Olympus C-8080 Wide Zoom Review
The Camedia C-8080 Wide Zoom is similar to the Olympus C-5060 Wide Zoom we reviewed last year. It incorporates all of the C-5060's great features, increases the resolution from five to eight megapixels, adds a 5x optical zoom lens with a 28-140mm focal range, replaces the optical viewfinder with a high- quality EVF, and the color LCD is no longer fully-articulated, but limited to tilting 45-degrees down and to 90-degrees up. While the C-8080 will have its greatest appeal to the advanced photographer, beginners will be able to get excellent results using it as a point-n-shoot in Program AE mode or with any of the pre-programmed Scene modes.
The C-8080's 5x zoom lens is faster (larger maximum aperture) than the C-5060's 4x zoom (f/2.4 versus f/2.8), and it offers more versatility by extending the telephoto end of the zoom range to 140mm from 110mm in 35mm-equivalence. The C-8080 retains the 5060's generous wide field-of-view for interior and landscape shooting, and adds greater telephoto magnification that will bring your distant subjects closer. The motor-driven zoom moves smoothly and quietly through its range and I counted at least 20 steps of movement, more than enough to precisely compose your shots. The lens produced sharp results throughout the zoom range, but with noticeable barrel distortion at wide angle and slight pin cushioning at telephoto. There was only the slightest amount of chromatic aberration (purple fringing) in high-contrast areas at all focal lengths; the C-8080 is among the best of the new class of 8-megapixel consumer digicams at controlling CA. The lens offers two macro settings, Macro and Super Macro; Super Macro allows you to focus as close as one inch, allowing a dime to occupy about 1/2 of the vertical frame.
No matter what you want in the way of features this camera has got it -- from the point and shoot simplicity of Program AE to Shutter speed priority (15 to 1/4000 seconds), Aperture priority (F2.4 to F8) or full Manual with shutter speeds as long as 15 seconds plus Bulb. Exposure metering options include matrix, spot, center-weighted, and a unique multi mode that lets you take individual readings from up to 8 points to calculate the final exposure. Its accurate Autofocus system is complemented with a manual focus mode having an on-screen distance scale and a magnified central-LCD display to aid in critical focusing. White balance options include Auto, Shade, Cloudy, Sunny, Evening, Incandescent, Fluorescent 1,2,3,4 and manual Preset, plus a White Balance Adjustment which allows you to fine-tune the setting while observing its effect on the LCD's live image.
The C-8080's all-magnesium body and large finger grip provide a comfortable and stable feel in your hand; it's among the most comfortable to hold of the camera's I've recently tested, and there are no misplaced controls that might be accidentally actuated. The major controls like the mode, power button, jog control, zoom lever and shutter button are ergonomically placed and easy to operate. Major settings (flash mode, drive mode, focus mode, metering mode, exposure compensation) are accomplished via onscreen "virtual dials." The Control Panel setup option turns the color LCD into a real time data display. Particularly useful is the custom My Mode options where you can preset up to eight sets of custom configuration combinations of image size, quality, operational mode, lens startup position, EV compensation, flash mode, and most every other camera option available. This is a powerful feature for recalling frequently-used settings, or as a startup default when you turn the camera on.
The C-8080 gives the user a wide choice of image sizes and Quality settings from 640 x 480 to 3264 x 2448 in JPEG or uncompressed TIFF, and a 3:2 aspect image for "perfect" 4x6" prints with no cropping. It also offers RAW recording mode with or without JPG at the full 3264 x 2448 size of the imager. In-camera image processing options are provided for Sharpness, Contrast, Hue and Saturation, all with settings ranging +/-5. There's also an in-camera noise reduction option available for exposures of 1/2 second or longer; it worked very effectively on our long exposure test shot.
In addition to the still image modes the C-8080 can also record 640x480, 320x240 and 160x120 resolution QuickTime movie modes at 15fps with sound. Movie recording time is limited only by the amount of available memory. The movies are sharp and clear but both the optical zoom and full-time AF are disabled during recording when the audio is enabled, preventing the noise of lens movement from being recorded; the optical zoom can be used to compose the movie before recording starts, or you can disable sound recording and use full-time AF and the optical zoom during recording. You'll need a large memory card if you intend to record movies at 640x480; our test movies consumed about 800KBytes of memory per second of moving image.
The C-8080's shooting performance is good. The start-up time is quick; it took under two seconds from turning on the power until you capture the first image with the lens at the wide end of its zoom range, fast enough for you to capture a high percentage of the spontaneous photo opportunities that you encounter. Add about one second to startup time with the lens at the telephoto end of its range. Oddly, waking the camera up from its power saving Sleep mode took three seconds, one second longer than a cold power-on operation. Shutter delay, the elapsed time between releasing the shutter and capturing the image, measured 2/10 second when pre-focused, and averaged about 5/10 second including autofocus time; the LCD and EVF viewfinders contributed about 1/10 second of the delay. The shot to shot time measured two seconds without flash, and between three and four seconds with flash, dependent on subject distance. Things slow down considerably when shooting RAW images; shot-to-shot delay measured about 12 seconds. While the C-8080 is reasonably responsive, its delays will require you to have a good sense of anticipation to capture sports action at a decisive instant.
