Olympus Stylus 820

This camera is only water-resistant, unlike Olympus's dunkable Stylus SW models, and its buttons emphasize style over function.

The compact Olympus Stylus 820 (about $250, list) seems like an odd duck in Olympus's digital camera lineup--and a duck out of water. It's water-resistant, meaning that it'll survive raindrops and occasional splashes, but if you accidentally drop this point-and-shoot in a birdbath, you may be shopping for a new camera for your ornithological outings.

If you're really worried about your camera surviving the elements, you should probably be looking at Olympus's Stylus 770 SW and Stylus 790 SW, both of which are waterproof to a depth of 10 feet; they're also shockproof from a height of 5 feet. Or, if you're looking to save money, you could consider Olympus's FE series, including the FE-280 we reviewed at the same time; it costs about $50 less.

The Stylus 820 does have a 5X zoom lens, which is 2X longer than those on the other Olympus models (and most other compact cameras). But it has the same in-camera Help Guides as on the FE-280, which present descriptions of photographic tasks; when you pick one, the camera adjusts settings appropriately. Like the FE-280 and the Stylus SW series, you can get the Stylus 820 in a few different colors; the 820 comes in bright red, baby blue, black, and silver.

The control buttons on the back of the camera are very slippery; compared to the 15 other cameras we tested in the same group, I found the 820's buttons the most difficult to press. In addition, the buttons are really shiny, and as a result, I found the text on them hard to read. The zoom button is a thin rocker switch about the width of a piece of linguine; the camera's mode dial sits just below the telephoto end of the switch, and the ridges around the edge of the mode dial makes pressing the zoom uncomfortable.

The Stylus 820 takes a pretty good picture, though. In its test group of 16 compact cameras, it earned the highest scores for color accuracy and exposure quality. On the other hand, its marks in distortion and sharpness tests, despite its 8-megapixel sensor, were below average. Judges overlooked those problems and gave it the highest score for overall quality in that test group (the image quality score in our test reporttakes all the scores into account, not just the single overall quality score). The camera lasted for 221 shots in our battery life scores, or about 70 shots below the average for our test group.

The Stylus 820 is flashy, but if you're going to pay for its weatherproof features, you might as well opt for one of the Stylus SW models and get true protection from the elements.
For an overview of similar cameras, see our chart of Top 10 Compact Cameras.

--Alan Stafford

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