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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.

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




MSRP $999 US

 

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Eight-megapixel sensor, delivering 3,264 x 2,448-pixel images
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Super wide angle lens, with 5x optical zoom, equivalent to a 28-140mm lens on a 35mm camera
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Redesigned user interface, with more external controls for faster operation.
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Unusually flexible, powerful white balance system for precise color control.
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Accepts xD-Picture Card and CompactFlash memory card formats


Manufacturer Overview
The Olympus C-8080 Wide Zoom digital camera is the latest in a long line of Olympus Camedia models stretching back to the earliest days of the consumer digicam industry. Olympus is one of the truly dominant players in the digicam marketplace, with a current product line that ranges from bare-bones entry level models like the D-390 to their "from the ground up" all-digital SLR, the E-1.

The Camedia C-8080 Wide Zoom represents an evolution of the previous top-end C-5060 model, combined with user interface elements borrowed from some of Olympus' earlier pro models, such as the E-10 and E-20. The 5x wide-angle zoom lens reaches to 28mm, and offers a very "fast" maximum aperture range of f/2.4 to f/3.5, unusual in a longer-ratio zoom lens. Besides the 8-megapixel CCD, new long/fast zoom lens, and improved user interface, the C-8080 also incorporates a phase-detection autofocus system using an external phase-detect sensor for faster autofocus performance. While I've seen phase-detect AF systems in some other cameras produce very ho-hum autofocus speed, the system in the C-8080 does appear to help AF speed a great deal, as the camera's overall shutter lag is among the best that I've seen in a prosumer camera.

I originally wrote the "First Look" version of this review in mid-February of 2004, having seen only a prototype model at that point, which hadn't had its image quality tweaked to final specs yet. While I couldn't comment on its image quality at that time, the rest of the C8080's capabilities looked impressive indeed. Now that I've had the opportunity to test a production model of the 8080, I'm all the more impressed: Olympus' investment in the excellent lens design of this camera translates into exceptional sharpness and clarity in its images, not to mention excellent low-light capability, thanks to its generous f/2.4 maximum aperture. The entire camera exudes build quality as well, making this one of the best 8-megapixel models thus far on the market. Read the rest of this review for all the details: If you're in the market for an 8-megapixel digicam, you should give the C-8080 a long, hard look.


High Points



Executive Overview
Olympus' "C-series" digicams have a long, distinguished history, reaching back to the original C-2000. With each generation, Olympus advanced the design a bit further, steadily increasing features and capabilities. The newest addition to the line, the C-8080 Wide Zoom, is somewhat akin to Olympus' E-series cameras morphed into a more compact body, offering a 5x optical zoom lens with a minimum focal length equivalent to a 28mm lens on a 35mm camera, the same size (but higher-resolution) CCD used in the E-series cameras, and a wide range of manual controls that are aimed at matching or beating the entry-level digital SLRs that are in the same price-range. Boasting an 8.31-megapixel CCD, the C-8080 captures a maximum resolution of 3,264 x 2,448 pixels. Measuring 4.9 x 3.3 x 3.9 inches (124 x 85 x 99 millimeters) and weighing 25.2 ounces (715 grams) with battery and xD-Picture card installed, the C-8080 is a bit too large to be stashed in a coat pocket or purse, so I'd highly recommend purchasing a small camera bag for adequate protection.

Like its predecessors, the C-8080 Wide Zoom offers many advanced user controls, including a Multi-Spot metering mode that averages up to eight individual spot readings, a one-touch white balance function (with optional manual white balance correction for minor color adjustments), spot autofocus, contrast, saturation, hue and sharpness adjustments, and a QuickTime movie mode with simultaneous sound recording capabilities. The C-8080 Wide Zoom offers a markedly wider-angle zoom lens than on most cameras, and a useful 5x zoom range.

The C-8080 Zoom features both a 0.44" Electronic Viewfinder with 240,000 pixels, and a rear panel, 1.8-inch, wide-view color TFT LCD monitor, with 134,000 pixels. The LCD (which is unusually usable under bright conditions, up to and including direct sunlight) lifts out from the back panel, and tilts up about 90 degrees or down about 45 degrees for better viewing angles when the camera is held above or below eye level. When the LCD monitor is engaged, it automatically displays detailed exposure information, with the current exposure mode, f/stop setting, shutter speed, and exposure compensation listed across the top of the monitor (a nice feature not found on all digicams) and the current image size and quality, storage media and number of images remaining on the memory card in the current resolution setting at the bottom of the monitor. The C-8080 also provides a very helpful distance display with numeric indications when using the manual focus option, as well as a zoom bar (activated when digital zoom is on) that shows both the camera's 4x optical zoom in operation, as well as the 3x digital zoom's progress, when you zoom past the optical telephoto limit. An optional live histogram display shows the tonal values of the subject at your current exposure setting. This is helpful for checking the exposure before capturing an image. A new histogram display option indicates the actual areas of the frame that will be over or underexposed, by highlighting these areas with a series of red and blue outline boxes. The LCD monitor also offers three framing assist guides, a set of outlines for lining up portraits and center subjects as well as a set of lines dividing the screen into thirds vertically and horizontally.

While much of the competition is moving toward longer-ratio zoom lenses, Olympus chose to stick with a 5x ratio on the 8080. That may sound like a shortcoming, but it may instead be a very wise design choice. Rather than go for the maximum zoom ratio, Olympus opted instead to invest their R&D and manufacturing dollars in making a very sharp, low-distortion 5x zoom, with a very "fast" maximum aperture range. The 7.1-35.6mm 5x zoom ED glass lens is equivalent to a 28-140mm lens on a 35mm camera, with a f/2.4-f/3.5 (wide angle to telephoto) maximum aperture. The use of three ED (extra-low dispersion) glass elements in the lens is aimed at reducing chromatic aberrations in images caused by light being refracted differently depending on its wavelength, and based on my testing, seems to work very well in that respect. In addition to the C-8080's 5x optical zoom, images can be enlarged up to 3x with the digital zoom. (Users should be aware that digital zoom is not the same as optical zoom, since the digital zoom is merely cropping and enlarging the central portion of the CCD. As a result, digitally enlarged images are always softer and often show higher levels of noise and artifacts than images that haven't been processed in this way.) The C-8080 Zoom also sports an autofocus assist illuminator that may be enabled or not, at the user's discretion, greatly extending the camera's usefulness for low-light shooting, and a range of focus control options.

The C-8080's image file sizes include: 3,264 x 2,448; 3,264 x 2,176; 2,592 x 1,944; 2,288 x 1,712; 2,048 x 1,536; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,280 x 960; 1,024 x 768; and 640 x 480 pixels. Image quality options include two JPEG compression ratios, plus uncompressed TIFF and RAW formats. The C-8080 also offers the option to simultaneously write a RAW file, and a JPEG file in your choice of resolution and compression. While RAW images usually require processing via imaging software post-capture, the C-8080 Wide Zoom's Playback menu offers a RAW editing function, which lets you adjust color, sharpness, etc. in-camera. The edited file is then saved as a separate JPEG.

The C-8080 Wide Zoom offers a great deal of exposure control, including Program (P), Aperture Priority (A), Shutter Speed Priority (S), and Manual (M) exposure modes. Program mode controls both aperture and shutter speed, while Aperture and Shutter Priority modes give you control over aperture or shutter speed, and the camera chooses the best corresponding settings. When used in A or S modes, apertures range from f/2.8 to f/8.0 and shutter speeds from 1/4,000 to 15 seconds. The Manual exposure mode provides the same aperture range, but with a Bulb setting that permits exposure times as long as 8 minutes. The C-8080 also has four preset Scene modes, including Portrait, Sports, Landscape, and Night modes, for point-and-shoot style shooting. Additionally, in any of the main record modes (P, A, S, M, My, or Movie), the "Scene" option of the Shooting menu lets you apply Night, Portrait, or Landscape characteristics to the shot automatically. Since not all of the Shooting menu options are available in the actual Scene modes, this is a way to let the camera set itself up for a specific kind of exposure without giving up any manual control.

The C-8080 Wide Zoom provides unusually fine-grained control over its ISO equivalency with 11 options (Auto, 50, 64, 80, 100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320 and 400), automatic exposure bracketing, Digital ESP, Center Weighted and Spot metering modes, Single and Multi-Spot Metering AE Lock modes, plus exposure compensation from +2 to -2 exposure values (EV) in one-third-step increments. An advanced Noise Reduction System uses dark-frame subtraction to minimize background noise (particularly in low-light conditions and long exposures). The C-8080 Wide Zoom's white balance offerings are some of the most extensive I've seen on a prosumer digicam to date, with a total of 11 settings (Auto, Shade, Cloudy, Sunny, Evening Sun, Daylight Fluorescent, Neutral Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent, White Fluorescent, Incandescent, or One-Touch, the manual setting). With the manual white balance option, you can save as many as four custom settings, which is useful if you frequently shoot under a specific light source, or if you're in a shooting situation that requires you to move quickly back and forth between two scenes with different lighting. A white balance color adjustment function lets you dial in red or blue color shifts from +7 to -7 steps (arbitrary units) for both the preset white balance options, as well as the Manual settings. This features deserves some added accolades: I've very often found it to be the case that a camera will produce a characteristic color cast under various lighting conditions that would be easy to correct for, if only the control were available to do so. This need applies to Manual white balance settings, as well as preset ones. While Manual white balance options are designed to fully neutralize the color cast of any given light source, more often than not, they instead leave a characteristic color cast of their own behind. Alternatively, you frequently want to remove some of the color cast of the scene lighting, but not all of it, to call to mind the mood of the original setting. Olympus' white balance adjustment option lets you dial-in separate tweaks for each of the camera's white balance modes, including the Manual options. The control offers a very large number (15) of very small steps, letting you make very fine-grained adjustments over a very broad spectrum of available colors.

