Olympus Stylus Tough-8000 Overview
Overview by Mike Tomkins
Review by Shawn Barnett, Dave Etchells
and Stephanie Boozer
Review Posted: 07/15/09
The Olympus Stylus Tough-8000 is the latest in Olympus' newly renamed "Tough" series of take-a-licking, keep-on-ticking digital cameras. Featuring a shockproof, waterproof, freezeproof, crushproof, shakeproof body - we're starting to wonder just how many more things Olympus can find to proof their cameras against - the Olympus 8000 is designed to take whatever the elements can throw at it - or perhaps, whatever you might accidentally throw it at! Able to survive a drop from 6.6 feet, to capture photos at up to 33 feet underwater, withstand 220 pounds of crushing force, and even to be used in temperatures as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit / -10 degrees Celsius, the photographer is likely to surrender long before the camera does. Inside this impressive exterior are the combination of a 1/2.3"-type twelve megapixel image sensor and an Olympus-branded 3.6x optical zoom lens with a useful 28mm wide-angle. A 2.7-inch LCD display with 230,000 dot resolution offers the Olympus Tough-8000's only option for framing and reviewing images, as there's no optical viewfinder on this model. For the first time, the Olympus Stylus Tough-8000 includes true mechanical image stabilization - an important addition that forms half of the company's "Dual Image Stabilization" system. The other half is what Olympus calls "Digital Image Stabilization", which increases the ISO sensitivity (and along with it, both the shutter speed and image noise levels) to try and freeze motion. ISO sensitivity ranges from a low of ISO 64 to a maximum of ISO 1,600 equivalent.
Perhaps the Olympus Stylus 8000's most unusual feature is what Olympus has dubbed "Tap Control". A 3D accelerometer in the camera's body is used as an input method, allowing different patterns of taps on the camera's body from different directions to control functions on the camera. For example, a double tap on the camera's side can be used to turn on the camera's flash or Shadow Adjustment function. It's an unusual idea, and one that seems to make some sense if you consider that the camera can be used in conditions where taking your hands out of thick gloves might not be the best idea. The Olympus Stylus Tough-8000 employs a contrast-detection autofocus system operating off data streaming from the camera's image sensor, and the Stylus 8000 also includes face detection capability, able to detect up to sixteen faces in a scene simultaneously. Olympus' Face Detection function is linked to both the autoexposure and autofocus systems, ensuring that your subjects' faces are taken into account when determining both these variables. It also allows for tracking of a subject's face as it moves around the frame, once detected.
A "Perfect Shot Preview" mode accessible through the awkwardly-named "Olympus Recommended" button allows users to see what the effects of certain camera adjustments - for example, zoom, exposure compensation, white balance, or metering mode - will be before actually taking a photo. A generous 19 scene modes including several underwater modes are offered in the Olympus 8000, plus a Program Auto mode, allowing users some degree of control over their images without needing to understand the subtleties of shutter speeds and apertures. In-camera image editing is possible, with the Olympus Tough-8000 able to resize images, as well as correct for red-eye and exposure problems, adjust saturation, and even smooth a subject's complexion or call attention to their eyes. An in-camera panorama mode is started with a press of the shutter button followed by panning the camera slowly across the scene. The Stylus Tough-8000 then cleverly captures two more photos by itself at the correct moment, and combines the three images together in-camera to offer a single stitched scene automatically. For creation of larger panoramas up to ten images, the included software can be used on a computer.
For viewing images on a television, the Olympus Stylus Tough-8000 has NTSC / PAL video output connectivity, while images can be transferred to a PC over a USB 2.0 High-Speed connection. A rechargeable LI-50B Lithium Ion battery with charger is included with the Stylus Tough-8000, which is CIPA rated for 250 shots. Olympus' Master 2 software is included, for viewing and modifying photos. Images are stored in 45MB of internal memory, as well as on xD-Picture Card memory cards. Interestingly, Olympus has also chosen to include an MASD-1 microSD to xD-Picture Card adapter in the Stylus Tough-8000 bundle, allowing the use of microSD cards in the camera as well.
The Olympus Stylus Tough-8000 began shipping in the USA from February 2009 with pricing of about US$400.
Olympus Tough-8000 User Report
by Shawn Barnett
Olympus poured all the good stuff into the Tough 8000, a waterproof digital camera with a whole lot more. It also behaves better than its brothers. Besting all the others in this roundup in more than one rugged aspect, the Tough 8000 can withstand a drop from 6.6 feet, dive to a depth of 33 feet, shrug off up to 220 pounds of crushing force, and work in 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10C). This is a camera that clearly lives up to its "Tough" sobriquet!
A 3.6x optical zoom ranges from 28-102mm and is image stabilized, a nice feature to have in a rugged camera. The 12-megapixel sensor also matches its main rivals in resolution, and the 2.7-inch LCD performs like a dream in the brightest sunlight.
