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Olympus C-8080 Wide Zoom

Olympus enters the 8 megapixel arena with a feature-packed body and fast f/2.4-3.5 5x zoom lens.

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Page 12:Test Results & Conclusion

Review First Posted: 02/12/2004, Updated: 05/07/04

Test Results
In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the C-8080 Wide Zoom's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how C-8080's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the C-8080 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

  • Color: Excellent color - Lower saturation than many consumer digicams, but easy to tweak it up if desired. Throughout my testing, the C-8080 Wide Zoom delivered excellent color, with accurate hue and appropriate saturation. A word on saturation though: The C-8080's images shot using its default settings tend to be a little less saturated than what's common among most prosumer digicams. In actuality, I think the 8080's rendering is more faithful to the original than what's common, but most consumers (myself included) prefer slightly "pumped" color. (Most pros prefer the opposite.) Fortunately, the C-8080 has a nicely-implemented color saturation control, by which you can tweak the color saturation to match your personal preferences. (Personally, I'd probably run the camera most of the time with its contrast set one or two notches down, and the saturation one notch up.) In my testing, I found both the Auto and Manual white balance settings performed very well under a wide variety of light sources, and were the settings I typically chose as the most accurate. Indoors, under the difficult incandescent lighting of my "Indoor Portrait" shot, the Auto setting performed unusually well, producing an almost perfectly color-balanced image. (Many digicams have a great deal of difficulty with household incandescent lighting, the 8080 was a notable exception.) Skin tones were quite good overall, just slightly pale due to the low saturation, but in actuality probably matching Marti's actual complexion more closely than do other cameras with higher saturation. The tell-tale blue flowers were rendered almost perfectly in the outdoor shot, and the large color blocks of the Davebox target showed very good hue accuracy as well. Overall, excellent results, and it's easy to dial-in a modest boost in saturation for those users who want slightly brighter color.

  • Exposure: Very good exposure accuracy. High default contrast, but a good adjustment to reduce it somewhat. The C-8080's exposure system handled the lighting on my test shots quite well, requiring less positive exposure compensation on the high-key outdoor shots than is usual, although I did find that the default exposure on the Davebox studio shot was a little dim and required a slight boost to get the exposure levels to match my standards for the shot. The C-8080's default tone curve is a little contrasty for my taste, causing the camera to lose highlight detail under harsh lighting. Here again though, the 8080's configurability helps a good deal, as you can manually reduce the image contrast a useful amount. (While it worked very well as it was, I'd still like to see an even greater range on the contrast control, particularly in the low contrast direction.)

  • Resolution/Sharpness: Very high resolution, 1,600-1,650 lines of "strong detail." Very sharp from corner to corner. Olympus appears to have invested heavily in the 8080's lens, and it showed in the overall crispness and corner to corner sharpness of its images. The C-8080 performed very well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart, showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 1,000-1,100 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions, but offering "strong detail" out to at least 1,600 lines vertically (although there are enough artifacts at that point that I question whether I should perhaps drop back to 1,500 lines, per my own, fairly conservative criteria - see my comments on the 8080's pictures page), 1,650 lines horizontally. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until right around 2,000 lines, but even then, some detail is faintly discernible. Overall, the 8080's absolute resolving power was pretty much the same as the other leading 8-megapixel cameras, but it differentiated itself by being sharper than most from corner to corner.

  • Image Noise: Better than average image noise, particularly at higher ISOs. Some flattening of detail at high ISOs though. The C-8080 Wide Zoom does a good bit better than the average 8-megapixel camera in the image noise department, at least at higher ISO levels. (All the 8 megapixels I've seen thus far are actually pretty close at low ISO settings.) To achieve this, the 8080 applies more heavy-handed noise suppression in its image processing at high ISOs, trading away some sharpness and resolution to achieve the lower noise levels. Looking at the 8080's images next to those of other cameras though, I think this tradeoff was a wise and largely successful one. While I generally hate to see cameras lose detail to achieve lower image noise, when I compare high-ISO images from the 8080 side by side with those from competing 8-megapixel models, I have to say that the 8080's are much more pleasing to the eye (or at least, less objectionable).

  • Closeups: A very tiny macro area with outstanding detail. Flash is blocked by the lens, however. The C-8080 performed very well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of only 2.57 x 1.92 inches (65 x 49 millimeters) in normal macro mode. The "Super" macro setting captured an even smaller area, at 1.47 x 1.11 inches (37 x 28 millimeters). Resolution was excellent, with strong detail in the dollar bill, coins, and brooch. (In Super macro mode, however, details were blurred in the coins and brooch due to the shallow depth of field that resulted from the short shooting distance, not the fault of the C-8080.) The C-8080's flash was blocked by the lens, so you'll need an alternative source of lighting (such as a macro ringlight) for the closest shots. While there was some softness in the corners of the super macro mode shot, what was really surprising was how crisp the standard macro shot was from corner to corner. Here again, the 8080's lens proved its worth.

