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Olympus C-8080 Wide Zoom

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

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Page 2:Executive Overview

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

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.

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