Look and feel. Well, the Tough 8000 looks and feels like a piece of metal, and that's just what it is. Okay, it's more than one piece of metal, screwed together into one solid chunk of digital camera.
I like that not only can you drop it, you can sit on it and not worry about it. Be honest, how many times have you slipped your pocket camera or cell phone into a back pocket and sat down? You have. Worse, you don't even know what's happened to your sensitive electronics when you've put them into your backpack or purse. They get smashed and crushed all day long. You don't have to think about that with this hunk of metal, the Olympus Tough 8000. It can take it.
A good finger grip graces the front of the Olympus 8000, and a solid metal guard surrounds the lens opening, as a stainless steel door moves out of the way to reveal the lens when you power on the camera. Available in silver with black accents and black with silver accents, the Stylus Tough 8000 isn't looking to attract you with fashion, but with no-nonsense, cold, hard utility. You can tell I like it.
Though I love the look of the silver one, I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't mention that the polished mirror surface of the silver model could introduce reflections into your shots; but then again, it could serve as an SOS mirror while you're out in the wilds, so consider that too.
Controls. The Tough 8000's controls are very similar to the Tough 6000's. The shutter button is excellent, with clear tactile definition between half-press and full-press; the mode dial is a little vexing because it can slip into in-between settings; and the rest of the buttons are of good quality, but small.
Tap Control is also present on the Tough 8000, activated with a double-tap on the top of the camera, intended for easier adjustment of basic settings while you're wearing gloves in the snow. It's an interesting experience, but also annoying when it pops up accidentally with a simple jostling of the camera.
Pressing the DISP button also brings up a clock, and holding the button down can be made to activate the LED AF illuminator next to the flash to serve as a quick flashlight or Macro light.
Shooting. Using the Tough 8000, it works about like I expect a camera to work. It should fire up fairly fast, focus quickly, and get the shot. Despite the longer AF test results in the imaging-resource.com lab, the Tough 8000 focuses as fast as I need it to, and can be relied upon to get most of the shots I need.
The Tough 8000's autofocus shutter lag at wide angle is 0.85 second, and at telephoto it's 0.9 second. Not great, almost twice the best number of the TS1, but not noticeably slow, either. Prefocused, the Tough 8000 turns in a respectable 0.05 second shutter lag. Not bad at all.
Even powerup and shutdown times are better, at 2.6 seconds and 1.5 seconds respectively.
All camera functions on the Olympus 8000 are fast, including the menu items and Playback mode. When you have Tap Control on, you can even tap the camera on the left and right sides to move between images. Tap on the right to move forward and left to move backward among images. A neat trick.
The HyperCrystal LCD makes using the Tough 8000 a pleasure, too, especially after using so many cameras with washed out screens. This LCD design really is excellent.
Optical quality, save for the lower left corner, is not bad; about the same as the Tough 6000. Noise suppression is more active in the Tough 8000's shots, however, blurring some of the advantage the 12-megapixel sensor offers. But our printed results were pretty decent, allowing slightly soft prints at 13x19 inches, easily fixed in Photoshop, with unsharp mask over most of the frame.
White balance is a little warm by default indoors, but indoor performance is otherwise good, so the Tough 8000 actually does look like an okay performer for some indoor shots. Flash range is reasonable, but in Auto mode, the camera boosts the ISO to 800 in dark settings, which is only good for 4x6-inch prints on average, so be aware of that limitation. (When there's more ambient light available, though, it doesn't boost the ISO nearly as much.)
Olympus TOUGH-8000 Lens Quality
Wide: Sharp at center.
Wide: Very soft in lower left.
Tele: Sharp at center.
Tele: Softest at lower left corner.
Sharpness: The Olympus Stylus TOUGH-8000's wide angle setting produced strong blurring in the bottom corners of the frame, though the top corners were noticeably less blurred. At full telephoto, the TOUGH-8000 again produced very soft lower corners, while the top corners showed very little blurring. While the blurring we saw in the bottom corners was pretty severe, it didn't extend very far into the frame, so most subjects will be rendered reasonably sharp.
Wide: Lower than average barrel distortion; minutely noticeable
Tele: Very slight pincushion distortion, also only slightly noticeable
Geometric Distortion: The Olympus Stylus TOUGH-8000's wide-angle lens setting shows surprisingly little barrel distortion at wide-angle (about 0.5%), and a very small amount of pincushion distortion at telephoto (0.1%). At both settings, distortion is only slightly noticeable on some subjects.
Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is moderate in terms of pixel count, but pixels are fairly bright. (The crop at right shows detail from the lower right-hand corner, where it's less bright, but covers a larger area. In the top corners, the extent is less, but the colors are brighter.) At telephoto, the effect is much less noticeable. Not unusual in subcompact cameras with internal zoom lenses, and as with the blurring, it doesn't extend very far into the frame.
