The Olympus Camedia C-8080 Wide Zoom is currently the most advanced compact digital camera in the Olympus range. First announced at the PMA photography trade show in February, it is one of a new breed of 8-megapixel digital cameras and competes with the likes of the Sony DSC-F828, Canon PowerShot Pro1, Nikon Coolpix 8700 and the Konica Minolta DiMAGE A2. As well as providing 8 megapixels, the C-8080 Wide Zoom also offers a fast and wide f/2.4-3.5, 28-140mm integrated lens in a tough magnesium body, complete with a tilting LCD monitor and a host of photographic options that make it most suitable for the advanced amateur or professional photographer. So is the C-8080 Wide Zoom a better option than a DSLR like the Canon EOS 300D or Nikon D70? And are 8 megapixels really necessary? Read on to find out.
The C-8080 Wide Zoom features an 8-megapixel CCD which will allow you to create great-looking prints up to A3 in size. The camera has a bright f/2.4-3.5, 5x optical zoom lens which gives a zoom range equivalent to 28-140mm on a 35mm camera. It comprises 14 high quality lenses arranged in five groups and includes two aspherical lenses to reduce distortion. In addition, three ED elements help minimise chromatic aberrations. The lens has a 58mm filter thread to allow you to attach conversion lenses via the optional CLA-8 accessory. There is a 1x – 3x digital zoom available, which provides a 15x seamless zoom when combined with the optical zoom.
The LCD monitor is a 1.8 inch sunshine colour TFT LCD monitor with 134,000 pixels, whilst the electronic viewfinder has an impressive 240,000 pixels. The tilting LCD monitor helps you to frame scenes when shooting from difficult angles, such as from the floor or above the head. Great for macro or candid photography, as you don't actually have to lift the camera to your eye to be able to frame the subject successfully. The LCD can be tilted down 20 and up 90 degrees in 4 positions that click into place. You can't rotate it left or right, as in some more recent cameras, as the monitor pivots on a large hinge that extends along its width. The C-8080 Wide Zoom also has a 240,000 pixel EVF, which replaces the small and dim optical viewfinder on earlier models like the C-5050 Zoom.
The C-8080 Wide Zoom uses a dual autofocus system - TTL autofocus with contrast detection and passive AF by phase detection. The TTL contrast detection system is combined with the passive metering system, which uses a second sensor to calculate the phase difference and thereby the subject's distance. The camera then fine-tunes the readings for optimum sharpness. The working range is 0.8m – infinity in standard mode, 0.2 – 0.8m in macro mode and from as close as 5cm in super macro mode.
The main exposure mode is Olympus' Digital ESP (Electro Selective Pattern), which is used throughout their range of digital cameras. If that fails to give a well-exposed image, there is also spot metering, multi-spot metering and centre-weighted metering available. There is a very useful histogram function that you can enable to check the exposure of your photographs, either before the photo is taken or afterwards, and the camera also offers AE lock and exposure area selection functions. Images are recorded as JPEGs in a range of different quality and size settings; TIFF and RAW formats are also available.
The C-8080 Wide Zoom offers the usual four main exposure modes - Programmed auto exposure, Aperture Priority Auto and Shutter Priority Auto and Manual, plus four different scene programs to help the beginner - Normal, Portrait, Night Scene and Landscape. The shutter speed range is 16 seconds – 1/4000 sec. (bulb 8 minutes), depending on the selected exposure mode. Exposure Compensation is available ±2 EV in 1/3 EV or 1/2 EV steps (selectable) and you can auto bracket either 3 or 5 images (except TIFF).
There is a wide range of white balance settings including Auto and nine different presets (Shade, overcast, sunlight, evening sun, tungsten light, fluorescent light 1,2,3,4). You can also tweak the white balance adjustment (Red) -7 – +7 (blue) and create your own custom white balance setting. The C-8080 Wide Zoom has a short shutter release time lag of 0.3 seconds and a fast startup time.
The built-in flash features numerous modes including Auto (automatic activation in low and backlight), Red-eye reduction, Fill-in (forced activation), Slow synchronisation, Off (no flash) and slave mode. It has a guide number of 9 and a range of 0.8 m – 5.3 m when the lens is at its widest setting, and 0.2 m – 3.6 m at its longest setting. Recycle time is 6 seconds. The C-8080 Wide Zoom also incorporates a hot shoe for connecting a compatible external flash unit.
There are a large number of ISO speeds available on the C-8080 Wide Zoom, although the actual range isn't that great. You can either choose the Automatic setting and leave it up to the camera to pick what it thinks is the best setting, or set the camera to Manual and choose from ISO 50, 80, 100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320 and 400.