  • Night Shots: Excellent performance, with good color and exposure, even at the darkest light levels. The C-8080 produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test, with pretty good color at all four ISO settings. The color was slightly warm-hued in the dimmer shots, but overall performance was very good. The C-8080 has an optional Noise Reduction system that did a good job of keeping noise in check, although even with the noise reduction system turned off, the 8080's images are surprisingly clean. (Some reviewers have seen little difference with the 8080 noise reduction on or off, but I found a very clear difference, at least with our test sample of the camera, and under our test conditions.)

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: Excellent accuracy from the electronic viewfinder. The C-8080's electronic "optical" viewfinder (EVF) was very accurate, showing 97 percent frame accuracy at wide angle, and about 99 percent at telephoto. The LCD monitor was also very accurate, since it shows the same view, just on a larger screen. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the C-8080's LCD monitor is essentially perfect in this regard.

  • Optical Distortion: Average geometric distortion, very good sharpness across the frame, unobtrusive chromatic aberration. Optical distortion on the C-8080 was about average at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 0.8 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared much better, as I found 0.2 percent pincushion distortion there. This range of geometric distortion seems to be about average among the high-end 8-megpixel cameras currently on the market, but I'd really like to see less geometric distortion in digicam lenses overall. Chromatic aberration is interesting in this lens, in that its effects extend quite a distance from the scene object triggering them, but the level of coloration is fairly low, so the net effect isn't as bothersome as it might otherwise be. (This distortion is visible as a slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.)

  • Shutter Lag and Cycle Time: Very good shutter response, average cycle times. Thanks to its hybrid phase-detect/contrast-detect autofocus system, the C-8080 Wide Zoom is very responsive to the shutter button. Its shutter lag of 0.55-0.58 seconds is faster than that of the Canon Pro1, roughly equal to that of the Nikon Coolpix 8700, within the slower end of the 0.25-0.69 second range of the Sony DSC-F828, and slower than the 0.39-0.45 second range of the Minolta A2. Its cycle times are average for its class, faster than those of the Nikon Coolpix 8700, but slower than those of the Canon Pro1, Sony DSC-F828 and Minolta A2. Like all its 8-megapixel competition except the Pro1, the 8080 doesn't buffer its RAW shots, so is rather slow in that mode.

  • Battery Life: Excellent battery life. Thanks to its surprisingly low power drain and a beefy LiIon rechargeable battery, the C-8080 Wide Zoom has excellent battery life, with nearly 3.5 hours of run time in its worst-case power drain mode. (Also surprising is that its power consumption with the EVF enabled is actually slightly higher than when using the larger rear-panel LCD.) I couldn't measure its current drain in "sleep" mode, because the camera wouldn't sleep when running from the external power terminal that I was using to measure the power. I've found in the past though, that Olympus cameras tend to power down very well when sleeping. I still recommend purchasing a second battery along with the camera, to handle long outings, but the C-8080's battery life is good enough that most users will probably find a single battery sufficient.


Shooter's Report - How it feels to shoot with
From start to finish, the C-8080 is a "prosumer" camera model that feels and behaves more "pro" than "consumer". While physically a fairly large camera, it's very comfortable to hold in the hand, and its controls are well-located and easy to use once you get used to them. While it's possible to hold one-handed, the weight of the large lens and the rubber grip encircling it encourage a two-handed grip, which also works best with the control arrangement as well.

The C-8080 is also a fast and responsive camera, with good shutter lag numbers, and cycle time performance. In particular, there's no "penalty" for hitting the shutter button too quickly after the previous shot, a personal peeve of mine with many cameras. While shooting, focusing is very fast and sure-footed, and a bright AF-assist illuminator lets the focus system work in dim surroundings as well.

The C-8080's electronic viewfinder is one of the better ones I've used, in several respects. First and foremost, it has enough resolution that even fairly fine subject details are visible. - Still not nearly as good as an optical viewfinder in this respect, but better than most EVFs I've used. It also seems that Olympus has at least somewhat tamed the high contrast and poor highlight detail that normally characterize EVF displays. With the 8080, I found I could distinguish highlight detail (for instance, clouds against the sky) more easily than I've become accustomed to with EVF-equipped cameras. Finally, while the camera can still capture usable images at light levels lower than the EVF can operate in, the difference is actually fairly slight. Bottom line, the C-8080's EVF will show you enough subject detail to at least frame your shots, at light levels low enough that you'll probably want at least a little "AF assist" for your own eyes while shooting and walking about.

Like most EVFs though, the one on the C-8080 doesn't really provide enough resolution to let you focus the lens sharply in manual focus mode, at least with the lens at the wide angle end of its range. What I discovered though, was that Olympus has programmed the lens electronics on the 8080 to make it behave like a true zoom lens, rather than the more common variable focal length design. This means that if you zoom in to focus on an object, the lens focal point is automatically adjusted when you zoom back out, to maintain focus at the point you selected. It's therefore pretty easy to zoom in, manually focus, and then zoom back out to frame. A bit of a workaround to be sure, but one that's not even available on most digicams today.

