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Olympus Stylus 830 Review
by David Rasnake -  12/18/2007

The world of mid-level compact point and shoots is an increasingly crowded place, and the list of highly competent ones seems to have grown exponentially. With its well regarded all-weather technology, the 8 megapixel, 5x zoom Olympus Stylus 830 would seem to have found a distinctive niche in this field. On paper and in hand, the Stylus 830 has all the right things working for it: good resolution and sensitivity, decent zoom range, image stabilization, and solid construction. Even with all of this, however, the 830's lackluster photographic results, and its general lack of user friendliness, may destine this camera to life in the middle of the pack.

Olympus Stylus 830
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NUTS & BOLTS

Sensor

The Stylus 830 features a 1/2.3” CCD with 8.0 megapixels of resolution. Top-resolution images are recorded at 3248 x 2436, and at highest image quality settings, the 830 fills up a 512 MB card in about 130 shots.

Viewfinder/LCD

The latest Stylus continues the trend seen across the compact market of doing away with an optical viewfinder. At 2.5 inches, the 830’s Hyper Crystal LCD screen isn’t as impressive as it once would have been, given the number of 3-inch compact screens available in competing models. Refresh is fast and fluid, and the screen’s 230,000 pixels provide crisp, if not super-bright, view images. Screen gain-up in low light was functional if not great, hinting at the 830's unimpressive low-light performance.

Lens/Zoom

Setting itself apart from the field of 3x compacts, the Stylus 830 features a 5x (36-180mm equivalent at 35mm) zoom that retracts into the camera’s body. The weather-sealed metal housing feels substantial, but the whole apparatus is a bit noisy in motion and the aperture makes audible clicking noises constantly and somewhat ominously. Still, 12 steps of adjustment from one end of this wider-than-average range to the other help to offset these minor concerns.

Focus

The Stylus 830 offers three selectable autofocus modes. Spot AF is a conventional center-spot focusing mode; focus points are not movable/selectable. The Olympus’s iESP AF mode uses a contrast detection AF system, and was generally effective at correctly selecting the desired focus point.

Finally, Face Detect AF is a standard facial recognition autofocus system, though this implementation didn’t perform as well as others tested: in Face Detect AF, the 830 was prone to boxing out focus points that weren’t, in fact, the faces in the photo. Moreover, the number of levels of navigation required to access focus options (more on this momentarily), combined with a face recognition system in need of some refinement, made this feature less useful than similar systems on some competitive models.

Flash

The basic complement of flash modes is here, including auto and red-eye reduction. A dedicated fill mode is a nice addition as well for shooting against back lighting, or for macro work. Just don’t look to the 830 for advanced flash features like slow sync.

Weatherproofing

While it’s not submersible (like models from Olympus’s Stylus SW series), the Stylus 830 touts itself as “splash proof” and “all weather,” the result of rubberized seals on every door and moving part of the device. Mild testing of these features during a heavy snow shower showed no ill effects on the camera.

The trade off for using the Stylus with impunity when the weather gets bad comes by way of button feel: in order to effectively seal the case, the 830’s controls are often “sticky” and more difficult to press than those on conventional devices. Still, without many weather-resistant competitors in the point-and-shoot market, this feature alone may recommend the 830 to users needing a compact camera that is able to stand up to the elements.

Image Stabilization

The 830’s Dual IS image stabilization system uses sensor-shift stabilization in addition to boosted ISO sensitivity. Mechanical stabilization (enabled in any shooting mode – including movie mode – via a dedicated button next to the shutter release) as implemented here is on par with systems from other manufacturers, providing a nice, highly functional addition the 830’s feature set.

Memory

If you’re coming from another brand, one strike against the 830 is one common to Olympus compacts: the use of Olympus/Fujifilm’s proprietary xD-Picture Card memory format. The fact that xD can’t match the speeds of the latest SD cards is a further irritation, if a mild one.

The 830 comes equipped with about 14 MB of internal memory as well.

Image/Movie File Formats

The Stylus uses standard formats here: JPEG for still images, AVI for movies.

Connectivity

A combined USB/AV/power connection resides under its own flip-out panel on the camera’s right side.

Power

Power for the 830 comes from an externally charged 740mAh lithium ion battery pack. This underpowered voltage source performed predictably, coming up well short of the advertised 200 shots per charge in real world use. If you ever fire the flash, expect to get no more than 150 shots under best conditions between charges.

EXPOSURE

The Stylus 830 provides shooting in Auto, Program Auto, and Scene modes only: no aperture or shutter priority shooting here. Scene mode provides the standard preset selections (Landscape, Portrait, Indoor, Sport), plus a few interesting additions (like Behind Glass, which disables the flash to compensate for glare, and a low-res Auction setting). I'm left scratching my head about the need for not one but three underwater modes, though, and the list (at 22 selections) is almost unbearably detailed. In general, however, scene mode choices are logical and functional.

