|Introduction and Specifications|
We do our best to protect our cameras, cell phones, MP3 players, and other electronics from extreme weather conditions, drops, force, and water. It makes sense to do so, given that most of these gadgets don’t stand a chance against a bucket of water, accidental drop, or extreme temperatures. Realizing that life brings its fair share of bumps, spills, and accidents, Olympus has launched an entire line of digital cameras that are designed to take a licking and keep on ticking.
The Olympus Stylus Tough-8000 is the top model in Olympus' newly renamed "Tough" series of digital cameras that are made to survive the battles of everyday life. This camera is able to survive a drop from 6.6 feet, capture photos at up to 33 feet underwater, withstand 220 pounds of crushing force, and it can be used in temperatures as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 degrees Celsius). With these capabilities, it’s likely the photographer will surrender before this camera does.
Inside the Olympus Stylus Tough-8000's body, you’ll find a 12 megapixel image sensor and an Olympus-branded 3.6x optical zoom lens with a useful 28mm wide-angle view. The Stylus Tough-8000 is the first in the Tough lineup to include Dual Image Stabilization. Olympus’ Dual Image Stabilization system combines a mechanical Sensor-Shift Image Stabilization system with Digital Image Stabilization to help provide a powerful anti-blur solution and crisp, sharp photos. The Stylus Tough-8000 also features a unique tap control system and adds a new Beauty mode that will automatically touch up portraits.
Given the high ratings of TV shows such as Survivor as well as extreme sports in general, it makes sense that some consumers would demand a tough digital camera that can survive harsh treatment. As the most rugged model of the Tough lineup, the Stylus Tough-8000 promises to capture life’s memories even in the roughest of conditions. Read on as we take a closer look at how well the Stylus Tough-8000 captures life’s everyday moments and accidents.
|Features and Technology|
Perhaps the Stylus Tough-8000’s most unique feature is what Olympus calls Tap Control. Using a 3D accelerometer, the camera’s entire body can be used as an input device, allowing you to change functions on the camera by tapping the camera’s body. For example, a tap on the camera's left side can be used to set the camera’s macro mode. A tap on the right side of the camera controls the camera’s flash mode. To switch to playback mode, you can tap below the display on the back of the camera. In any of these modes, you can tap the side of the camera in the direction you want to scroll. To toggle the Tap Control on or off or to confirm a selection, tap the top of the camera twice.
Tap Control is definitely an unusual feature, but it makes a lot of sense for a camera that is made to be used in cold conditions when taking your hands out of thick gloves may not be the best idea. In order to subject the Tap Control features to a real-world test, I grabbed my thick ski gloves and tested all of the Tap Controls. Although there were a few times where I had to tap more than once in order for the camera to recognize what I was doing, the Tap Controls worked very smoothly over all. Given that thick gloves may make it a bit more difficult to hold the camera (especially while tapping), I recommend using the camera’s wrist strap. That said, even if you should accidentally drop the camera while tapping it should survive without issue, assuming the drop is less than 6.6 feet.
While testing the camera’s Tap Controls with my gloves on, I also attempted to press the Stylus Tough-8000’s relatively small control buttons. First, I powered on the camera. Next, I changed shooting modes and then proceeded to use the telephoto and wide angle zoom buttons as well as the other control buttons. Even though the buttons are pretty small, I was able to press each button without interference from my gloves or from the other buttons.
To help you capture the best picture in a variety of environments, the Stylus Tough-8000 offers 19 scene modes. A handful of these scene modes are designed for use underwater. More specifically, the scene modes are: Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Night + Portrait, Sport, Indoor, Candle, Self Portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Cuisine, Documents, Beach & Snow, Underwater Snapshot, Underwater Wide 1, Underwater Wide 2, Underwater Macro, Pre-Capture Movie, and Snow. If you want the camera to choose settings based on what it senses are best, you can use the fully automatic iAUTO mode. For users who prefer a bit more control, many of the modes let you adjust the camera’s white balance, ISO sensitivity, burst shooting mode, exposure compensation, flash, and more. Full manual controls are not available on this camera.
