Olympus Stylus 820|
Longer zoom, bigger screen, still compact
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)
In the Summer of 2007, Olympus introduced a series of new models in its "Stylus" lineup of design and performance oriented cameras. Style and performance has, of course, become somewhat relative today as even low end cameras offer high resolution in slender, attractive packages. Still, Olympus has always made sure that its Stylus cameras differentiate themselves from the "Easy & Fun" FE series cameras. It is more difficult now, and this year the company resorted to giving its new Stylus models something no one can argue with, and something that is hardly ever found in economy models -- a longer optical zoom. So while the Stylus 820 is an attractive 8-megapixel camera, most will consider paying the slightly higher price because of the longer zoom more than anything else.
Available in silver, black, blue and red, the ultra-compact Olympus Stylus 820 was introduced at the same time as the Stylus 830 and the Stylus 1200. One would expect it to be easy to make a choice, what with the 800 Series models being 8-megapixel cameras and the Stylus 1200 a 12-megapixel camera, but it is not. For example, those who like as large a display as possible will find a 2.7-inch LCD in the Stylus 820, but only a 2.5-inch display in the more expensive Stylus 830. Likewise, those who value high sensitivity for shooting in low light conditions will gladly take the 820's ISO 3200 capabilities and wonder why the Stylus 830 tops out at USSO 1600. And you get a lot more onboard memory. There is a reason for some of those inconfruencies, but some are a bit puzzling.
What you get with the Stylus 820
The Stylus 820 is an elegant 8-megapixel camera with a nice, long 5X optical zoom. Its footprint of 3.8 x 2.2 is small enough, but really not smaller than some of the FE series cameras, and the 820 is almost an inch thick, leaving it in the ultra-compact, but not the ultra-thin, class. It weighs 4.4 ounces without its Li-Ion battery. Still, considering the 36-180mm equivalent 5X optical zoom, the camera's size is more than acceptable. You know it's there, but it still fits into almost any pocket or purse. Theere is also an above average 5.6X digital zoom so that Stylus 820 owners can shoot at a maximum combined magnification of 28X.
With most digital cameras not having an optical viewfinder anymore, having a bright, easily viewable LCD is imperative. And this is an area where the 820 delivers. Its 2.7-inch HyperCrystal LCD with 230k pixel resolution is large and sharp enough to make image review a pleasure and allow you to see if a picture is truly in focus. There is also a 5-step brightness adjustment that offers far better viewing optimization than any FE series camera. Finally, the LCD has a viewing angle of almost 180 degrees, so photos can be composed from a range of angles and the subject still remains visible.
With almost all digital cameras now offering more than enough resolution, distinguishing features are becoming more and more important. Here are some of the goodies Olympus offers:
Like several new Olympus models, the Stylus 820 has a face detection mode. This means that the camera is able to find a face or even multiple faces in a picture and make sure that they are in focus and properly exposed. That even works when people are moving (though not quite as well).
Like all Stylus cameras, the 820 offers "weatherproof engineering," i.e. a degree of protection via a light-weight metal body with rubber gaskets throughout the interior when it is used in the rain, at the beach, while skiing or in other situation where the camera is likely to get wet or exposed. And Olympus certainly knows a thing or two about weatherproofing; its waterproof Stylus 770 can withstand 33 feet of water pressure and more.
Digital image stabilization uses higher sensitivity and higher shutter speed to reduce or eliminate blurriness in pictures.
The TruePic III Image Processor, developed for digital SLRs, delivers more vibrant colors, smoother edges, less nosie and higher overall speed.
Every now and then a memory card fills up and then it comes in handy to have some extra onboard storgae. The Stylus 820 has 48MB, enough for a number of pictures even at its full 8-megapixel resolution.
The Stylus 820 also has new in-camera panoramic photo shooting feature that captures three images and stitches them together into one panoramic picture. You just press the shutter and slowly pan across a panoramic scene. The second and third images will be automatically captured and stitched together with the first image. You can, of course, do that in imaging software such as the included Olympus Master 2 that stitches up to 10 pictures together.