The C-8080 Wide Zoom has two different continuous shooting modes. In the high speed setting you can take up to 1.6 shots per second in any JPEG mode (maximum of 5 images). In the normal setting you can take up to 1.0 shots per second in any HQ mode (maximum of 26 images). The C-8080 Wide Zoom has a motion picture mode which allows you to record QuickTime Motion JPEG movies with sound until the memory card capacity is reached. Using the supplied 32MB xD-Picture Card, this is either 34 seconds at SHQ (640 x 480 pixels) with audio, or 93 seconds at (320 x 240 pixels) without audio.
The C-8080 Wide Zoom uses Olympus' new TruePic Turbo image processor and also employs proper gamma technology, noise reduction, advanced noise filter, noise canceller and pixel mapping. Various adjustments can be made to the image quality within a range of -5 – +5, including Sharpness, Contrast, Saturation and Color Phase. There are a few shooting functions available (sepia mode, black & white mode, guide line).
PictBridge support allows direct printing with compatible printers, whilst the camera can be controlled by a PC (using the Software Development Kit). The camera can store and memorise up to 8 custom settings, allowing you to cutomize the operation of the camera to your own needs. There is also a self-timer, DC input terminal, USB 2.0 high speed AutoConnect interface and an A/V output.
The C-8080 Wide Zoom is compatible with three different memory card formats - xD-Picture Card (16, 32, 64, 128, 256 and 512MB), CompactFlash Type I/II and Microdrive (except 320MB). The camera is powered by a rechargeable 7.2V Li-ion battery. Dimensions are 124 (w) x 84.5 (h) x 99 (d) mm and the camera weighs approx. 660g without the battery or memory card fitted.
Olympus has been quite generous with what they supply with the C-8080 Wide Zoom camera. A neckstrap, remote control (RM-2), audio/video cable, USB cable, Li-ion battery BLM-1, battery charger BCM-2, lens hood, lens cap, 32MB xD-Picture Card, instruction manual, warranty card and a software CD-ROM are all included in the box. Like most other digital camera manufacturers, Olympus have chosen to supply a memory card that is far too small - only 2 RAW files or 8 SHQ JPEG files can be stored on the 32Mb card. You will have to buy at least two 512Mb xD-Picture Cards to provide sufficient storage for the 8-megapixel files, especially if you are primarily shooting in RAW mode.
Ease of Use
The C-8080 Wide Zoom carries on the tradition of rather strange camera design from Olympus, as it's loosely based on the C-5050 and C-5060 digital cameras. The body still looks as if extra bits and pieces were added to it over a prolonged period of time, rather than being designed in one go. There aren't too many flowing lines in this camera, and when you first pick it up the C-8080 Zoom feels quite cluttered and confusing. There are a lot of external buttons and controls, which require you to read the manual, experiment, and then read the manual again!
Once you've spent a couple of hours figuring out what all those buttons do, you soon realize that they are the reason for the C-8080 Zoom being such an accessible digital camera. Instead of having to browse through endless submenus via the LCD, virtually all of the important photographic controls are accessed externally by some kind of button, switch or dial, and most of these controls are located on the left-hand side of the camera next to the LCD screen. This ultimately makes it much faster and easier to operate, as a button press is always a lot quicker than remembering which menus to open. You can control about 75% of the cameras settings without ever having to resort to the menu system. The initially awkward and ugly design of the C-8080 Zoom makes perfect sense when you have used it for a while.
When you do have to resort to the menu system to select something, it is quick and easy to access. Simply press the OK button that is positioned on the back of the camera at the centre of the four arrow buttons, then use those arrow buttons to navigate through the menu interface. The C-8080 Zoom uses a very similar menu system to other Olympus digital cameras and will be instantly familiar if you have used one before.
The large and bright LCD monitor on the C-8080 Wide Zoom is excellent and a joy to use. Even very bright sunlight causes few difficulties when viewing it - Olympus' new sunshine LCD screen does actually work! The monitor gives 100% coverage of the subject that you are framing and the different tilting angles mean that you can use the camera in awkward positions or for candid photography. Being able to take a photograph without actually looking like you are doing so can result in some great candid shots that might otherwise never have happened. The C-8080 Wide Zoom has a 240,000 pixel Electronic View Finder (EVF), which replaces the small and dim optical viewfinder found on earlier models like the C-5050. The EVF is surprisingly large and clear and is enjoyable to use when you want to hold the camera up to your eye - certainly a big improvement over the C-5050's viewfinder.