The C-8080 offers three sequential shooting modes: HI, normal and AF. In HI mode, I was able to capture 5 images in 2.3 seconds, the LCD and EVF viewfinders briefly displayed the last image captured between shots. In normal mode, the C-8080 captured 11 shots in 8.5 seconds; again, the LCD and EVF viewfinders briefly displayed the last image captured between shots. In Sequential AF mode, the C-8080 refocuses for each image, slowing-down the capture rate to 13 shots in 12.4 seconds, with the viewfinders showing the live image only briefly between shots. Shooting RAW images, only HI could be selected and it captured the same 5 images in 2.3 seconds; recovery time was prolonged, however, taking about 50 seconds for the C-8080 to flush its buffer onto the memory card before more images could be taken. Sequential shooting mode is not available when shooting TIFF images.
An optical viewfinder would be preferred for sequential shooting because of its continuous live image, but Olympus provided an EVF instead to accommodate viewfinder accuracy for the 5x optical zoom lens; this is a trade-off common among cameras in this class. In all three sequential shooting modes, the shutter button must be released and re-depressed after each burst to capture additional shots. These timings were obtained using a Transcend 45X 1-Gigabyte CF memory card, with the camera set for an image size of 3264x2448 at SHQ with flash off, and include viewfinder delay, photographer response time, and image capture - they are numbers you can reproduce in the real world.
The C-8080 performed well indoors. The combination of a powerful (by consumer digicam standards) flash and a F2.4 28mm wide angle zoom will allow you to capture large group portraits and obtain good flash exposures of moderately large rooms, while the generous field of view will give you flexibility in composing shots in small interior spaces. Flash shots were well exposed and had good color balance. The C-8080 is equipped with a focus-assist lamp, allowing the camera to autofocus even in complete darkness. Both the EVF and LCD viewfinders "gain-up" in conditions of low ambient light, allowing you compose your shots in dark situations. When the flash is operated in red eye-reduction mode, the viewfinder went blank during pre-flash until the image was captured, a duration of about one second. Fortunately, red eye was not an issue with the C-8080's normal flash mode; portraits were well-exposed, had pleasing skin tones, and had no red eye effects. The C-8080 is also equipped with a hot shoe if you need more flash power or to take flash exposures using either of the conversion lenses, and takes full advantage of the Olympus FL-50 electronic flash motorized zoom, but not its focus-assist lamp.
The C-8080's flash had a tendency to overexpose macros at close range, but zooming into the telephoto range allows you compose the shot at a greater distance, overcoming the "hot" flash. In addition, macros taken with flash with the lens at wide angle suffer from a shadow cast by the lens barrel, another good reason to shoot your macros at a telephoto focal length. In Super Macro mode, the C-8080 can focus on subjects as close as 2-inches away; the internal flash is disabled, so you'll need a tripod or external flash, and the lens is zoomed to a mid-point in its focal length range. The C-8080 would be a good choice for taking images of small objects for your online auction listings, just avoid wide angle focal lengths when using the internal flash.
The C-8080 also performed well outdoors. Images were consistently well-exposed and richly- saturated. The range of the zoom lens provides plenty of flexibility in shot composition, with the wide-angle 28mm focal length providing extra field of view for landscapes and the 140mm telephoto focal length bringing your distant subjects closer. The LCD viewfinder has a brightness adjustment, allowing it to be used even on bright days, but it has no anti-glare coating to prevent the reflection of direct sunlight; you'll prefer to use the EVF on the brightest days. The LCD tilts from 45-degrees down to 90-degrees up, allowing you to shoot at waist-level or overhead. It's also great for doing tabletop macro shots.
The C-8080's powerful flash, motorized zoom and bright LCD can consume a lot of power, so Olympus equipped it with the same high capacity BLM-1 7.2-volt, 1500mAh Lithium Ion battery used in the C-5060 and E1 SLR. I was able to capture more than 230 images before its capacity was exhausted, and that included a lot of time using the LCD to test and explore the camera's menu system. The battery check indicator was not a good measure of remaining charge; it took only about 20 shots to go from a partially charged indication to fully discharged. As usual, I recommend that you obtain a second BLM-1 battery and keep it charged with the BCM-1 charger included with the camera, avoiding the disappointment of a dead battery during a special photo op. We didn't get a chance to tryout the new B-HLD30 battery holder, it allows you to have 2 of the BLM-1 batteries on the camera at the same time and adds a portrait grip and shutter release.
With a high resolution 8-megapixel imager, a fast F2.4 5x zoom lens with wide field of view, an all-magnesium body, a choice of media (xD or CF memory cards or Microdrives), exposure options galore and robust image processing -- this camera is sure to satisfy even the most demanding of users. It's also a perfect camera for those just starting out that want the best possible camera to "grow into" later as their photographic talents expand. With all of its advanced features and controls the C-8080 is still very easy to use. The bottom line as always is the image quality and this camera delivers sharp, well saturated and true to life color images, one after another. There's no doubt that Olympus has produced another winner with the Camedia C-8080 Wide Zoom, and with a street price of under $1,000 (as of Apr 2004), it's a good value. The C-8080 will undoubtedly make Steve's "Best of 2004" short list of recommended 8-megapixel cameras.
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