Olympus Tough 8010 rugged camera
Takes the knocks and the shots
Review Hardy products, such as Panasonic's range of Toughbooks, Dell's XFR laptop range, or Olympus's venerable range of Tough cameras, are a tricky sell. Not only do weather proofed, shock-resistant products command inflated prices, it's also difficult to convince the average electronics buyer that they really need the extra strength.
Rough trade: Olympus' Tough 8010
It's only after, say, going through your fourth compact camera in two years that you might seriously consider a toughened product. Even if you're heading to the North Pole, most digital cameras will tolerate colder temperatures, and greater shocks, than their spec sheets claim. Still, seeing what happens when Olympus puts its considerable design and engineering talent to building an essentially indestructible camera is interesting.
The top of its rugged range is the Tough 8010, a 14Mp chunker of a camera which, it's claimed, will survive temperatures as low as minus 10°C, dunks up to 10 metres (including sea water), and takes tumbles of up to two metres. Unusually, it even comes with a manometer to measure altitude or depth, and flashes a warning when your depth comes close to seven metres.
There are various impressive-sounding claims to back this all up. It complies, says Olympus, to the shock and freeze-proof sections of the MIL-STD-810F standard. While MIL-STD-810F isn't exactly a watertight specification for consumer products (pun absolutely intended), the 8010 feels like it will survive the worst treatment.
Over the course of a few weeks, we knocked the Tough 8010 onto the floor, dunked it into ponds and vases of water, and invented a new game dubbed “camera shotput” (played on grass). We even left the 8010 in a tub of water overnight in the freezer. Once the ice had thawed sufficiently to allow the motor-driven lens cover to function, the camera worked perfectly, suggesting Olympus’ claims of toughness are more than merely hot air.
If you can't finger the shutter release, just tap it to take a shot
You can even take a picture by rapping a knuckle against the 8010’s body - although if you're so cold you can't work a shutter release button you may have more urgent problems.
It's hard to say how all this translates to the real-world. Without obtaining (expensive) data across a range of product samples, it's impossible to know just how much punishment the Tough 8010 can really stand. Yet over the course of our testing, it remained resolute in the face of some shockingly punishing treatment.
Dunking good for up to 10 metres, apparently
The only serious caveat is contained at the end of the manual, which explicitly spells out that the European warranty doesn't cover damage sustained in a fall or shock. However, Olympus says this is to cover truly idiotic treatment – opening the battery compartment while underwater, for instance – rather than the company attempting to deflect genuine defect claims.
At just over 200g the Olympus Tough 8010 is heavy. The body is plated with anodised aluminium, and it features possibly the heaviest-duty battery/memory slot door on any compact camera. The door – locked closed by a sliding catch which is itself locked in place by another rotating lock – has inner and outer rubber seals to keep the battery, memory card, type-C HDMI connector and proprietary USB connector dry and free from interfering dust.
The 8010 supports SD and SDHC memory cards only – bad news for Olympus fans with a stash of old xD cards lying around. The 2.7in screen on the back is decent as well. It was a touch dark in bright sunlight, but is reasonably high resolution at 230k pixels.
There are a few compromises. Presumably, building a toughened camera with a lens that extends beyond the body presents too much opportunity for dust and water ingress, so the Tough 8010's 5x optical zoom operates entirely behind a glass cover. Its focal length is equivalent to a 28-140mm 35mm lens, which is standard for a compact camera: wide enough to have you covered for landscape photography, and long to zoom in on objects in the middle distance.
A protruding lens would be impractical given the need for water- and dustproofing
The lens is best described as reasonable. It doesn't have any killer flaws, but it doesn't allow the 8010 to stand out in terms of image quality. Its maximum aperture at 5mm (28mm equivalent) is f/3.9, and at this setting, high-contrast areas were beset by chromatic aberrations. Things showed slight signs of improvement at f/10, although the torture test of shooting tree branches against a white sky never produced superlative results.
Purple fringing aside, the 8010 produced a fair show over the course of testing. The images produced were fairly soft, particularly towards the corners, but not disastrously so, and the 8010 captured a decent amount of detail. There was a tendency to underexpose by up to a stop, but exposure compensation control is at least available directly from the 8010's menu.
For submerged shots the camera features underwater scene modes
Naturally there are umpteen scene modes available (19 for those counting), including two for underwater photography and two snow modes, as well as a few stylish "magic" filters, which add trendy effects such as a pinhole, heavily-vignetted effect and a mock fisheye. One mode we came back to more frequently was the super macro mode, which allows incredibly close focussing (around 1cm) at the lens's widest focal length.
The inclusion of a 720p, MPEG4 video mode is useful, as is the fact that the optical zoom remains functional while recording. Unfortunately, while video quality is good, the 8010 proved remarkably adept at picking up handling noise. Our sample also suffered from an annoying clicking noise while the zoom was in action, meaning it’s best to have your focal length sorted out before you start recording.
As our test video shows, you’ll need pretty good underwater visibility to produce anything worth watching, although the 8010 would be a decent pick as a snorkelling companion, as long as you bear in mind that it doesn’t have neutral buoyancy, and hence will sink if you let go of it.
The 8010's ISO can be set as high as 1600 but, as is generally the case with compacts, it is barely usable at that setting. Images begin to show signs of noise and softness at ISO 400 but remain reasonable; by ISO 800 the softness was very pronounced, and there's little reason to venture as far as ISO 1600 - use a tripod, and try to ignore the incongruity of a toughened camera offering only a plastic tripod thread.
Not the niftiest to navigate and you'll need to be content with just auto modes
In use, navigation and configuration was rather frustrating. The menu system makes sense, but is laggy - annoying if you only want to make a quick change to the camera's white balance or exposure compensation. The Olympus splash screen when you switch on the camera can be disabled, but the time to first picture was still around four seconds in our tests, as was the delay between shots.
The standard continuous mode is barely any better, shooting at a rate of one full-res shot every three seconds, or four shots in 11 seconds. There's a high-speed continuous mode as well, which shot just over two frames per second, but at the cost of reducing the resolution to 3Mp.
Compromises are inevitable, but you'll still get a shot whatever the weather
Annoyingly – and somewhat surprisingly given the 8010's top-end pricing – there's no manual mode at all. The only way to make adjustments is to use the exposure compensation control. There's no way to directly control aperture or shutter speed, and while point-n-shoot types might appreciate the simplicity, more advanced users will want more control. Likewise, there's no manual white balance mode. Insteas it features a total of six white balance options, including three fluorescent modes, covers most of the bases, but a fully manual mode will be appreciated by some.
Summing up the Olympus 8010 is difficult. It's hard to quantify exactly how tough it is - its specifications and my experience during testing suggests it's hardier than most compact cameras - if you're headed into the wilderness and need an utterly dependable camera the Tough 8010 should survive longer than most.
However, the high price puts it in direct competition with the likes of the excellent Canon S90, which is faster, sharper and, though not waterproof, is an undeniably tough-feeling piece of kit. Given the Olympus 8010’s price, fair image quality and occasionally irritating lack of urgency, you’re left with its raison d’être, namely, a robust camera to take with you when you need to be absolutely sure your equipment will work. ®
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