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Fine pocket cam with a little extra reach, but not quite deserving of Stylus name
Written: Dec 15, 2008
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
I've been a fan of the Olympus Stylus line of point-and-shoot cameras dating back to their 35mm film days. The Stylus 830 represents my third foray into the digital side of that pool which I began with the original digital Stylus, the Stylus Digital 300.
Given that the 830 is my third digital Stylus purchase I think it's safe to say that I'm a fan of these little Olys' combination of sturdy build quality, compactness and picture quality. But I must admit that using my 830 has been a bit of a disappointment compared to my original 300 and the Stylus 800 that replaced it.
To be fair, my skill and knowledge as a photographer has grown quite a bit since I bought that first Stylus 300 in 2003. Concommitantly I also become more demanding of my cameras -- perhaps unfairly so for a compact camera.
That is the background for my review. As is my habit, I will focus on why I bought this camera, what my experience with it has been and what I like most and least about it. I will spare most of the tech details and http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/peepers.shtml -- you can learn that from the major camera review sites. Since I've owned this camera for about six months now my intent is to give a clearer impression of what it's like to live with and use regularly.
I really like my Stylus 800 that I bought in 2005 almost immediately after it was introduced. But there are two things I kept wishing it had: optical image stabilization and a longer zoom. One reason for the wish was that I like to take pictures at concerts, especially outdoor summer festivals, and I figured both those features would help me get a little better view of the stage.
Since I bought the 800 a lot of models have appeared that have 8 megapixels, longer zooms and image stabilization, but a lot of them are also pretty bulky by comparison. So I also wanted to keep the camera pretty slim, and have it be weatherproof.
Altogether it's an admittedly tall order, which is why I was happy to find that Olympus combined all these features into its greatly expanded Stylus line. At 5x the Stylus 830 has a longer zoom than my old 800, and longer than most compact digicams its size. The addition of true optical stabilization--not just so-called digital stabilization--sealed the deal.
I bought mine from Olympus' Ebay store which often features fantastic deals on refurbished and discontinued models. I paid nearly $100 less than the average retail price at the time of purchase.
These are the truly useful features this camera has and why I think they're important and count as "hits."
Hit Feature: Optical Image Stabilization
As I mentioned this was a key feature for me. What this does is compensate for hand-shake so that you can take pictures with a slower shutter speed than would otherwise be possible. This happens by moving the lens elements slightly in response to camera motion.
Shutter speed is the major determinant of whether your picture will be blurred. The faster the shutter speed the less likely you'll have blur. Camera motion from a shaky hand is one major cause of blur, and camera motion combined with a slow shutter speed almost always results in blurry pictures. Optical image stabilization compensates for this. However, it cannot compensate for a moving subject -- so if the person you're taking a picture of can't stand still you'll still have a blurry picture.
Optical is superior to so-called "digital image stabilization" which isn't really image stabilitzation at all. The digital version really just increases the sensitivity (ISO) of the image sensor so the camera can use a higher shutter speed. The problem with this method is that increased sensitivity means increased noise which turns up as blotchiness and grainyness in your photos.
The Stylus 830's stabilization is certainly effective, though because there are no manual shutter or aperture controls, I can't say specifically how effective it is in terms of how many f-stops. Subjectively, I'd say that I feel confident taking pictures with at least one to two stops slower shutter speed than I'd need using my Stylus 800 without stabilization. In practice that means when the camera is all the way zoomed in I can take pics with a shutter speed of 1/90 or 1/45 pretty routinely without significant blurring.
Hit Feature: 5x Zoom
The lens on this camera has a zoom range equivalent to a 36 – 180mm zoom on a 35 mm camera, which is much longer than the included kit lens on most digital SLRs. For most purposes this is a pretty good zoom, and you'd have to buy a much bigger camera to get a zoom this long.
Hit Feature: Size, Style and Build
I ordered this camera online without ever actually seeing one in person. It's not something I normally recommend, but because I was already familiar with the Stylus 800 I had a good idea of the size and ergonomics. As it turns out the Stylus 830 is actually slimmer, while maintaining the same size LCD and basic control layout.