Speaking of zoom, the electronically-actuated zoom lens works well enough, and is about as responsive as any others on the market, but I personally have a strong preference for mechanically-coupled zoom mechanisms of the sort found on the Sony DSC-F818 and Minolta DiMAGE A2. The zoom does seem to move in the usual discrete steps, rather than a continuous range, but there appear to be about 18 steps from wide to telephoto, so you still have fairly fine-grained zoom control. (I'd ideally like to see about twice as many zoom steps, particularly towards the wide-angle end of the range, or alternatively, an optional "slow zoom" mode that would permit fine adjustments for critical framing. Of course, you have your feet to fall back on in most situations, simply moving a little closer or further away to make the finest framing adjustments.)

As just mentioned, the C8080 has a good assortment of controls, with most of the frequently used functions accessible via external buttons. The positioning of the controls will take a little getting used though, with many critical controls located on the left side of the camera, out of eyesight when you're viewing the camera from the rear. Early in my experience with the camera, I sometimes found myself having to pause in my shooting, turn the camera to the side to find the controls, make my settings, and then go back to my shooting again. I'd encourage potential users holding the camera in a store for the first time to not be put off by this arrangement, though. After a bit of experience with the camera, I found it fairly easy to hit the right control on the camera's side without looking, and the onscreen displays for each control made them very fast and easy to adjust. Most controls involve pressing a button and then rotating the command dial to make the selection from the array of options presented on the screen. At first, I found myself wishing that there was an external LCD data panel for some of these controls, but the more I used the camera, the more I appreciated that I didn't have to take my eyes off the viewfinder screen to make setting adjustments.

Ergonomically, there are a few changes I'd like to see in the C-8080's controls. The single most annoying thing I encountered with it was the close proximity of the power button to the mode dial. Even after I'd become somewhat familiar with the camera and its idiosyncrasies, I frequently (!) ended up turning the camera off by accident while fiddling with the mode dial. My natural inclination was to grab the mode dial from the top, with my thumb and index finger, in the process hitting the power button with my index finger. It's obvious that Olympus intended the mode dial to be actuated with your thumb alone, but I found its operation stiff enough that thumb-only actuation was a little awkward. Lighter detents for the mode dial would help, but I think the ultimate solution would be to recess the power button slightly to prevent accidental actuation.

The second change I'd make to the 8080's controls would be to either move the arrow keys a little farther apart, recess the central "OK" button slightly, or both. Particularly while manually focusing, I sometimes found myself hitting the "OK" button rather than the up or down arrow key. A minor point, but one that'd be easy to change. Another minor ergonomic vexation was the orientation of the CF card slot in the camera. It's set up so you insert the memory card with its back facing the compartment door when it's open. This puts the little lip on the back of the CF cards up against the camera body, making it impossible to hook a fingernail under it when removing the memory card. Most CF cards have a very tiny relief on their front sides, so you can still usually find something to catch your fingernail on, but the process of removing a CF card from the camera is much more laborious than it needs to be.

The above notwithstanding, I found the C-8080 Wide Zoom very comfortable to use and shoot with. Once I became accustomed to the locations of the various buttons on the left side of the camera body, control adjustments became very fluid, fast, and natural. The camera's fit, feel, and finish were excellent, and it was very responsive and easy to work with. All in all, a very nice package.


Conclusion
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When I first set eyes on it, the C-8080 Wide Zoom's large lens and chunky body made it seem a little bulky and ungainly. Once I began shooting with it though, any such impression quickly departed, and I learned to love the corner to corner sharpness and wide aperture that the large lens afforded. The camera's fit, feel, and finish are excellent, the overall feel of the camera more "pro" than "consumer." Color accuracy is excellent as well, with saturation levels that are lower than many of its competitors, but that are also easy enough to boost slightly via a menu option. The 8080's auto white balance system seems unusually sure-footed, handling difficult light sources with aplomb, delivering very accurate color balance under a wide range of conditions. Resolution is right in line with the rest of the 8-megapixel models currently on the market, but the 8080 distinguishes itself with very good sharpness across the entire frame, with relatively little of the softening in the corners that has become all too common, even with "high end" camera models. Image noise is average at low ISOs, and low at high ISOs, although noise-suppression processing sacrifices fine detail for low noise at the highest ISO settings. (In the case of the 8080 though, this is a tradeoff that I approve of as achieving a good compromise between detail and noise.) Shooting speed is also about on par with other 8-megapixel models, with roughly average shutter lag and cycle time numbers. While any camera has both strong and weak points, Olympus really seems to have gotten most things right in the C-8080 Wide Zoom. It's a powerful photographic tool with a fluid and effective user interface and excellent image quality all around. - Clearly one of the better 8-megapixel models on the market, and a shoo-in as a "Dave's Pick."

 

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