With 8 megapixels, aperture- and shutter-priority exposure controls, and a top-notch built-in help guide, the compact, 3X-zoom Stylus 800 sits solidly at the top of Olympus's weather-resistant-camera lineup. It's also one of the smallest and most affordable 8-megapixel cameras on the market. But if you are opting for a high-resolution model because you have poster-making aspirations, you'll need to save some money and step up to a more advanced 8-megapixel model; the Olympus Stylus 800's photos are generally good enough for 8x10 prints, but we wouldn't suggest blowing them up.
Like its predecessors, the Olympus Stylus 800's stylish weatherproof body is lightweight. The rear control layout has changed, however, and now sports four buttons to the left of the large LCD. In addition to QuickView, Display (which pops up a standard grid, an X-grid, and a live histogram), and self-timer/delete buttons, there's also a dedicated button that calls up the new guide. An excellent addition to the camera, this quick-reference and learning tool explains how to use various features; for example, if your subject is backlit, it tells you how to change the metering mode to spot, adjust the exposure value (EV), or use the fill flash. The combination of text and control-button icons makes the directions easy to follow.
To the right of the LCD, you'll find the zoom control, along with a dial that switches between the various shooting modes: auto, aperture and shutter priority, manual, scene modes, video, playback, and so on. Below that sits a four way controller with a center menu/set button. You use the arrow keys to set flash, toggle macro focus, and adjust the aperture and shutter when in manual mode.
A couple of design gripes: The power button on the top of the camera is tiny and doesn't protrude; while this is great for not accidentally powering on the camera, it's also difficult to find without looking. Also, the silver-on-gray control-identification text is small and a little difficult to read unless your eyesight is excellent. And finally, it took us a while to find the little switch under the four-way controller that releases the xD card cover on the bottom of the camera, but that's a one-time problem.
The Olympus Stylus 800 couples a 3X zoom lens (38mm to 114mm in 35mm-equivalent terms), with a moderately fast f/2.8 aperture. You can adjust the exposure in 1/3EV steps and select a shutter speed from between 1/2,000 second to 1/2 second; you'll have to go into Night Scene mode for slow exposures up to 4 seconds.
The camera is well equipped with features, and in addition to the aperture- and shutter-priority modes (there's no completely manual mode), the Stylus 800 offers 19 scene modes accompanied by informative text and sample pictures, so it's easy to decide which one to choose. Other controls include exposure compensation, ESP and spot autofocus and metering, preset white-balance choices, and manual ISO sensitivity selection from 64 to 1,600. In some scene modes, the camera will push the ISO as high as 2,500, but not all ISOs are available at all quality settings, and the camera must decrease file size to reach ISO 800 and 1,600. Olympus has also upped its QuickTime movie resolution to 640x480, although the frame rate is still 15fps, so it's a minimal gain.
We have few complaints about the camera's speed relative to its class. It's ready to shoot within 2 seconds of powering on and takes about 1.7 seconds between shots; add a flash to the mix, though, and you may have to wait up to 5 seconds to get the next shot. At its maximum resolution, the Stylus 800 captured 3 images at a little more than 1.6 frames per second. Dropping the resolution slowed it to 1.3fps--but the camera kept shooting and shooting and shooting.