Program Auto provides adjustment for white balance, ISO, drive mode (single, continuous, or high speed), and metering mode (center-weighted ESP mode, or spot metering). Additionally, macro modes, exposure compensation, self timer, and flash settings can be adjusted in Auto, Program Auto, and Scene modes.

Given its basic profile, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Stylus 830 also features an on-screen histogram and composition grid that can be activated via the display button in any shooting mode.

Guide Mode

In Guide Mode, users select a shooting situation from a fairly exhaustive list of scenarios. The camera then configures settings as appropriate. An interesting concept, if not always very helpful (the “Shooting at night” prompt, which directs you to “Set camera to night shooting mode” is perhaps less than helpful, for instance), but whether novice shooters will get much use out of it is anyone’s guess.

Movie Mode

Movies with audio are captured at 640x480, 320x240, or 160x120. As mentioned, IS can be enabled in movie shooting mode. Macro mode and exposure compensation settings can also be accessed for use in shooting video clips.

Metering

In keeping with its basic, user-friendly approach, the Stylus offers only two metering modes. Olympus’s ESP mode uses a center-weighted average in calculating exposure values. Conventional center spot mode can also be selected.

Exposure compensation is adjustable in every shooting mode, in 1/3 stop increments up to +/- 2 stops. As with so many features on this camera, however, this functionality is tempered slightly by a menu-based adjustment system that is hard to understand and control on the fly.

Shadow Adjust

The 830 sports a Shadow Adjust function for bringing up underexposed areas of an image. While similar in principle to Nikon’s D-Lighting technology, the results from the Olympus were somewhat less predictable, compressing image contrast too much in many outdoor shots. The function seemed to operate at its best in images with a narrow dynamic range – not usually the images that tend to suffer from strongly underexposed areas. A similar process is accessible post-shot via the Perfect Fix feature, which might be a better option for selective application of this technology.

White Balance

White balance options include a well-tempered Auto preset in addition to Daylight, Overcast, Tungsten, and three Fluorescent settings. Neither a flash preset nor a custom setting is included.

Sensitivity

The Stylus 830 has a selectable ISO range between 64 and 1600, and includes Auto and Hi Auto presets for sensitivity as well. There is no manually selectable cap or limiting feature for maximum ISO value in auto mode; while Olympus doesn’t appear to publish the limit they employ for the normal Auto setting, based on testing it appears to be limited to ISO 800, with Hi Auto extending the range to the full 1600.

In-Camera Image Adjustment

In-camera image adjustment on the Stylus 830 primarily takes place post-shot. Options include the ability to add frames, modify color cast, and superimpose add greeting card style labels, in addition to the aforementioned Perfect Fix features to correct red-eye and underexposed shadow areas. Like all menus on the 830, after-effects are not particularly easy to understand or use without the manual handy, making it hard to recommend this camera as a strong choice for novice users.

CONTROLS, DESIGN, ENGINEERING, & ERGONOMICS

In hand, the Stylus 830 has a nice, solid feel, with a metal and plastic case that feels well put together and capable of standing up to some use and abuse. The fact the 830 comes in five colors, including green and orange, may also appeal to some, but the overall look is hardly cutting edge, bearing a striking resemblance to a miniature version of an Olympus 35mm point and shoot from a few years ago.

Olympus Stylus 830
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Given this, some might argue that the back panel controls, which look like they were sourced from a 1980s console television, fit right in. The fact that the icons on each button are backlit is a nice feature for night shooting, though.

Olympus Stylus 830
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Power, an amply sized shutter release, and IS buttons all appear on top.

Olympus Stylus 830
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As a result of its weather sealing strip, the battery/memory door feels particularly solid. The only thing it lacks is a lock on the slider, meaning that it isn’t as hard as it should be to pop the door open while shooting.

Olympus Stylus 830
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Complaints about the buttons themselves are nothing compared to those that can be leveled against the interface as a whole. In terms of the submenus, it would seem that nothing is descriptively labeled, and nothing is where it should be. A “quick access” menu for the shooting mode makes getting to commonly sought adjustments (white balance, ISO) a bit easier, but some decisions are simply inexplicable. For instance, AF mode appears in one menu, while metering mode (which is contingent on AF mode) is buried deep in an unrelated area. Combine this with a camera that (again, owing to weather sealing) requires more than average finger strength and/or multiple button presses to perform simple functions like zooming in and you’ve got a veritable control nightmare in your hands. For a camera aimed squarely at novice users, Olympus needs to go back to the drawing board on the user interface as a whole.

Included

Included in the box with the camera, you'll find the battery, battery charger, USB cable, AV cable, wrist strap, software CD-ROM with full instruction manual, and quick start guide.

PERFORMANCE

Given the difficulties associated with the Stylus 830’s control system, it’s a good thing that this camera takes decent images straight out of the box. The studio test shot reveals an image that is acceptably crisp across the board, though the second image – a 100% crop on the bottle label – reveals fine text that is blurry at full view.