Image contrast, sharpness, hue and saturation adjustments are available through the Mode Setup menu, and a Function menu option allows you to capture images in black and white or sepia tone. As with the white balance adjustment mentioned above, the contrast, sharpness, hue and saturation controls offer fairly fine-grained adjustments, meaning you can use them to really customize the camera's response to your needs and preferences, rather than using them only as special effects. An adjustable Automatic Exposure Lock (AEL) function locks an exposure reading independently of the autofocus system, without having to hold down the Shutter button halfway while you reframe the image. This lets you set the exposure using the Spot Metering option, without forcing you to also focus on the particular object you based your exposure on. AEL optionally takes a single exposure reading or up to eight averaged spot readings for more accurate exposures. (Another handy and very powerful feature.) There's also a 12-second self-timer option for self-portraits, and an infrared (IR) remote controller with a three-second shutter delay. (The C-8080 ships with the new RM-2 IR remote that offers only shutter control, but the camera itself is compatible with the original RM-1 remote though, which provides control of the zoom lens and several other camera functions as well. The RM-1 is still available as an optional accessory.)

The C-8080 Wide Zoom's Movie mode records QuickTime movies with or without sound, at either 160 x 120; 320 x 240; or 640 x 480 pixels. When sound is enabled in movie mode, only digital zoom is available while actively recording, to prevent the noise from the lens motor from interfering with the movie audio. When sound is turned off, the full range of optical plus digital zoom is available during recording. Four-second sound clips can also be recorded to accompany still images, either at the time of capture, or later during image playback. A Sequence mode is available for capturing multiple images at up to three frames per second, and a Panorama mode allows you to take up to 10 sequential shots, formatted for merging with Camedia's Panorama Stitch software in the computer.

The camera's internal flash offers five operating modes (Flash Off, Auto-Flash, Forced Flash, Red-Eye Reduction, and Slow Synchro), but the range of operation wasn't yet established as of the writing of this report, although casual tests seemed to show a range of at least 15 feet at ISO 100, a figure that seems to be well supported by my own tests. A standard hot shoe allows you to connect an external flash unit when additional flash power is needed, and the shoe's contact support either generic "dumb" flash units, or Olympus' own dedicated strobes. You can also increase or decrease the internal flash power from -2 to +2 EV in one-third-step increments.

The Olympus C-8080 Wide Zoom ships with a 32MB xD-Picture Card for image storage (larger capacity cards are available separately, in sizes up to 512MB as of this writing in February, 2004), but the camera also accommodates CompactFlash type I or II cards, including MicroDrives. You can connect the camera directly to your computer via a high-speed USB interface to download images, and if you want a larger viewfinder (or image playback) display, Olympus provides a video output cable for connection to a television set (which works nicely with the optional RM-1 remote control, for adjusting framing while shooting, or for running a slide show in playback mode). Software shipped with the unit includes Olympus' Camedia Master utility package, which provides minor organization and editing tools, as well as the panorama "stitching" application mentioned above. Apple QuickTime and USB drivers for Macintosh and Windows are also supplied.


Design
Though it has a somewhat similar look and feel to past Olympus digital cameras, the Olympus C-8080 Wide Zoom has a new body that brings many more functions out onto external buttons, rather than hiding them in a complex menu structure. The C-8080's all-black body is something of a cross between the styling of a traditional SLR body and that of a rangefinder camera, measuring 4.9 x 3.3 x 3.9 inches (124 x 84.5 x 99 millimeters) and weighing a hefty 25.2 ounces (715 grams) with battery and xD-Picture card loaded.

The C-8080 Wide Zoom looks and feels quite similar a small film-based SLR camera, and is substantial enough for a good hold (thanks to a large right hand grip). It is probably rather too large to slide into a purse or coat pocket when you're done shooting, so you'll likely want to purchase a small camera bag - although the included neckstrap lets you keep the camera close to hand for those spur-of-the-moment photo opportunities. The C-8080 has a very pleasing heft to it - not too heavy, but conveying an impression of solidity and ruggedness (there's no noticeable "give" or flexing to the body panels, which with the exception of the plastic battery and flash card doors seem to be of a metal construction).

When fully retracted, the telescoping lens extends about half an inch from a 1.5-inch deep collar that serves both to protect the lens mechanism and (courtesy of a removable ring) to provide threads for a tube onto which accessory lenses can be attached. The lens extends about half to 1.5 inches further (depending on the zoom position) when the camera is powered on in either Still Shooting (Record) or Movie capture modes. The front lens element is protected by a plastic lens cap that gently press-fits onto the front of the lens, and attaches to the camera with the supplied tether strap.

From the front of the camera, the edge of the zoom lever (upper left corner) is visible, as well as the shutter button, AF illuminator, AF sensor, pop-up flash, microphone, AEL button, and in the handgrip, both the remote control receiver and self-timer / remote control lamp. The front of the exterior lens barrel has a removable ring behind which are a set of threads that accept an optional lens adapter tube for attaching auxiliary lenses to the camera. (Wide angle, telephoto, and macro auxiliary lenses are available.)

The camera's rear panel layout, whilst being rather packed with controls and features, is logically designed. Most of the control buttons are positioned within easy reach whilst holding the camera with a stable grip. A 1.8-inch LCD color monitor dominates the rear of the camera, and lifts out from rear panel slightly so that it can be tilted upwards 90 degrees, or downwards about 45 degrees. Unlike the tilt/swivel LCD monitors used on some cameras, this doesn't allow you to turn the monitor around to face the back panel (protecting it from damage) or to have the monitor face forwards for a self-portrait - but the tilt action does let you take photos from angles that would otherwise be inconvenient or impossible (such as holding the camera up over a crowd, or down low to the ground). The four-way Arrow Pad is adjacent to the right side of the display, with the OK button in the center. Below it is the CF / xD button, for selecting the memory card being used, and the Display button, whilst above it is Quick View button (these last two buttons together controlling the LCD / Electronic Viewfinder display modes). In the top center directly below the back of the flash hot shoe is a small Command dial, for making changes in conjunction with the external control buttons, whilst the edge of the Mode dial can be seen to the right of the hot shoe. The Self-Timer / Remote Control button is to the left of the optical viewfinder eyepiece, and also accesses an Erase menu in Playback mode. On the left side of the LCD monitor, on a beveled body facet, are the AF / Macro / MF / Protect, Flash Mode / Rotation, Metering / Print, and Exposure Compensation / Information Display buttons. (Pressing both the Flash Mode / Rotation and Exposure Compensation / Information Display buttons simultaneously adjusts the flash exposure.) A red LED adjacent to the memory card door lets you know when the camera is writing to one of the memory cards. A diopter adjustment for the Electronic Viewfinder surrounds the eyepiece, and two plastic doors on rubber hinges at the bottom right of the camera cover the DC In, USB and A/V Out ports. I'm not crazy about flexible hinges like these, as I'm concerned that they might fatigue and split over time, but manufacturers keep on using them, so maybe I should just relax and stop worrying. ;-)


The shots above show the LCD lifted out from the body, and angled up and down the maximum amount allowed.

The large black hand grip, which houses both the battery and memory card compartments, makes up the right side of the camera. It is sculpted to fit comfortably in your hand, with a slightly concave finger hold on the rubberized textured front and a smoothly contoured thumb grip on the back. The hinged, plastic door of the memory card compartment opens from the back. Inside the compartment, are two slots, one that accommodates Compact Flash Type I and II cards, and another that holds xD-Picture Cards. Right above the compartment door is one of two neck strap eyelets, with the second one counterbalancing it on the left side of the camera. (The neckstrap eyelets are unfortunately quite close to the rear of the camera, which will give it a tendency to hang somewhat lens-down around your neck.)

On the left side of the camera are the second neckstrap eyelet, plus the button to pop up the flash unit, and below this the White Balance and Record Mode buttons. Also visible on a beveled body facet, are the AF / Macro / MF / Protect, Flash Mode / Rotation, Metering / Print, and Exposure Compensation / Information Display buttons which were described previously.

At the far left on the top of the camera is the flash unit, which stands relatively high on two "legs" when popped up, about three inches above the center of the lens. To the right of this is the external flash hot shoe, which is compatible with either generic "dumb" flash units, or Olympus' own dedicated strobes. The remaining controls, clustered on the right hand side of the camera's top, are the Shutter button, Power button, Zoom lever, Mode dial, and Custom button. The controls are all fairly logically placed, and easy to reach (perhaps with the exception of the Custom button, which I found a bit close to the Zoom lever to comfortably reach with my index finger).

The bottom of the camera holds the battery compartment cover, speaker, and a metal screw-mount tripod socket that's too close to the battery compartment to make battery changes easy when mounted on a tripod. One way around this is to use the optional AC adapter, handy for time-consuming projects, such as working in the studio or downloading images to the computer. Fortunately, the location of the flash card door on the right hand rear of the camera means that if you're on AC power, the camera needn't be removed from the tripod to offload images when your flash card is full. The good news about the tripod socket is that it's metal, and located about as close to the camera's center of gravity as possible. Both factors make for long life. The downside of the tripod socket location is that it's not particularly close to the optical center of the lens, as needed when shooting multiple images to be assembled into a panorama. (This probably isn't too big an issue though, as the optical center of the lens is actually near the end of the body-mounted lens collar anyway. This means you'd need to use a panorama head with the camera even if the tripod socket were directly centered under the lens cylinder.)