Now, when choosing which camera to take with me, if I really need something pocket sized I take the Stylus 830 because it really is that much smaller.
I bought the black version of the 830 and I think it's quite a handsome camera. I'm not entirely sure whether the black case is made of plastic or metal, but it feels as sturdy as my Stylus 800. The lens barrel appears to be all metal, which is a good thing.
My poor Stylus 800 had taken several nasty spills, including one particular pad fall on a brick street in New Orleans. While it has a little dent from that last one, there's been no operational effect -- it works as well as the first day I bought it.
The 830 hasn't yet seen that level of abuse, but I'm not exactly careful with it either. It's a carry-around camera, and I have no intention of babying it. So there's the basic scratches and wear and tear, but no major disaster and it continues to work fine.
Hit Feature: Exposure Compensation
All but the simplest, cheapest digicams have expsoure compensation but I really like how it's implemented on the Stylus 830. Exposure compensation allows you to tell the camera to make the picture a little brighter or darker. You want to do this because sometimes the camera's autoexposure get's fooled by a bright backlight or a shadow causing part of the picture to be too bright or dark.
When you select exposure compensation on the Stylus 830 instead of just seeing the number it actually gives you a preview of what the picture will look like with that setting. Less guessing=better pictures that look how you want them to. It's such an amazing difference that I can't imagine how I lived without it before.
Hit Feature: High ISO / High-Auto
Low light performance on small digicams is hotly contested feature in the online world, and something much complained about. As I noted before, it boils down to the fact that the less light you have, the more you have to increase the sensitivity of the sensor, which introduces noise. These cameras all have some kind of noise reduction built-in which does work, but does so by blurring some parts of the picture, making them blotchy.
It's a trade off that comes from putting so much into such tiny little packages. But given that, I actually find the Stylus 830 to be a pretty good performer. Unlike the Stylus 800, which was one of the first compact digicams to feature high ISO capabilities, the Stylus 830 takes low-light pics at full 8 megapixel resolution. The 800 only takes ISO 800 & 1600 pics at 3.2 megapixels.
It's a subject of some controversy in the digital camera world, but I often find that I can get less noisy pics by still choosing to take them at the 3 megapixel setting on my Stylus 830 when shooting at high ISOs. This is especially true when I'm shooting in a really low-light situation, like a rock club or a dimly lit restaurant.
Although there are minimal manual adustments on the Stylus 830, one mode I really like is the High Auto ISO mode. With this selected the camera automatically chooses the appropriate sensitivity to minimize blur, going as high as ISO 3200. Now, image quality really does take a significant hit at that ISO. But when you combine that level of sensitivity with optical image stabilization you're still taking usable pictures in light that you'd never been able to work in with color film. You won't want to make prints any bigger than 4x6, and they're really best kept online. Nevertheless, it's cool to get anything that's not a total blur working by little more than candlelight.
Hit Feature: Macro
I really liked the macro mode on my Stylus 800, and the macro on the 830 is just as good, if not better since you have more zoom at your disposal. I don't really know how this compared to other compact cameras from other brands. I know that generally speaking these compact digicams with little sensors perform amazingly at macro, and the Olympus is no exception.
This are things that I wish the camera had, or wish were better.
Missed Feature: Lens Aperture/Speed
The maximum aperture of the lens determines how much light you can let in to the sensor. The more light you can let in, the faster the shutter speed you can use, and the lower the sensitivity/ISO. What this all adds up to is that in low light you can get sharper pictures with less noise and blotchiness.
The maxmium aperture (also called f-stop) of the Stylus 830's lens is f3.3 at the wide end of the zoom, and f5.0 at the telephoto end. By comparison my Stylus 800 has a maxmium aperture of f2.8 at the wide end. In practice that means my 800 let's in about twice as much light at the wide end. It also means that the 800 can use a much faster shutter speed or a lower ISO in the equivalent amount of light.
