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Olympus Stylus 800 review: Olympus Stylus 800

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.

The 2.5-inch LCD, which uses a light-gathering method that Olympus dubs HyperCrystal, works quite well under almost all conditions and maintains brightness well in low light. There's no optical viewfinder, but we didn't miss it; however, the somewhat slow refresh rate in low light was a little distracting.

Autofocus performed better than expected in low light, given its lack of an AF illuminator. However, even using spot AF, we had some problems coaxing the camera into focusing on our subject and not the background.

Shooting speed
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Time to first shot  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Samsung Digimax V700
Olympus Stylus 800
Canon PowerShot SD500
Pentax Optio WP
Sony Cyber Shot DSC-P200
Note: In seconds.

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Typical continuous-shooting speed  
Note: Frames per second.

We were pleasantly surprised by some of our test shots and sorely disappointed in others. On the plus side, the Olympus Stylus 800 delivered generally accurate, nicely saturated colors. Exposures were also relatively good, although using fill flash often left us with burned-out highlights and an odd, overprocessed look. In macro mode, the flash powered down nicely to avoid overexposure, however. Detail capture wasn't bad but could have been crisper.

At low ISO settings, the noise levels were more than acceptable, but when we used the Indoor scene mode, the camera's new Bright Capture Technology took over and pushed the ISO speed to 2,500--even when we used the flash--resulting in horrible noise and a mottled image. While some other cameras employ the same sort of automatic ISO boost, we still don't like the lack of control.

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