GCN LAB REVIEW

Olympus Tough-8000 camera shines in harsh conditions

Olympus Tough 8000 rugged cameraPros: Fully mil-spec rugged, works 33 feet under water, great picture quality
Cons: Nothing significant
Performance: A+
Ease Of Use: A+
Features: A
Value: A-
Price: $379

The last time we looked at a rugged Olympus camera, the company was just getting into the market with the Stylus 1030 SW. It tested extremely well last year and, despite not looking very rough and tumble, survived everything we threw at it. Plus it took some amazing pictures. Apparently the public liked the camera as much as we did because Olympus now has an entire line of rugged cameras.

We brought the Stylus Tough-8000 into the lab because it’s the new top-of-the-line model. We like how Olympus incorporated the word “tough” right into the name. There’s no guessing as to their intent with this one.

The Tough-8000’s specifications are almost identical to the 1030 SW’s, but with slight improvements in the actual camera functions. The Tough-8000 is a 12 megapixel model; the 1030 is 10 megapixels. Everything else other than the color scheme is nearly identical. There is no change in the ruggedness rating of the new camera, thought we put it through our testing just in case.

It can survive Mil-Std 810F shock testing, meaning we dropped it from heights of up to six feet onto two inches of plywood sitting over concrete. Most of the time when you accidentally drop a camera, its going to be from a lower height, and you might even get lucky and have it clunk onto something soft. But the Tough-8000 can handle almost anything. It’s like a little 3.7-inch by 2.4-inch brick that is only 0.85 inches thick. There are no moving parts other than a selector dial to take damage, and all the glass is protected within the metal housing.

Like the 1030, the Tough-8000 has a 2.7-inch LCD screen. You would think this would be vulnerable to breaking, but it’s not. We dropped the Tough-8000 50 times directly onto its back, where the LCD sits, and never once came up with even a scratch. And the LCD screen can display some beautiful images. The screen is made up of 230,000 dots, so photos look, well, like photos when displayed there.

Another rugged feature that might come in handy is the camera's ability to work under water. It can go down to 33 feet according to the specifications, though the deepest water we could find was eight feet into a swimming pool. We left the camera on the bottom for a half-hour before bringing it back up. It didn’t seem to mind and worked well once it resurfaced. We also took several pictures underwater, and they came out looking great.

We tested another new feature underwater: the tap sensor. If you want to review your photos or change settings on the camera, you can do so without pushing any buttons. A simple tap of the camera on the top or sides will advance the photos once or change the setting to the next level beside or down from your current menu selection. It’s helpful underwater when you have a limited air supply but probably more useful when bundled up in a heavy coat and gloves. You can work with your camera without removing your gloves in a harsh environment.

And if you happen to be out in the cold, you don’t have to leave your Tough-8000 behind. It can function down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 degrees Celsius) without freezing. We left it in a walk-in freezer for several hours that was just a few degrees above its specification and then took some great pictures of icy storage racks when we were finished.

Like the 1030, the Tough-8000 is easy to use. Tell it the type of environment that you will be shooting in, and it will fix all the settings for you. So you can get good pictures of a candlelight dinner or your friend skiing down a mountain by simply choosing that setting. It even has limited night-vision capabilities, with which it will capture any ambient light and form an image for your photo. And it can compensate for colored lights, eliminating the green tint that happens when shooting under florescent bulbs. It can slow down and capture motion extremely well or shoot in normal or wide-screen mode.

In short, it’s easy to take professional shots in harsh environments or just around the office with almost no training or photography experience. There are even some special helper modes, such as automatically capturing faces in a portrait shot.

If you want to make a little movie, you can. The camera can capture an AVI movie with sound at 640 x 480 or 320 x 240. Both sizes for the video capture at 15 frames per second, so you aren’t going to get a film-quality movie out of it, but the resulting images are still clear.

The flash on the Tough-8000 is adequate. We’ve never found a good flash for a digital camera, especially one that weighs only 6.5 ounces. But at least the software running the Tough-8000 knows its limitations and does its best to compensate. So you will get as good a picture as possible with a camera flash at that size, much better than you probably expect.

The camera runs on a lithium-ion rechargeable battery. With a full charge, we were able to get 215 pictures out of the unit. You are supposed to get as many as 250 pictures, but that depends on how much you use the LCD screen, which obviously drains the power. About 200 is more of an average between charges.

The Tough-8000 has 45M of internal memory, so it can store quite a few moderately sized pictures on its own. It takes both an xD-Picture Card (1G or 2G), or a microSD chip, as you would expect.

The Tough-8000 doesn’t break new ground because the 1030 SW already did that, but it does push cameras a little bit further into the rugged space. And the retail price is only $379, so it’s even a little cheaper than the 1030 was when it was released. If you are looking for a small, easy-to-use camera that is practically indestructible with normal use — and hearty when it is pushed — then you can’t go wrong with the Tough-8000.

Olympus America, 978-468-8944, www.olympusamerica.com

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