The Olympus Stylus 800 is the latest in the compact Stylus line of digital cameras from that company. Featuring an 8.0-megapixel CCD, 3x lens, “all-weather” body design, and relatively compact size, the Olympus Stylus 800 Digital is reminiscent of the previous Stylus 500 model, with an automatic sliding lens cover and large, 2.5-inch LCD monitor for image composition (but no optical viewfinder). Like other Stylus Digital models, the camera can operate with very little user intervention by default – but the Olympus Stylus 800 adds Aperture- and Shutter-priority modes for a little extra creative control. There’s also the benefit of 19 preset Scene modes and a QuickTime Movie mode (with sound). The all-weather body can withstand water spray from any direction, but isn’t meant to be fully submerged in water. Still, rubber seals and a separate plastic chassis inside the metal body provide excellent protection against water splashes and rain. As long as you keep it from getting completely submerged, you needn’t worry about taking the Olympus Stylus 800 to the beach, on ski trips, sailing trips, etc.
The Olympus Stylus 800 Digital is reminiscent of the past Stylus 500 model, but with increased resolution, a refined user interface, and more control over the image capture process. Slightly off-center on the front of the camera, the lens is protected when powered off by an automatic sliding lens cover that locks into place when closed, unlike the sliding lens covers in most cameras that are only gently spring-loaded and easily bumped aside. When powered on, the lens cover slides quickly aside, and the telescoping lens zips out into place fairly quickly. While still relatively compact, the Stylus 800 is rather larger than its predecessor, with dimensions just slightly too large for most shirt pockets. Still, it should fit easily into coat pockets and most purses, and the all-weather body means you can take it just about anywhere. Although the camera cannot be submerged in water, it can withstand light rain and water spray without damage. The included wrist strap gives a little piece of mind, particularly since there’s not a lot to grip on the front of the camera. I’d recommend picking up a soft case to protect the camera’s attractive body panels from scratches.
The Olympus Stylus 800 Digital’s metal body is one key to its all-weather rating, equivalent to IEC standard publication 529 IPX4 (which essentially means it can withstand water splashed from any direction). Inside the metal body, a plastic chassis provides the first level of protection against the elements. Rubber seals around compartment doors and even the lens mechanism also help prevent any leakage. Because the camera is so tightly sealed, Olympus designed an airflow control system to prevent the camera from overheating or building up air pressure from the zooming lens. Overall, the Stylus 800 Digital’s all-weather design is an impressive feature on a digital camera, making it rugged enough to withstand much abuse — from the weather or even a mischievous kid with a squirt gun. Water is anathema to most digital cameras, leaving me worried whenever I’m out shooting in even a slight drizzle. While the Olympus Stylus 800 isn’t by any means an “industrial grade” digital camera, it’s very comforting to know that random splashes of water and puffs of dust won’t send it to an early grave.
The Olympus Stylus 800 Digital features a 3x, 8.0-24.0mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera). Maximum aperture ranges from f/2.8 to f/4.9, depending on the zoom setting. The Stylus 800 Digital employs a contrast-detection autofocus system, with focus ranging from 1.6 feet (50 centimeters) to infinity in normal mode. A Macro setting focuses as close as 0.7 feet (20 centimeters) at wide angle, or 1.0 feet (30 centimeters) at telephoto. There’s also a Super Macro option that gets as close as 1.2 inches (3.0 centimeters), forextremely close-in shooting. By default, the camera uses an iESP autofocus area setting, which automatically sets the focus based on the subject’s proximity to a range of AF points around the center of the image area. Through the Record menu, you can opt for a Spot AF setting, which will instead base focus only on the very center of the frame. In addition to its 3x optical zoom, the Olympus Stylus 800 Digital also offers 5x Digital Zoom. Keep in mind though, that digital zoom simply enlarges the center pixels of the CCD and thus results in lower image quality. The 8.0-megapixel CCD produces high-resolution images, good enough for prints up to 16×20 inches with excellent detail and sharpness, as well as lower-resolution images for sending via email or for printing 5×7- and 4×6-inch prints. For composing images, the Stylus 800 Digital did away with the real-image optical viewfinder, and offers only the 2.5-inch TFT color LCD monitor, which features a very bright and clear display. I’m not a particular fan of cameras without optical viewfinders, but the viewfinder on the Stylus 800 is better in most respects than a lot of what’s out there. Unlike many LCDs, the one on the Stylus 800 remains fairly visible in strong sunlight, so the need for an optical viewfinder in daylight shooting is largely eliminated. Under low light conditions, the Stylus 800’s LCD screen actually stays visible to very low light levels, quite different from what I’ve become accustomed to on digital cameras in the past. Overall, the Olympus Stylus 800 seems to have addressed a lot of the problems we’ve seen in the past with LCD viewfinders. The LCD monitor provides a detailed exposure-information display which can include both shutter speed and aperture setting, as well as a live histogram for previewing the exposure graphically. In Playback mode, the LCD monitor provides image enlargement and an index display.