Photographers would say that the 830 has a "slower" lens, and the reason why it's slower is probably a design compromise in order to fit such a long zoom lens into such a compact body. If you look around at other competing compact cameras with a long zoom, you'll find that most of them also have a maximum aperture of f3.3 or smaller (bigger f-stop = smaller aperture = less light enters = "slower" lens).
So, while I do wish the 830's lens was faster, I did know this going it and still decided to buy it. Nevertheless it's one of those things that creeps up on me when I'm shooting. I notice the camera telling me that I'm getting a slow shutter speed and I wish it were faster, then I remember that the lens just won't allow it. (Remember, I did say that I'm probably unfairly demanding.)
Missed Feature: Manual Controls
One of the things I love about my Stylus 800 is the ability to have Aperture or Shutter- priority exposure control. That's where I can set either the aperture/f-stop or the shutter speed myself, and the camera does the rest.
This is a feature that is increasingly difficult to find on compact cameras -- even expensive ones. And, again, I knew that I wasn't getting it with the 830. Though with point-and-shoot digicams there are fewer f-stops to choose from and they make less of a difference, so I figured I wouldn't miss it that much.
I was partially right. Most of the time, especially in good light, I really don't miss the manual controls. The camera chooses exposure pretty well, and I can use exposure compensation to control things somewhat. But sometimes I really wish I could control shutter speed manually in order to compensate for either a shaky hand or a moving subject.
So it's not a killer miss, but I do miss it nonetheless.
Real World Performance
I've been using the Stylus 830 for over six months now in all sorts of situations, from outdoor festivals to graduation ceremonies, and plain old "walk around" shooting. Although, as I've mentioned, I'm a little disappointed with it's somewhat slow lens and lack of manual controls, I still enjoy using it, especially when I want to carry the smallest camera possible without sacrificing zoom.
Only in low light situations do I get frustrated with the camera, mostly because I wish I could set the shutter speed manually in order to minimize motion blur. Generally speaking the camera will pick the slowest possible shutter speed to compensate for hand shake while maintaining a lower ISO. However, this isn't always the best situation for faster moving subjects, like a rock band on stage. In this case I'd might be glad to sacrifice and take a higher ISO in order to get a faster shutter speed. I can usually force the camera to do something like this by using exposure compensation, but it's a less straightforward method than just being able to set shutter speed manually.
My one major complaint is battery life. The Stylus 830 uses a newer, slimmer battery than the Stylus 800, which uses the same battery as all the previous digital Stylus models (like my 300). One might hope that the newer battery would benefit from a few years of development. Unfortunately, I see no indication of that.
The Stylus 830 battery lasts much less long than the Stylus 800. I have a 2 GB memory card in my 830 and it's rare than the battery lasts long enough to fill the card. That's really not enough, in my opinion. Furthermore, I have consistent troubles getting a full charge with my camera. I will put a battery in the charger and it will flash charging for days without every indicating that it's finished. Since I have a refurbished model I reckon that maybe I have a substandard battery. Still, it's a pain.
The Stylus 830 is another fine camera in the Olympus Stylus line that adds a longer 5x zoom and optical image stabilization to the Stylus tradition of compact, weatherproof and sturdy camera bodies.
The Stylus 830 is competitive with nearly any other compact digicam in its price range when it comes to overall picture quality, high ISO performance and such. It's worth a look if you want the longer zoom in a still-compact body -- that's it's primary selling point.
By no means is it a perfect camera, and experienced photographers will wish for manual controls and a faster lens. However those same photographers will be hard to pressed to find many other competitors in the price range offering these features.
If you're willing to go with a refurbished model I recommend checking out Olympus' store on Ebay where you can pick up a Stylus 830 for under $150, if not less. I've owned a lot of refurbished electronics and suffered no more breakdowns than I've had with new and so-called "factory perfect" merchandise.
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Amount Paid (US$): 110.00
This Camera is a Good Choice if You Want Something... Flexible Enough for Enthusiasts