Our other digital camera reviews

Olympus Stylus 810 review

The new Olympus Stylus 810 (or µ [mju:] 810 in Europe) is an 8-megapixel compact with a sleek stainless steel weatherproof body and 3x optical zoom. As one of the smallest cameras in its class it comes with a choice of 20 scene modes covering a wide range of familiar photographic situations, a helpful Guide function and an effective ISO range of 64 to 3200 to deal with most image situations. One of its strong selling points would have to be the unique Digital Image Stabilisation function which prevents blurred images at the capturing stage and corrects images that are blurred as a result of camera shake.

frontal view of Olympus Digital 810 rear view of Olympus Digital 810
Using the Olympus Stylus 810

When you pick up the Stylus 810 you can feel that this is a quality piece of equipment. Its slim-line, durable all metal body gives the impression that this Olympus is built to last. Thanks to its compact and ergonomic design it easily fits a shirt pocket and its all-weather construction ensures that the Stylus 810 is equally at ease on a hot summer's day as in a downpour. Mind you it is not submersible as some other Olympus models, but the rubber sealing throughout the interior of the camera will make sure that a drop of rain or speck of dust will do no harm.

All controls have a positive, confidence-inspiring feel to them and their lay-out is logical and intuitive. As we have come to expect on this type of camera most controls are clustered on the back panel next to the 2.5-inch 230,000 pixel LCD. They include a zoom-control and a simple mode dial with five settings: Movie; Recording and Scene modes; Playback and Guide. The 4-way dial with the OK button in the centre is surrounded by four additional keys: Menu, Digital Image Stabilisation function, Delete and Display options. The latter can be used to call up image info, a rule-of-thirds grid for help in composing images or a live histogram to evaluate exposure levels. The camera menu, which provides control over all camera functions is clearly laid out with a mix of pictograms and text. A handy shortcut is that pressing the OK key in recording mode opens a sub-menu with direct access to the most frequently used shooting options such as white balance, ISO, drive and metering, thus avoiding the need to enter the elaborate camera menu.

sample picture of Olympus Digital 810 sample picture of Olympus Digital 810 test picture of Olympus Digital 810 test picture of Olympus Digital 810

As this is a point-and-shoot camera you won't find much in the way of manual exposure control. From Olympus' documentation we know that the Stylus 810 uses shutter speeds between 1/2sec and 1/1000sec in normal shooting modes and up to 4 seconds in night scene modes. However, there is no indication of shutter speeds or apertures used nor any way to influence them. What we do appreciate however is the live histogram and this, combined with exposure compensation over +/- two stops in 1/3 step increments, will help more advanced users to evaluate and adjust exposure levels to their needs.

For general use - apart from Auto, Program and 20 scene modes - several automatic functions are incorporated to assist relative beginners in using the camera. The most interesting one must be the Guide function on the main control dial. This provides assistance in thirteen common photo situations such as shooting into backlight, brightening subjects or reducing blur. When you decide to use this function you just follow the menu and settings are adjusted accordingly. Should you find yourself in a backlighting situation for instance, the Guide function will offer three options to handle this situation. It advises you to use fill-in flash, set metering to spot or increase exposure value. When you decide on any of these options the camera then automatically makes these settings for you.

Life has been made easy for the novice user who can resort to one of twenty scene modes with familiar subjects as diverse as portrait, landscape or night scene, but besides these, museums, objects behind glass or documents and cuisine are catered for as well. There are even two Shoot and Select options for action photography, where the best of a sequence of shots can be kept and saved to memory. The Stylus 810 also records movies with sound at 30fps in 640x480 format up to memory capacity.

Quite a unique feature is the Digital Image Stabilisation function. When there is a risk of camera shake at the capturing stage, pressing the DIS key will increase ISO sensitivity and set a fast shutter speed to avoid blur. Naturally, setting a high ISO value will increase image noise, but this could still be a better alternative than a blurry image. Also, if an image later appears to suffer from slight camera shake you can retouch the image right in camera by pressing DIS. A gyro sensor embedded in the camera detects the vertical and horizontal range of the camera shake in the shot and then uses this information to compensate and sharpen the blurred image. A copy is then saved to memory while the original is kept for future reference should you need it. Admittedly this is no cure for seriously blurred images but again it helps if no other solution is available. What this function does in fact is similar to unsharp masking in Photoshop, where contrast between edges is increased and the image appears sharper to the eye. Keep in mind that there is a limit as to what this function can achieve though.

In use the camera handles like the proverbial dream and one handed operation is easy thanks to the wedge shaped design, with the right hand side being thicker for an easier grip. We have to mention however that the shiny scratch resistant covering of the HyperCrystal LCD is highly reflective and makes reviewing or composing images rather difficult in any but the most ideal lighting situations. Especially image contrast and sharpness cannot easily be assessed without covering the screen with your hands or taking the camera out of direct sunlight.

Olympus uses Bright Capture technology for low-light photography. When shooting under low ambient lighting conditions or indoors, the screen gains up to brighten the subject. As the camera does not have an optical viewfinder this is a useful help in composing photos. Several other cameras in this class also have this function but Olympus goes one better by putting it to good use in scene modes such as Indoor, Candle or Available Light Portrait. This is called "supersampling" and works by clustering sensor pixels to capture each single image pixel, rather than individual ones, effectively creating bigger pixels, each of which is more sensitive to light. A side effect of this is that this results in fewer pixels per image ISO 3200 shots for instance are captured at only 3-megapixel resolution, which will still be good enough for postcard size prints however.

