Editor's note: This review has been updated to reflect changes in performance based on subsequent testing by our labs.
Olympus continues the Stylus line of digital cameras with the Stylus 820, an attractive 8-megapixel digital camera. This new model sports a 5x lens, a large, bright LCD screen, and a surprisingly useful new feature Olympus is debuting with its current generation of cameras.
As we've come to expect from Olympus' Stylus cameras, the Stylus 820 looks and feels good. The slim, all-metal camera weighs just 4.9 ounces with battery and xD card and measures less than an inch deep. Olympus offers the little camera in four colors: silver, black, blue, and red. Its sturdy body handles splashes and showers with ease, but don't confuse weather-resistant for weatherproof; it won't survive a full dunking. If you plan to soak your camera, consider instead the waterproof, shockproof, freezeproof Stylus 790 SW.
Two features distinguish the 8-megapixel 820: its lens and its screen. A f/3.3-to-f/5.0, 36mm-to-180mm-equivalent, 5x zoom lens provides a longer reach than similarly priced competitors such as the Canon PowerShot SD1000 and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W80, and it features a slightly larger than usual 2.7-inch LCD screen. Among the Stylus family, its 7-megapixel sibling the Stylus 780 delivers a better feature combination for the same money; it's essentially the same camera but adds sensor-shift image stabilization in exchange for dropping down to 7 megapixels and a more typical 2.5-inch display. If you want it all--the stabilization, display, and higher resolution--you'll need to cough up about $80 for an identical step-up model, the Stylus 830.
Like the other members of this generation of Styluses, the Stylus 820 includes a feature called Perfect Shot Preview that shows you how different settings will affect your shots by displaying those effects in four frames onscreen. For example, if you access exposure compensation, it will show you a neutral exposure, plus what the picture will look like at +0.3, +0.7, and +1.0 EV. You can use the control pad to navigate the previews, so you can see how the shot will look at any EV level. You can also look at the different effects of white balance, zoom levels, and even metering settings. Most cameras let you see how these different settings will look before you shoot, but this is the first time I've seen multiple previews on one screen. When shooting in awkward lighting, you'll quickly grow to appreciate the ability to simultaneously preview four different white balance settings, or compare ESP and spot metering. For direct-to-print devotees, a new variant of Olympus' panorama mode will automatically stitch together as many as three shots.