Macro: The Olympus Stylus TOUGH-8000's standard Macro mode captures a sharp image with only mild blurring in the corners (less noticeable perhaps because of the large area of gray background). Minimum coverage area is 3.04 x 2.28 inches or 77 x 58 millimeters. The default exposure with external lighting was a little dark, but enabling the flash results in a very strong overexposure. In Super Macro mode, details are strong at the center of the frame, but blurring in the corners becomes much more pronounced. Minimum coverage area in this mode is 1.42 x 1.07 inches or 36 x 27 millimeters.
Olympus TOUGH-8000 Image Quality
Color: The Olympus Stylus TOUGH-8000 produced pretty good color in our tests, with good, accurate saturation and hue overall. Strong reds are the most saturated, while most other colors appear either almost spot-on accurate or just slightly muted. Some color shifts are noticeable in the magenta tones, which are pushed toward red, and even reds, which are pushed toward orange. However, general hue accuracy is within acceptable limits. That said, darker skin tones are pushed quite a bit toward orange, while lighter skin tones have just a slight reddish shift.
ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is a little soft, even at the base ISO of 64, with blurring becoming noticeable as early as ISO 200. By ISO 400, chroma noise is just becoming visible, with moderate luminance noise. At ISOs 800 and 1,600 the effects of image noise are quite strong, obscuring detail and altering color. Do keep in mind that the Olympus Stylus Tough is a 12-megapixel camera, though, so we're pixel-peeping to a pretty extreme extent here: To see how this translates to printed images, refer to the Printed Results section below.
Wide (13.1 ft.):
Bright but noisy
Tele (8.9 ft.):
Bright but noisy
Incandescent: The Olympus Stylus TOUGH-8000's Auto white balance had a difficult time with our tungsten lighting test, producing a very warm color balance. The Incandescent mode was closer to accurate, though it too had a slight greenish-yellow cast. Overall, though, results with the Incandescent white balance were pretty good, certainly within the range of acceptable color rendition.
Printed: In common with many high-megapixel digicams these days, shots from the Olympus Stylus Tough 8000 can make nice big prints at the lowest ISO setting, but noise increases rapidly as you boost ISO. At ISO 64, even 13x19 inch prints from the Stylus Tough 8000 looked nice and sharp, although a little color noise was visible in the shadows, even at that lowest ISO setting. The highest sensitivity we felt we could go to for 8x10 inch prints was ISO 400, and even there the prints were a bit marginal, as blotchy color noise was pretty visible in the shadows. At ISO 800, 4x6 inch prints were the largest we felt were acceptable, and at ISO 1,600, even 4x6 snapshots were very grainy.
Olympus TOUGH-8000 Performance
Shutter lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is a bit slow by modern standards, at 0.84 second at wide angle and 0.91 second at full telephoto. Prefocus shutter lag is only 0.052 second, though, certainly fast enough to catch the critical moment, as long as you have time to prefocus (by half-pressing and holding down the shutter button before the shot) before the moment arrives.
Cycle time: Cycle time is also on the slower side, capturing a frame every 2.5 seconds in single-shot mode.
Flash Recycle: The Olympus Stylus TOUGH-8000's flash recycles in a fairly quick 5 seconds after a full-power discharge, although that speedy performance is somewhat diminished by the fact that the camera has to boost its ISO so high to get decent flash range.
Olympus TOUGH-8000 Conclusion
As I said earlier, Olympus really poured all the good stuff into its Tough 8000. Its combination of "tough" features and ratings outranks anything else currently on the market, and it snaps photos with accurate color and better than average detail for its category. Drop it, crush it, freeze it, or dive with it to 33 feet, and it'll keep on clicking: If "tough" is what you need, the Tough 8000 delivers it in spades. Our sample had a slightly tilted sensor chip, but optical quality was generally on par with the category - Not outstanding, particularly when you're pixel-peeping 1:1 on-screen, but our printed results were quite decent: At low ISOs, you'll get 13x19 inch prints sharp enough for wall display, and most consumers would be happy with 4x6 inch prints from its shots taken at ISO 800. When it came to performance, the Olympus Tough 8000 was one camera were I found its responsiveness in the field belied the only-average timing results from the lab: The lab numbers looked sluggish, but I never felt it lagging behind me when I was shooting with it in actual life situations. In my experience, it fired up fast and focused quickly, getting the shots I wanted, and its excellent LCD made it easy to see what I was photographing, even in bright sunlight. Relative to the best non-rugged digicams, the Olympus Tough 8000 still forces some tradeoffs in image quality and performance, but not nearly as many as we've come to expect from the category, and its sheer toughness and solid design win the day when it comes to picking a true go-anywhere camera. (Read Dave's article "Good Photos or No Photos?" for his perspective on the value of ruggedness in a camera for vacation shooting.) Bottom line, in the tough/waterproof category, the Olympus Stylus Tough 8000 is an easy Dave's Pick.