The camera itself
The Stylus 820 is handy and easy to use right out of the box. Digital camera controls, once wildly different from brand to brand, have largely become standardized, and so it's fairly easy to find your way around. There seems to be an ongoing debate among manufacturers whether it's better to have mode wheels or onscreen menus to put the camera into its various shooting modes. Each approach has its advantages, but there are some basic truths. For example, if you're shooting in bright daylight, LCD screens can still wash out or reflect so much that you just can't see a thing. That's when on-screen-only menus can let you down. Mode wheels, on the other hand, offer no problems in sunlight (though they can at night) can quickly get cluttered when they're loaded up with too many tiny icons. So for now Olympus seems to favor a hybrid approach: Use a mode wheel for the common function, including one that then brings up a variety of on-screen scene modes.
The Stylus 820's mode wheel lets you pick from five shooting modes and two playback modes. The shooting modes are automatic, image stabilization, guide, movie, and scene. The playback modes are simple playback or a star icon that brings up pics that you previously stored as favorites. This is a decent enough arrangement, but we still prefer a red-laabelled button for recording and a green one for playback, which is exactly what the Olympus FE series cameras have.
Anyway, the scene mode is extensive with no fewer than 23 modes in addition to auto: portrait, landscape, landscape + portrait, night, night + portrait, sport, indoor, candle, self portrait, available light portrait, sunset, firework, cuisine, behind glass, documents, auction, shoot + select 1 and 2, smile shot, and beach & snow. The Stylus 820 does not have any underwater modes.
The "smile" mode is interesting. When the camera detects a smiling face in shooting standby mode, it takes three frames in high-speed sequential shooting automatically (or you can do it manually). While this mode is selected, the self-timer lamp blinks. People's smiles vary, of course, and the camera ill not always be able to detect it. Still, a clever idea.
Shoot & Select lets you take sequential pictures by holding down the shutter. The pics then show up as sort of a filmstrip and you can select which you want to keep and which you want to discard.
"Guide" sort of guides you through various scenarios and sets the camera properly. This mode also lets you preview a scene through a multi-frame window that shows how the picture looks with four different settings. You then pick what suits you best.
Olympus also built some other tricks into the Stylus. For example, you can turn "shadow adjustment" on or off. This comes in handy when you shoot a subject in front of a bright background. Turning shadow adjustment on will both brighten the subject and adjust the background.
The Stylus 820 also has a Perfect Shot Preview mode that lets you preview and select various photographic effects on a live, multi-window screen before actually taking the shot.
The Stylus 820, like other Olympus cameras, has both a macro and a super-macro mode. That can be a bit cumbersome. The macro mode goes from eight inches to infinity whereas super-macro goes from 1.2 inches to a bit over two feet. Still, it's nice to be able to get that close.
Movie and audio
The Stylus 820 has a 640 x 480 movie mode with sound, and it shoots at 30 frames per second for lifelike video. Sound is not a strong side of this camera. There is no voice recording mode, and sound clips attaached to still images are limited to just four seconds.
Memory and Storage
The Stylus 820 comes with a nice 48MB of built-in storage. That won't last very long if you shoot in full 8-megapixel mode, but it can tide you over till you can put in a new memory card or upload pictures from the camera. As far as removable storage goes, the Stylus 820 uses the xD-Picture card format, which we just can't quite warm up to because the cards are harder to find and generally costs more than more common formats like SD Card.
The ultra-compact 820 is a nice addition to the Stylus line. You get an attractive, handy 8-megapixel point & shoot camera that comes in a variety of cool colors. It costs $50 more than Olympus's own new FE-280 and justifies that with a larger display, a longer zoom, and a weatherproof body. We'd say the longer optical zoom alone makes a strong case for this camera. However, the Stylus 820 has digital image stabilization only and no underwater modes, so if that is an issue, take a look at the Stylus 830.
Not so much:
- 5X optical zoom
- Bright hi-res 2.7-inch LCD with backlight boost
- 640 x 480 movies at a full 30 fps
- Advanced face detection mode
- Weatherproof body
- Digital image stabilization
- 48MB onboard memory
- PreSet Shooting Mode lets you select best setting
- No voice recording mode
- xD-Picture card harder to fnd and more expensive
- No underwater modes