The infrared remote control included with the camera is the new RM-2 model, which only allows you to trip the shutter. The camera itself is compatible with the older (and still available as an optional accessory) RM-1 remote, which lets you control the optical zoom and scroll through captured images remotely. I've always enjoyed this feature on past Olympus digicams, as it comes in quite handy in the studio. It's also great any time you're using a really long exposure time and want to prop the camera on something to avoid jiggling it by pressing the shutter button. A nice thing about this remote is the distance from which it will control the camera - In my experience, out to 15 feet or more, depending on the ambient lighting. In a very welcome change, the C8080 now incorporates an option to fire the camera's shutter as soon as the remote shutter button is pressed. This is in addition to the mode in which a 3-second delay is imposed for remote triggering, formerly the only option available. (Thank you, Olympus, for listening!) The shot above includes a CF memory card as well, so you can get a sense of the scale of the C-8080.


Viewfinder
The C-8080 Wide Zoom offers both an Electronic Viewfinder and a rear panel, 1.8-inch, 134,000 pixel, TFT color LCD screen. The Electronic Viewfinder seems excellent as well, looking very sharp with a high 240,000 pixel resolution, and nicely accommodates eyeglass wearers with a diopter correction adjustment and a very high eyepoint. I don't have any way of measuring the range of dioptric adjustments, but can say that the one on the 8080's eyepiece seems pretty balanced in its coverage of both "farsighted" and "nearsighted" needs - And at the nearsighted end of the range, it actually did surprisingly well at being able to cope with my own 20/180 vision, which fairly few cameras do. No exact figures were listed in the specifications we received from Olympus, but the EVF and LCD both seem to have a very high refresh rate, giving a very fluid image that will make it easier to track fast-moving objects.

Since this is an Electronic Viewfinder, it essentially mirrors whatever the LCD screen would show were it enabled - all of the menus, histogram display, zoom and focus indication, framing guides, focus targets, etc. can be seen through the viewfinder. As you'd hope, viewfinder accuracy is nearly 100%, for both the EVF and rear-panel LCD screen.

As described earlier, the C-8080 Zoom's LCD monitor pulls outwards slightly, and tilts upward 90 degrees or downwards 45 degrees. The tilt allows for photos from angles that might otherwise be difficult or impossible, such as holding the camera above a crowd of people, or down low to the ground, but it would be even nicer to have a tilt/swivel LCD as found on some other digicams. The addition of the swivel would allow the LCD to be turned to face the camera body (affording it some extra protection), as well as allowing for the LCD to point forwards for a self-portrait. Still, the tilt-only display is much better than the fixed LCDs found on most digital cameras. The LCD on the C-8080 deserves special commendation for its usability in bright lighting. Whereas most digicam LCD screens wash out and become unusable in bright daylight, the one on the 8080 is usable even in direct sunlight. Very nice, a display I wish more digicam manufacturers would adopt!

A detailed information overlay reports a number of exposure settings, including the currently selected f/stop, shutter speed, and exposure compensation adjustments across the top of the LCD screen, and the image resolution and quality settings plus the selected destination (CompactFlash or xD-Picture card) for new images. When first entering a record mode, a more detailed information display appears for a few seconds, showing the image attributes (contrast, sharpness, and saturation), flash exposure compensation, ISO, flash mode, drive mode, and focus mode settings. In Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, the chosen aperture or shutter speed appears as a constant, while the second, automatically determined exposure value changes whenever the Shutter button is half pressed (based on exposure compensation and changing light levels). The Manual mode displays both the selected f/stop and shutter speed values (adjustable with the left / right and up / down Arrow buttons, respectively), while the exposure compensation value is reported in the upper right corner, showing the amount of over- or underexposure. The exposure values flash red when the camera disagrees with the setting.

The C-8080 Wide Zoom's LCD monitor also offers a live histogram display with a couple of unusual options first seen on the C-5060 in record mode, which is helpful in determining any over- or underexposure, and for analyzing the tonal distribution in your images. Histogram displays are generally very useful for determining whether your overall exposure is over or under, but are less helpful in telling when you have small parts of the image that are outside the acceptable exposure range. - This is be because a small portion of the image represents relatively few pixels, and so won't produce a large (or even visible) spike on the histogram graph. To counter this, Olympus has added two innovative options to the C-8080's histogram function. The first of these introduces a small rectangle that you can scroll around the frame, to take histogram readings from a limited local area. This box is activated whenever you hit one of the arrow keys with the histogram active. A separate histogram of just the area covered by the rectangle appears in the display, highlighted in green. This amounts to the histogram equivalent of spot metering, and is very useful for examining exposure values in detail.


The second innovative display Olympus has built into the 8080's histogram function is a little more unusual. Called "Direct" mode, it overlays a red or blue grid on the LCD viewfinder image, showing areas that are in deep shadow (blue) or overexposed highlight (red). The resulting display (see inset above right) is unique, to say the least. It does do a pretty good job of giving you a heads-up as to where you might have exposure problems, without obscuring subject detail. I'd need to spend more time with it to know how I ultimately feel about it, but my initial reaction is that it's clever, but I really prefer the blinking highlight/shadow method of warning about exposure extremes.


Fortunately, the C-8080 offers a blinking highlight/shadow exposure warning display in playback mode. - Selecting the "Direct" option from the histogram menu item in playback mode produces the familiar animated display. Actually, while a number of prosumer digicams offer a blinking overexposure warning for lost highlight detail, I'm not offhand aware of any other than Olympus' own C-5060 that offer an underexposure warning for the shadows as the C-8080 does.

In Manual Focus mode, a distance display scale appears on the LCD monitor, a useful feature which helps to adjust focus in low-light situations. Depending on the current focus mode and distance, the scale runs from either 5cm to 20cm, 20cm to 80cm, or 80cm to infinity. Whilst focus is being adjusted, the center portion of the image is shown enlarged to assist in determining sharp focus. Another scale that is shown on the LCD monitor whilst zooming indicates visually the current zoom level, and whether the digital zoom is being used; note that this scale doesn't actually show figures for the focal length, however. The C-8080 also has a framing assist function with two modes that outline the shape of a person's head in the center of the LCD monitor, one for vertical alignment and the other for horizontal alignment, plus a third mode with a set of lines dividing the screen into thirds vertically and horizontally.


Pressing the Monitor button on the rear panel turns the LCD viewfinder on and off, as well as the information display. This button also optionally cycles through a position in which a detailed list of camera settings is shown in lieu of the viewfinder display. This display is very reminiscent of the back-panel display of Olympus' original E-10 and E-20 SLRs, and provides a wealth of information about the camera's settings and status. (This display is enabled by turning on the "Dual Control Panel" option in the camera's setup menu.)


When using the LCD monitor to review captured images, you can zoom in on displayed images up to 5x, and then scroll around the enlarged image using the Arrow buttons. This is extremely handy for checking focus, small details, or precise framing. There's also an Index display option, which shows either four, nine, or 16 thumbnail images at a time, as determined by a menu setting. A Playback histogram display shows the tonal distribution of the exposed image, with a list of basic exposure settings off to the right. The same histogram options are available in this mode, as well as the Frame Assist guides. A very handy "Quick View" function lets you check the last picture taken in Shooting mode by pressing the Quick View button on the camera's rear panel. The image will remain displayed on the LCD monitor until you revert back to Shooting mode by pressing the Quick View button again, or by half-pressing the shutter button.

 

Optics
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While much of the competition is moving toward longer-ratio zoom lenses, Olympus chose to stick with a 5x ratio on the 8080. That may sound like a shortcoming, but it may instead be a very wise design choice. Rather than go for the maximum zoom ratio, Olympus opted instead to invest their R&D and manufacturing dollars in making a very sharp, low-distortion 5x zoom, with a very "fast" maximum aperture range. Based on my testing, I think the investment and tradeoff for a shorter focal length range was well worth it, as the C-8080 appears to have the best lens of any 8-megapixel camera I've tested thus far. (As of this writing, this includes the Canon Pro1, Konica Minolta A2, Nikon 8700, and Sony DSC-F828.)

The Olympus C-8080 Wide Zoom has an all-glass, aspheric lens design with three ED (extra-low dispersion) elements aimed at reducing chromatic aberrations in images caused by light being refracted differently depending on its wavelength. Based on my testing of the C-8080, the ED glass seems to be doing its job, as the 8080's images were very sharp from corner to corner, and there was less chromatic aberration and "purple fringe" than I saw in most of its competition. The 5x, 7.1 - 35.6mm lens provides a focal range equivalent to that of a 28-140mm zoom on a 35mm film camera. This is one of the wider-angle zoom lenses available in the prosumer market, great for capturing interior shots, landscapes, and other wide-angle subjects. Maximum aperture ranges from f/2.4 to f/3.5, depending on the zoom setting. This is also better than most of the competition too, a feature that will help give higher shutter speeds for action shots, and improved low light performance as well.

Focusing distances range from 2.6 feet (0.8 meters) to infinity in Normal mode, and 8.4 inches to 2.6 feet (0.2 to 0.8 meters) in Macro mode. A Super Macro mode lets you get even closer to your subject, as close as 1.2 inches (5.0 centimeters), an impressive performance. Based on actual measurements, I found that the C-8080's minimum capture area was only 2.57 x 1.92 inches (65 x 49 millimeters) in normal macro mode, and an exceptional 1.47 x 1.11 inches (37 x 28 millimeters) in Super Macro mode. While the 8080's Super Macro shots showed some of the corner softness that I've come to expect from digicam lenses in closeup images, its standard macro images were unusually crisp and sharp from corner to corner. - Very impressive!