The Stylus Tough-8000 also includes face detection capability and is able to detect up to sixteen faces in a scene simultaneously. Olympus links the face detection function to the camera’s autoexposure and autofocus systems so your subjects’ faces are taken into account when calculating camera settings for both of these variables. Once the Stylus Tough-8000’s face detection capability finds a face, it can track that subject as it moves around the frame.
For portrait shots, the Stylus Tough-8000 offers a BEAUTY mode which uses face detection to find a person’s face and gives their skin a smooth, translucent look. This mode works by capturing an image and then automatically retouching it. Both the unedited and edited versions of the picture are saved to the memory card. The edited version is limited to a 2MP still. In my tests, the BEAUTY mode seemed to improve minor imperfections on one’s face, though it also added a soft focus effect. As a result, the “beauty” pictures weren’t quite as crisp or vibrant as the original. In all fairness, if I wouldn’t have had both the original and the edited versions to compare side by side, I may not have noticed the soft focus quite as much, though anyone with a very discerning eye would definitely notice.
Another unique feature of the Stylus Tough-8000 is its Pixel Mapping option. Although the user manual does a poor job at explaining what this feature does, it’s really quite simple. It’s not uncommon for a few of the camera’s millions of pixels to fail to work properly. These stuck or dead pixels can be seen as tiny bright white spots in an image. It’s possible the number of stuck pixels can increase during a camera’s lifespan. The Pixel Mapping feature essentially maps out these pixels so they do not interfere with your images. Some manufacturers require you to send your camera into a service center to map out these pixels. In the camera’s user manual, Olympus notes the function has already been adjusted before shipping so no adjustment is needed right after purchase. Olympus recommends using the function approximately once a year.
As mentioned, the Stylus Tough-8000 is the first in its family to include Dual Image Stabilization. Olympus uses mechanical Sensor-Shift Image Stabilization to adjust the internal image sensor and compensate for camera movement even in low-light conditions with slower shutter speeds. Digital Image Stabilization works to freeze action by adjusting the camera’s ISO settings and shutter speeds to help prevent blurry images caused by a moving subject.
The Stylus Tough-8000 comes with the following:
|Body Design and Feel|
The Stylus Tough-8000 lives up to its name. It's covered in a protective layer of metal and feels like it will withstand quite a few jolts and drops. The camera looks strong with its metal edges and screws that look like bolts on the front. It also feels sturdy thanks to some nice heft. The camera measures 3.7 x 2.4 x 0.85 inches (W x H x D) and weighs about 7.4 ounces with battery and memory card in place. Even though the camera may be waterproof, it doesn’t float. If you should drop it while diving, expect it to head straight to the bottom unless you catch it.
Our test model had a black case; silver and blue bodies are also available. The black portion of the camera on the front tended to attract fingerprints. The rest of the casing had less of an issue with fingerprints, though fingerprints were still visible. All fingerprints were easily removed with a microfiber cloth.
Many point and shoot cameras use a lens that extends from the body while powered on. Should you accidentally drop such a camera, you’re likely to jam the lens and render the camera inoperable. This shouldn’t be a problem with the Stylus Tough-8000 since its wide-angle lens doesn’t extend from the body when you power up. A metal lens cover slides up and down to protect the lens when not in use.
The camera’s lens is located in the upper corner of the camera. Because of the placement of the lens, some users may find that they need to adjust how they hold the camera so as to not block the lens with their finger. On a few instances, I also noticed that I held the camera in such a way where my finger partially blocked the flash. Although neither the placement of the lens nor the placement of the flash is necessarily bad design, it is worth mentioning since some users may have to adjust how they hold the camera so as to not interfere with the picture.
Between the Stylus Tough-8000’s lens and flash you’ll find a small LED illuminator for focus. This LED can also be used while shooting in supermacro mode. Also on the front of the camera is a two-pinhole microphone.
