Olympus Stylus Digital 810 Review
The Stylus 810 is yet another versatile "water resistant" model to add to Olympus' already
popular line. It features almost identical specs with its sibling the
Stylus 710, but increases resolution to 8-megapixels, more advanced use of its Image
Stabilization mode as well as a beefier body. Shared features include a 3x optical zoom lens,
high quality VGA-size movie mode, and large 2.5-inch LCD. This is a point-n-shoot model that can
be used by just about any member of your home or office. The Auto and scene modes are perfect for
those who like to take great pictures without dealing with exposure settings, while its Program
exposure mode gives the novice user a bit more control with access to settings like ISO,
Metering, AF mode, White balance, etc.
Like the 710, the 810's ergonomics are great. This is a durable model that has a well built feel to it. Although it is a bit thicker than its little brother, it can be carried in almost any size pocket or purse. The unique "wedge" design offers a comfortable feel, with the right hand side being "fatter" for an easier grip. Controls are well placed and functional, allowing your thumb to fall over them naturally. The menu system is logically organized, and we loved the FUNCtion menu. It allows you to quickly change settings for White balance, ISO sensitivity, Drive mode etc., without having to enter the camera menu.
The 810 features a large 2.5-inch "HyperCrystal" LCD, which I found worked well in various lighting conditions. Outdoors it works well, but because the display has a reflective surface, there are still many angles that reflect the sun. When shooting indoors or anytime you're in low-ambient lighting, it "gains up" to help brighten your subject; this is a very useful feature considering the LCD is the only viewfinder. Like we saw on past models, it is very prone to fingerprints; (nothing a clean cotton t-shirt can't fix.) As with all Stylus series cameras, the 810 features a durable metal exterior and is made water tight by rubber gaskets on the inside to seal gaps and prevent moisture from entering the body. This allows it to be used in a gentle sprinkle or even a torrential downpour, however it can not be submerged.
Shooting performance was not quite as good as we saw on the 710. From power up to first image captured measured approx. 3.4 seconds, this includes the time it takes to extend the lens and boot up. Shutter lag was 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and 3/10 of a second including autofocus. Using single exposure mode, the shot to shot delay averaged about 2.5 seconds without the use of the flash and about 3.8 - 4.5 seconds with the flash, depending on subject distance and battery power. The Stylus 810 offers only one sequential (burst) mode called High-Speed Continuous. When using this mode, the image size is reduced to SQ1. I was able to capture 11 frames in only 2 seconds. The LCD briefly displays the last image captured, making it somewhat difficult to follow a moving subject; too bad it doesn't also have an optical viewfinder. Our tests were done using a standard (not High Speed) Olympus 512MB xD-picture card, SHQ 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.
The overall image quality when using the SHQ mode is good for an 8-megapixel model. When shooting outdoors, it produced pleasing photos that were sharp and well exposed. I did notice some purple fringing (aka chromatic aberration) present around extremely lit objects. However, image noise was very low when the ISO was set to 200 or lower, becoming more noticeable when the sensitivity is increased. You can see what I mean on our samples page, we have a sequence of available light shots with the ISO ranging from 64 all the way up to 3200. When you manually set the ISO to 3200, the image quality is automatically changed to SQ1 2048x1536 (3-megapixels.) When you are using the Image Stabilization mode, the ISO is set automatically by the camera. It uses Bright Capture technology to increase the sensitivity, allowing for higher shutter speeds in marginal lighting. Using IS mode allowed me to capture a usable handheld portrait at 1/50 of a second. The camera selected an ISO of 800, and noise is obvious. However, the usefulness of this feature greatly outweighs the negative effects.
I found this model did very well in the portrait department, producing images that showed sharp facial detail and natural skin tones. When shooting indoors however, you will have to work within the limits of the flash. Olympus claims the flash has a maximum range of 17 feet at wide angle (ISO auto.) This is a respectable range for a consumer model, although, don't expect it to illuminate large open rooms. I achieved the best indoor portrait shots from about 6 feet away, using the mid telephoto end of the zoom range.
The Stylus 810 also has the ability to record high-quality video at resolutions of 640x480 (30fps), 320x240 (30fps) or 160x120 (15fps), with Image stabilization. While the IS does help reduce the effects of camera shake in your movies, I found that video quality is degraded. You can see for yourself by looking at our two examples on the samples page. With IS turned off, our clips were nice and sharp showing only the typical amounts of compression noise.
The Stylus 810 is powered by a 3.7v 1230mAh LI-12B rechargeable lithium battery, which is charged by the included LI-10C charger. Because it charges the batteries out of the camera, it's easy to charge a second battery so you always have a fully charged one ready. You can't power the camera with any other battery type so we strongly recommend the purchase of a second battery. Olympus does not specify the battery life but our testing revealed it to be quite good. I was able to capture a large majority of our sample images (approx 90 pictures and 15 short movie clips) and conduct our other tests without having to recharge the battery. 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 review images. Lithium cells hold a charge much longer than NiMH type batteries when sitting idle and can be "topped off" whenever desired without shortening their life span.
Bottom line - the Stylus 810 is a welcomed addition to this "water resistant" Olympus line. While it offers great image quality and versatility with its multitude of user-friendly exposure modes and of course weather resistance, it could use a boost in the performance department. With an MSRP of about $429, I feel it's a bit expensive. If you love the features of this model but want a bit better performance, check out our review of the 7-megapxiel Stylus 710. It includes almost all of the features of the 810, for about $100 less!
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