Olympus Stylus 830 Test Shots
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Olympus Stylus 830 Test Shots

Default metering does a decent job of preserving highlights in this and most situations, though the 830 did blow out some highlights in outdoor and flash pictures, especially. The contrast, sharpness, and saturation are slightly more “normal” than the extreme values seen in images from many compacts. If anything, the Stylus 830 is too soft, lacking much edge definition and falling off considerably at the corners. In practice, this meant that many outdoor shots had a pale, muted look that, while less offensive to my eye than persistent oversaturation, was no more true to life.

In addition to more softness than might be expected from what is not a tiny lens, the 830 was hit or miss on other lens-related quality issues. Both barrel and pincushion distortion were only moderate at worst (barrel more so than pincushion). Chromatic aberration, while not "bottom of the barrel" performance, was thick and highly visible in high-contrast boundary area. The sample 100% crop below shows the fringing at its worst, edging out the thinner branches almost completely; note the aforementioned corner softness in the top of this frame edge shot as well.

Olympus Stylus 830 Test Shots

The flash was a disappointment, even for a compact. The 830 seemed to blast out highlights in every flash situation, indoors and out, rendering skin tones that are particularly flat and pale. Similarly, color casts can be difficult when using the flash under certain kinds of ambient lighting, and as noted, there’s no white balance corrective for this.

Olympus Stylus 830 Test Shots
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A final note on performance: the 830 is a surprisingly good macro shooter, especially in super macro mode (where minimum focusing distance lives up to its advertised 1.2 inches). Soft image quality isn't as noticeable here, and while a good macro mode is hardly enough to bring this camera up out of general mediocrity, it's definitely worth noting.

Noise

A slightly large-for-its-resolution sensor keeps graininess at low ISOs under better control than many higher resolution cameras, which is a definite plus. Combined with some images that could stand up to a little sharpening, the Stylus is capable of providing low-ISO shots that can be nicely post-processed; how much the target market for this device is interested in taking these extra steps for excellent images is another question. The noise progression is as follows:

Olympus Stylus 830 ISO Test Shots
ISO 64
Olympus Stylus 830 ISO Test Shots
ISO 100
Olympus Stylus 830 ISO Test Shots
ISO 200
Olympus Stylus 830 ISO Test Shots
ISO 400
Olympus Stylus 830 ISO Test Shots
ISO 800
Olympus Stylus 830 ISO Test Shots
ISO 1600

Even for a high-sensitivity setting, ISO 1600 is blotchy. This works in tandem with the overall softness of the 830's images to create visible noise that is, in some ways, more offensive and intrusive than the often-lamented highly sharpened, pixelated look. The following image and crop show a predictable loss of crispness and detail at ISO 1600 in real world shooting.

Olympus Stylus 830 Test Shots
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Olympus Stylus 830 Test Shots

Overall, the combination of a poor flash unit, soft images, and noisy performance coupled with a focus system that tended to suffer from extreme focus hunt (no AF assist lamp here) in low light made the Stylus 830 an abysmal performer indoors and after dark. Not only did the focus slow down considerably in less than average light, but missed focus becomes the norm with this camera after dark. In short, if you shoot a lot in these situations, look elsewhere.

Timing/Shutter Lag

When focused, the Stylus 830 is a quick performer, firing off prefocused shots in around .1 seconds. The Olympus takes closer to half a second when shooting without prefocus, which, while not class leading, is more than acceptable. Power-up time is around .2 seconds, but getting a shot off depends on whether or not the camera is started up in Scene mode, as this requires an additional button press to select the scene initially (adding to the list of dislikes with this interface).

Flash recharge time was good as well, averaging around 2.5 seconds.

Continuous shooting and shoot-and-select modes provide excellent shot to shot time, but the trade off comes in image tracking. Without an optical viewfinder, display blackout/lag during continuous shooting makes tracking a moving subject difficult. For pure speed, however, the Olympus works well in this regard.

Additional Sample Images

Olympus Stylus 830 Test Shots
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Olympus Stylus 830 Test Shots
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Olympus Stylus 830 Test Shots
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Olympus Stylus 830 Test Shots
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Olympus Stylus 830 Test Shots
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Olympus Stylus 830 Test Shots
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Conclusions

While the Olympus only seriously disappointed in a few of the test categories in this review, it's fair to say that the overall package just never comes together cohesively. Accessibility issues and ease of use top the list of concerns, and soft, noisy images and poor flash and night shot performance make the camera difficult to get good shots with in common snapshot situations. The weatherproofing is a nice feature, and one distinguishing mark for the Stylus 830, as is its 5x zoom. But in a crowded field of easy-to-use compacts, this camera simply fails too often and doesn't impress enough to earn a strong recommendation.

Pros:

Cons: