Operation and controls

Although it may look like yet another auto-only 'point and shoot' camera, the Stylus 800 has more than a smattering of features designed to appeal to the more serious photographer. Most important of these are the two 'semi automatic' exposure modes (aperture and shutter priority), which get their own positions on the mode dial and are eminently usable (rather than an afterthought buried deep in some menu). External controls are plentiful, though a lot of the important stuff you might want to use when actually shooting - AE compensation, ISO, white balance - is only accessible via menus, and some of it is many button-presses away.

Rear of camera

Users of other Olympus cameras will feel at home with the Stylus 800's control layout. Nothing out of the ordinary here; the now-standard four-way controller, a nice solid mode dial and zoom rocker, dedicated buttons for flash, macro and self-timer. Of course the majority of the real estate on the back of the camera is taken up with that lovely bright 2.5-inch screen, which can make the controls seem a little crowded, but it's not the smallest camera on the market, and I didn't find it at all fiddly in everyday use.

Top of camera

The top of the camera is home to the power switch and shutter release. The lens, shown here extended, retracts flush into the body when power is turned off.

Display and menus

There's no denying that the Stylus 800 has a comprehensive array of features, or that the user interface and menu system is very easy on the eye. That said it's not the most intuitive system we've ever encountered, and if you want to access the more advanced shooting features you may find the menus frustrating, something that only improves after several weeks of regular use. If you're the kind of photographer who regularly changes white balance, ISO, AE-compensation etc I suspect you - like me - will find the Stylus 800's user interface gets in the way more often than it helps. On the other hand if, like most people, you're content to simply 'point and shoot' most of the time, I doubt you'll have any real problems.

The most basic record screen, in fully automatic ('P') mode - showing focus brackets, memory in use (internal or xD) and a 'memory gauge' - the black line on the left, which turns green as the buffer fills. Half-press the shutter and the display changes to indicate the focus area selected (in iESP mode). There's no exposure information (shutter speed/aperture) but a green dot shows correct focus, and the flash symbol turns red if it is turned off and the exposure is likely to result in camera shake (as shown above). You can bring up full exposure information by pressing the DISP button.
The Stylus 800 offers several other display options in record mode. Pressing the 'DISP' button cycles through the various options, including 'rule of thirds' gridlines (shown here) and diagonal grid (screen). Finally you can bring up Olympus's excellent live histogram.
Of course it's not all 'point and shoot' - the Stylus 800 has aperture priority and shutter priority modes too, albeit with a typically friendly face. The Stylus 800's built-in help system (accessed by pressing the GUIDE button) provides basic - sometimes very basic (example) hints and tips on using the camera and getting specific results.
The Stylus 800 has a grand total of 19 subject modes. Each mode is illustrated with a photo thumbnail and a brief text description of what it does.
Pressing the menu button in the middle of the four-way controller brings up this menu - pressing one of the arrow keys takes you to one of the four sections. The 'up' arrow selects AE compensation (+ and - 2.0 EV in 0.3 EV steps). It's a bit fiddly but perfectly usable.
The left arrow brings up the file size/quality menu (shown above). The down arrow gets you into the white balance menu. There's no manual setting, and only five presets in addition to the default auto mode. The right arrow takes you to the slightly more advanced menus. There's three 'tabs'; camera, card (formatting) and setup. The camera menu has options for metering, drive (single or burst), ISO, AF mode, voice memos, panorama (with an Olympus card) and '2-in-1' (split screen double exposure).
The setup menu is where you change basic camera settings; audio, color schemes (for the menus) and startup images, LCD brightness and date/time. This menu is also accessible from playback mode.