The autofocus system works through the lens, using a conventional contrast detection scheme, or in conjunction with an external sensor, using a combination of contrast detection and phase detection. Phase detection is a more advanced autofocus method than contrast detection, as the camera can tell not only whether the subject is in or out of focus, but in which direction the focus needs to be adjusted, and by approximately how much. This can potentially result in improved autofocus speed, as compared to a camera that uses only contrast detection. While I've seen phase-detect autofocus produce very slow AF times on other some cameras, it appears to do quite well on the C-8080, as the overall shutter lag in full-autofocus mode is very short indeed. Given that autofocus is based on image data extracted from the main sensor, the contrast-detect autofocus system will work properly with auxiliary lenses, such as the excellent wide- and telephoto adapters offered by Olympus themselves. On the other hand, the phase-detection autofocus system uses an external sensor, so the use of external lenses may block or reduce its effectiveness. (Note too, that the phase-detection AF only works for subjects more than 80cm (2.6 feet) from the lens.) The LCD and Electronic Viewfinder show a solid green dot as soon as the subject is in focus (flashing means there's a problem focusing and you may need to switch to Manual Focus or Macro mode). Although the C-8080 Wide Zoom doesn't feature an independent focus lock button, you can manually lock focus by centering the target portion of the subject in the frame, pressing the Shutter button halfway, and then switching to Manual Focus mode. (Note that there is a separate Auto Exposure Lock button though, which does separate the focus and exposure-lock functions.) An AF assist lamp helps the camera focus in dark shooting conditions, a very welcome if recent addition to the Olympus camera lineup.

The Focus button on the left panel of the camera accesses the normal AF mode, as well as both macro modes and the manual focus settings. As with the rest of the 8080's user interface, the focus mode setting uses a "virtual dial", with the options arranged diagonally across the LCD screen. Pressing the button and turning the Command dial cycles a selection cursor through the options available. The screen shot above right shows the individual settings available for the focus control.


In manual focus mode, a distance scale appears on the LCD monitor, showing distances in meters or feet. Pressing the up and down arrow buttons adjusts focus when manual focus is enabled. As you focus, the image is automatically enlarged in the LCD monitor to better see small details. The manual focus option includes two modes, a normal one, with the focus range extending from infinity down to 8.4 inches, and a super-macro manual focus mode, which extends the focusing range down to 1.2 inches, while still permitting focusing all the way out to infinity. Once the focus is set manually, you can save the focus setting by pressing the Menu / OK button.

A Full-Time AF mode, selected through the Shooting menu, keeps the autofocus constantly engaged as you move the camera from subject to subject, instead of waiting for the Shutter button to be depressed halfway. This might be useful for photography involving moving subjects, but it is an additional drain on the battery because the focusing mechanism is constantly at work. Like the continuous-AF modes on essentially every other prosumer digicam I've tested, this mode on the 8080 seems to offer no advantage in terms of reduced shutter lag when shooting stationary subjects. Also, practically speaking, the C-8080's AF speed doesn't seem sufficient to track any rapidly-moving object, leading me to question the actual utility of the Full-Time AF option in the first place.

Besides the manual focus and full-time AF modes, the C-8080 also lets you designate whether the camera determines focus from a small, local area of the image (Spot) or the entire image area (iESP), by choosing the appropriate AF Mode option in the Shooting menu. Once in Spot AF mode, you can move the AF target by holding down the Focus button and using the arrow keys to move the target around on the LCD monitor. (To reset the AF mark to center, press the Menu / OK and Focus buttons simultaneously.)

The C-8080 Wide Zoom's exterior lens collar has a set of fairly large accessory threads that couple to Olympus' lens adapter tube, the CLA-8. The optional CLA-8 adapter provides a bayonet mount that projects out from the camera body far enough for any auxiliary optics to clear the telescoping lens assembly. Unlike past Olympus lens adapters though, it bears noting that the CLA-8 offers only a proprietary Olympus bayonet mount, not conventional filter threads. This means that you'll be forced to rely upon Olympus-branded auxiliary lenses, at least until some third-party manufacturer comes out with an adapter barrel to mate with the C-8080. (Suppliers like CKC Power should be good bets for an adapter in fairly short order though, I'd think.) Two auxiliary lenses are being planned for the 8080, the 1.4x teleconverter TCON-14D ($199.99 list price), which extends the maximum telephoto focal length to the equivalent of a 196mm lens on a 35mm camera, and a 0.8x wide converter TCON-08D (also $199.99 list), which extends the maximum wide-angle coverage to the equivalent of a 22.4 mm lens on a 35mm camera.

The C-8080 Wide Zoom also provides as much as 3x digital zoom, which can be enabled via the Shooting menu. Once activated, the Zoom scale on the right side of the monitor changes to accommodate the expanded range for the digital zoom. The bottom half of the scale (colored white) indicates the optical zoom range, while the top half (colored red) specifies the digital zoom. The digital zoom is not accessible when the camera is set to save files in RAW mode.

 

 

Exposure
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The C-8080 Wide Zoom offers a lot of exposure control, including Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes, as well as four preset Scene modes. All capture modes are set by rotating the Mode dial on the top panel, which also accesses the My Mode and Movie mode. (My Mode lets you create a custom setup for the camera, including virtually every exposure and operating parameter, which can then be selected simply by rotating the Mode Dial to the "My" position.) Additional exposure options include eleven ISO settings (Auto, 50, 64, 80, 100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320 and 400); exposure compensation, auto bracketing, internal and external flash adjustment, four metering modes: Spot, Multi-Spot, Center-Weighted, and ESP multi-pattern, and more.

In Program mode, the camera selects both the aperture and shutter speed, while you control the remaining exposure options such as ISO, Exposure Compensation, White Balance, and metering mode selection. Aperture Priority lets you set the aperture from f/2.8 to f/8.0 while the camera chooses the best corresponding shutter speed. In Shutter Priority, you can select shutter speeds from 1/4,000 to 15 seconds, and the camera selects the best corresponding aperture setting. (See the note in the second paragraph below about maximum shutter speed though.)

In Manual mode, you control both aperture and shutter speed with the addition of much longer shutter times (as long as 15 seconds), plus a Bulb shutter setting for manually-timed exposures as long as 8 minutes(!). A helpful feature of the Manual mode is that, as you scroll through the various exposure combinations, the camera indicates whether or not the current setting will produce a correct exposure. It does this by showing the f/stop and shutter speed in green, and the exposure differential (the difference between your settings and what the camera meters as correct) in white, in exposure values (EV) within a range of +3 to -3 EV. If you exceed a +/- 3 EV deviation from the camera's metered exposure, the exposure variables flash red in the display. Additionally, you can activate the live histogram display, which graphically shows the under- or overexposure, or the Direct histogram display, which points out the under or overexposed areas on the LCD monitor directly. (Overall, the 8080 is one of the more helpful cameras when shooting in manual mode.)

For point-and-shoot convenience in what might otherwise be tricky shooting conditions, the C-8080 also features four Scene modes. Portrait mode keeps the subject in sharp focus but the background slightly blurred, by using a larger aperture to reduce depth of field. Landscape mode instead uses a smaller aperture, to capture sharp detail in the foreground and background. Sports mode biases the exposure system toward higher shutter speeds, so you can "freeze" fast-paced action. Finally, Night mode optimizes the camera for night shots and portraits, using slower shutter speeds to increase the contribution of ambient light to the exposure. The C-8080 Wide Zoom also allows you to apply specific Scenes to the Program, Aperture, Shutter, Manual, My, and Movie modes. Through the Shooting menu, the Scene option applies Portrait, Landscape, or Night presets to the current image, giving you the benefit of a preset shooting mode while maintaining full exposure control.

The C-8080 Wide Zoom provides unusually fine-grained control over ISO settings, although the range itself is fairly standard. The default ISO 50 setting is a bit lower than the more common minimum value of 100, although more cameras are starting to offer it. The lower default ISO is welcome, as it will result in lower image noise when shooting under bright conditions. (Higher ISO settings are often useful for working in limited light conditions, but they result in noisier images.) In addition, the available lower ISO is helpful when trying for motion-blur effects in more brightly list surroundings. (Note: When ISO is set to Auto in Program exposure mode, it automatically resets to 50 when you switch to Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, or Manual exposure modes. A specific ISO setting can be combined with any of the exposure modes via the "MyCamera" option.) To combat the higher image noise that results from longer shutter times when shooting in dark conditions, the C-8080 Wide Zoom also offers a Noise Reduction mode, which uses dark-frame subtraction to minimize image noise on long exposures. As you'd expect, the C-8080 Wide Zoom's image noise levels are a bit higher than those of previous 5-megapixel cameras, but not by nearly as much as I'd expected. And under low light conditions, the C-8080'z Noise Reduction system seems to work very well indeed.

Four metering patterns are available on the C-8080 Wide Zoom: Spot, Multi, Center-Weighted, and ESP multi-patterned metering. All four are accessed by pressing the Metering button on the left rear beveled panel and turning the Command dial. Under the default ESP multi-patterned setting, the camera takes readings from a number of areas in the viewfinder, evaluating both brightness and contrast to arrive at the optimum exposure. Spot metering reads the exposure from the very center of the image, so you can pinpoint the specific area of the photograph you want properly exposed and lock in on that exposure by depressing the Shutter button halfway and holding it down until you recompose the scene. Center-weighted reads the exposure from the entire frame, but giving a particular weight to the reading from the center spot. The unusual Multi Meter function lets you take up to eight individual spot-meter readings from the center of the EVF or LCD monitor (inside the exposure brackets) by repeatedly pressing the AE Lock (AEL) button. Each reading is marked on a relative exposure scale across the bottom of the LCD panel, and then averaged to produce the overall reading. You lock the Multi-Spot reading by holding the AE Lock button down for one second (the word "Memo" appears in the LCD display), and can cancel it by pressing and holding the AEL button one last time. This is a very useful exposure option for advanced photographers. The screen shot above right is "borrowed" from my review of the earlier C-5050 model, the feature works the same on the 8080.)

