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DCRP Review: Olympus
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: September 8, 2005
Last Updated: April 6, 2008
The Olympus Stylus 800 ($399) is a compact, all-weather 8 Megapixel digital camera. Like the other cameras in the Stylus series, the Stylus 800 can take a splash of water and it can keep shooting. This doesn't mean that it can go swimming with you -- because it can't -- but a day at the beach is no problem. Other features on the Stylus 800 include a 3X optical zoom lens, large 2.5" LCD display, VGA movie mode, and limited manual controls.
There are plenty of other cameras in this class. How does the Stylus 800 compare? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The Stylus 800 has an above average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
With the Stylus 800, Olympus has gone down the route of building memory into the camera instead of supply a tiny memory card. The specs are a bit strange for this camera: while it has 32MB of internal memory, only 21.3MB of that is actually usable. How many photos fit in that internal memory? Just four at the highest JPEG quality, which isn't much at all. That means that you'll want to buy a larger memory card right away, and I'd suggest 512MB or maybe even 1GB as a place to start. Like all of Olympus' cameras, the Stylus uses xD Picture Cards, which currently top out at 1GB. You should be aware that xD cards tend to be on the expensive side: a 1GB xD card costs $90, while an SD card at the same size is $73.
The Stylus 800 uses the familiar LI-12B lithium-ion battery. This battery has 4.5 Wh of energy, which is pretty good for a compact camera. Here's a look at how the 800's battery life compares to other cameras in this class:
As you can see, the Stylus 800's battery life is above average. Most of the cameras on that list rely on proprietary lithium-ion batteries for power. They cost a heck of a lot more than AAs ($33 a pop), and you can't buy "off the shelf" batteries when your regular battery dies. For the most part, though, these li-ion batteries are a standard feature on compact cameras.
When it's time to charge the battery just pop it into the included charger. Once there it takes two hours to fully charge the Li-12B. This isn't one of those "plug it right into the wall" style of chargers -- you must use a power cable.
Part of the Stylus' slick design is a built-in lens cover. While it's not the smallest camera out there, the Stylus 800 is still very compact.
There aren't too many accessories for the Stylus 800. They include an AC adapter ($32), wireless remote control ($30), and your choice of two leather cases ($13 and $20). A Stylus Digital Accessory Kit includes an extra battery, leather case, and metal neck strap for $50.
Included with the camera is Olympus Master, a pretty impressive software package that debuted last year. The first thing you'll probably do with the software is transfer photos from your camera. Once you've done that, you've got a nice thumbnail view that you can organize by date or keywords. A calendar view is also available.
It's easy to change the size of the thumbnails, and everything was snappy on my PowerMac G5.
If you want to edit a photo, that's just a click away. You can rotate, crop, reduce redeye, or do an "instant fix". If you want to adjust the color balance, you can do that as well, as you can see above.
The software can also be used to "stitch" together several photos into one panoramic photo.
Sharing photos is easy: you can print them or e-mail them right in the Master software. Naturally, there's a slideshow feature available as well. And, if you want to archive them to a CD or DVD, that's available too.
Just like with their old Camedia Master software, Olympus has a "Plus" version available for $20 more. The Master Plus software adds movie editing capabilities, more printing options, and the ability to make Video CDs.
While the software has greatly improved in recent years, one thing that hasn't changed is Olympus' unwillingness to print the full camera manual. As usual, you'll get a 23 page "basic manual" in the box, with the full manual on the included CD-ROM. The quality of the manual itself is good -- it's having to load up a PDF file that bothers me.
Look and Feel
The Stylus 800 is a fairly compact camera made of a mixture of metal and plastic. The camera feels solid and it doesn't feel "cheap". The camera is very easy to hold and operate with one hand, though I wish the four-way controller was larger. As I said at the beginning of the review, the Stylus 800 is weatherproof, with all the important things protected by rubber gaskets. It can get wet, but it can't get dunked in water.
Now here's a look at how the camera compares with some similar models in terms of size and weight:
This list contains a lot of cameras that are substantially smaller than the Stylus 800, and the numbers make it look bigger than it actually is. It's still compact, but it's not what I'd consider an ultra thin camera.
I've had it with numbers, let's start our tour of the camera now!
The Stylus 800 has a pretty standard F2.8-4.8, 3X optical zoom lens. The focal length of the lens is 8 - 24 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 114 mm. The lens is not threaded.
Above the lens you'll find the receiver for the optional remote control as well as the microphone. To the left of those is the Stylus' powerful built-in flash. This flash has a working range of 0.2 - 6.5 m at wide-angle and 0.2 - 3.5 m at telephoto (at Auto ISO). This is a whole lot better than the flashes you'll find on most of the competition. You cannot attach an external flash to the Stylus 800.
