'Waterproof' Camera Group Test (Q2 2009)
Olympus Stylus Tough 8000
12.0MP | 28-102mm (3.6X) ZOOM | Waterproof 10m/33ft | $330/£265
The Olympus Tough 8000 earns its Stylus label with shiny reflective metal outer casing, riveted accents and the embossed Olympus logo. The Tough 8000 comes in three colors: steel blue (seen here), midnight black and platinum silver. Design touches go further than the merely cosmetic: the buttons feel positive when clicked, there is a function menu that is reminiscent of Canon's, there is a new 'tap' interface that allows you to use the camera body itself to operate controls, and if you press the display button when the camera is off, it will light up to show date and time, and the screen is bright enough to be used as a kind of torch.
Features wise, the Tough 8000 has a fully internal wide angle zoom lens that starts at 28mm and stretches to 102mm. There are a multitude of scene modes, video recording is offered, the body is waterproof to 10m / 33ft (which is equal with the D10 as best in group), and the camera is shockproof against a drop of up to 2m / 6.6ft. The imaging side is powered by a 12 MP sensor with an ISO range of 64 to 1600, and image stabilization is built-in.
- 12.0 effective Megapixels
- 28-102mm equiv lens with 3.6x optical zoom and up to 5x Digital Zoom
- Waterproof to 10m / 33ft
- Shockproof from 2m / 6.5ft, Freezeproof to -10°C
- VGA video, AVI format
- 2.7-inch LCD with 230,000 dot resolution
- Dual Image Stabilizer
- ISO sensitivity 64 up to 1600
- Shadow Adjustment Technology, in-camera Panorama mode
- 19 Scene modes + Beauty Mode
- In-camera Image Retouching
- Battery life 240 shots (CIPA standard)
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As the bigger brother of the Tough 6000, the Tough 8000 is more expensive and heavier. For the extra money you get a camera which is arguably a more attractive design with shiny metal everywhere, and a reflective front color panel. The Tough 8000 is waterproof to 10m / 33ft (equal best in group with the D10), whereas the Tough 6000 is only waterproof to 3m / 10 ft. The Tough 8000 is also rated as more shockproof. The downside of the shiny metallic design is that it attracts fingerprints and scratches much more than the matt finish on the Tough 6000, though the reflective front face plate can be used as a self portrait mirror.
Features wise the Tough 8000 is on a par with other cameras in the group except the W60, which means that while it is not quite as well-featured as the latest mid range compact cameras (which tend to have higher resolution screens, higher resolution video and longer zooms), it still has plenty to keep most users happy. The internal zoom lens extends from a useful wideangle (28mm) to 102mm at the telephoto end (3.6x). The 12 MP sensor has an ISO sensitivity range from 64-1600, which also offers video recording at VGA (640x480) resolution at 30 fps; dual image stabilization using CCD-shift and ISO-boost methods is also available. The Tough 8000 also has the same beauty mode as the 6000, which uses a blur filter on faces to give the impression of smoother skin. Again this can either be applied while taking a picture, or during playback mode to an image you have already taken.
Like the Tough 600, the 8000 features the somewhat strange tap control system, which allows users to tap the sides of the camera and use the body itself as a controller. Again we almost immediately turned it off, as it would constantly operate when we were trying to select items in the menu or just generally operating the camera - it's probably more useful underwater or when using the camera wearing gloves. A dial on the back gives access to the scene, movie and dedicated playback modes; there's also a separate playback button for use in the recording modes, which is generally preferable as it allows the camera to operate as a 'shooting priority' device.
The user interface is icon driven to begin with, but once you drill down you get to a more conventional text-based menu system. Unfortunately it's not terribly logically organized, and can take some time to get used to. Luckily there's also a function menu which gives access the most used shooting functions. along with a dedicated exposure compensation button and the curiously-labeled 'OR' button which allows you to access features such as the panorama mode and shadow adjustment settings.
Again, one complaint with what is one of the better featured cameras in the group is that it still uses xD cards, and while SD and SDHC cards are now available in 32 GB capacities at reasonable prices, high capacity xD cards are still difficult to find. Olympus includes a micro SD to xD card adaptor with the camera, which is a reasonable workaround; however we can't help but think a better solution would be to simply drop xD altogether, and switch to SD instead.
Image quality and performance
Like its little brother, the Olympus Tough 8000 was operationally something of a mixed bag. It took 1.0 second to acquire focus in our focus test (very nearly the best in the group), and the lens took only 1.3 seconds to zoom from widest to most telephoto setting (the fastest zoom here). On the down side, the Tough 8000 took 3.3 seconds to turn on partly due to time taken to move the lens protector out of the way, which was the longest in the group; and no doubt hampered by the sluggish xD card, it took 2.8 seconds to write an image file, again the slowest in this test.
The Tough 8000 produces some of the worst images in this group test. The Canon D10, with the same resolution sensor, manages to produce sharp and detailed results: no such luck with the Tough 8000, even at base ISO. In the course of testing we had two Tough 8000 cameras. The first one would not focus consistently even in the studio, resulting in around half of the images captured not being in focus. The second sample was much more consistent in focusing, but was much softer on the edges of the frame than the first sample. For all the studio tests in this review, we used the first sample of the Tough 8000 as it was eventually possible to record an image that was in focus, but it was much more difficult to work around soft corners.
On the bright side, when the images are in focus, they are well exposed with good white balance and good color reproduction. There are not too many problems with clipped highlights - at least not more than what you would expect from a camera with 12 MP packed into such a small sensor.
The Tough 8000 produced similar flash results to the Tough 6000, that used rather higher flash power than the other cameras and failed to retain much of the ambient light mood, resulting in the classic 'rabbit -in-headlights' look. The problems getting the Tough 8000 to produce sharp and detailed images at low ISO become even worse at high ISO, where the noise reduction almost completely obliterates fine detail, leaving a noisy blotchy image plagued by noise reduction artifacts that is simply not pleasant at all. At ISO 200 the Tough 8000 is slightly worse than the Canon D10 and Pentax W60 at ISO 400, and it just goes downhill from there.
The underwater performance of the Tough 8000 closely matches its out of water performance - again it has trouble with auto focus, and produces soft images with little fine detail. The one saving grace is that the underwater mode on the Tough 8000 tends to select lower ISO settings.
The Olympus Tough 8000 is a camera which values style over substance, and while it certainly looks good and feels solid in the hand, the moment you take a look at the images it produces you will find that they are simply not very good (and overall the worst in this group). If you are looking for a camera that you can take to 10m / 33ft underwater, look at the Canon D10, or if you want something compact that you can also take underwater then look at the Pentax W60. If you just love the style and interface of the Olympus Tough series, then take a look at the Tough 6000. They are all better cameras than the Tough 8000.
- We like: Compact design, robust and stylish, waterproof to 10m/ 30ft, good colors, metering and white balance.
- We don't like: Slow operation, high ISO performance poor, very soft output, smearing of low contrast detail, tap interface, shiny finish attracts finger prints and scratches, uses xD cards
Jul 22, 2009
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