So one random day I chanced upon a dinosaur camera in the archived section of the office, the 2004 released advanced compact camera, Olympus Camedia C-8080. While the whole world is obsessing over newer cameras with superlative megapixel counts and sky-high ISO numbers, I somehow found this old C-8080 rather appealing. The camera called out to me (if such a thing can be understood) and I decided to bring it home with me, and utilized it for my usual shutter therapy session. This camera was considered one of the legendary, best, compact camera at its time, and if that is true, it should still be able to perform rather well today, in my own opinion. Or was I wrong?
You may wonder, why a 12 year old camera, have you gone nuts, Robin?
As I found that this Olympus C-8080 was released in 2004, it was the exact same year I first picked up a camera, and started my venture in photography. My first camera was the lowly, 3MP Kodak CX7300, a no-zoom, no AF, no Macro fully automatic point and shoot camera, which I hated so much I traded it in for a higher Kodak model, the CX7430 (4MP, AF, some manual controls, very good macro shooting, long exposure capable) few months later. I acknowledge that as a poor, starving engineering student studying overseas in Australia, it was impossible for me to own an expensive, high-end compact camera like the Olympus C-8080 which was released at the same time I started photography. I cannot help but wonder, if I have picked up this beast at that time, or some time later, what kind of photograph output will I be able to get? How will this affect my photography? Though I know the answer probably means nothing now, as it was necessary for me to take the long wandering path to learn my photography basics and improve over the years, there is still a part of me that always imagine the capabilities of a much better camera, at the time of my learning years.
Fast forward from 2004 to 2016 now, I finally, can test out the Olympus C-8080. Better late than never, right?
First impression, that camera is GIGANTIC! I am not kidding, it is built just like a DSLR, and handles like one too. There is plenty of beefy grip to go around large hands. Picking the camera up, boy, it was not light either. The camera felt very solid, I have never, ever felt a compact camera built like a tank as this Olympus C-8080. I found out later on that the body material was magnesium alloy, which was quite similar to the chassis used for the first Olympus Four Thirds DSLR, E-1. I can understand that the weight and the size were not relevant any more in today's standards, but why are there no such build quality in high end compact cameras these days? I have not seen anything like this in the past 5 years, or even more!
Handling was very good, I must admit. Ergonomics was right on point, and the camera feels comfortable in my hands. Two handed operation is definitely needed, this is not the kind of camera you can just use single-handedly.
I did a little digging on the specifications of the Olympus C-8080
8 Megapixels Sony 2/3 inch CCD Image Sensor
The image sensor used inside the camera was a Sony sensor, a 2/3 inch (similar size sensor used in newer Fuji compact cameras, the X10, X20 and X30 series) which is significantly larger than majority of the sensor size (most popular size is 1/2.5 inch, or 1/2.3 inch). It was interesting to observe a larger than usual compact camera image sensor being adopted inside the C-8080! Also, in 2004, 8 Megapixels was a HUGE thing. Most people would have been happy with 3MP or 5MP. Anything more than that was considered pushing the envelope.
28mm-140mm F2.4-3.5 ED lens
The most important innovation in this camera, and the strongest advantage over all competition, was the lens used, a 5x zoom 28mm to 140mm, which basically covers wide angle (28mm is quite standard for wide angle) to 140mm, which can be considered as medium telephoto range. Three ED (extra-low dispersion) glass elements were used to control chromatic aberration! The lens looks large, and serious. Knowing Olympus specializing in optical technology, I have high expectations from the lens used here.
EVF and Tilt Screen
And you think Tilt Screen is a new, modern thing? Even this old camera has an electronic viewfinder, which was quite bright and sharp! And yes, it also has the What You See Is What You Get ability, allowing you to preview the exposure and white balance of your shot before you capture the image.
Hybrid AF, Contrast Detect + Phase Detect Autofocus
I wonder how loudly these new DSLR models from certain manufacturers shouted about their hybrid AF capabilities, but even this 2004 model already has it!
Yes, the ISO caps at 400!!!! That means, even at ISO200, you will get plenty of noise already in the image. I can hear some of you cringe already!
Alright, enough technical specification talk, let us jump right into the images I have shot!
1/400sec, F3.5, ISO50
1/100sec, F3.5, ISO100
1/320sec, F3.2, ISO200
1/125sec, F3.5, ISO64
1/20sec, F2.5, ISO64
1/60sec, F2.5, ISO64
1/320sec, F3.8, ISO80
I shot mostly everything with Aperture Priority, and shooting with almost wide open to gather as much light as possible, to counter the lack of high ISO capability. I tried my best to stay as low as possible, below ISO200. The fact that this camera was not equipped with any sort of image stabilization options means I have to be extra cautious to mitigate camera shake, and I do not particularly have very steady hands to work with (my coffee addiction is not helping).
SLOW RAW FILE WRITING AND NO CHIMPING
The biggest challenge was shooting everything in RAW. The writing time to the CF card (yes I still have a few lying around from my DSLR days) is about 12-15 seconds per image, and as the camera writes the RAW file to the card, the camera is locked and you cannot do anything at all until the writing process is done. If you want to read from the CF card, previewing the RAW image will also take similarly long time! The consequence was quite severe, as I cannot continuous shoot, and have to plan and time my shots very carefully. I need to shoot one image and wait for 15 seconds before I can shoot another one, which means most of the time I can get only one chance and I must not screw up! Talk about challenge! Furthermore, I cannot chimp as the reading time was as painfully long as the writing time, and I just compose my shot, capture it and hope I somehow got it right.