Enabled through the Shooting menu (Setup sub-menu), a Record View function displays the most recently captured image on the LCD screen while the image is being recorded to the memory card. It's a great way to check your images without wasting time switching back and forth between Playback and Shooting modes. The camera's Quick View function also allows you to check previously captured images in Shooting mode, by pressing the Quick View button. You can review the most recent image (and opt to delete it if you wish), or scroll back through other stored files until you return to the Shooting mode (by pressing the Quick View button a second time).

In situations where exposure compensation is necessary, pressing the +/- button on the left side of the camera and turning the Command dial increases or decreases the exposure values (EV) in either one-third or one-half-step increments (selected via a setup menu option), up to +/- 2 EV. If exposure compensation is currently activated, the amount of adjustment appears in the LCD information display, except in Manual mode, where there's no automatic exposure to be adjusted.

The C-8080's Auto Bracketing (BKT) function is selected through the Shooting Mode Menu (Drive submenu), setting the camera to automatically bracket each exposure by as much as +/- 2 EV in either three- or five-steps with increments of 0.3, 0.7, or 1.0 EV units each. The bracketing function centers its efforts around whatever exposure you've chosen as the starting point, including any exposure compensation adjustments you've made, and captures up to five sequential shots with differing exposure while you hold the shutter button down. This is a nice implementation of a useful exposure feature. The five-step option is particularly welcome, as the three-step exposure bracketing offered by many cameras often forces you to choose between a too-narrow bracketing range or too-large exposure steps.

The C-8080 Wide Zoom's white balance menu offers a broader range of options than I've seen on other high-end consumer digicams. No fewer than 11 options are available, including Auto, Shade, Cloudy, Sunny, Evening Sun, Daylight Fluorescent, Neutral Fluorescent, Cool White Fluorescent, White Fluorescent, Incandescent, and One-Touch / Custom. One-Touch is the manual setting, where white balance is calculated by placing a white card in front of the lens and pressing the Menu / OK button. The Custom mode lets you pick from four previously-saved white balances, set manually in similar fashion to the One-Touch option. (I really like this ability to save up to four separate custom settings. This lets you switch back and forth rapidly, without having to re-shoot a fresh white card test each time.) You can also fine-tune the white balance setting with the "WB+/-" setting under the Picture submenu. An adjustment bar appears on the LCD screen, with options to shift the color toward either the red or blue ends of the spectrum. I've always appreciated the ability to fine-tune white balance like this. Most digicams tend to have slight biases in their white balance systems under various lighting conditions. Once you get used to how a particular camera shoots, it's very helpful to have this sort of tweaking adjustment available to modify the color balance. The 8080's large number of adjustment steps provide very fine-grained control over a surprisingly broad range of color adjustment.

The C-8080 Wide Zoom has a 12-second Self-Timer for self-portraits or on those occasions when you don't want to risk camera shake by pressing the Shutter button to make the exposure. You can also use the included IR remote control to trigger the shutter without the Self-Timer, which gives you either (more or less) immediate actuation, or a three-second delay after pressing the remote's Shutter button, before the shutter is fired. As noted earlier, the provision of optional immediate shutter actuation via the remote is a huge improvement over the mandatory three-second delay of previous Olympus digicams. (Maybe Olympus engineers do read these reviews! ;-) The remote control is rated to work as far as 16.4 feet directly in front of the camera, or as far as 9.8 feet when at a 15-degree angle from the sensor window. My own usage indicated that these ratings are conservative, although high ambient light levels can reduce the remote's range. As useful as the 8080's remote is, this is one of the few areas where I had a complaint about the 8080's performance: The mandatory three-second shutter delay when using the remote can be frustrating when you're trying to capture a specific moment. I'd really

The Function menu option enables you to capture images in Black & White or Sepia modes. The C-8080 Wide Zoom also features sharpness, hue, saturation, and contrast adjustments.

What's up with RAW?

Like many high-end digicams, the has a "RAW" file format as an option. If you're new to the world of high-end digital cameras, you may not be familiar with the concept of the "RAW" file format. Basically, a RAW file just captures the "raw" image data, exactly as it comes from the camera's CCD or CMOS image sensor. So why would you care about that? - RAW files let you manipulate your images post-exposure without nearly as much loss of image quality as you'd get with JPEG files. A full discussion of RAW file formats is way beyond the scope of this article, but Charlotte Lowrie of MSN Photo has written an excellent article describing the benefits of the RAW format, titled A Second Chance to Get It Right. Check it out, it's one of the clearest tutorials on RAW formats I've seen yet.

 

Flash
The C-8080 Wide Zoom has a fairly standard built-in pop-up flash unit, with five basic operating modes: Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced Flash, Flash Off, and Slow Synchro modes. As of this writing, the 8080's flash range hadn't officially been specified, but the prototype unit I had to look at seemed to show good brightness out to 15 feet or so, at ISO 100. The Slow Synchro mode combines a slow shutter speed with the flash to let more ambient light into the background, producing more natural lighting behind a flash-illuminated subject. When photographing moving subjects, Slow Synchro will record some motion blur because of the longer exposure time, with the initial or final image frozen by the flash exposure. Through the Shooting menu, three Slow Synchro modes are available. Slow 1 fires the flash at the beginning of the exposure (producing a blur in front of the subject), and Slow 2 fires the flash at the end of the exposure (producing a blur behind the subject). You can also opt to fire the Red-Eye Reduction pre-flash in conjunction with a Slow Synchro exposure.

An Olympus-configured hot shoe on top of the camera allows you to connect an external flash for more powerful flash needs. Olympus offers the FL-series external flash units as accessories, which couple with the camera to allow flash exposure compensation when using it. (The FL-50 is a fairly advanced unit with a power-zoom head that tracks the zoom setting of the camera lens, while the FL-20 is a very compact, less expensive unit of more modest capabilities.) The internal and external flash units can be used together or separately. Third-party flash units can also be used, although some units may not be able to synchronize with the camera, and Olympus warns that some flash units can damage the camera's circuitry. (Be sure to check the trigger voltage on your flash unit's hot shoe contacts, to insure that it doesn't present more than a few volts to the camera's flash contacts. If you measure more than 10 volts or so on the flash units contacts, don't risk connecting it to the 8080. Use a device like a Wein Safe-Sync(tm) to protect the 8080 against high trigger voltages in external flash units.) Assuming that they use a low trigger voltage, most third-party flash units should work fine with the 8080. The main limitation will be that the camera will have no control over the flash power, reducing you to manual flash exposure control via the camera's lens aperture setting and any power adjustment that might be available on the flash unit itself.

Another nice feature of the C-8080 Wide Zoom's internal flash system is its Flash Brightness adjustment, which allows you to change the flash brightness from +2 to -2 EV in one-third-step increments. When using the built-in flash with an external unit, you can use this feature to adjust the balance of light between the two, by dialing-down the intensity of the internal flash while controlling the power of the external unit manually.

The C-8080 Wide Zoom's flash also has good support for external "slave" flash units, letting it work with conventional slave trigger units. Like most digicams, the C-8080 normally uses a small metering pre-flash prior to the main exposure to set the flash power level. This pre-flash will falsely trigger conventional slave units, causing them to fire before the 8080 actually opens its shutter. Several third-party "smart" slave triggers are available that ignore the pre-flash, firing the slave strobe on the second pop of the camera's flash. The 8080 avoids the need for such special "smart" triggers though, by offering a special "slave" flash mode that causes its internal flash to fire only once per exposure. Olympus showed some welcome forethought in designing this flash mode, in that they give you a choice of ten different power levels for the internal flash when firing in single-pop mode. This lets you balance the amount of light coming from the 8080's internal flash with that coming from the slave unit(s). Very nice! (By the way, if you want no light to come from the camera's internal flash, you can tape a piece of exposed slide film over the camera's flash strobe, which will filter out most of the visible light, but let enough infrared pass to trigger a sensitive slave unit. - Be careful not to cycle the 8080's internal flash too quickly when doing this though, as it could overheat and possibly melt the slide film, making a mess.) The 8080's slave-flash option is only available when the camera is set to manual exposure mode. As an added bonus though, if you set the flash intensity in "slave" mode to a low value, you can actually use the on-camera flash during continuous shooting, although the maximum frame rate is limited to about 1 frame/second.


Special Exposure Modes

Movie Mode
The C-8080 Wide Zoom's Movie mode is accessed via the Mode dial on top of the camera (marked with a small movie camera symbol). Movies can be recorded at either 640 x 480; 320 x 240; or 160 x 120 pixels. The frame rate in all movie modes is 15 frames/second. Sound recording can be turned On or Off in the Movie menu. Thanks to the C-8080 Wide Zoom's huge buffer memory and fast internal processing, the maximum recording time appears to be limited only by memory card capacity, regardless of the movie resolution being recorded. (Although I suspect you'll need a fairly fast card to keep up with the camera's data rate.) The available seconds of recording time appear in the Electronic Viewfinder or LCD monitor, based on the quality mode selected and space remaining on the card.

Sound recording with movies presents something of a dilemma for camera manufacturers. The problem with sound recording is that any camera-generated noises will be faithfully recorded along with the ambient sound, generally dominating since they're so close to the microphone. To avoid this problem, most cameras that offer sound recording in movie mode generally don't permit zooming of the lens while recording is in progress, since the sound of the lens motor would be so obtrusive.

