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Olympus µ [mju] Digital 800 Review


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Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £257.00


When I reviewed the Olympus mju Digital 500 back in March, I was very impressed with it. Design, specification, build quality, performance and picture quality were all of the highest standard, in fact I had to resort to nitpicking about the battery hatch in order to find any fault whatsoever. Now six months later we have the new £256.59 mju 800, which is one of the five new 8 megapixel compacts that are currently available, the others being the Nikon CoolPix P1, the Canon Powershot S80, the Konic Minolta Dimage X1 and the Ricoh Caplio GX8.

The mju 800 is a broadly similar model to the 500 with a weatherproof case, a high quality lens and a 2.5in LCD monitor, but now with the added benefit of a huge CCD and a couple of interesting new features. And they’ve fixed that battery hatch, too.

The Olympus mju Digital range is sold as the Stylus range in the USA. Having heard a guy from Texas trying to pronounce “mju” (majoo, seriously), I can see why this would be a good idea. Despite these linguistic difficulties, the mju/Stylus range has been extremely successful, thanks to its winning formula of simplicity, superb picture quality and robust weatherproof design. Previous models including the 500 have become firm favourites with world travelers and extreme sports fans, as well as more traditional holidaymakers.

The 800 continues in this well-proven vein. It has a tough metal body with a glossy scratch-resistant coating, and a sleek, rounded shape with no protrusions to snag on clothing or get broken off. The controls are designed in such a way as to be easy to use while still lying almost flush with the camera body. The mju 800 has several more controls than its predecessor but the design minimises their impact. As with previous models the main mode control is a dial set on the right and turned with the thumb. The dial is quite stiff, and while this isn’t a problem under normal circumstances, it is very difficult to operate while wearing gloves, which is a possible disadvantage in a camera that should be popular with skiers and outdoor sports enthusiasts. For people like this, it’s worth pointing out however that the mju 800 is not actually waterproof. It’s OK with a little rain or spray, but dunk it underwater and you’ll soon be shopping for a new camera. If you want something that’s completely waterproof, you’re best looking at the Pentax Optio WP.

The big 2.5in LCD monitor is an impressive item. With 215,000 pixels it is extremely sharp, and the BrightCapture technology means that unusually for a compact snapshot camera, as well as the usual program auto exposure mode, the mju 800 has aperture priority and shutter priority modes. The range of apertures (F2.8 – F8.0 in 1/3EV steps) and shutter speeds (4 – 1/1000th sec also in 1/3EV steps) on offer are genuinely useful and allow a lot of creative control, ideal for keen amateurs who are looking primarily for a snapshot camera but would like something with a bit of versatility.

As well as these semi-manual modes, the 800 has a scene mode with a selection of 19 camera programs for shooting the usual list of special situations, including portraits, landscapes, indoors, sports and action, beach and snow, sunsets and more.

The mju 800 also features an anti-shake system, but it’s not as sophisticated as the electro-mechanical systems found on some rival cameras. It is an electronic system and counteracts camera shake at the CCD by detecting and compensating for vibrations in the sensor image. It works reasonably well, providing a couple of extra stops of low-light shooting, but in this mode image size is restricted to 2,048 x 1,536 pixels.

The mju 800 has the familiar Olympus menu system that has been a feature of its cameras for several years. I have to admit that I’ve overcome my dislike of it, mainly because I’ve seen many that are worse. Everyone else seems to be happy with it, so maybe it’s just me. Exposure compensation, image quality and white balance are very quick and easy to find on the top level of the menu, while less frequently used options such as metering mode, drive mode, ISO and AF mode are in the next layer down.

Mentioning the drive mode segues neatly into camera performance, which has always been a mju strong suit. The 800 doesn’t let the side down, recording a start up time of a healthy two seconds, although the shot-to-shot time of around four seconds at maximum image quality is rather slow, thanks mainly to the write time of the big 3.5MB 8 megapixel files. Help is at hand though, in the shape of a high-speed drive mode that reduces the resolution to 2,048 x 1,536 but can shoot 10 frames in under two seconds.

On a rare negative note for an Olympus camera, I have some questions about battery life that are as yet unanswered. I fully charged the battery last week when the camera arrived, and took it out over a couple of days doing test shots. I only took maybe 50-60 shots in total, some with flash and all with a short review on the LCD screen, but a few days later when I came to write this review the battery indicator was on red, indicating that it was nearly drained. The other Olympus mju cameras have excellent battery duration, so this is surprising. The battery in question is a hefty 3.7V 1230mAh lithium-ion cell, almost twice the capacity of some rival cameras, so it may be that it wasn’t fully charged the first time.

One of the things that impressed me the most about the mju 500 was its outstanding image quality, so it’s no surprise that the 800 is just as good. One of the main selling points of the camera is its “Bright Capture” technology, which improves low light performance and also increases the brightness and contrast of the monitor to aid low light composition. Both work extremely well. I was able to take good photographs in almost total darkness, despite the fact that the 800 doesn’t have an AF illuminator.

In normal light, image quality is superb in every respect, although there is a very noticeable difference in the degree of visible JPEG compression artefacts between the high quality and super-high quality setting, not surprising since the former squeezes an 8 megapixel image into around 1.6MB. Nonetheless, the huge images produced by the mju 800 are enormously impressive.


It may be questionable whether anyone really needs an 8MP compact, but there’s no denying that the Olympus mju 800 is an extremely good camera. Build quality, ease of use and performance are as good as ever. The Bright Capture technology makes low-light photography much easier, and the image quality in SHQ mode is superb. If you simply must have A3-size holiday snaps then it’s ideal.


A range of test shots are shown over the next three pages. Here, the full size image has been reduced for bandwidth purposes, and a crop taken from the original full resolution image has been placed below it in order for you to gain an appreciation of the overall quality. The following pages consist of resized images so that you can evaluate the overall exposure. For those with a dial-up connection, please be patient while the pages download.

At the minimum 64 ISO, the exposure system decided that the flash was needed. Lots of fine detail, and no image noise.


At 100 ISO this image is virtually identical to the previous one, although it does seem to have a little camera shake. Oops.


200 ISO and still no sign of image noise. No shake this time though.


At 400 ISO there is some image noise beginning to appear in the shadow areas, such as the dark window.


800 ISO is only available at the low resolution of 2048 x 1536, and the noise reduction system reduces the level of detail in the shot.


1600 ISO is also only available at the low resolution of 2048 x 1536. Bright Capture noise reduction has further reduced detail levels.


This page consists of resized images so that you can evaluate the overall exposure

In normal sunlight and using auto white balance, exposure is perfect and colour fidelity is spot on


The Mju 800’s exposure system copes well with this almost impossible shot, bright sunlight reflecting off a steel bench, casting hard shadows


This page consists of resized images so that you can evaluate the overall exposure

I like diggers as much as the next big kid, but it’s not every day they demolish half your town centre


This drum’n’bass club was almost totally dark, a good test for the Bright Capture technology. The haze is mostly spliff smoke, I think


This page consists of resized images so that you can evaluate the overall exposure

The 20cm macro range is not especially impressive, although the image quality is very good

Although the 38mm-equivalent lens is not especially good for landscape shots, the mju 800 has a lot of outdoor appeal


Trusted Score

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Score in detail

  • Value 7
  • Image Quality 9


Camera type Digital Compact
Megapixels (Megapixel) 8.3 Megapixel
Optical Zoom (Times) 3x

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