Unlike the casing of one of its predecessors from last year, the Tough Smart 1050SW, the Tough 8000 definitely looks like the sort of camera you could put through a car wash, slam up against a wall and drop from a considerable height without damaging as much as a fingernail. It takes its stylistic cues from the Tough Smart 1030SW, sharing a similar sort of aesthetic and build quality. The lens at the front of the camera is protected by a sliding metal cover which makes a satisfying sword-like swoosh sound as it retracts into the body, but this is as exciting as it gets — at least on the outside.
There's a myriad of chrome and silver around the entire body and the 2.7-inch LCD screen at the back is flanked by brushed steel — ideal for showing up all the scratches and bumps from your subterranean adventures. In Australia, the 8000 will come in silver and black.
In terms of rugged cameras, this is about as tough as you can get. It's built to withstand the extreme: water, sand, dust, snow, larger people sitting on it ... the usual in everyday activities. Let's list off the limitations to start with. Waterproof to 10 metres, shockproof from 2 metres, freeze proof to -10 degrees Celsius and crushproof up to 100 kilograms.
Observe the scratches and bumps on the 8000 after we'd finished with it. Click image to enlarge.
(Credit: CBS Interactive)
Inside that curious lens casing is a 3.6x optical zoom, with a wide-angle 28mm lens. It's all starting to sound incredibly similar to the 1030SW, except the 8000 now has the added bonus of two more megapixels (12 rather than 10) and the added Olympus technology called Dual Shakeproof (image stabilisation). The LCD screen has also been upgraded to be supposedly brighter, designed for high glare situations such as being in the snow.
Speaking of snow conditions, the 8000 features tap control which is designed for skiers who still want to be able to take photos without removing their gloves. It's something that was present on the 1050SW and the version that appears in the 8000 is identical, according to the company.
The 8000 only comes with four shooting modes: a fully automatic mode dubbed iAuto, a program mode denoted by a camera icon where you can change ISO, white balance and so on, scene mode and this curious inclusion called beauty mode.
It's a feature designed to set it apart from the rest of its rugged camera brethren. Flick the switch from the 8000 onto the setting and the screen will suddenly transform into a blue revelation with a mirror befitting a Disney film; we think perhaps only Belle from Beauty and the Beast could get away with this thing. Once the initial screen is out of the way, some more visual trickery begins. Taking a photo in this mode will automatically adjust the image in order to remove blemishes, unsightly dark circles and generally smooth out the skin tone — like a portable Carson Kressley in your pocket. Note that taking a photo in this mode will automatically reduce the resolution to a 2-megapixel image.
Again to our disappointment the 8000 still uses the xD format, but there is a microSD adapter provided in the box. Also, unlike a couple of its other competitors such as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT1, there is no HD video available, only VGA at 30 frames per second.
Performance and image quality
From observing our shots, the Tough 8000 was perfectly capable of delivering some nice and accurate colours in most shooting situations. The flash though is another issue entirely. It was so bright it completely washed our subjects out. While this might be an advantage for underwater photography, above the water everything looks ghostly.
There's a really prominent issue with chromatic aberration, as fringing exhibits itself in both purple and cyan guises. It shows up a lot more towards the corners of the frame and generally produces a soft effect. Other pictures also exhibited this "dreamy" look, except most of the time it appeared as if the camera had not focused properly on the scene. Noise was also prevalent at most ISO levels, and while it's not uncommon for a compact to have these issues it was quite pronounced on the 8000. As you can see from the noise profile chart below, the amount of coloured noise was rather prominent from ISO 400 and above — by ISO 1600 it was more noise than actual image.
Of course, no test of a rugged camera would be complete without the requisite dropping, throwing and smashing session. The 8000 stood up to everything we threw at it, even if it came away with a couple of indentations on the lens cover and scratches galore across the back. Burst shooting mode was relatively impressive for a compact camera, with the 8000 managing around nine frames (at reduced resolution) in sequence before buffering to the card.
The beauty mode worked, but only in controlled situations. We found that it refused to beautify an image that deviated from (what we assumed) a standard photo — so for example, if there were multiple faces in the frame at one time the 8000 refused to apply the desired effect. It did remove blemishes and smooth out skin tone to an extent; however, we found that using the flash made every subject appear ghost-like so no amount of beauty mode could inject some colour back in.
While the Tough 8000 may be the most rugged camera on the market, it doesn't mean it's the best in terms of image quality. We were disappointed with the general lack of clarity that photos had, and the amount of noise and chromatic aberration present. For a package that almost hits the AU$600 mark, we would expect better shooting mode capabilities such as more manual overrides and perhaps even the inclusion of HD video. We eagerly await the arrival of the yet-to-be-reviewed Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT1 and the Canon PowerShot D10 to see how the Tough 8000 will compare.