'Do not handle with care,' states the Olympus Web site. Brilliant. Available for around £260, the mju Tough-8000 is shockproof to 2m, waterproof to 10m, freezeproof to -10°C and crushproof to 100kg. But you still get a 12-megapixel sensor, 3.6x wideangle zoom and image stabilisation. Hell, it even looks good.
They say that, if you're going to do something, you should do it properly. The cheaper mju Tough-6000 is an attractive and tough camera, but the 8000 is the real McCoy. It can be dropped further, dive deeper and survive more punishing treatment. It's also got slightly more resolution, for what that's worth.
Despite all its tough-guy credentials, the 8000's also perfectly practical as a day-to-day camera. Like the 6000, the 8000 has a compact, non-extending wideangle zoom -- you could never waterproof the usual sort. While it might be stretching it to call the 8000 a super-slim, it is very compact. There's nothing you can get in an ordinary 12-megapixel compact that you don't get here.
The picture quality's good. The fine detail's not quite as sharp as that of the 8000's best rivals, and the lens goes slightly hazy around the edges, but you've got to be viewing images at 100 per cent magnification on-screen, or turning out A4 prints or larger, to spot it. The colours, white balance and exposure are spot-on, and it's not bad at high ISOs, either. There's plenty of noise, but that's better than the hopeless smudging applied by most other camera makers.
For a ruggedised camera, the 8000 is surprisingly easy to use. You can spin the mode dial and work all the buttons with your thumb -- there's no need to change or loosen your grip -- and all the main image settings, like white balance, ISO and more, are accessed via a quick and easy to use Func button. The main menu system is more convoluted, but, most of the time, you won't need it.
Olympus' 1cm super macro mode offers hours of enjoyment too. And, if you get so close that you're blocking the light, you can switch to the LED mode, in which the camera provides its own illumination, although you have to back off a couple of centimetres for this to work.
The 8000's main weaknesses are its finish and the controls. Both are perfect for an everyday camera, but not necessarily ideal in the conditions that the 8000 is designed to survive. That polished metal exterior could get slippery, and the buttons on the back are clustered closely together -- something that's noticeable even when you're not wearing gloves.
Also, like the 6000, this is a very solid little camera. If you really do start throwing it around, someone's going to get hurt.
You expect compromises in a specialised camera, but precious few have been made with the Olympus mju Tough-8000. The fine detail could be better but it's not enough to worry about, and you're not giving up on any of the things you can take for granted in a standard snapper. The 8000 is compact, practical, easy to use and versatile. It's like having an armoured Ford Ka.
Edited by Charles Kloet