The camera’s normal focusing range goes from 0.6m to infinity which is increased to 0.3m in Macro mode. Should you want to capture frame filling close up shots of even smaller subjects, a Super Macro function allows focusing from 10 to 60cm. Admittedly not as close as some other cameras in this class but still close enough to record flowers at close range. Both multipoint and spot focus are available and we found this to work well in most situations. We noticed some hunting however when there were no clearly defined lines or edges in the subject. This appeared to manifest itself especially in images taken in portrait format. There is no focus assist light to help when ambient light levels are low.

In the box

Apart from your Olympus Stylus 810 compact, the bundle includes USB and AV cables, a wrist strap and printed instruction manual. In true Olympus tradition this 26-page manual is rather basic. For the finer points of the camera and to get to know all the ins and outs of its functions you will need to read the advanced manual on CD-ROM. Admittedly most users will never get round to this as reading from a computer screen is not the most comfortable option to get to know your equipment. Most people we know definitely prefer a complete, printed manual which can be read in the comfort of their arm chair in front of the telly.

iso 100 DIS iso 800 available light fill in flash

Power is supplied by a 1280mAh 3.7V LI-12B lithium-ion battery, which needs a two-hour charge in the compact LI-10C charger which is included with the camera. We do not have exact figures on battery-life but from our experience with the Stylus we expect it to be 200+ images easily before a recharge is needed. This number is of course influenced by the number of flash pictures taken and how frequently you review your images. For those who expect to travel further than 200 shots from a suitable charging point, a spare battery is recommended to get you through the day's shooting.

Software included is the familiar Olympus Master V1.4 program. It will perform basic imaging functions such as downloading, organising and retouching images as well as printing and e-mailing them. There is a stitching utility to construct panoramic images but this will only work if pictures have been recorded on Olympus own brand xD-cards. A memory card is not supplied with the camera as the Stylus is equipped with 28Mb of internal memory. Our advice would be to buy a large memory card straight away as the internal memory will be just about enough for six or seven 8-megapixel images at the camera's highest resolution. The internal memory is only accessible when there is no memory card in the camera. Also it is not possible to switch between xD-card and internal memory when a card is inserted, although pictures can be copied from internal memory to xD-card.

If you would like to create slide shows, convert slide shows to screensavers or edit your movies and create HTML albums you will need to upgrade to Olympus Master Plus software which is available from the Olympus Website. Whether you are willing to pay for these extras is up to you, but we feel it is a bit of a shame that Olympus still do not include all these features in their standard software when you have just spend a substantial amount of money on their camera.

Image Quality of the Olympus Stylus 810

The Olympus Stylus 810 is equipped with a f/2.8-4.7 7.4-22.2mm 3x optical zoom lens (35-105 eq.), which produces nice and crisp results throughout its entire zoom range with just a slight hint of vignetting and softness in the extreme corners of the image. This is nothing to worry about though, as in most day tot day photo situations this will not be noticeable. At wide angle some barrel distortion is visible and this slowly disappears when you zoom in. In extreme contrast situations some purple fringing is present but this is not unusual in compacts of this class.

iso 64 iso 200 iso 400 iso 800 iso 3200

The ESP metering system coped well with most lighting situations. Exposures were constant throughout the range with lots of detail in both highlights and shadows, although we sometimes noticed a tendency for highlights to blow out. This is easily corrected by applying some exposure compensation of -1/3EV in the menu. The histogram will help in evaluating exposure levels. For difficult lighting situations or in backlighting you could switch to spot metering which measures brightness levels from a small area in the centre of the frame.

Colour rendition is excellent with clean, nicely saturated colours which can be beefed up or toned down over +/- 5 steps in the menu afterwards. Images can also be converted to monochrome or sepia if you prefer. Automatic white balance worked perfectly and in our test shots it was never necessary to resort to any of the other settings. There are six preset WB settings and three of them deal with various types of fluorescent lighting. A custom setting to measure white balance with a grey or white card is not available, but the intended user group will probably find no need for this anyway.

saturation -5 normal colours saturation +5 macro 10cm

The Olympus Stylus features ISO settings from 64 all the way up to 3200. Up until 200 ISO pictures are virtually noise free. As you can see from our sample images it is only when you get to the higher ISO levels that noise manifests itself as a distinct pattern rather like grain on conventional film. Still it is nice to see that more and more compacts are offering higher ISO settings, which - although they produce quite grainy results - will still be acceptable for postcard sized prints. A definite advantage is that faster shutter speeds now make it possible to freeze motion or reduce camera shake, but also the ability to take available light shots without flash is a real bonus.

Conclusion

Thanks to some clever automatic functions this Olympus Stylus 810 is a point-and-shoot model that can be used by any member of the family and deliver sharp and crisp results every time. Its compact size, durable construction and weatherproofing means it can be used under all circumstances and carried with you wherever you go.

Image quality of this 8-megapixel model is excellent and its versatility, coupled to its user-friendly controls and multiple exposure modes, make it an ideal companion for those who are looking for a quality compact that can be operated without having to worry about extensive or complicated camera settings. And if you were planning to buy a compact for the holidays anyway, we think this Olympus would not be a bad choice at all.

June 24, 2006

Olympus Stylus 810 Price comparison and shopping options

In the USA buy the Olympus Stylus 810 from:

In the UK buy the Olympus µ [mju:] 810 from:
go to top of page