Olympus Stylus Digital 800 Review

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Olympus Stylus Digital 800

Steve's Conclusion

The next generation of Olympus "weather proof" digicams, the Stylus 800 is a durable and extremely versatile point-n-shoot model that boasts 8-megapixels of resolution combined with a 3x optical zoom lens. It offers an exposure mode for every member of your household. The Program auto mode is for the less experienced users, plus 19 pre-programmed SCENE modes that allow for optimum results in a wide variety of different shooting situations. The new Blur Reduction mode uses Olympus' Bright Capture technology and boosts the ISO sensitivity up to 2500. This allows the camera to use higher shutter speeds to reduce blurring effects from camera shake or subject movement. When the experienced photo enthusiasts need more control, they can simply rotate the Mode dial to either the Aperture or Shutter Speed priority settings.

Ergonomics are great. The camera is small enough that it can be slipped into almost any size pocket or purse, yet it's large enough for a comfortable feel in your hands. The controls are well placed and functional, with your thumbs falling naturally over the various controls on either side of the LCD. The Menu system was logically organized and the shortcut menus are handy for quickly changing settings. The large 2.5-inch "HyperCrystal" LCD works great outdoors, even on the brightest of days, and when used in low-ambient lighting it "gains up" to help brighten your subject; this is a useful feature considering the LCD is the only viewfinder. Like past Stylus series cameras, the Stylus 800 employs a metal exterior and durable rubber gaskets on the inside to seal gaps and prevent moisture from entering the body, it can survive a downpour or a gentle sprinkle. If you're like most people, picture taking probably stops when the rain starts falling, nobody wants their expensive camera ruined by water damage. But with Olympus' Stylus cameras, it's no longer a problem.

Shooting performance was very robust. From power up to first image captured measured approx. 1.9 seconds, this includes the time it takes to extend the lens and boot up. Shutter lag was less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and 4/10 of a second including autofocus. Shot-to-shot delay averaged about 1.4 seconds without the use of the flash and about 3.8 seconds with the flash. The Stylus 800 offers two sequential (burst) modes (Continuous, and High Speed Continuous.) Using the standard mode, I was able to capture 3 frames in about 1.5 seconds before the buffer filled. It then took approx. 5 seconds for the camera to clear its buffer. With High Speed mode, the image size is reduced to SQ1, and I captured 15 frames in abut 3.2 seconds. When using the standard mode, the LCD briefly displays the last image captured, making it somewhat difficult to follow a moving subject; in High Speed mode it blacks out until you are finished recording. Our tests were done using an Olympus 256MB xD-picture card, SHQ 3264x2448 quality, preview off, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.

You can record QuickTime movies at resolutions of 640x480, 320x240 or 160x120 with sound. I was happy to see that Olympus raised the resolution to 640x480, compared to the 320x240 seen on past models. Because sound is recorded the zoom may be preset before recording, but not during. You can use the digital zoom feature, however we recommend not to as it really degrades the quality of the clip. Overall our movie samples were good, with the usual amounts of compression noise. The microphone picked up very little wind noise and its autofocus system did well when following moving subjects.

I was pleased with the image quality of the 8-megapixel SHQ mode. Outdoors it produced sharp images that showed good overall exposure and color balance. The Auto white balance setting was very accurate, even when shooting in very mixed lighting conditions. You can also manually choose one of six white balance presets. Our ISO 64 to 400 images showed average amounts of noise, but you can only see this when viewing an image at 100% and it's very unlikely that you will see it in your prints. When using ISO 800, 1600, or 2500 (Blur reduction Mode only) the image size is reduced to SQ1 (approx. 4-megapixels.) Noise levels do increase, but the usefulness of the higher ISO speeds and the ability to capture handheld images at slower than normal shutter speeds, outweighs the image quality issues by far. Like most Olympus models, The Stylus 800 excels at portrait photography. Our indoor and outdoor portraits were sharp and skin tones were very natural. Although the autofocus system does not feature an AF-assist lamp, we found it worked quite well in low-ambient lighting, and even though it sometimes would not show a lock, the image came out sharp and in focus. Macro mode also produced pleasing results. You can focus on a subject 8 inches away with Macro mode or use the Super Macro mode and get as close as 1.2 inches. The camera did an excellent job of controlling the flash when using either of these modes, "throttling down" so the subject wasn't overexposed.

Power is supplied by a small but powerful 3.7v 1230mAh LI-12B rechargeable lithium battery. Olympus does not specify the battery life but our testing revealed it to be quite good. I was able to capture all of our sample images (approx 85 pictures) and conduct our other tests before the camera posted a low battery warning. Exactly how many pictures you can capture is going to vary depending on how many are taken with flash, how often the lens is zoomed in or out and how frequently you change settings. Lithium batteries hold their charge much longer than NiMH type batteries and can be "topped off" whenever desired without shortening the life span of the pack.

Bottom line - the Olympus Stylus 800 will make an excellent choice for anyone who wants a versatile high resolution digicam. It offers speedy performance and great image quality, along with a wide variety of useful exposure modes; and let us not forget that you can take this camera out in the rain! There's just two more items that we suggest you add to your purchase, a larger xD-Picture card and a second LI-12B lithium battery; otherwise your picture taking fun will be postponed for at least two hours. With an MSRP under $450, we feel it offers an awesome value. If you'd like an even more compact weather-resistant camera and don't need 8-megapixels of resolution, then check out the 5-megapixel Stylus Digital 500 or the 4-megapixel Stylus Verve S.

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