Why RAW? Why not JPEG? Only one answer. Noise Filter. There is no way I can turn off the Noise Filter which is applied directly to the JPEG files in camera. The Noise Filter is rather strong, if by today's standard it is actually set to "HIGH", resulting in smeared details and smooth, soft looking images, which I dislike. I'd rather keep the noise, alongside the useful fine details, which the 8MP CCD sensor is capable of resolving, together with the help of Olympus optics! I then loaded the RAW files into Olympus Viewer 3 and manually turned off the Noise Filter one by one. Well, not that I have so many images to work with, so it was ok.
This particular session was especially difficult for me, imagine no second chances, and no chimping to make sure I get the shot! Even if I did chimp (by waiting 15 seconds for an image to load) the screen was in such low resolution it was difficult to tell apart of the image was fully in focus!
Nevertheless, all these challenges made photography even more fun! I am sure film shooters can relate to these challenges of having limited chances as well as no chimping.
Now onto some good news.
Rendering Shallow Depth of Field (Blur Background)
The lens being bright at F2,4 to 3.5, and having a longer reach up to 140mm, coupled with a rather large (larger than usual compact cameras) 2/3 inch CCD sensor, it was not difficult to blur the background, creating shallow depth of field to isolate subjects, if needed. I zoomed in to about 100mm or more, and I could produce my usual close up portraits of stranger shots, as shown above. The bokeh is quite pleasant and smooth looking, as expected from an Olympus made lens.
The Excellent Olympus Optical Quality
The lens was excellent, and I was very pleased with the results I was seeing. There was very little to almost no trace of chroma aberration (purple or green fringing) thanks to the generous 3 ED glass elements used. The lens resolves ample amount of details, faithfully captured by the CCD sensor, and 8MP is still quite plentiful being displayed on today's computer monitors. Also, the camera comes with very capable macro shooting, and can go quite close to the subjects, revealing impressive amount of fine details when shooting close up. On the whole, I did not notice any corner shading or distortion, even if there was any, it was safe to completely ignore them. I am not surprised if this lens can be fitted to 12MP or higher MP camera and still can produce amazing results. It is just sad that Olympus does not make cameras from this series any more, or perhaps the market just moved on and not many demand exist for such cameras these days.
Noise, Noise, Noise
Turning off the Noise Filter, there is presence of noise, both chroma and luminance, even at very low ISO settings, but the sharpness and fine details in the image were quite pleasing to look at. Of course, at ISO 200 to 400, it was like seeing ISO6400 to 12800 image on my E-M5, but hey, keeping in mind this is a 12 years old compact camera (not even a DSLR) I think whoever bought and used this camera must have been happy and proud owners.
1/20sec, F3.2, ISO50
1/30sec, F2.8, ISO50
1/13sec, F2.8, ISO200
1/30sec, F2.5, ISO400
1/30sec, F3.2, ISO400
1/40sec, F2.8, ISO64
1/400sec, F4.5, ISO50
100% crop from previous image.
On the left, Noise Filter OFF, right Noise Filter ON
The Noise Filter ON severely smudges all the fine details.
1/80sec, F2.8, ISO50
100% crop from previous image.
At Low ISO settings, the images come out very sharp and full of fine details, with luminance noise also.
1/100sec, F3.5, ISO400
Yikes, ISO400. There were some dead pixels around, I should have done pixel mapping before my shoot.
1/50sec, F2.5, ISO100
Dynamic range is not great either, but hey, I don't think other cameras in 2004 can fare that much better either.
I really like the images that I see from Olympus C-8080.
The colors come out neutral, and a little low in saturation (I did increase a little bit of saturation in my post-processing), but the original images looked very natural and I do like the color rendition from this camera. Apart from the high noise in ISO200 and higher images and perhaps somewhat limited dynamic range, everything else in the image is still agreeable by today's standards. This camera, a 12 years old camera, takes BETTER images than most smartphones today (I understand there are a few high end smartphones that can do impressive things, but hey, most smartphones still have crap cameras).
If I have owned this camera in 2004 or 2005, I would feel like I was on top of the world! I did not have high expectations as a learning photographer, and I was even quite happy with what I had, the lowly Kodak compact camera, which I rarely complained about. I do wonder, what if Olympus still continues the tradition of this Camedia C series, have the superb, sharp Olympus lens, and fit in the new 1 inch updated image sensor that many high end compacts are using now! Build a magnesium alloy body, put in the 5-Axis Image Stabilization, I think we may just have a winner here!
1/30sec, F2.5, ISO125
1/50sec, F3.5, ISO125
1/100sec, F3.5, ISO80
1/250sec, F3.5, ISO125
1/250sec, F3.5, ISO50
1/250sec, F2.5, ISO64
1/200sec, F4.5, ISO50
1/200sec, F3.5, ISO160
1/125sec, F3.5, ISO50
1/15sec, F3.5, ISO125
1/50sec, F2.8, ISO80
Super Macro Mode
1/60sec, F2.8, ISO80
I know this is a long shot, but did/does any of you own the Olympus Camedia C-8080?
Please do share your experience and thoughts!
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