Introduction: The Matchup The Olympus Stylus 1050 SW and Pentax Optio W60 are among a handful of waterproof and freezeproof digital cameras on the market. An ideal accessory for vacationers and outdoor adventurists, these amphibious cameras offer typical imaging specifications for a point-and-shoot model, including 10 megapixels and ISO sensitivity up to 1600, and convenient automated modes such as Face & Smile Detection, Panoramic stitch, and Underwater capture. Both cameras, priced at about $300, are relatively affordable.
When submerged, the Olympus Stylus 1050 SW can operate at depths of up to 10 feet, while the Pentax Optio W60 can reach 13 feet. Both cameras can withstand temperatures as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit, making them prime candidates for skiers and snowboarders.
Though the highlighting features of the cameras are similar, they perform differently. The biggest distinction between the cameras is fundamental usability (the reliability of the autofocus system and low light performance).
The look and feel of the cameras – which includes how wide the lens is, its zoom range, size and visibility of the LCD screen, and build quality – greatly differs. Here are the key advantages to each:
Olympus Stylus 1050SW
• Tap Control Interface (excellent underwater)
• Superior LCD screen (larger, brighter, more effective in minimizing glare)
• Thinner, sleeker form factor
• Mode dial on camera body (helps handling underwater)
• Guide Mode helps walk novices through operations
• Perfect Fix setting makes decent (very usable) automatic adjustment to images
• More internal memory
• More accurate colors
• Less noise through most of ISO range
• Quicker burst
• Better resolution
• Includes Alarm clock and LED flashlight settings (ideal for camping)
Pentax Optio W60
• Longer 5x lens
• Wider 28mm lens
• Higher-quality movies
• More in-camera editing options
• Organized, intuitive menus
• Better autofocus (underwater, macro, and low-light)
• Full SD compatibility
• Waterproof to 13 feet (3 feet beyond the maximum depth of the 1050SW)
• Faster startup
• Contains Blink Detection setting
• Panaramic stitch mode
• Weighs less and is much more pocketable
• Detects 32 faces (2x the amount recognizable to the 1050SW)
• Optical zoom in movies
• Less shutter lag
The Main Event: Waterproof Performance Designed for underwater use, these two cameras can go below the surface without applying an additional housing, though their range is limited: the Pentax Optio W60 is rated to dip to 13 feet below water for up to two hours, while the Olympus Stylus 1050 SW can go 10 feet down for up to two hours.
The Optio W60 and Stylus 1050 SW include dedicated automatic scene modes that optimize settings for underwater conditions and allow the user to more easily focus on their photographic subjects.
Both cameras are outfitted with rubber seals at vulnerable points such as the microphone and speaker; if a current pushes hard enough, it can break that seal. In fact, Olympus recommends that its sliding cover not be closed underwater so as not to disrupt that seal.
In terms of underwater usability, the Olympus 1050 SW is more practically designed than the Pentax W60. The Stylus 1050SW prevails in this regard. It has a larger/brighter LCD screen (2.7-inches versus the W60’s 2.5-inches), external mode dial that is quick to access by feel, and a tap control interface that is easier to use than buttons. The tap interface is incredibly intuitive and logical and a clear advantage of the camera.
The underwater picture quality isn’t stellar from either model straight out of the camera. However, after a few minor adjustments (mostly to contrast and saturation) in a photo editing program, we were able to produce nice 8x10-inch prints of an underwater scene from both cameras.
Pentax Optio W60
Our head-to-head testing shows that the main performance differentiator between the two cameras is focus. Though both cameras struggle to achieve focus underwater, it is a bigger problem for the Olympus. Unfortunately a lot of underwater images shot with the Stylus were not printable because of the errant focus.
H2H Video: 'Extreme' Freeze Test
We ran the cameras through a battery of imaging tests in controlled studio conditions. Using Imatest, a software program for analyzing digital image quality, we quantified the results, and then derived a relative score on a 0 – 10 scale (with 10 being the best) for each.