Exposure control on the Olympus Stylus 800 Digital is uncomplicated and straightforward, as is the case with most of Olympus’ consumer-oriented digital cameras. The camera doesn’t offer a completely manual mode, but a choice of both aperture-priority and shutter-priority modes plus a wide selection of preset Scene modes for specific shooting situations allow you to tailor photos to your liking. The Stylus 800 can be set to report the exposure values it’s selected on-screen (as well as the values of most other settings that affect the final image, if they’ve been changed from the default). Most of the exposure options are controlled through the multi-page LCD menu system, which is fairly simple to navigate. An initial shortcut menu screen pops up before entering the main Record menu, offering quick-access options for the camera’s White Balance, Image Size / Quality, and Exposure Compensation, or you can choose to just enter the main Record menu itself. The exposure mode is selected via the Mode dial, and as well as the program mode, an Image Blur Reduction mode, and an extensive selection of scene modes, you can also select Aperture-priority and Shutter-priority modes to have complete control over one variable, while the camera selects the corresponding value for the other. Shutter speeds vary from 1/1,000 to four seconds, and apertures from F2.8 (at wide angle) or F4.9 (at telephoto) to a minimum of F8.0. Other variables that the user can control include Exposure Compensation (to lighten or darken the image), ISO (the camera’s sensitivity to light), White Balance (to adjust the color), Metering (to read light from the whole frame or just the center), and Flash modes. The Olympus Stylus 800’s built-in flash operates in Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Fill, and Off modes. ISO sensitivity on the Stylus 800 is particularly worthy of note. In the situations commonly encountered by consumers – birthday parties, for example – high ISO sensitivity can make the difference between getting the shot, or not (and also whether you have to use a distracting and unflattering burst of on-camera flash). The Stylus 800 allows you to trade off image resolution for extra sensitivity by combining pixels in the camera. The net result is that on top of the camera’s 64 – 400 ISO range, you can also capture images at ISO sensitivities of 800 or 1600 at a reduced resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels or lower.
The Scene menu (accessed by pressing the right arrow) offers Landscape, Landscape + Portrait, Portrait, Indoor, Sports, Beach & Snow, Behind Glass, Self Portrait + Self-Timer, Self Portrait, Sunset, Available Light Portrait, Night Scene, Night Portrait, Fireworks, Candle, Cuisine, Documents, Shoot & Select 1, and Shoot & Select 2 modes. Each mode sets up the camera for specific shooting situations, and a concise explanation of each mode appears on the LCD screen as you scroll through. Most of the preset modes are fairly self-explanatory, as they handle very distinct situations. However, the Shoot & Select modes deserve some explanation. Both modes access the camera’s continuous shooting mode. Shoot & Select 1 locks focus with the first frame, where Shoot & Select 2 mode refocuses between each and every frame. In both modes, after shooting you are prompted to select which images you want to keep. The actual frame rate and the total number of images will depend on which mode you’re using, as well as the image size and quality settings, and the amount of available space on the memory card. The Image Blur Reduction mode, which is accessed via its own position on the Mode dial, aims to reduce blur caused by moving subjects and camera movement when taking pictures. This is achieved by the camera combining multiple pixels into one, reducing the maximum image resolution to just 2048 x 1536 pixels or lower, and disabling the digital zoom function, but boosting the ISO sensitivity to as high as 2500 (!) and allowing significantly higher shutter speeds. In this mode, the longest shutter time the camera will shoot at is 1/20 second. Note too, that the extremely high ISO will result invery grainy images.
