Steve's Conclusion

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At the top of Olympus's Stylus Tough series is the Stylus Tough 8000. This line is new to Olympus for 2009, but the camera is actually replacing the Stylus 1030SW released last year. The 8000 features the same "Tough" specs as previous models being Shockproof up to 6.6ft., Waterproof up to 33ft., Freezeproof down to 14°F and Crushproof up to 220blf. Most of the camera's internal features have remained the same as well. You will still find a 3.6x wide optical zoom lens, TruePic III image processor, VGA movie mode and a slew of shooting modes, including several designed for underwater photography.  Upgrades to this camera include a 12-megapixel imaging sensor and a new HyperCrystal III LCD screen.

Not much has changed with the design of the camera either. It is almost identical in size and weight with just a slight change to the design of the front. It is a very hefty camera that gives you additional confidence in knowing that if it is dropped it will be ok. The camera's controls are identical to those found on any recent Stylus camera. Although the buttons are small, they are spread apart enough so that larger fingers can still press the intended button. The only problem is the mode dial that lies under your thumb. It can easily be turned when trying to shoot with one hand, which can cause you to miss a shot. The new 2.7-inch LCD is very easy to see in almost all lighting conditions, including direct sunlight. The only place you will run to trouble is shooting just under the surface of the water on a bright, sunny day, as the screen can become mirror-like, especially if viewed from any type of angle other than direct.

Performance from the Tough 8000 is much better than the performance tests from the Tough 6000. The 8000 takes 3.2 seconds to turn on and capture its first image. Shutter lag is hardly noticeable, as it takes the camera less than 1/10 of a second to capture an image when the camera is pre-focused. When allowing the camera to autofocus, it takes between 6/10 and 8/10 of a second, depending on light and distance. One of the major improvements is it's shot to shot capabilities. The 8000 can capture 5 images in 8.4 seconds (0.6fps) vs. the 0.33fps of the 6000 without the flash. With the flash, the 8000 captured 5 images in 17.5 (0.29fps). Most of this time was spent waiting for the flash to recharge.

This camera also features two continuous shooting modes. Sequential was able to capture 10 images in 8.7 seconds (1.15fps) without the flash and 10 images in 16.8 seconds (0.6fps) with the flash. The second shooting mode is Hi-Speed continuous, which drops the resolution down to 3-megapixels. When shooting in this mode, we were able to capture 17 images in 3.0 seconds (5.67fps) before the buffer filled. After the buffer fills, the camera quickly saves the images so you can continue shooting right away. All of our tests were completed using an Olympus M+ 1GB xD memory card, Program shooting mode, 12-megapixel Fine quality, ISO Auto, flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.

Image quality from our outdoor image samples shows an image that is well exposed, has bright, realistic colors and a sharp image in the center.  A 3.6x (28-102mm) wide optical zoom lens is used for framing your images. The wide end of the zoom is outstanding for shooting vast landscape shots and is also very helpful for indoor shots (like groups); however, there is a noticeable amount of barrel distortion. The telephoto end of the zoom will not get you significantly closer to distant objects, but it is a great for individual portraits and is very helpful for framing and composing your photos. Edge softness is the biggest problem that we have found with the quality. This can be seen in all of our images, indoors and out. Another problem that we noticed outdoors are the aberrations in high contrast areas at the wide end of the zoom range. They can be seen in the Firehouse and Museum shots. Along the curb in the firehouse shot you will see the green glow and in the museum shot there is an orange glow along both edges of the building.

Our indoor images also show great exposures (when the camera is capable of a proper exposure) and realistic colors. In normal shooting modes, the camera is limited to ½ second shutter speed, which leaves images dark if there is not an abundant amount of light in the room. This can easily be fixed by raising the ISO and adding the flash. Our M&M man shots all show a little softness throughout the image which gets worse towards the outside. This takes away some of the image detail, such as the text on the magazines and stitching in the flag. At ISO 400 the noise in the image starts to become problematic and is unacceptable at any higher setting. Most of the time shooting indoors, you will be using the built-in flash which offers a range of up to 8.9ft. (telephoto) at ISO 800. To keep your ISO settings lower (for better image quality) you'll want to stay as close as possible to your subjects.

Our portrait shots, taken in Portrait Scene Mode, show us a sharp, very well exposed subject with realistic color and skin tones, thanks to Olympus's Face Detection software. This allows the camera to quickly recognize and follow up to 16 faces at once. The camera then gives priority to the faces when capturing the image. Olympus has also added a "Beauty" mode, which will soften the face. This also helps to hide blemishes in the skin; however, when viewing these images at 100%, it tends to look like the face is just slightly out of focus.

Movie mode allows the Tough 8000 to capture video with sound at resolutions of 640x480 and 320x240. The lack of an HD shooting mode is a little disappointing since it is quickly becoming the standard for video capture on digicams. Video playback is very smooth at 30fps, but can be a little choppy at 15fps. As long as there is adequate light available for the movies, the videos will show nice colors and very little noise. As the light decreases, the amount of noise will increase. Sound is recorded by the camera's built-in microphone which is very sensitive and will pick up all sounds that are close to camera, whether you notice them or not. Some things you may not notice are furnaces, air conditioners and wind if shooting outdoors. Even more noise will be picked up when shooting underwater as you can hear in our 640x480 movie sample.

Powering the Stylus Tough 8000 is a 3.7V, 925mAh Li-Ion rechargeable battery (LI-50B). While completing the tests, I was able to capture 136 images, including a couple movies before needing to recharge the battery to finish. This falls a little short of the 250 shots that Olympus says the battery can handle on a single charge based on CIPA standards. Charging the battery is done inside the camera, which can make it very easy to do as long as you keep your charging cord in your bag at all times. Although it is small, it can be more than you want to carry, especially if you carry a very small camera bag or just throw it in a pocket or purse. It also makes it a little more difficult to keep a spare battery charged since you will have to place the spare battery into the camera to keep the spare battery charged.

Bottom Line - Leading the way in "go anywhere, do anything" line of digicams, the Olympus Stylus Tough 8000 goes as deep and is as strong as any other camera on the market. A big plus is that the styling of the camera doesn't make it stand out as an underwater only camera. Featuring a 12-Megapixel imaging sensor, 3.6x wide optical zoom lens and dual image stabilization, it has everything you would find on other digicams in its price range. Performance from this Olympus model is very good, but it does lack a little in image quality. What it does lack it makes up for with its ability to go anywhere and capture images from places most digicams would never stand a chance. With a MSRP of US$ 379.99, this is a great camera for an individual or family that likes adventure and wants a camera that can keep up with an active lifestyle.

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