Four new travel friendly cameras from Olympus

Good tech news tends to happen in the middle of the night. Take for example these four new digital cameras from Olympus. Not only did they make four good looking shooters – they made four great new cameras for travelers.

Two of the new cameras offer ultra-zoom lenses, and two of them let you take your camera underwater for some fantastic photos of HD video. Best of all, two of them will be available later this month!

The four new cameras are:

  • The SP-800UZ 30x ultra-zoom
  • The SP-600UZ 15x ultra-zoom
  • The Stylus Tough-6020 waterproof / dropproof / freezeproof camera
  • The Stylus Tough-8010 waterproof / dropproof / crushproof / freezeproof camera

The SP-800UZ 30x ultra-zoom

The first of the new cameras in this lineup is by far the most impressive. Olympus managed to design the world’s smallest camera with a 30x optical zoom. The SP-800UZ makes photos in 14 megapixels, and video in 720p. Its 5.0 – 150mm (28 – 840 35mm equivalent) lens is built with 15 separate internal lenses in 10 groups.

Photos can be enhanced with a variety of “magic filters”. The filters include the following effects: Pop Art, Pin Hole, Fish-Eye and Drawing (creates sketch outline photos).

The camera features a built in pop-up flash, MiniHDMI output for watching HD content on your TV and 2GB of internal memory (memory can be expanded with SD/SDHC cards).

The SP-800UZ will be available in March for the surprisingly low price of $349.99.

The SP-600UZ 15x ultra-zoom

The new SP-600UZ offers most of the features found on the SP-800UZ, but with a 15x optical zoom and a 12 megapixel sensor. One other handy difference is its ability to operate off regular AA rechargeable batteries. It will also be available in March, for just $249.99.

The Stylus Tough-6020

Olympus has always been at the forefront of tough cameras – their waterproof, freezeproof (down to -14F) and crushproof cameras are world-renowned for their durability.

The new Stylus Tough-6020 shoots in 14 megapixels, with an integrated 5x optical zoom. This camera is also the first in the Stylus lineup to offer HD video recording (720p). It is waterproof up to 16 feet of water, and can survive drops up to 5 feet. Thankfully, the Tough-6020 takes SD and SDHC cards – I was never a fan of the xD cards used in previous models.

The Stylus Tough-6020 will be available this month for $299.99.

The Stylus Tough-8010

The Stylus Tough-8010 is the tougher brother of the Stylus Tough-6020. It takes waterproofing down to 33 feet of water, drops up to 6.6 feet and is crushproof up to 220 pounds of pressure. It also adds an extra gigabyte of internal memory (2GB).

The Stylus Tough-8010 will be available this month for $399.99.

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.