Olympus Camedia C-8080 Wide Zoom
Review Date: 24th May 2004
Ease of Use
The Olympus 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 Olympus 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 Olympus 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 Olympus 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 Olympus 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 Olympus 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 Olympus 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 Olympus 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...