With the C-8080's movie mode, Olympus has taken a very intelligent approach, enabling or disabling lens zoom (as well as continuous autofocus) based on whether or not sound recording is enabled. In all circumstances though, digital zoom is available (if it is enabled), and the lens zoom can always be adjusted to any position prior to the start of recording. Olympus' movie mode implementation makes a lot of sense, offering as many camera functions as possible, governed by whether or not sound is being recorded. Beyond the sound/zoom tradeoff, a wide range of recording options apply to Movie mode as well, including spot metering, exposure compensation, focus lock, self-timer, ISO, and white balance, all of which are also unusual features to find available in a digicam Movie option.

First seen in the Camedia C-3030 (February 2000), the C-8080 Wide Zoom again offers in-camera "editing" of movies in Playback mode. This capability is accessed via the Playback menu, Movie Play submenu, and Edit option. Here, you can scroll forward and backward frame-by-frame through the movie, and set cut points at the beginning and end of the segment you're interested in. Movie content between the two cut points will be preserved, the rest discarded. In a nice touch though, Olympus allows you to choose whether to modify the original movie file, or just save the selected portion in a separate file - a feature that makes the Movie mode much more useful.

Audio Record Mode
The C-8080 Wide Zoom's Audio Record mode records up to four seconds of sound to accompany an image. Activated through the Shooting Menu (Camera sub-menu), the audio recording takes place immediately after you make an exposure. A status bar appears on the LCD monitor with the word "Busy" displayed. Green dots light up along the status bar to indicate how much time you have left until the recording is finished. You can also add audio clips after the image is recorded by selecting the Audio option in the Playback menu (Play sub-menu).

Panorama Mode
The C-8080 Wide Zoom offers a Panorama exposure mode when using an Olympus brand panorama-enabled xD-Picture Card. (The function is unavailable when using a CompactFlash memory card - even if an Olympus-brand xD-Picture Card is also in the camera - or when using any other brand xD-Picture Card.) In this mode, the exposure and white balance for a series of shots are determined by the first exposure. The Panorama function is accessed in the Shooting menu through the Camera submenu. When activated, it provides light blue guide lines at the edges of the pictures to help you align successive shots, leaving enough overlap between them for the stitching software to do its job. Up to 10 shots can be taken in a panoramic series. Images are saved individually and then assembled on a computer after they've been downloaded.

Sequence Modes
Taking advantage of its large memory buffer, the C-8080 Wide Zoom offers several Sequence modes that mimic the motor drive on a film camera, continually recording images for as long as the Shutter button is held down, or until the memory runs out (this varies with the image quality and subject, as well as available card space).

The 8080 has a total of three sequence modes, varying in the time between shots, and the maximum number of shots that can be recorded without pausing. High-speed sequence mode captures five frames (regardless of resolution/quality setting) at a rate of approximately 1.6 frames per second. "Normal" sequence mode slows to about 1.0 frames/second, but permits much longer sequences to be captured. Depending somewhat on the speed of the memory card you're using, normal sequence mode can capture a large number of full-resolution "HQ" images. In AF sequence mode, the camera pauses to focus between shots, further slowing the frame rate, but insuring that moving subjects will remain in focus as they approach or recede from the camera. The slowest shutter speed available in all sequence modes is 1/30 second. With the exception of the High-speed sequence mode which allows the use of RAW files (with a buffer depth of 5 frames, at least in the prototype model this First Look is based on), the TIFF and RAW file formats aren't available in sequence modes. A notable limitation of the Sequence mode is that the camera's internal flash cannot be used, at least not in an automatic-metering mode. However, if you have an external flash capable of recycling at three frames per second, and you shoot in Aperture Priority mode, the external flash may work just fine. Likewise, using the 8080's "slave flash" option (available only in manual exposure mode), you can set the flash to fire at a lower, non-metered power level when shooting in sequence mode. The maximum frame rate is limited to about one frame/second, but most consumer digicams don't allow any combination of flash and continuous shooting at all.

My Mode
Accessed by turning the Mode dial to the "My" position, this mode lets you save customized settings and then access them simply by turning the Mode dial. For example, if you consistently shoot in the same environment, you could save the exposure settings for those specific shooting conditions, so that they can be instantly recalled. (I can imagine this option being very handy for situations where you might have to switch quickly between two different settings. Think of a wedding reception, for instance: Standard "program" mode for outside shots on the lawn, etc, but a custom setup in My Mode to shoot the indoor scenes under incandescent lighting.) My Mode even lets you edit the Shortcut menu items, which appear when the Menu button is pressed, to reflect often-changed settings. The My Mode is very flexible, letting you preset the nearly all of the camera's parameters.

 

Shutter Lag/Cycle Times
When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time is to allow the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work, and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is only rarely reported on, and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, I routinely measure it using a test setup I designed and built for the purpose. (Crystal-controlled timing, with a resolution of 0.001 second.)

 

Olympus C8080 Wide Zoom Timings

Operation
Time (secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
1.5
Pretty fast.
Shutdown
1.1
Time to retract lens, assuming no card writes pending. Quite fast. Buffer clear times are generally on the order of 20 seconds or less, before the card can be removed, but can stretch as long as 60 seconds plus, for RAW images.
Play to Record, first shot
1.0
Quite fast.
Record to play (max/min res)
4.3/1.6
3.0/1.0
Top pair of numbers are for large/fine files, bottom pair are for small/basic. First number of each pair is for immediate switch to playback mode after capture, second is for switch after camera is done processing. A little slow for a camera of this caliber.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
0.55/0.58
First time is with lens set at wide angle, second time is with lens set to telephoto. Both times are quite fast, thanks no doubt to the hybrid autofocus system.
Shutter lag, continuous autofocus 0.56 As is generally the case with cameras I've tested, continuous autofocus doesn't improve the shutter lag at all for stationary subjects.
Shutter lag, manual focus
0.37
On the slow side of average for this class of camera.
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.167
About average for a high-end prosumer digicam these days.
Cycle Time, CF card, max/min res
2.32/4.19

Cycle time of 2.32 seconds, slowing to average of 4.19 after 9 shots. Buffer clears in 17 secs. (Tested with Lexar 24x CF card.)

Cycle Time, xD card, max res 2.35/5.34 Cycle time of 2.35 slowing to 5.34 after 9 shots. Buffer clears in 28 secs. (Tested with Olympus 128 MB xD card, xD cards should all be the same speed.)
Cycle Time, RAW file format, CF card 13.9 No buffering of RAW images, all shots require the same time.
Cycle Time, High Speed continuous mode, RAW/max/min res.
24x CF card,
Olympus 128MB xD card

 0.60
(1.67 fps) regardless of resolution

 

Cycle times are independent of type of card used, only buffer clearing time varies. Shoots 5 shots, then stops, you have to release and re-press the shutter button (after the buffer has at least partially cleared) before it will capture more images. Buffer clears in 62 seconds for RAW files, 17 seconds for SHQ, 8 seconds for lowest-size/quality SQ. xD card clears in 64/16/8 seconds respectively. Reasonably fast, but very slow buffer clearing for RAW format. All times with 24x Lexar CF card, Olympus 128MB xD card. (Even this cycle time is definitely not up to the requirements of sports, although shutter lag numbers aren't bad for a non-SLR.)

Cycle Time, "normal" Continuous mode, max JPEG resolution,
CF / XD
0.88 / 0.96 sec
Shoots 12 shots with a 24x CF card, 10 shots with an xD card, then stops. Buffer clears in 18 seconds with the CF card, 23 seconds with the xD. Fairly fast, with a reasonably long buffer.

The C-8080 Wide Zoom is for the most part a pretty nimble camera, particularly considering the huge 8 megapixel files it has to deal with. Like several of the other recent high-end cameras, it uses a hybrid autofocus system, combining phase detection and contrast detection to significantly reduce shutter lag. The result is full-autofocus shutter lag times on the order of 0.5-0.6 seconds. This is still quite a bit slower than the equivalent figures for digital SLRs, but much better than the majority of prosumer digicam models. (About the same shutter lag range as the Nikon Coolpix 8700, somewhat slower on average than the Sony DSC-F828, but faster than the F828 at full telephoto.) At 2.32 seconds, its cycle time for maximum resolution JPEGs is also about average for its class, slower than the equivalent times for a number of 5-megapixel cameras, but helped by the relatively generous 9-shot buffer. The one area where the C-8080 Wide Zoom is notably slow is in capturing RAW files, where the cycle time stretches to something on the order of 14 seconds with a moderately fast (24x) memory card. Here again though, its slow performance handling RAW files seems fairly typical of other 8-megapixel models I've tested, at least as of this writing: Only the Canon Pro1 seems to buffer its RAW-format images. Overall, the C-8080 pretty well keeps pace with its competition at the high end of the "prosumer" digicam market.

 

Operation and User Interface
The C-8080 Wide Zoom has a similar interface design to previous C-series cameras, but more functions seem to have been moved out of the menu system and are quickly accessible via external buttons. The C-8080's Mode dial quickly sets the exposure mode, and the Command dial lets you change a variety of settings without delving into the LCD menu. The LCD menu system itself is much the same as seen in recent C-series cameras, and the C-8080's external control buttons access the same virtual dial that proved so useful previously. Several of the C-8080 Wide Zoom's external controls can be combined in pairs to adjust a third camera setting. For example, holding down the Flash and +/- buttons adjusts the flash exposure compensation. This is excellent in terms of limiting LCD menu usage, but does make the camera's interface slightly more complicated. And even with the liberal use of external controls, the C-8080's menu system is deeper and more complex than most digicams on the market. I'd say it will probably take at least several of hours for the average user to get fully acquainted with the 8080's control layout.

