Review: Olympus Stylus 8010 rugged digital camera

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Short version: This thing could take a bullet and keep on shooting, but its chunky form and average image quality don’t impress. However, if strength and resilience are your main criteria for picking a camera, you could do a lot worse.

Features:

  • 14 megapixels, 720p video
  • 5x optical zoom
  • Waterproof (10m/33ft), shockproof (2m/6.6ft), freezeproof (-10C/14F), crushproof (100kg/220lb)
  • 2.7-inch LCD
  • MSRP: $399

Pros:

  • Feels as solid as it looks
  • Nice wide angle on lens
  • Best video of the bunch

Cons:

  • Image quality so-so
  • Heavy and bulky
  • “Tap control” doesn’t really seem that useful

Full review:

All of the cameras I’m reviewing this week make compromises, and Olympus’ major concession is size. The Stylus 8010 boasts better waterproofing and “crush-proofing” than any of the other cameras, but it’s also the biggest and heaviest by some margin. Its bricky design is probably a love-it-or-hate-it thing, and I’ll leave that to the readers to decide. Keep in mind also that while this is the most expensive camera of the lineup, there is a cheaper version, the 6020, which shares many of the 8010’s characteristics but costs $100 less.

So let’s get this clear right away: if all you really want from your camera is a truly rugged feel, the 8010 is a pretty good choice. While it’s not as sleek and sporty as the Casio EX-G1, it’s twice as solid, and the familiar squared shape is reassuring. It really reminds me of the early ELPH cameras in its layout and heft. I thought it ugly at first, but its utilitarian design has grown on me.

For its rugged credentials, here’s the roundup video where it gets tossed and goes underwater:

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=10544706&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=ff9933&fullscreen=1

In addition to that, it claims to be crushproof (i.e. you sit on it or drop your luggage on it) to 220 lb, and freezeproof. I’ve got it in the freezer right now, and I’ll take it out in 20 minutes or so and see how it works. [later] It started right up and took pictures and video, but the LCD exhibited the weird, slow response you get from cold. So that part isn’t exactly protected, but the camera functions.

It’s difficult to really tell in the video above, but the 8010 seems to boast the best video of the lot. That’s actually not saying much, seeing as they’re all smeary 720p or worse, but for the record, Olympus’ seems to look the best. Here’s a still from underwater; click for full size:

That’s not so bad — but it is the best frame I could find from a period of several seconds, and you can see how little detail is resolved everywhere but on the high-contrast koi fish. Quality out of water is similarly mixed, as it is on all inexpensive video devices, but I found there to be slightly less skew and smear on the Olympus than the others. It’s only 15% better, if I had to put a number to it, but hey, it’s something.

Image quality isn’t as good. The lens is quite wide-angle, but it misses out on a lot of the detail that the Casio picked up. If you compare the photos in this set, you can see the loss of detail most clearly in the picture of the tree branch and building — or in the picture of the brick water tower. It did, however, produce exemplary photos underwater, as you can see:

The quality of those photos is largely accidental, since I was just reaching down into the water, but it’s significant that without trying, I got a couple nice pictures of those koi. The Olympus also fired its flash without hesitation underwater, which contributed to the quality. It’s worth mentioning that it also has a LED by the lens, but it’s not very bright and the option to turn it on is buried in the menus.

The main menu is easy to navigate and provides helpful previews of things like white balance and exposure changes. It’s a bit sluggish to navigate, but it gets the job done. The 8010 also has a rather unique thing they call “Tap control.” Essentially you turn it on, and then you can whack the camera in various directions to change settings, modes, and navigate the menu. It’s a cool idea, but you really have to pound the thing to make it work, and it really only seems useful in situations where you’re completely unable to operate the camera, for example when you’re wearing neoprene gloves while diving. I appreciate it, but I just don’t see it being useful to many people.

The layout of the camera is plain and functional. It seems like they deliberately chose tiny buttons for some reason — and they don’t just look small when compared with the rest of the camera. They’re actually tiny. At least they protrude nice and far and are easy to push. I didn’t have any trouble with them, although the D-pad and surrounding buttons are placed incredibly close to one another for some reason.

The HDMI port, USB port, SD slot, and battery compartment are all under the same cover, which was very thoughtful of Olympus. It feels secure and the double-lock mechanism feels like you can rely on it. There’s also a little lens cover that flips away when you turn the camera on. Little touches like that make me sure that I could rely on the camera in a savage environment.

Conclusion

I mentioned the 6020 at the beginning of the review; the differences between it and the 8010 are that the 6020 has only 1GB of internal memory, is slightly less rugged in all ways (but still rugged), and has a slightly slower lens. I think that, given the 8010’s performance and the amount of features it shares with its more inexpensive cousin, it’s hard to recommend the more expensive one. For $300 this would be a very close competitor with the Casio EX-G1 (my pick of the roundup), but at $400 it seems like you’re paying too much — that is, unless super-ruggedness is your main concern.

Product page: Olympus Stylus 8010

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