The little circle just to the right of the flash is the self-timer/remote control lamp. There's no AF-assist lamp on this camera, unfortunately.
The main event on the back of the Stylus 800 is its large 2.5" LCD display, which takes up nearly the entire back section of the camera. Olympus didn't skimp on this screen: it has 215,000 pixels so everything is nice and sharp. Outdoor visibility is good, and so is low light visibility. In fact, the Stylus has one of the best low light LCDs that I've ever tested!
As you can see, there's no optical viewfinder on the Stylus 800. In fact, most of their entry-level and midrange cameras don't have them. Whether this is a big deal is sort of a subjective thing: some people like them (including me), while others never use them.
To the left of the LCD are four buttons. They're for:
The Guide Feature is new to the Stylus 800. Pressing this in record mode opens up the Shooting Guide you can see above. There are a total of fifteen shooting guides, covering things from night shooting to getting rid of blurry pictures. The guide simply tells you what options to change -- some explanations would have been nice here.
To the top-right of the LCD you'll find the zoom controller. This moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about two seconds. I counted a whopping sixteen stops throughout the 3X zoom range.
Below the zoom controller you'll find the mode dial, which has the following options:
I want to explain some things up there. First is the image blur reduction mode. Blurry images typically occur when the camera is using a shutter speed that is just too slow. To get around this, the image blur reduction feature increases the ISO sensitivity, which allows for faster shutter speeds. The camera increases the ISO quite a bit, too -- it once took a shot at ISO 2500! Obviously these images are going to be very noisy, so Olympus' solution is to reduce the resolution of the photo, which hides some of the noise. Well, at least that's the idea.
I found that you could get acceptable 4 x 6 inch prints using the blur reduction mode as long as the ISO doesn't go above 1000 (you have to look in playback mode to see what ISO was used). Images don't have the same "grainy" type of noise like the Fuji F10 does at high ISOs. Rather, everything's kind of soft and "mushy", if you know what I mean. The crops below show the Stylus 800 at ISO 64 and 1000:
ISO 64 (downsized to 3MP)
View Full Size Image
ISO 1000 (via Image Blur Reduction mode)
View Full Size Image
As you can see, the image quality isn't great at higher ISOs, so if you can avoid it, do so. Try using a tripod or the flash, adding more light to the room, or adjusting the ISO manually. If you can't do that, the Blur Reduction mode is really only useful if you're making small prints, and even then the results aren't great.
The Stylus 800 allows for some manual control over exposure. There are shutter and aperture priority modes, but there's no full manual mode to be found.
The Shoot & Select scene modes are where you'll find the camera's burst mode. The difference between the two options is that Shoot & Select 2 focuses before each shot, while number one just does it before the first shot (allowing for much faster shooting). I'll have more about continuous shooting a bit later in the review.
Below the mode dial is the four-way controller. As I said earlier, this thing is just too small for my big fingers, and it was really easy to accidentally move in the wrong direction. The controller is used for menu navigation, adjusting manual controls, and also for:
The only things to see on the top of the camera are the power and shutter release buttons.
Here's the other side of the camera, with the included Li-12B battery shown for good measure. Let's open up that door now:
Behind that somewhat flimsy plastic door you'll find the camera's I/O ports as well as the battery compartment. The I/O ports include DC-in (for optional AC adapter) and USB + A/V out. Unfortunately, the Stylus 800 does not support the USB 2.0 High Speed standard.
It's worth noting the rubber gaskets on this door, which is what makes the Stylus water resistant
On the bottom of the camera you'll find the memory card slot, plastic tripod mount, and the speaker. The plastic door over the xD card slot is pretty sturdy, and it too has a rubber seal around it. The location of the memory card slot means that you cannot swap cards while the camera is on a tripod.
Using the Olympus Stylus 800
It takes about 1.8 seconds for the Stylus 800 to extend its lens and "warm up" before you start taking pictures. That's not too bad for a camera with an extending lens.
|The Stylus 800 shows a live histogram in record mode (left). Also available are two grids for composing your photos (right).|
Autofocus speeds on the Stylus 800 were about average for its class. It typically took 0.3 - 0.5 seconds for the camera to focus, and longer in more challenging situations. The camera focused very well in low light conditions, which surprised me since it lacks an AF-assist lamp.
Shutter lag was not an issue, even at slower shutter speeds where it sometimes occurs.
Shot-to-shot speed was very good. You can take another shot after a wait of about 1.5 seconds, assuming you've turned off the post-shot review feature.
There's no easy way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken. You must enter playback mode (via the Quick View button) and delete it from there.