The most impactful scores are displayed in the graph below, which outlines the imaging performance of the Stylus 1050 SW and Optio W60. For further analysis and complete testing data, click through to the full review on H2Hreviews.com
The results above reveal some meaningful distinctions in picture quality between the Olympus 1050SW and the Pentax W60, further exemplified in the sample images we captured (click here to view the full sample gallery on H2Hreviews.com).
The data suggests largely superior image quality from the Olympus in bright shooting conditions (when a low ISO setting and high shutter speed can be used). However, photographers will need ample light and time to realize the potential of this camera. The Stylus 1050 SW operates slowly and struggles with focus.
In less favorable illumination – lighting provided by indoor lamps, candles, overcast skies, etc. – without the use of the flash, the Pentax W60 is the more competent performer. The W60 will return a much higher percentage of focused images, with less noise and more saturation retained in its colors (both cameras lose color vibrancy at higher ISO settings).
Ultimately, both cameras deliver average to slightly below average quality prints when compared to non-amphibious $300 digital cameras. For snapping picture underwater, however, the Optio W60 emerges as the more solid performer.
Both cameras sell for about $300. The Olympus 1050 SW is priced at $299 while Pentax originally tagged its W60 for $329, but has since marked it down to $299 as well.
Are they worth it?
• …if you want to take pictures in extreme weather conditions like rain or snow
• …if you’ve lost a camera to water damage and don’t want it to happen again
• …if your kids are prone to destruction
• …if you want the highest quality images at the price point
• …if you are serious about great underwater shots and are willing to spend significantly more money for superior image quality
If optimal image quality is your top priority, you should opt for another camera that provides more accurate colors, less noise, and better exposure. There are superior models on the market with a retail price less than $300.
If high quality underwater photography tops your priority list, purchasing a separate underwater housing for a camera that produces superior images might be a better investment. Most manufacturers sell underwater housing for their cameras. The housings can go as deep as 130 feet, more suitable for diving than the Olympus 1050 SW and Pentax W60's 10-13-feet-ratings. The underwater housings are on the expensive side; they are often close to the price of the camera itself. A custom housing also adds bulk and isn’t feasible in some situations, such as skiing the Alps or taking snapshots at your neighbor’s pool party. In these cases, the W60 and 1050 SW will offer the ultimate combination of durability and portability, and is likely to validate the near $300 price tag.
The Olympus Stylus 1050 SW and the Pentax Optio W60 are among a limited number of waterproof models in the digital camera marketplace. Their 10-megapixel sensors, large LCD screens, and scores of easy-to-use preset modes add additional appeal.
The compact cameras are marketed with a “tough” approach: they can be submerged and frozen, and the Stylus 1050 SW can even be stepped on and dropped. However, behind the tough façade of these cameras are a few unfortunate weaknesses:
• Both cameras are sluggish to start up.
• Both offer ISO settings up to 1600, but high sensitivity images are fraught with noise and lack saturation.
• The macro focusing modes are unreliable.
If you’re considering either of these cameras for a once-in-a-lifetime snorkeling trip and have extra money to spend, you may want to consider getting a waterproof housing for a better-performing digital camera. If underwater photography becomes a hobby, a steeper investment now could save you money in the long run.
However, if you’re in the market for an ultra-rugged pocket-sized camera that you can take out in the rain, drop in the mud, and take for a swim for under $300, these are the cameras to choose from.
In the end, the robust Olympus Stylus 1050 SW offers a more decorated, well-considered feature set that’s better suited for extreme conditions than the Pentax W60. The Pentax’s superior focusing ability and more versatile (wider, longer) zoom lens, however, trump the Stylus where it matters most: underwater.
The 1050SW and W60 both deliver extremely durable, weatherproof cameras that will survive a snorkeling vacation or rainstorm. They both offer advantages that could validate a recommendation; however, to us, the superior focusing of the Pentax edges out the Olympus. If future Stylus generations improve on focus, this line will be impressive. As is, both of these cameras are good values if you need the extra durability or weatherproofing. If not, the $300 will be better spent on a more impressive performer.
Pentax Optio W60 Olympus Stylus 1050 SW
Round I: The Surface
External appearance and build quality (look, feel, appeal)