• Price When Reviewed: 640

  • Pros: Pros: A good-looking new body and a longer zoom lens distinguish this new 8mp digital camera from its predecessor. Images are impressively sharp.

  • Cons: The C-8080 Wide Zoom’s main weakness is its lacklustre monitor. The shutter response doesn’t live up to the manufacturer’s claims, either.

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10 We rate this 8 out of 10

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After years of using more or less the same body style for its digital cameras, Olympus now seems to be introducing a completely different look every six months. So, following the new body for the Camedia 5060 WZ last November, the C-8080 WZ debuts with yet another style.

This one adopts the same Sony-made 8mp CCD (3,264-x-2,448 pixels) that everyone else is using this year. The magnesium body is significantly larger than the 5060 WZ, and the lens protrudes further.

The new Zuiko lens is the most important part of this camera. It’s built to the same standards as the lenses for Olympus’ E-1 professional digital SLR. It has a high optical resolution intended to complement the higher resolution of the 8mp sensor. The WZ stands for Wide Zoom – its 5:1 zoom range of 28-140mm (equivalent) is usefully greater than the 27-100mm of the C-5060 WZ. This is a good compromise – many long-zoom cameras sacrifice the wide-angle end in favour of an unusable telephoto that makes camera-shake inevitable without a tripod. The maximum aperture range of f/2.4 to f/3.5 is good for its class, too.

The autofocus system uses two methods to calculate distance, and then fine-tunes the results. You have a choice of iESP autofocus, spot focusing with a choice of 13 positions, continuous focus, and manual. Manual focus is the weakest point, as it’s hard to tell whether the lens is focusing or not, even on the enlarged monitor view that appears automatically.

On the other hand, the C-8080 WZ reverts to the older main monitor design from last year’s C-5050Z, which tilts up and out but can’t be viewed from the sides or in front of the camera. The C-5060 WZ has a far superior design that flips out and then up on top of the camera, and can rotate through 360 degrees. Olympus refers to the new monitor as a ‘sunshine LCD’ because its coating is supposed to reduce reflectivity. However, it’s still worse than the Nikon CoolPix 5400 we used for comparison.

On the other hand, the 8080 WZ gains a pop-up flashgun, which is helpful in avoiding redeye, though keen photographers will use an external flashgun on the standard hot shoe – if you use an Olympus model it’ll interface to the exposure controls.

Shaky claim

Olympus’ marketing message is that the C-8080 WZ offers professional SLR quality, and we wouldn’t argue with that. However, it also boasts about a 1/3 second shutter response. That’s a shakier claim, because the autofocus reaction time is just as slow as all the other compact models. You couldn’t use this camera reliably for the type of action shots that any digital SLR could handle with ease. On the positive side, its startup time is less than a second.

The camera has a continuous shooting mode of 1.6 frames per second for JPEGs, but not for TIFFs, which take an inordinately long time to write to disk. There’s a Raw option, which needs the Olympus software to decode – even Photoshop CS can’t open these files.

Comparing image quality with the older C-5060WZ, it’s obvious that the new 8mp model can capture significantly better detail – fine lettering that blurred in 5mp is sharp in 8mp. However, file sizes are bigger too – the C-8080 WZ files are 22.9MB compared to 14.4MB. Raw files are 11.9MB, and there are three JPEG compression options.

The lowest sensitivity setting of ISO 50 helps with noise reduction. The lens has such a wide maximum aperture that this isn’t a drawback, but there are useful incremental steps of ISO 64 and 80, then 100 up to 400. Noise levels increase at 200 and above, but even 400 is usable.

Downloads of these big files is helped by the USB 2.0 interface, which is still a rarity on digital cameras. There are two memory card slots, for Compact Flash/MicroDrives and the smaller xD-Picture Cards.

Overall, this is a fine camera with an excellent lens. The image quality puts it among the best of a rather patchy crop of 8mp models. It’s a pity Olympus hasn’t been able to fit the C-5060WZ’s superior monitor though.