but cleaning it afterwards. Don’t forget to dry it in “warm shade”, but in any case, below 105˚F. Thermometer NOT INCLUDED. I can’t believe they left out the weather station option. But it does have an underwater photos set of settings, all user adjustable (who else would?), but they advise doing that before going into the water. Wimps.

Back on land getting bumped is always a danger – especially when dialing in the long zooms. Naturally there is optional anti shake, which can be automatic, or manual. And you can tell it to anti shake faces. I like that – blurry bodies, sharp faces. I wonder if there’s a Magnum Mode to get the opposite? It does speak italian – and 9 other languages including two Chinese dialects, Arabic, Japanese and Hebrew.

Luckily for those of us not planning to enroll in Olympus University majoring in Stylus Underwater (and compared with their other cameras, this one probably only offers the Associates Degree), you can be a typical American Guy and just turn it on and snap pictures. Maybe zoom it in and out. In which case you only need to know to push the button part way down to let it think about what it thinks you are wanting to do for a few milliseconds, and then push down to take a picture. I got that far. But you will have to live knowing your camera will think, no, it will know, it is smarter than you are.

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