Internally Olympus have added a new TruePic Turbo image processor to the C-8080 Wide Zoom, which is supposed to deliver more image clarity, contrast and brilliant colour and also increase the camera's processing speed by up to 30%. More about image quality later - the C-8080 Wide Zoom does feel a little faster in general use than previous Olympus cameras like the C-5050 Zoom, although not enough to make you go "Wow!". RAW and TIFF mode are still virtually unusable, however, as the C-8080 Wide Zoom takes so long to write the file to the memory card. It takes 15 seconds to write a RAW file and 20 seconds to write a TIFF file, during which time you can't take a picture or do anything else with the camera. This makes those file types only suitable for situations where you can take your time, like landscape or building photography. Otherwise you will have to choose from the 4 JPEG settings.
A special mention must go the handgrip and thumbgrip on the right-hand side of the C-8080 Wide Zoom. Olympus have obviously spent a lot of time on this aspect of the camera, because the handgrip is very well sculpted and finished in a rubber compound, whilst the thumbgrip on the back of the camera fitted my thumb perfectly.
It's important that Olympus got this part of the overall design right, as the C-8080 Wide Zoom is quite a lot bigger and heavier than the C-5050 Zoom, maybe due to the magnesium alloy body, with the 5x optical zoom lens domintaing the front of the camera. You really need to use two hands to support it during use. On the other hand, that magnesium body gives the camera a very robust and professional feel.
Overall the C-8080 Zoom carries on not just the Olympus tradition of strange design, but also that of fantastic ease-of-use. Its quality construction and finish makes it feel like a professional product rather than a consumer one. More importantly it feels as if it was designed for a photographer who wants to take complete control of the picture-making process. There really isn't too much that I disliked about this camera. The operation of the zoom is quite noisy, especially when the camera is turned on or off but also in general operation when zooming from wide to tele and vice versa. The plastic button that releases the buil-in flash feels a little plasticky compared to the rest of the camera. But now I'm just being picky! I thoroughly enjoyed using the C-8080 Zoom and I really didn't want to send it back to Olympus.
Overall Image Quality
The C-8080 Wide Zoom produces very large file sizes that will enable you to create A4 prints at 300dpi, and A3 prints at a very acceptable 200dpi. If you want to print at A3 without having to interpolate your images, then an 8 megapixel camera like the C-8080 Wide Zoom will allow you to do so. What it won't allow you to do is take photos that require high ISO speeds. Indoor, action and sports photography all spring to mind as subjects that aren't well-suited to the C-8080 Wide Zoom, simply because of the already limited highest ISO speed of 400, and the fact that noise is very apparent in images taken at ISO 200 and faster. The default sharpening level of 0 is a little soft, but you can increase the sharpening by up to 5 levels if you wish, or just use a photo editing application on your computer. The C-8080 Wide Zoom excels at controlling chromatic aberrations, with one of the best performances that I've yet seen from a digital camera. Overall the C-8080 Wide Zoom produced a vibrant set of images with saturated colours, little noise at the slow ISO settings and very few unwanted image effects. The only downside is the limited effective ISO range.
I was really looking forward to reviewing the Olympus C-8080 Wide Zoom because I had enjoyed using the C-5050 Zoom so much last year. It's great to see that Olympus have carried on where the C-5050 left off in terms of design and ease-of-use - the C-8080 Wide Zoom is a fantastic tool for the aspiring amateur photographer, with an extensive range of features that are mostly accessed via external controls on the camera body. Once you have become familiar with the camera's initally cluttered design, it is a joy to use.
From an image quality point of view, the Olympus C-8080 Wide Zoom is also a winner. That 8 megapixel CCD allows you to make quality A3 prints at 200dpi, so if you need to make large prints then the Olympus C-8080 Wide Zoom should definitely be on your shortlist. Chromatic aberrations are only noticeable by their absence, something which very few digital cameras can claim. And the C-8080 Wide Zoom's images are vibrant with good colour straight out of the camera.
The main aspect that detracts from the camera's overall performance is the levels of noise at the higher ISO settings. Noise is very apparent in images taken at ISO 200 and faster. An effective range of ISO 64-200 is not the most versatile in the world, but it will suit landscape and still-life photographers very well. This will be the dealbreaker for some people - if you require an ISO speed faster than 200, I would suggest that you consider buying a 6 megapixel DSLR, which generally control noise much better than the latest 8 megapixel prosumer digital cameras. If you can live with the limited effective ISO range, I would highly recommend the Olympus C-8080 Wide Zoom to you. It's a great all-in-one solution and a real alternative to the weight and bulk of a DSLR with several lenses.