Control Enumeration


Mode Dial
: On top of the camera, the Mode dial selects the camera's operating mode. Choices are Set-Up, Playback, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Priority, Manual, My Mode, Movie, Night, Landscape, Sports, and Portrait modes.


Power Button
: Next to the Mode dial is the Power button, which simply turns the camera on and off. I occasionally found that I had a problem with the camera being turned off inadvertently by bumping this button when turning the Mode dial.


Shutter Button
: Located in front of the Zoom lever, the Shutter button sets focus and exposure settings when depressed halfway and triggers the shutter when fully depressed.


Zoom Lever
: On top of the camera, in front and to the right of the Mode dial, the Zoom lever controls the optical zoom in all exposure modes, and the digital zoom when enabled through the Shooting menu. In Playback mode, the lever switches between Index view, normal image display, and zoomed playback.


Custom Button
: Directly to the right of the Mode dial, this button can be programmed to access a variety of camera settings while in Shooting mode.


Flash Pop-Up Button
: At the top of the camera on the left-hand side, this button pops up the built-in flash strobe via a mechanical linkage.


Focus / Protect Button
: Located on a beveled panel at the left-hand side of the camera's rear panel, this button controls the focus mode. Pressing the button displays a "virtual dial" containing focus options on the LCD. Turning the Command dial cycles between Macro, Manual Focus, Super Macro, Super Macro Manual Focus, and Auto Focus modes. In Playback mode, this button marks the current image for write-protection.


+/- / Info Button
: Below and to the left of the Focus button, this button adjusts the exposure compensation when pressed while turning the Command dial. Exposure can be increased or decreased from -2 to +2 EV in half (or via a menu setting) one-third-step increments. In Manual exposure mode, this button accesses the lens aperture setting rather than exposure compensation. Pressing this button and the Flash button to the right of it accesses the flash exposure compensation adjustment (likewise set by turning the Command dial). In Playback mode, this button cycles through several screens of information on the currently displayed image.


Flash / Rotate Button
: Directly to the right of the +/- button, this button controls the flash operating mode. Turning the Command dial cycles between Auto, Forced, Suppressed, Red-Eye Reduction, and Slow Synchro modes. When held down in conjunction with the +/- button, this button accesses the flash exposure compensation setting. Pressing this button in Playback mode rotates the captured image 90 degrees clockwise.


Metering / DPOF Button
: Located below the Flash button, this button sets the camera's metering mode to Spot, Center-weighted, Multi, or ESP when pressed while turning the Command dial. In Playback mode, this button calls up the DPOF settings menu, where you can select images for printing, the number of copies of each, etc.


Self-Timer / Remote / Erase Button
: Located to the left of the Electronic viewfinder, this button accesses the Self-Timer and Remote Control modes when pressed while turning the Command dial. In Playback mode, this button calls up the Single Erase menu, for deleting the currently-displayed image.


Diopter Adjustment Ring
: Surrounding the Electronic Viewfinder eyepiece, this ring adjusts the Electronic Viewfinder to accommodate eyeglass wearers.


Command Dial
: To the right of the Electronic Viewfinder, this dial adjusts a variety of camera settings when turned while pressing one of the control buttons. In Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, this dial adjusts the available exposure variable (lens aperture or shutter speed, respectively). In Manual exposure mode, it adjusts the shutter speed when no button is pressed, or aperture in conjunction with the +/- button. In Playback mode, this dial scrolls back and forth between captured images.


Quick View Button
: Below the Command dial and to the right of the LCD display, this button activates the Quick View function, which calls up the previously captured image on the screen.


Four-Way Arrow Pad
: The largest control on the back panel, the Arrow Pad features four arrow keys surrounding the central, OK / Menu button. In any settings menu, the arrow buttons navigate through available options and make selections. In Playback mode, the left and right Arrows move singly forward or backward through the pictures stored on the card, and the up and down Arrows jump ten at a time forward or backward through the pictures; all four Arrows scroll around portions of the expanded image in Zoom Playback mode.

OK / Menu Button: Located in the center of the four-way Arrow pad, this button activates the menu system on the rear panel LCD monitor or Electronic Viewfinder and confirms selected menu settings in the various LCD menu screens. When you press the Display button, it will call up the menu options and display them over the viewfinder image.


Monitor Button
: Just below the four-way Arrow pad, this button switches between the LCD monitor and the Electronic Viewfinder. If the Dual Control Panel option has been enabled through the Setup menu, this button also accesses a more detailed information display on the LCD monitor, without the image display.


CF / xD Button
: To the right of the Monitor button, this button switches between the two memory card slots (CompactFlash and xD-Picture Card), if you happen to have cards of both types loaded into the camera.


AE Lock Button
: On the front of the camera to the right of the lens, this button locks the exposure in any Shooting mode (a second press cancels the exposure lock).



Camera Modes

Portrait Mode: The first still recording mode on the Mode dial, this mode sets up the camera for capturing portraits. By using a larger aperture setting, the camera captures the subject in sharp focus in front of a slightly blurred background.

Sports Mode: Next in line on the Mode dial, this mode biases the exposure system toward fast shutter speeds to "freeze" action, good for sporting events or any fast-moving subject.

Landscape Mode: This mode uses a smaller aperture setting to increase the depth of field, keeping both the foreground and background in focus. It also adjusts colors to enhance blues and greens, as would be likely to be found in a landscape photograph.

Night Mode: This mode is best for capturing night portraits or night scenery, such as cityscapes. A slower shutter speed lets more ambient light into the image, but the exposure compensation and image contrast are dialed down somewhat, preserving color in neon signs or sunsets.

Movie Mode: Accessed by turning the Mode dial to the movie camera symbol, Movie mode allows you to capture movies with or without sound for as long as the memory card allows. Shutter speed is automatically set depending on light levels, although Olympus doesn't specify the range of shutter speeds the camera uses in movie mode.

My Mode: Sets up the camera according to a set of user-defined camera settings, specific to shooting conditions. A huge range of exposure variables such as aperture, shutter speed, white balance, etc. can all be saved. You can even save the lens zoom position. My Mode settings are made through the Setup menu.

Manual Mode: Allows the user to select both the desired aperture (f/2.8 to f/8.0) and shutter speed (1/4,000 to 15 seconds, with a Bulb mode) settings independently. The camera meters the scene, and indicates how over or underexposed it thinks the shot will be by displaying the number of EV units over or under in green numerals. If the settings are beyond the camera's metering capabilities or would result in more than a +/- 3EV exposure error, the display is fixed at plus or minus 3 EV, and the numerals turn red.

Shutter Priority: Allows the user to select the desired shutter speed from 1/4,000 to 15 seconds, while the camera adjusts the aperture to achieve the correct exposure. If the required aperture is beyond the camera's capabilities, the shutter speed / aperture status numbers in the LCD will flash red.

Aperture Priority: Allows the user to select the desired lens aperture (in varying increments, from f/2.8 to f/8.0), while the camera adjusts the shutter speed to achieve the correct exposure. If the required shutter speed is beyond the camera's capabilities, the shutter speed / aperture status numbers in the LCD will flash red.

Programmed Exposure: The camera selects both shutter speed and lens aperture, based on existing light conditions and certain camera functions. For example, it uses a faster shutter speed when the lens is in the telephoto position and a slower shutter speed when the lens is in the wide-angle position.

Playback Mode: This mode allows the user to view previously captured images using the Arrow Pad to scroll through frames stored in memory. The Zoom lever switches the image display to Index mode when moved in the wide-angle direction, and enlarges a single image when moved in the telephoto direction, zooming in to a maximum of 4x magnification. While zoomed in on an image, the Arrow buttons can be used to move the enlarged view around the full image area, allowing you to inspect all parts of it.

Set Up Mode: This mode allows the user to access certain camera settings not directly related to image capture or playback, such as language, date & time, warning tone volume, sleep time, file naming, power saving, pixel mapping, EVF / LCD brightness, measurement units, video signal type, AF illuminator, and USB connection destination.

 

Camera Menus
(Note that in the following, the menus shown will normally appear over the top of the live LCD viewfinder display, if the LCD viewfinder function is enabled. In the interests of clarity though, I've shown the menus here over a blank gray viewfinder image.)

Shooting Mode Menus
When the camera is in any of the shooting modes, pressing the Menu / OK button brings up the Shooting Top Menu. Three of the top-level menu items are Short Cuts to menu options controlling ISO, Drive Mode, and Digital Zoom. (In Movie mode, the Sound option takes the place of Drive Mode.) The fourth option takes you to the main Mode Menu itself. Since the destinations of the short cut options are simply sub-levels inside the main mode menu, I'll only show the main Mode Menu screen here, and discuss the individual options below.

Due to the number of features that are subject to user control, the C8080's menu structure is deeper and more complex than on most cameras on the market. None of it is difficult to understand, it's just that there's a lot of functionality to be controlled. In the interests of simplicity and conciseness, in the following I'll first give an overview of the contents for each menu tab, and then delve into any deeper sub-menus contained within it before moving on to the next tab.

Camera menu tab:

Screen 1:



Flash Options sub-menu:
(Per the note above, this sub-menu is reached from Screen 1 of the Camera tab on the Capture-mode menu)

Autofocus Options sub-menu:
(Per the note above, this sub-menu is reached from Screen 1 of the Camera tab on the Capture-mode menu)

Picture menu tab:

Screen 1:

Card:

Capture-Mode Set Up:

Screen 1:

Screen 2:

 

Playback Mode
Playback Mode is available by turning to the green Playback symbol on the camera's Mode dial, or by depressing the Quick View button in any Shooting mode. The top level of the Playback Menu has three options, which differ slightly between Shooting (Record) playback and Movie playback:

Still Playback:

Mode Menu:
The main playback mode menu has three sets of controls, organized and accessed via tabs on the left side of the display. (Note that a variety of functions and options, such as histogram and info display, DPOF print setup, image protection, and image rotation are now handled via external camera controls, rather than through the menu system.)

