The test started out in the cold snap in Johannesburg where my thermometer showed -2 outside before our flight departed. Dubai Terminal 3We landed in Dubai in 38 degrees, and hit a Turkish heat wave next (39 degrees with serious humidity, on the coast) and so it went but before I get ahead of myself… lets get down to the basics:

What is the 8010 uTough?

(Sometimes called the Olympus Mju Tough 8010 or the Olympus Stylus 8010)

olympus-logoThe 8010 is a robust, full featured Point-&-Shoot with cut-down HD (720p, 30fps) and tons of features that I will surely never use, but that might float your boat.

  • It’s shockproof (can drop it about 2m)
  • It’s waterproof (to about 10m)
  • It’s supposedly freezeproof (down to -10deg C)
  • It has a 14mp sensor
  • It has a 24-140mm equivalent zoom range
  • It has built in Pano’s
  • It has various focusing modes
  • Shutterspeeds run from 4sec to 1/2,000th
  • ISO from 80 to 1600ISO (Although Olympus claims ISO64 on their website)
  • Various Metering Modes
  • Exposure compensation
  • Image stabilisation
  • So called “High Speed” Continuous shooting (1.2fps)
  • Has 2gb internal storage (more like 1.5gb though)
  • Uses SD cards and has an HDMI-out
  • Approx 200 shot capacity on a full charge
  • … and weighs about 250g on a good day

The first thing that struck me was that it has this enormous feature set, but no RAW files, and more importantly NO MANUAL CONTROL!? you can edit photos in camera (red eye, crop, B&W, shadow adjustment, Saturation even Beauty retouch) but no manual control… You can create a semblance of control by choosing different shooting modes and doing a rudimentary compensation adjustment, but for a pro shooter, this was sad news.

Don’t get me wrong. 90% of the time, I will happily pop this baby out and take a quick snap in full auto, and then off we go again, but for those special shots in the middle of no-where, a bit more control would have been nice. Also, while I mention the “quick snap”… that is really not true. This camera takes about 7 seconds from pressing the power button to being ready to take a picture. 9 seconds if you wanted to get to video. Quick is not a word that will feature much in this review! Just keep it in mind, otherwise you will miss a ton of “moments”

While I am on the negatives of this camera, I have one major gripe. everything else is par for the course, but this really got me upset. The camera does an “auto adjustment” of your resolution according to certain settings but doesn’t tell you that it’s doing it when you make the fatal adjustment. I can understand certain features would force this, like the high speed images (if you choose the 1.2fps “high speed mode” then you drop from 14mp to 3mp in resolution) but it tells you that on the screen if your information is viewable. As you change the settings the counters and MP display changes.

However, if you activate the misleading “Fine Zoom” in the setup menus, you can only shoot at 8mp UNLESS you shoot in the full automatic iAUTO setting (that will allow you to shoot at 14mp) The FINE ZOOM help file says only:

“With Fine Zoom, you can focus on distant subjects without sacrificing image quality”

It obviously (or rather, I assume) does this by downsampling the 14mp to 8mp to give you a sharper image and cancel out some movement. Anyhoo… it took me 2 days of playing with the camera to figure out where this went wrong… I actually started doubting that it could shoot 14mp unless in the iAUTO mode. Luckily I found the culprit menu, so on we went with the testing.

First some observations:

olympus uTough 8010The camera is heavy… it feels very solid and has a double seal and double lock on the opening battery/SD card compartment. It has some ridges and bumps which seem like it would protect critical areas of the camera when you accidentally drive over it, and once on and ready to shoot, it’s pretty responsive.

As a pure, automatic, point-&-shoot camera, it works great. auto-everything settings (inc White Balance and ISO) allows you to pretty much just shoot and grab the memories. the buttons are pretty responsive, but not lightning fast. The AF is adequate but again, not super fast, and the whole feel of the camera is pretty decent and solid. This is a camera that wants to be preset and then left alone. if you want to change the WB or exposure compensation, you have to cycle through the adjustment menu, and although it’s not difficult and very intuitive, it’s slow. This may, however simply be because I am used to fast control dials on the SLR’s.