Other camera features include a Self-Timer / Remote Control mode, which provides a 12-second delay between the time the Shutter button is pressed and the image is actually captured. The Remote Control mode works with the optional RM-1 infrared remote control accessory, allowing you to fire the shutter from a short distance away, after a two-second delay. (This last can be very handy for shooting night scenes, when you don’t want to jostle the camera by pressing the Shutter button.) The “2 in 1” photography mode records two vertically-oriented, half-sized images. After capture, the images are saved side-by-side in one image, giving a split-screen effect. A Continuous Shooting mode lets you capture a rapid series of images as fast as 1.2 frames per second, while holding down the Shutter button. A High-Speed Continuous Shooting mode allows frame rates as high as 4.2 frames per second, but locks image resolution to a maximum of 2048 x 1536 pixels. Actual frame rates and the total number of images will depend on the image size and quality settings, as well as the amount of available space on the memory card, but the burst length is limited to about 3 shots in large/fine mode, or about 13 shots in the reduced-resolution High-Speed Continuous mode. As with many Olympus cameras, a panorama mode is available when using Olympus brand xD-Picture Card storage cards (but not cards from third parties), and records as many as 10 consecutive images to blend into one panoramic image. The camera’s Movie mode captures moving images and sound, at either 640 x 480, 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 pixels, at 15 frames per second. Maximum recording time depends on the resolution and available memory space. The camera’s Playback menu offers a nice range of effects to choose from, including sepia tone or black-and-white color options, and a red-eye fix filter. (The red-eye fix seemed only marginally effective, but we actually had a bit of a hard time getting the Stylus 800 to produce red eyes in flash photos we snapped of ourselves in the first place.)You can also resize images to a smaller resolution more suitable for email. Another interesting feature on the Olympus Stylus 800 Digital is the ability to save images in groups or albums. You can save as many as 12 albums, each containing a maximum of 200 images. The Album setting on the Mode dial accesses saved albums, letting you select one for playback. (Note that Album options are only available when an xD Picture card is inserted in the camera; they aren’t available when working with the internal memory only. A dual-time function lets you quickly set the camera to local time when travelling, and revert the change back to home time after the trip. An alarm clock function lets you travel a little lighter on the trip, leaving your alarm clock at home, so long as you’re not a particularly deep sleeper.
The Olympus Stylus 800 stores images on xD-Picture Cards, or on 32MB of internal memory (of which 21.3MB is available for photo storage). High capacity cards are available, with sizes currently topping out at 1GB, and I suggest buying at least a 128MB xD-Picture Card along with the camera so you don’t miss any important shots. A CD-ROM loaded with Olympus’ Camedia Master software accompanies the camera, compatible with both Windows and Macintosh platforms (including Windows XP and Mac OS X). Camedia Master provides minor image editing tools, and the ability to “stitch” together multiple images shot in panorama mode, as well as utilities for organizing images. A second CD-ROM holds the camera’s advanced instruction manual, which is more detailed than the basic manual that’s included in book form. For power, the camera uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack, and comes with a charger. For backup, I’d recommend picking up a spare battery pack and keeping it charged at all times, especially considering the large LCD monitor and lack of an optical viewfinder. The optional AC adapter is recommended for time-consuming tasks such as transferring images to a computer. Also included with the Olympus Stylus 800 is an AV cable for connecting to a television set, and a USB cable for connecting the camera to your computer to transfer images.