Play

Card:

Setup:



Movie Playback:

Movie Playback Mode Menu:
The Movie Playback mode menu has only two tabs in it, Card and Setup:

Card:

Setup:

Movie Play sub-menu: This replaces the Play option in the Playback mode's top menu (sorry, no screen shots):

Main Setup Menu:
On the 8080, many setup options that appeared in the mode setup screens of the 5060 have been moved to a separate "Main" setup menu, accessed only via the mode dial. Within this main setup menu, three sub-menus are available, accessed via a tabbed interface. The first menu offers only card formatting, and is called, logically enough, "Card". The second tab is labeled with the universal "setup" icon of a person and a wrench. I didn't see any verbal label applied to the wrench-icon menu in the manual, so I'm just going to call it the "Mode Setup" menu in the text below, since it basically just duplicates entries from the Record and Playback mode setup menus. (It looks like the Record-mode setup menu, with the addition of playback volume and thumbnail index display options from the Playback-mode menus.) The third menu tab is called simply "Set," and seemed to contain items associated with camera management that aren't directly associated with a particular operating mode.

Card Menu:
No surprises here, this just lets you format the card. (No screen shot needed, I don't think.)

Mode Setup Menu:
As noted above, this is just a duplication of the setup menu options from the Record and Playback modes. I thus won't bother repeating its description of it again here.

"Set" Menu
The "Set" menu contains the various options that were removed from the Record and Playback mode setup menus from the 5060. I suspect that the multiple setup menus of the 8080 are a little confusing to some users, but overall, I think moving these setup items to a dedicated spot on the command dial was a positive change, as it simplifies and shortens the setup menus in the camera's operating modes. Here's a description of the screens here.

Screen 1:

Image Storage and Interface
The C-8080 Wide Zoom saves images on either CompactFlash Type I or II cards, or xD-Picture Cards. The memory card compartment offers slots accommodating both card types. The camera ships with a 32MB xD Picture Card, not remotely adequate for a camera with the resolution of the C-8080 Zoom, but upgrades are currently (February, 2004) available as large as 512MB size, and CF cards are currently available as large as 8 GB. The CF / xD button on the camera's rear panel selects which memory card to use, and an option on the camera's playback menu lets you copy images between cards. The C-8080 Wide Zoom does offer individual image protection via the Focus / Protect button, but as usual this doesn't protect against erasure due to card reformatting. It must also be noted that the camera's Panorama function is only available when an Olympus-brand xD-Picture Card is in use, a policy that I've long questioned the wisdom of.

A happy note though, is that the C-8080 Zoom does support the FAT32 directory format, so you can use memory cards larger than 2 GB in it. (I tested it with a Lexar 4GB memory card, and it read, wrote, and formatted the card properly.)

The C-8080 Wide Zoom can store images in RAW, uncompressed TIFF, and compressed JPEG file formats. The TIFF setting can be assigned to any one of nine resolutions through the camera's Mode Setup menu. JPEG compression levels include Super High Quality (SHQ), High Quality (HQ), and Standard Quality (SQ1 & SQ2). The myriad size options can be assigned to the camera's TIFF, SHQ, HQ, SQ1, and SQ2 quality levels via the Shooting menu, as shown in the table below. (Green table cells indicate image size options that can be assigned to each named quality setting.) Whatever image size/quality options are assigned to the five named quality settings can be quickly selected either by the "shortcut button" (see the earlier description of the user interface) or via the record setup menu. RAW format is only available for full-resolution images, but the camera can be set to also capture an SHQ, HQ, SQ1 or SQ2 JPEG image simultaneously with each RAW file.

Image
Size
Options
3,264 x 2,448
3,264 x 2,176 (3:2)
2,592 x 1,944
2,288 x 1,712
2,048 x 1,536
1,600 x 1,200
1,280 x 960
1,024 x 768
640 x 480
TIFF
SHQ
             
HQ
             
SQ1
   
       
SQ2
         


The table below shows all the available size/quality options (there ought to be enough here to satisfy anyone), the number of each that can be stored on the included 32MB memory card, and the amount of image compression employed for each.

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
32MB Memory Card
RAW
Hi
(TIFF)
Fine
Normal
3,264 x 2,448
pixels
Images
(Avg size)
2
12.1 MB
1
24.0 MB
8
4 MB
16
2 MB
Approx.
Compression
2:1
(lossless)
1:1 6:1 12:1
2,592 x 1,944
pixels
Images
(Avg size)
- 2
15.1 MB
8
3.8 MB
25
1.3 MB
Approx.
Compression
- 1:1 4:1 12:1
2,288 x 1,712
pixels
Images
(Avg size)
- 2
11.8 MB
11
2.9 MB
32
985 KB
Approx.
Compression
- 1:1 4:1 12:1
2,048 x 1,536
pixels
Images
(Avg size)
- 3
9.44 MB
13
2.33 MB
40
790 KB
Approx.
Compression
- 1:1 4:1 12:1
1,600 x 1,200
pixels
Images
(Avg size)
- 5
5.76 MB
22
1.42 MB
64
498 KB
Approx.
Compression
- 1:1 4:1 12:1
1,280 x 960
pixels
Images
(Avg size)
- 8
3.69 MB
35
914 KB
99
321 KB
Approx.
Compression
- 1:1 4:1 12:1
1,024 x 768
pixels
Images
(Avg size)
- 13
2.36 MB
53
595 KB
153
208 KB
Approx.
Compression
- 1:1 4:1 12:1
640 x 480
pixels
Images
(Avg size)
- 34
922 KB
133
241 KB
332
96 KB
Approx.
Compression
- 1:1 4:1 10:1


The C-8080 Wide Zoom comes with interface software and cables for both Macintosh and Windows computers. It employs a USB Auto-Connect interface for high-speed computer connection. Like all of Olympus' recent digicams, the C-8080 is a USB "storage class" device. This means it can connect directly to Mac OS Version 9.0 or later (including OS 10.1 - also OS8.6, if it includes factory-installed USB Mass Storage support 1.3.5), or Windows ME, 2000, or XP computers, without separate driver software. For Windows 98 or 98SE, you'll need to load driver software to make the connection. Storage-class ("Auto-Connect" in Olympus' parlance) connections are generally faster than device-class ones, and the 8080 Wide Zoom is among the fastest cameras I've yet tested, supporting as it does the USB 2.0 "high speed" standard. I clocked it at 2.4 MBytes/second on my 2.4 GHz Sony VAIO desktop, running Windows XP when reading from an xD card, and at about 1.7 MBytes/second when reading from a 40x Lexar CF card. - This is fast enough that you can realistically use the 8080 without having to resort to a separate card reader, even despite the 8080's large file sizes.

RAW data files can be edited in-camera and saved as JPEGs. This is convenient for quick processing, but the small size and uncertain tonal and color characteristics of the 8080's LCD screen make it difficult to judge the impact of any image adjustments you might make. Still, you can adjust white balance, sharpness, saturation, etc. in-camera, without having to download the file first, which makes it easier to print RAW files from the camera to a DPOF device.





Video Out
The C-8080 Wide Zoom has a Video Out port for connecting the camera directly to a television set. Through the Setup menu, you can select either NTSC or PAL formats. The video output can be used for reviewing previously captured images and movies, or running slide shows from the camera. It also shows all of the LCD menu screens, as well as the preview display from the LCD / Electronic viewfinders. Combined with the optional infrared remote control device, the C-8080 Wide Zoom's video capabilities make the camera a unique presentation device.



Power
The C-8080 Wide Zoom is powered by a single PS-BLM1 lithium-ion battery pack (7.2v, 1500mAh), or by an optional AC adapter that can significantly extend battery life if you're doing a lot of downloads on the computer or working in a studio environment. The camera comes with a battery and a charger and as usual, I recommend picking up a second battery and keeping it freshly charged at all times. (Although the C-8080's battery life is good enough that most users may not find a need for the second battery.) The table below shows the power consumption in various operating modes, and the projected run times you could expect based on the stated capacity of the provided battery pack/
Operating Mode
Power Drain
(@ 6.5 v)
Estimated Minutes
(Olympus PS-BLM1 battery, 7.2v, 1500 mAh)
Capture Mode, w/LCD
476 mA
209
Capture Mode, EVF
455 mA
219
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD
471 mA
212
Half-pressed w/EVF
451 mA
221
Memory Write (transient)
581 mA
n/a
Flash Recharge (transient)
1020 mA
n/a
Image Playback
250 mA
(6.7 hours)


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.



Included Software
Although our prototype sample arrives sans software, I assume that the C-8080 Wide Zoom will ship with Olympus' standard complement of software on CD. Direct camera control and image downloading are provided by Olympus' Camedia Master software package for both Mac and Windows platforms (Macintosh OS 8.6 - 10.1, Windows 98/98SE/Me/2000/XP). USB drivers for both platforms and an Apple QuickTime reader are also included.

Camedia Master allows you to download and organize images, as well as perform minor image correction and enhancement functions (such as adjusting contrast, sharpness, and color balance). For panoramic images, Camedia Master supplies a "stitching" utility to piece together shots vertically or horizontally. A complete printing utility works with the DPOF settings and allows you to print images directly to Olympus or other photo printers.


In the Box
The following items are included in the box with the C-8080 Wide Zoom:


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!


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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