Olympus Stylus 800
At a Glance
Olympus Stylus 800 Compact Camera
Stylish, well-designed camera offers terrific image quality, is water-resistant, and has a big, bright LCD screen.
At just over one and a quarter inches thick, the $450 Olympus Stylus 800 is not the smallest or thinnest camera we've seen, but it is still impressively small and packs a lot of features into a svelte system. The aluminum case is well designed and should be tough enough to protect the camera from the knocks it's likely to receive when you stick it in your pocket. It has a built-in lens cover; it also has rounded corners and no bits sticking out that could get caught on something when you whip it out for a quick snap. It's pretty quick to start up, as well: It's ready to take pictures in about 2 seconds. Olympus describes the case as all-weather, meaning that it should keep out small amounts of water. It doesn't mean you can use the camera under water, but it should be fine for use by the pool or at the beach--places most other digital cameras fear to go.
Gripping the small case might be a bit uncomfortable for those with large hands, but the camera should suit most users, with the zoom falling naturally under the thumb and the shutter under the index finger. You'll need two hands to use the other controls (such as the mode dial and menu buttons), though. On the left side of the LCD are buttons that allow you to view the last picture taken, change the display mode, and set the timer. A Guide button takes you to a number of on-screen help files that show you how to shoot in various situations (such as adjusting the area in focus or shooting at night).
This is an interesting idea, but it doesn't work very well: The guides are only a single screen each, and they pack too much information into too small a space. There's also no way to have the guide on screen when you're making the suggested change--touch any button, and the guide vanishes. The 2.5-inch LCD screen is big and bright, and looks fairly good in daylight. The colors get rather washed out in the bright sun, but the display is good enough to allow you to check if you've got the shot you're after.
We were able to get very good pictures from the Stylus 800 in our lab tests, with nice color and exposure in shots both with and without the flash. The images did seem a little too sharp in some cases, though: On our test of text on a white background, the text had a halo around it, caused by the camera overzealously applying a sharpening algorithm--something you can't control.
The images were relatively noise-free, although, naturally, some noise does become evident when you raise the ISO sensitivity of the camera. The Stylus 800 is unusual in that it can go up to 1600 ISO--much higher than the 400 rating that most point-and-shoot cameras allow. Another useful feature is the blur-reduction mode, which significantly diminishes the blur in an image where the camera or subject is moving, but at a cost: The maximum image size is reduced to 2048 by 1536 pixels (about 3.1 megapixels).
Battery life was pretty good, with the rechargeable 1230-mAh lithium ion battery allowing us to take 366 shots with the camera over 201 minutes. That's easily enough for a weekend trip. You can't use any other type of battery in this camera, but a spare will cost you only $25.
Whether you like the serenity of the poolside or the rough and tumble of the beach, the Stylus 800 lets you take pictures without worrying about a splash of water or the surf and sand.