A nice touch is the video button on the back. this switches the camera to video mode and starts recording all in one go. And a pleasant surprise: it has an active AF on the video. Again, it’s not brilliant, but as a secondary feature of a camera, it’s pretty decent. The second surprise on the video: It has IS! you can see the IS kick in very nicely when you try and stabilize yourself a bit. The camera will have slight shakes and then all of a sudden pop into a smooth scene until your movement becomes too much for it to handle again. The results was pretty impressive. and I ended up shooting a lot more video with it than expected.

Another nice little feature was the ability to do panoramas in camera. Granted the MP goes down to 2mp but as a pure catch it, awesome location – feature, it’s a neat feature (3 images stitched in camera, 10 with the PC software NOTE: not MAC!)

All in all… everything works more or less they way it’s supposed to.

Down to business:

So how does it perform? Not flawlessly but definitely above average.

Let me run through my list…

1. Shockproof?
I really wasn’t sure how I was going to do this test because if it fails… it’s kinda the end of the test. The decision was taken out of my hands though be an air stewardess that in an act of kindness wanted to help me get a bag from the overhead (baby was asleep on my lap) and the travel climber-bag we use when traveling, the one containing the camera, fell from the overhead.

Now, this has happened before with a Nikon SLR I used to own, and it bent the lens mount and lens, so I know that it’s more than adequate distance to reach… erm… terminal velocity (no pun intended!)

The Oly came out without a hitch though, although it didn’t take a straight route down, it may have been worse. It bounced from my head onto the seat railing and then the floor where the flustered stewardess, in a moment of inspired WorldCup visions ended up stepping on it, instead of catching it with her foot.

I think this was as close to a real world test we could get without actually doing a setup, and the olympus came through fine. My head… well.. I have fallen on it a few times already, so…

2. Waterproof?
Again… this was not one of those tests you really want to do. As I mentioned, another camera in the shortlist failed at a dunk-test demo, so again, not really a test we wanted to fail early on. But then again. We would be staying 500m from the beach with a swimming pool to lounge in next to the apartment and baby just started swimming. The beach area also has opportunities to parasail and jet-ski. All things you would want the camera to be able to capture.

This time, there was no stewardess, so I had to perform the test myself. into the swimming pool. a deep breath, and down it went… back up and… Viola!! Still works!

underwater

It takes a bit to get used to. If you preset the modes for underwater photography (it has a few) it does an adjustment that gives a serious magenta colour cast above water, but below is perfect. Effect of underwater magnificationYou can keep it in the plain mode, but then underwater shots seems quite blue and actually slightly underexposed and muddy. The flash works pretty decent too and even the video looks great. The only thing is not to shoot video above and below water in one shot. the mic picks up bubbles dislodging itself from the camera (well… that is all I can think it is) which records as rather loud and random pops (not quite the National Geographic team’s soundtrack of BC’s working and bubbles flowing up the scene) Also keep in mind that as soon as you go below water, there is serious magnification happening!

I have since gotten pretty confident about the camera and water. I think this is the one test that will only really show signs of weakness over time, but for now… it’s perfect and bloody marvelous!

Just a note though… for some reason water collects behind the lens cover, so it tends to dry on the lens or, if you shoot in and out of the pool, you end up with shots with water drops right in the middle. Nothing an earbud can’t fix in a second.

3. Freezeproof?
Well…. short of putting it in the freezer, I can’t really test it to the max, as I don’t fit in the freezer… It worked fine in -2 degrees C where the “RealFeel” was quoted as -7 degrees C but that wasn’t a conclusive test. It worked, it did it’s job…. but more important, we went from -2 straight indoors to about 25 degrees C and when I took out the camera about 5 minutes later to take a shot, it worked perfectly, without any condensation issues.

4. The 14MP sensor…
100% CROPThey say size isn’t everything… Well, they are wrong… It actually is! I have very rarely seen a guy walk into a hardware store and not buy the biggest Chainsaw his budget allows… it’s not because he needs it, but he “might” need it! Actually I am a very big promotor of large sensors and many, many megapixels. Why would we need it? well… for one reason is simply the advantages in low-light. I can shoot at a higher ISO setting and size down to a 6mp shot and still get a very decent image out of it all.

