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White Balance

Aside from the default auto setting there are six white balance presets (tungsten, fluorescent 1,2 and 3, cloudy and daylight). There is no 'manual' or custom white balance - a curious omission given the generally high spec of the Stylus 800. The AWB system struggled under incandescent lighting when shooting our test chart, producing a very strong orange cast. In real world use we found auto white balance to be consistently reliable when shooting in daylight and mixed lighting, though it is more easily fooled by scenes with a single predominant color than we'd like.

Outdoor - Auto WB
Red -0.8%, Blue 1.0%
Excellent

Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red 1.9%, Blue -2.1%
Good

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red 16.1%, Blue -19.9%
Poor

Flash Performance

Overall flash performance is pretty good, with exposures very accurate even if you get too close. The pre-burst red eye reduction system works well too (and if it doesn't there's a crude, but effective automatic red-eye removal option in the playback menu). Range is excellent for a camera in this class - up to 6.5m at the wide end of the zoom using auto ISO. You can extend the flash range even further (to 12.8m) using ISO 1600, but obviously this means shooting at 3MP maximum, and foregoing most image detail.

In fact our only complaint is the long recycle time, which averages at around 5 seconds when the battery is fully charged, but stretches to over 6.5 seconds as the battery starts to run down or when it is very cold.

Skin tone
Good color (slightly warm) and exposure
Color chart
Good color (slightly warm) and exposure

Macro Focus

The Stylus 800 has two macro modes; standard macro and 'super macro'. The normal macro mode is pretty standard fare for this type of camera, getting you as close as 20cm at either end of the zoom. At the wide end this is less than impressive, allowing you to capture an area just over 11cm across. At the tele (114mm equiv.) end of the zoom things are a little better, and you can get close enough to capture an area under 8cm across (and there's a lot less distortion, but more corner softness). The Super Macro mode only works at the wide end of the zoom but lets you get a lot closer (3cm), capturing an area around 3cm (1.2 inches) across with remarkably little distortion.

Wide macro -
111 x 83 mm coverage
29 px/mm (742 px/in)
Distortion: Average
Corner softness: Average
Equiv. focal length: 38 mm

Tele macro -
76 x 57 mm coverage
43 px/mm (1080 px/in)
Distortion: Low
Corner softness: High
Equiv. focal length: 114 mm
Super macro mode -
32 x 24 mm coverage
101 px/mm (2560 px/in)
Distortion: Low to average
Corner softness: average
Equiv. focal length: 38 mm

Barrel and Pincushion Distortion

Whilst there is measurable distortion at the wide end of the zoom (around 1.3%), it is certainly no worse than we'd expect from an compact zoom camera. It certainly doesn't have a significant impact on real-world shots. There is only the slightest (0.3%) pincushion distortion at the long (114mm equiv.) end of the zoom range. There is a little corner softness at both ends of the zoom, but unless you're likely to be shooting a lot of flat things you're unlikely to find it marring your everyday shots.

Barrel distortion - 1.3% at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 38 mm
Pincushion distortion - 0.3% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 114 mm

Specific Image Quality Issues

To say the Stylus 800 is a mixed bag - image quality wise - is an understatement. As the tests in this review have shown it is capable of capturing a lot of detail and producing very sharp, bright results, and from these you can produce very impressive prints. We also found very little evidence of color fringing, even in areas of gross overexposure.

The bad news is that the closer you look at the images the more 'over-processed' they look, with serious artefact issues and smearing of low contrast, high frequency detail (read: foliage and hair). I'm increasingly of the opinion that this is a result of a combination of heavy-handed noise reduction and excessive in-camera sharpening. Even ISO 64 images look 'noisy' - because every edge has a speckled halo around it. In normal sized prints it's not a major problem, but you don't buy an 8MP camera to print postcards. Note that the artefacts are much worse when shooting at the default HQ setting, if you use the less compressed SHQ mode the results are much cleaner.

Our other main area of complaint also concerns the in-camera processing. The default (and unchangeable) contrast is set way too high, which can doesn't give the exposure system much leeway; a little under and there's no shadow detail, a little over and highlight clipping is a serious problem. When everything comes together and the exposure is perfect the results are very impressive, but the sad truth is that perfect exposures are far from guaranteed. Again, I must stress that overall - for the kind of user the Stylus 800 is aimed at - the results are probably just right; bright, sharp, vivid and punchy, but purists will recoil from the obvious in-camera processing, and anyone wanting to post-process would be best advised to steer clear.

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