On the top of the camera you’ll find the shutter button and a small, circular power button. Near the power button, there’s also an underwater sensor. When the manometer feature is enabled, the camera can display the current altitude or water depth in the shooting mode screen. This feature can display a warning message as the water depth nears 32.8 feet. For best results, you’ll want to calibrate this feature when using it.
The right side of the camera has a multi-use connector behind a compartment with a sturdy lock. This multi-use connector can be used for charging the battery, watching images on a TV, or transferring photos and videos to a PC. Below the connector is a small speaker.
On the bottom of the Stylus Tough-8000, you’ll find a tripod socket as well as a compartment for the battery and xD picture card slot.
The back of the camera is loaded with controls as well as a 2.7-inch LCD display with 230,000 dot resolution. This LCD serves as the camera’s only option for framing images since there’s no optical viewfinder. The monitor worked well in a variety of lighting situations including direct sunlight.
The back of the Stylus Tough-8000 has a rugged look with its sturdy metal keys. The keys are relatively small, though as I noted previously I had very little trouble using them even while wearing thick gloves. The controls are pretty similar to what you would find on other point and shoot digital cameras. At the top, you’ll find the zoom buttons. Directly beneath them is a mode dial with positions for iAuto, Program, Scene, Beauty, Movie, and Playback modes.
Below the mode dial, you’ll find a four-way controller with a center OK/Func button. Using the arrow pad, you can access exposure compensation, macro, self-timer, and flash functions. Surrounding the four-way controller, you’ll find Menu, Playback, Display, and OR/Trash buttons. The OR, or Olympus Recommended, button provides access to panorama, tap control, Shadow Adjustment Technology, multi window, and erase functions. The Shadow Adjustment feature finds a person’s face that is darkened by backlight and makes it appear brighter for taking the picture. The multi window feature lets you preview the effect of four different zoom, exposure compensation, white balance, or brightness values. You can select one of these previews to automatically switch to the corresponding setting.
|Controls, Response, and Menus|
The Stylus Tough-8000’s menu system resembles that of a cell phone with a series of large icons in a grid layout that lead to submenus. This makes for a more graphically interesting setup than we typically see on cameras. Overall, the menu system is pretty easy to read and navigate.
In many shooting modes, you can access a variety of controls such as white balance, ISO sensitivity, burst shooting mode, image quality settings, and more by pressing the OK/Func button.
As mentioned, manual controls on the Stylus Tough-8000 are scarce, though most users will likely be too busy snorkeling or skiing to mind that they can’t set a custom white balance or choose a particular aperture. Although the Stylus Tough-8000 lacks full manual controls that would allow you to set a shutter speed or select a specific aperture, there are some preset customization options you can use. For example, you can adjust the camera’s white balance by selecting from one of the preset white balance settings (sunny, cloudy, incandescent, fluorescent 1, fluorescent 2, and fluorescent 3). You can also manually set the ISO to one of the predefined values.
The exposure compensation range on the Stylus Tough-8000 is pretty similar to what you would see on other cameras, ±2 EV in 1/3 stops. One of the nice things about the multi window feature is that you can preview four different exposure compensation settings in real time and then pick the one that looks the best.
Something we’ve seen from a lot of manufacturers this year is an intelligent auto option which will sense the scene and select the shooting mode (sports, portrait, landscape, etc) the camera deems most appropriate. In keeping with this trend, Olympus has included an intelligent auto option on the Stylus Tough-8000.
The camera icon on the mode dial denotes an automatic shooting mode on many cameras. With the Stylus Tough-8000 however, this icon denotes a shooting mode that lets you adjust the ISO, white balance, and shadow adjustment. The camera’s iAuto mode serves as the Stylus Tough-8000’s fully automatic mode that requires no adjusting—simply aim and shoot.