The larger images also gives us a bit of leeway in editing. As there is no RAW images to work with, typically we would size down the images in any case just to get rid of some of the compression artifacts. This has the bonus of also sharpening up the slightly softer edges from the small lens.

For most of the shots, we will most probably never use the 14mp sensor, but when you grab that really special shot of your 20-month old son’s first attempt at eating a chili-pepper, then you are glad you have that little bit extra to work with!

Another reason I like the 14mp sensor: When you give the camera to a passerby to grab a quick shot, I can almost guarantee that the shot will have the tip of their finger in the top left corner. That is where the lens is located, and because it’s such a small body, big hands with big fingers tend to slip off the side, and viola… fingershot. Now at least we can still crop out a semi decent shot from there.

5. Pretty decent zoom range: All about the lens…
One thing I don’t get is why people would want an amazing amount of zoom on their small cameras? The lenses are so small that the quality deterioration is just so great that there is no real benefit, not to speak about the effect of movement, unless you can somehow stabilize the camera.

The 8010 is actually just right in my opinion with an equivalent of 28-140mm in 35mm terms. The 5x zoom is a bit longer than I generally like, but still usable. The best part however is the rather wide 28mm side. It’s wider than any P&S camera I have owned and is just perfect for the smaller places (like inside the airplane) and if you need it, you can switch on the macro mode and bring the closest focussing distance down from 60cm to 20cm.

High Intensity LED for Super MacroThe camera also has a SuperMacro setting which I believe just does what an extension tube on an SLR would have done, allowing you to get closer to the subject (in this case down to 3mm) and just like an extension tube, you lose your infinity focus, so keep that in mind, the camera is not broken, it can only focus to about 60cm

LensqualityNow, something that always becomes a problem with the macro on these cameras are that because you get so close to stuff, you start to block out the light, and the flash is just too overpowering at such a short range… exceptionally difficult to control. How did Olympus solve this problem? by simply adding an extra high intensity LED to give you light when using Super Macro functions (and again… amazing feature, why not full manual control!?)

So… how does the lens compare to an actual SLR Lens? Well.. no comparison actually. It’s not close to an L lens, but not bad for a P&S. I think the lens’ is let down more by the JPEG compression than anything else. Even in bright sunlight, there is hardly any Chromatic Aberration, but a 100% view makes the images look soft and noisy. Sizing them down in photoshop to about 6mp dramatically improves the actual image quality though, so I can live with it. Printing the shots or using them for blogs and screen previews will still leave you very happy!

6. Built in Panoramas
Now this is a feature I can grow to love, but unfortunately it’s just too finicky to use on anything more than a very averaged toned scene… unfortunately panoramas generally cover a very wide area (hey… it’s a panorama after all) which mean generally serious changes in lighting, and with NO MANUAL CONTROL you are very limited in what you can shoot.

The system is very user friendly, set to panorama, shoot the first shot, and simply move the camera left or right. a target will show up on screen and it’s your job as photographer to line up the two target point on the screen. This works quite well. As soon as they are aligned, the camera automagically takes another shot and you move to the second shot. Have I mentioned there is no manual control? Well… the engineers have failed Olympus miserably here. Instead of trying to at least keep the same exposure throughout, the camera tries to adjust (it seems to the highlights) so as you move across a scene, the darker areas will mismatch while the lighter areas will match up more or less.

Pano Small Fail

Sometimes the internal pano will just fail completely and the first or last shot in the series will not have any resemblance to the rest of the shot… completely losing the plot.

FYI, you can do internal Panoramas (in camera, that is) up to 3 images which gives you a final image just over 4mp (why the massive downscale I can only guess… serious quality loss) but if you do it with the bundled software, you can do up to 10 images. honestly though, something like autostitch on the iPhone works better than this. So, although I really liked the fact that it was listed as a feature, I think it’s something that Olympus shouldn’t really promote.

