The versatile, water-resistant 8-megapixel Olympus µ (pronounced 'myu') 810 Digital adapts to dim environments as readily as it braves damp ones. Thanks to a combination of high sensitivity (up to ISO 3,200), digital image stabilisation and Olympus's Bright Capture pixel-pooling technology, the µ 810 can take and display acceptable pictures in low light. Unfortunately, this camera doesn't do as well in fair weather -- its LCD tends to wash out in bright sunlight.
The Olympus µ 810's sleek, 145g stainless steel body is easily pocketable and less than 25mm thick, with its 35mm-to-105mm-equivalent lens fully retracted. Unlike its resilient brother, the µ 720 SW Digital, the µ 810 isn't submersible, but it has better sealing and gasket coverage than a typical camera, which allows its weather-resistant body to keep shooting in an atmosphere with some dust or precipitation.
You can easily manipulate most of the camera's controls with your right thumb, so the µ 810 is well suited for one-handed shooting. Besides a power switch and a shutter release on the top panel, all camera controls are clustered on the back panel, next to the 64mm (2.5-inch), 230,000-pixel LCD. These controls include a zoom rocker and a simple mode dial with only five settings: movie mode, scene selection, playback, recording mode and Guide.
The four-way-plus-OK control pad is surrounded by four additional keys: menu, digital image stabilisation/printing, delete and display. The last button cycles the camera's LCD through various modes, including a rule-of-thirds grid for composition and a live histogram. The OK/function key opens a menu of the most frequently used shooting options: white balance, ISO, drive mode and metering.
The Olympus µ 810 can hit some incredibly high sensitivity settings for its class: ISO 1,600 and ISO 3,200 for extreme low-light or high-speed shots. It does so via Bright Capture, which uses clusters of sensor pixels to capture each single image pixel, rather than individual ones (a process known as 'supersampling'), effectively creating bigger pixels, each of which is more sensitive to light. Unfortunately, this results in fewer pixels in the final image -- the µ 810 can take ISO 3,200 shots at only 3-megapixel resolution. Olympus uses Bright Capture in a similar way -- clustering pixels to increase the amount of light emitted -- to boost the brightness of the LCD.
Unlike the high-ISO settings, the electronic image stabilisation works in most shooting modes, including movie, though not burst mode. You can also apply it during playback.
The 3x optical zoom lens can focus on objects between 100 and 600mm in supermacro mode. If you don't need to get quite so close to your subject, standard macro can focus from 213mm to infinity. The lens's aperture is fixed at f/2.8 at the wide-angle setting and f/4.7 when fully zoomed in. The Olympus µ 810 has no manual focus or exposure controls other than exposure compensation, but its 24 scene modes include various preset options such as Behind Glass, Documents and Auction. The Shoot and Select scene modes are a variation on burst mode -- you shoot a continuous sequence of pictures, which appear on the LCD. You can then keep or delete whatever shots you want from the batch.
Both multipoint/spot focus and exposure options are available on the µ 810. After you've set those, the camera automatically chooses a shutter speed between 1/2 second to 1/1,000 second in normal shooting modes and up to 4 seconds in night scene modes. This model has 28MB of built-in memory -- it's enough for a few shots, but you'll want an xD Picture Card to take more than a handful of photos at a time. If you want to use the camera's panorama mode to stitch up to ten frames into one shot, you'll need an Olympus-brand card -- it won't work with any others.
The µ 810 has some interesting playback features, including in-camera albums and a calendar display that sorts images by date taken. With a Type H xD card, it can shoot 640x480-pixel, 30fps film clips with sound up to the capacity of the card -- with others, you're limited to 15-second clips. Neither zoom nor focus can be adjusted while shooting.