I drew some curious glances when I walked into the local pool carrying a shiny new digital camera. When I dived underwater with the thing, well, that started the questions. So the Olympus Stylus 720SW ($400, olympus.com) is an attention getter.
It was nerve-racking, though, testing its next distinguishing feature: the ability to withstand being dropped from as high as 5 feet. OK, dropflinchand gingerly retrieve. No apparent damage done.
But beyond gimmicks, it's a decent camera, tooa compact 7-megapixel with an industrial feel, as small screws protrude from its metal body. It includes a 3x optical zoom, VGA-quality video, and 24 modes for different still scenes, such as the standard portrait and landscape and the not-so-standard "underwater wide."
Shooting beneath the waves has previously meant adding an underwater housing to a digital camera. The 720SW can go as deep as 10 feet, which makes it good for snorkeling, and its images seem as sharp as water might allow.
Out of the water, the still images are good for a point-and-shoot camera, but not its main selling pointon close examination, I could see some speckling in solid colors. Also, the camera shoots video at 15 frames per second, making it more jerky than models that can shoot 30 fps.
Still, the camera performs well for its price range, adding a fair premium for its rugged features. And the shock resistance is probably more useful day to day than shooting underwater, as most cameras can withstand a bit of rain, if not a brief dunking. Besides, it's not so easy lining up a shot underwater. Be sure to bring a mask and snorkel, or be ready to take a deep breath.