There are several image size and quality choices on the camera, including:
I should point out that while the resolution is the same at the SHQ and HQ settings, the HQ images are compressed more so they won't look quite as good (but they'll take up less space on your memory card). There is no RAW or TIFF support on this camera.
Olympus uses one of the more sensible file numbering systems that I've seen. Files are named Pmdd####.jpg, where m is the month (1-9, A-C), d is the day, and #### is 0001-9999. This way your file numbers are always unique (well, at least a year). File numbering is maintained as you erase and switch memory cards.
The Stylus 800 uses the standard Olympus menu system. When you first hit the menu button, you'll be presented with the following options:
Unlike on some higher-end Olympus cameras, this first menu cannot be customized.
Selecting Mode Menu from that initial screen will bring you to the full recording menu. There are three tabs containing the various menu items. The menu items are:
Time for some further explanation of those menu items!
There are two burst modes available on the Stylus 800. In regular sequential mode I was able to take 3 shots in a row (at SHQ quality) at 1.4 frames/second. High speed mode shoots MUCH faster but at a significantly lower resolution: 2048 x 1536. At that resolution the camera took sixteen shots in a row at a screaming 3.7 frames/second. The LCD doesn't black out at all between shots which makes following a moving subject easy.
You can manually choose ISO settings as high as 1600 in the record menu. Do note that the ISO 800 and 1600 settings force you to use the 2048 x 1536 (or lower) resolution. I gave some examples of the camera's high ISO performance earlier in the review, and there's more of that in a second.
And finally, believe it or not the Stylus 800 can also double as an alarm clock. You can set the alarm time, what days it goes off, what it sounds like, and how loud the alarm is. Heck, there's even a snooze feature!
And now for more important camera features: image quality.
Our usual macro test shot didn't turn out too well due to the Stylus 800's lack of a custom white balance feature. The best white balance option (tungsten) just isn't the right one for my 600W quartz studio lamps, hence the blue cast to the image. Now if you're shooting in more "normal" lighting this is not an issue. If you have something a little more unique (like my studio lamps) you may want to find a camera with custom white balance. Aside from the color cast you'll find a VERY sharp subject -- this camera loves sharpness, maybe a little too much.
There are two macro modes on the camera. In normal macro mode, you can get as close as 20 cm to your subject at wide-angle (I'm not sure about telephoto), which is nothing special. For real close-ups use super macro mode, which reduces the focus distance to just 3 cm -- much better! Do note that the lens is locked at the wide-angle position in super macro mode.
The night shot turned out nicely. My only wish is for shutter speeds longer than 4 seconds, as that's barely enough for this scene. Once again, everything is very sharp, maybe too much so. Purple fringing was not a problem, and noise levels were reasonable.
I should mention a few things before talking about how the Stylus performed at high ISO settings in the night scene. First, the ISO 800 and 1600 shots have larger crops since the photos are lower resolution than the others. Second, for some reason the colors in the ISO 64-400 and 800-1600 sequences look different for some reason -- rest assured that they were taken sequentially.
With that out of the way, here's the ISO comparison:
The Stylus 800 performs quite well for a point-and-shoot through ISO 200. At ISO 400 details are really getting destroyed, though. At ISO 800 the resolution drops to 3 Megapixel and the resulting picture is pretty muddy -- ISO 1600 is even worse.
There is moderate barrel distortion to be found at the wide end of the Stylus 800's lens. While I saw no evidence of vignetting (dark corners) here, I did see that the corners were blurry. I saw some of this in my real world photos as well.
Like nearly all compact cameras the Stylus 800 has a redeye problem. While the camera offers an in-camera redeye reduction tool in playback mode, it made no difference at all in this photo.
Overall the Stylus 800 took good quality photos, though they're noisier than I would've liked. This isn't terribly surprising, as there are 8 million pixels on a tiny 1/1.8" sensor. The noise blurs out details, especially on fine details like leaves and edges (example). Images are very sharp, which may increase the noise a bit, and there's no way to adjust the in-camera sharpening like on some other cameras. When printed at 8.5 x 11 inches these two issues were not apparent, but they may be at larger sizes.
Aside those two issues the news is good: color and exposure were accurate, and purple fringing was not a major problem.
Don't just take my word for all this, though. Your eyes should make the final judgment as to the quality of the Stylus 800's photos, so take a look at our gallery and maybe even print a photo or two!
The Stylus 800's movie mode is decent, but there are better ones out there in this class. You can record video at 640 x 480 (15 frames/second) with sound until the memory card is full. The resolution is fine, but the low frame rate means choppy video. It takes just 15 seconds to fill up the internal memory at this setting, so you'll want a large xD card for longer movies. Two other video quality choices are available: 320 x 240 and 160 x 120, both at 15 frames/second.