Pano Big Fail

To date, I have less than a 5% success rate with the panoramas. I suppose I can get better at it, but the lack of manual control just makes it to difficult to try and outguess the camera. I’ll shoot straight and stitch on my Mac with PTGui.

7. Various focussing modes
Well… they all seem to work…

I do appreciate the fact that Olympus left you a single focus spot and didn’t just automate the whole thing like they did most of the rest of the camera functions. I had the camera set to the auto-everything focussing mode to start off with but soon hit a wall when shooting anything that is a bit more creative or when trying to focus on a specific point in a crowd. Switching to the single focus point solves any problems like that, but on the flip side, having it on the all-auto-all-the-time focusing mode makes it easy to run after a small kiddo and still grab great shots.

The AF tracking function is actually pretty decent. you lock focus on a body (like a 20month old baby) and a small marker surrounds the focused subject. As the “model” moves around, the focus will follow (with the marker) originally I thought this was just a gimmick, but soon realized the importance. Every now and again, if your model passes throw an area that has variable contrast in the background, the focus will shift to the highest contrast area, instead of the moving model. then you need to re-acquire.

In general it works though, and the extra focus modes makes it easy to get good shots.

8. ISO range
blue sky noise at ISO80The ISO800cropcamera has an ISO range of ISO80 to ISO1600 and two auto modes. The one will attempt the best ISO for quality the other will attempt the best ISO for Shutter speed.

Truth be told. High ISO is not for anything but snapshots. Image quality deteriorates very, very, fast as you go up in value. But then again, at the end of the day you want to capture the moment, if you want super dooper quality, rip out the 5DmkII out of your camera bag and get shooting with the L lens.

The problem with this sensor isn’t so much the noise from the higher ISO as from the JPEG compression. Well, actually it is a combination of both. The JPEG files isn’t exceptionally small, but they do seem to show a lot of artifacting, even at ISO80 – the lowest ISO setting. Bringing the sizes down in photoshop does solve a lot of problems though if you need higher quality, In the end though. 90 percent of the images you shoot with this camera will be for your own records and memories, more than for artworks.

9. Video performance
And here I got sold again!

The video is not close to a professional grade camera but ver good for such a small package. It has an active AF which is great when you are on the move, and auto adjusts in lighting without going over the top. some cameras with an auto-iris function will react to a camera flash or strobe/spotlight and close down the lens. The 8010 actually worked very well.

Was it flawless? by no means but it was good enough that I completely climbed off the idea of buying another small video camera. If I need the quality, I can shoot with the 7D or 5DmkII but for the general stuff, this little camera worked a charm, even auto focussing under water.

When faced with dark situations and fast changing lighting conditions the AF did lose track frequently, but soon came back when it had something to focus on. It does not like Red spotlight though, completely posterising and not knowing what to do about it. The stabilizer works very well though, even at maximum zoom.

10. Conclusionfinal images
This camera has a lot of Pros and Cons that trade off against each other. You have to consider that you will not get DSLR quality out of a small sensor/lens combo such as this. Once you are past that point, this becomes an awesome little camera!

I don’t like the fact that the startup is so slow, I have missed quite a few snapshot moments because of it, but pitch that against all the “extra” moments I now have in the swimming pool and the beach because of the waterproofing, and you tend to come out ahead.

The battery doesn’t last exceptionally long (I got better than the advertised 200 shots on a charge though) but in a month of travels I have only been caught out once, with the bonus, I can charge the camera from my notebook USB (or any usb charger) which means it’s one less charger to carry on the trip.

The video suffers from the same hotspot problems as most digital video cameras (straight line down the sensor when crossing an extreme exposure hotspot) but it does focussing on the fly, has pretty awesome stabilization and does better than most small video units…. AND … one less thing to carry around on a trip! Now I have a waterproof video camera as well!

checkpriceI think at the end of the day, there are quite a few cameras that can give a better quality result than this one, but for the extra features this one gives (smash proof, and underwater specifically) you are going to go very far indeed to get something to compete.

Will I buy this if I had to choose again? Absolutely!

 


 

all images copyright Sean Nel
sean_nel

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