As mentioned, the macro mode has its own dedicated button. By pressing the macro button, you can choose from normal macro, supermacro, and supermacro with LED. The camera’s optical zoom and flash are only accessible in the normal macro mode. Normal macro mode enables shooting as close as 3.9 inches when the zoom is at the widest position. In the most telephoto position, normal macro mode enables shooting at 11.8 inches. Supermacro mode lets you get as close as 0.8 inches to the subject. For conditions where proper illumination of your subject at a very close distance is a challenge, supermacro with LED illuminates a subject that is within 2.8 to 7.9 inches from the lens when the shutter button is pressed halfway down.
The camera’s performance was acceptable for its class. Start up time seemed on-par for a point-and-shoot digital camera. Writing 12-megapixel Fine JPEGs to a Type M+ xD card took nearly four seconds during which time we had to wait until we could take another shot. For times when you want to capture multiple images in a burst, the Stylus Tough-8000 has two sequential shooting modes. In the first mode, you can capture about 1 frame per second. In the high-speed sequential shooting mode, you can shoot approximately 5 frames per second, but these images will be of lower quality (approximately 3MP).
For users who would prefer to save their images on a microSD card, Olympus has included an xD to microSD adapter (shown below) with the Stylus Tough-8000. We tested the adapter using a SanDisk 16GB microSDHC card and noticed no discernable change in the camera’s responsiveness or speed.
The Olympus Stylus Tough-8000 captured good quality images during my review. Although a handful of images were slightly noisy, the overall quality was respectable, especially given this camera’s ability to go where other cameras wouldn’t dare venture (like swimming pools).
The camera’s lens seemed to struggle some to keep up with the extreme pixel density of the sensor. You’ll also notice noise in some of my test shots. Still, most compact camera users will be happy with the Stylus Tough-8000’s image quality, especially if you are content avoiding extremely large-sized prints.
Although a snorkeling trip would certainly be an ideal test for this camera, it wasn’t feasible during our review period. As a result, my underwater test images are limited to those taken in a pool. You’ll notice the underwater images are not quite as sharp and detailed as some of the other (dry) shots. To be fair, these images were taken in a pool that wasn’t perfectly clean. You’ll also notice the underwater flash picture did a good job at capturing skin tones. For many users, the thrill of being able to use this camera in situations where other cameras wouldn’t dare tread will make up for some of the lost image quality.
click any of the images for a larger view
|Sample Images - ISO settings|
The Olympus Stylus Tough-8000 offers an ISO range from ISO 64 to 1600, with Auto and High Auto modes as well. Noise is very noticeable at ISO 800 and ISO 1600. Here’s a closer look at each of the ISO settings.
click for larger view
The Olympus Stylus Tough-8000 is a very unique camera. Not many cameras can claim to withstand a fall from 6.6 feet, the pressure of 33 feet of water, the weight of a 220 pound man, and the cold of winter. As its name suggests, the Stylus Tough-8000 is indeed a tough camera that can take a beating.
In addition to being very tough, the Stylus Tough-8000 is a nice overall point and shoot digital camera with a good amount of bells and whistles. With its 28mm equivalent wide angle lens, you’ll be able to shoot with more versatility than you’d get with some other compacts. The camera’s multitude of scene modes provides many automatic presets to help you capture a good picture in many different settings and situations.
The camera’s extreme pixel density pushes its optics to their limits. As a result, you won’t get quite as much detail as you might expect from such a high megapixel camera. So long as you don’t plan to make huge enlargements of your images, you should be satisfied with the Stylus Tough-8000’s images, especially if they are shot with a low ISO setting.
Although the Stylus Tough-8000’s estimated retail price of $399.99 comes close to that of some DSLRs, the Stylus Tough-8000 offers a rugged and compact, portable body that DSLRs can’t match. In order to be able to take these low-priced DSLRs to the beach, ski slopes, or out in a torrential rain, you’d need to purchase a pricey enclosure.
All in all, users must decide what features and qualities are most important. If you’re looking for the very best picture quality, a DSLR might be a better option than most compact point and shoot digital cameras. On the other hand, if you’re looking for versatility and durability with acceptable picture quality, the Stylus Tough-8000 will be hard to beat.