You cannot use the optical zoom during filming. The digital zoom is available if you want.
Movies are saved in QuickTime format, using the M-JPEG codec.
Here's a takeoff of the usual sample movie. I don't know what I'd do without Amtrak sometimes.
Click to play movie (3.2 MB, 640 x 480, 15 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
The Stylus 800 has a very nice playback mode. Basic features include slide shows, voice annotations, thumbnail mode, DPOF print marking, image protection, and "zoom and scroll". The camera supports direct printing using the PictBridge system, as well.
The zoom and scroll feature (my term) allows you to zoom in as much as 8X into your photo (in 1X increments), and then move around in it. This comes in handy for making sure your subject is properly focused!
As with most cameras these days the Stylus lets you rotate and resize photos right in playback mode.
A redeye reduction feature attempts to remove those annoying red eyes from your flash photos. Unfortunately it didn't work for me.
Also available is an album feature, which seems to be getting more popular these days. Each xD Picture Card can have twelve albums, and each album holds up to 200 photos. Adding photos to the album is a snap (you can even do it by date), and once they're in there just switch to the album spot on the mode dial for easy viewing.
By default the camera doesn't tell you too much about the photos you've taken (see above left). Pressing the Display button once shows more info (though it totally covers the image), and pressing it again gets you the much more useful screen on the right.
The camera moves through photos instantly in playback mode. Yay!
How Does it Compare?
I have to admit that I wasn't really excited about the Olympus Stylus 800 when I first took it out of the box. But after using it for a while I kind of grew to like it -- well, most of it at least. While I think the 8 Megapixel resolution is going over the top (and the image quality suffers a bit as a result), the Stylus 800 is a competent compact camera that also happens to be weatherproof.
The Stylus 800 is a compact camera made of a mix of metal and plastic. It's small, but not as small as you'll find. The camera is well-built, and it's protected from the elements by rubber gaskets around all the important parts. While the camera says "All-Weather" on the front, this doesn't mean that it can go scuba diving with you -- it can't. The Stylus features a large 2.5" LCD display that was visible outdoors and was most impressive in low light situations.
The camera has some very nice features and some others that need improvement. The camera has quite a few manual controls, which are unheard of on most compact cameras. I would like to see manual white balance, though, as the presets may not work for every situation (as my macro test proved). The Blur Reduction feature is a good idea, though noise levels are high end to restrict print sizes to 4 x 6 inches, in my opinion. The Stylus' movie mode is okay, but the frame rate should be higher to be competitive with other cameras in this class. While the camera has an in-camera redeye reduction feature, it made no difference on the test shot that I took (though your results may vary). And, if you've ever wanted a digital camera that doubles as an alarm clock, the Stylus 800 is for you. It even has a snooze feature!
Camera performance was average in most areas, from startup speed to focus times. The Stylus was pretty snappy from shot-to-shot and playback mode was quick as well. Low light focusing performance was surprisingly good for a camera without an AF-assist lamp. Battery life is above average, as well.
Photo quality on the Stylus 800 is a mixed bag. Images are very sharp -- perhaps too much so -- and there's no way to adjust that. Noise levels are above average, which shouldn't be too surprising as this camera has a lot of pixels crammed on a tiny sensor. The camera can shoot as high as ISO 1600, though the resolution is lowered to 3 Megapixels and noise levels are pretty high. Otherwise photos were well-exposed with accurate colors and low purple fringing levels. Redeye was a problem, as it is on most cameras in this class.
There are just a few other things to mention. The camera lacks an optical viewfinder, which may or may not bother you. The four-way controller on the back of the camera is WAY too small, at least for my fingers. There's no support for USB 2.0 High Speed, something that more and more of the competition is offering. And finally, I still don't like how Olympus puts the full camera manual on a CD.
If you're looking for a compact camera with a good feature set, all-weather durability, and some manual controls, I'd recommend taking a look at the Stylus 800. The image quality isn't going to be as good as you'd find on a camera with a larger sensor, but for what most people will do with these photos, it's fine. There are a lot of other cameras in this class, so be sure to try as many as you can to see which you like best!
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other cameras in this class worth considering include the Canon PowerShot SD550, Casio Exilim EZ-Z750, Fuji FinePix F10 and Z1, HP Photosmart R717, Kodak EasyShare V550, Konica Minolta DiMAGE X1, NIkon Coolpix S3, Olympus Stylus 600 (a smaller, 6 Megapixel sibling of the Stylus 800), Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9, Pentax Optio S6, Samsung Digimax i5, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T5 and DSC-W7.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Stylus 800 and its competitors before you buy!
See how the photo quality turned out in our gallery!
Want a second opinion?
Read more reviews at Steve's Digicams and CNET.
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.
To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.
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