Test Driving the Olympus Stylus Tough-8000

When we see “tough” in a product’s name, its got big shoes to fill. Travel bloggers are the sort of people who shred digital cameras, so when Olympus gave us an opportunity to test out the STYLUS Tough-8000, we jumped at the opportunity.

A truly rugged camera should be able to go with you wherever you go. Whitewater rafting in New Zealand, Skiing in Utah, Rock climbing in the Red River Gorge? No problem. It should be able to be sunk, dropped, crushed, and frozen without losing any functionality and it should be able to fit in your pocket. Pretty tall order, eh?

In steps the Olympus STYLUS Tough-8000. Olympus has designed this camera to withstand (almost) any abuse that a digital camera will ever see. It’s waterproof to 10m (33ft), drop proof from up to 6.6 ft, freeze proof to -14°F and crushproof to 220lbf. Recently, we went on a 3 day SCUBA/snorkel trip on the Great Barrier Reef, which turned out to be the perfect opportunity to take the Stylus Tough-8000 on a test drive.

Amazingly, it still works (and looks) exactly like it did when it came out of the box. This recent trip brough, situations that allowed us to test each of the manufacturer’s claims. Mind you — Gadling bloggers would never do anything like test the waterproof claims by submerging it in a pint of Victoria Bitter (the biere familiaris of Australians, not Fosters as an oil can chugging Paul Hogan may lead one to believe.) Nevertheless, each test performed swimmingly.The first thought when taking the Stylus Tough out of the box was that it doesn’t look like a waterproof, super tough camera. Waterproof cameras are supposed to be bulky and bubbly, protected by an excessive amount of Lexan and rubber seals. The stylus looks like any other small point and shoot camera — it’s small and light, no bigger than a pack of cigarettes, albeit slightly heavier at 6.4 oz. The body of this unit was glossy black and gunmetal, but Olympus offers 2 other colors. The camera feels really solid, the case is almost all metal and none of the buttons have any unnecessary wiggle. The back has a huge 2.7″ LCD alongside a pretty standard mode selector knob and 4-way navigation buttons.

The menu system of the camera is incredibly intuitive; playing with exposure settings and macro modes right out of the box was simple. The camera sports a 12 Megapixel CCD and a 3.6x optical zoom. Image clarity is excellent — its not a SLR, but takes good enough images so that only the most discerning individuals would be able to tell.

What about underwater? Taking the Stylus Tough out to the Great Barrier Reef brought out spectacular performance. There are no special modes to activate or switches to flip, you just jump in and start snapping pictures. When taking movies in water, the camera recognizes its environment and switches into a special movie mode that helps equalize out colors. The camera also has an integrated manometer, which tells you your altitude above the waves or your depth below.

Topside, the image quality is everything you would expect from a good point and shoot camera. The auto shoot mode on the camera does a great job adjusting the flash and exposure settings to get the best picture possible. We found ourselves in that “auto” mode ~95% of the time because the camera is undoubtedly better at judging the proper settings. The only times the auto mode struggles are in low light situations; switching over to the scenes menu and picking candlelight mode reconciled those problems.

The Stylus Tough-8000 has three macro modes, and it manages macro shots quite well, even underwater. There is a macro and a “super-macro” mode for close shots, but our favorite mode was the “super-Macro LED”. The camera has a small (but very bright) LED near the lens that helps illuminate your entire macro shot. This mode worked great underwater, particularly in low light situations, where we snapped this picture of a Southern Reef Squid.

As light travelers, one drawback we noticed was in the data link. The connector on the side, known as a multi-terminal connector looks a lot like a mini-USB port. Don’t be fooled though, its not. It’s fully compatible with USB, but your mini-USB plug will not fit. Although the connector supports both USB out and A/V out in one plug, the inconvenience of having to carry around one more cable may outweigh the convenience of having one port.

But look at the bright side. you have a camera that can accompany you on all of your expeditions and can handle getting rained on, dropped, and frozen (and maybe even dropped in beer.) If you like to do things that cameras typically don’t like to do, this is the camera for you.

The Stylus tough-8000 isn’t the cheapest camera out there, but it’s undoubtedly worth the price if you find yourself destroying digital cameras on a regular basis like we do. Right now, it can be found online for about $350.