If you had asked me a few weeks ago what the advantages of eight megapixels (MP) were over five, I would have said very few. After all, a 5MP image will produce an image large enough to produce an A4 borderless print and that is the most home printers are capable of.
However, that was before I discovered the fun factor in being able to play with an image that is up to 115cm by just over 86cm (72dpi). If the camera you are using has a decent lens you will discover things you never knew were in your original photograph; your cropping options will increase tenfold and your printer will have no excuse for not printing at its maximum resolution.
The trap for the unwary is that you have to have a large memory card and when you transfer the images to your PC you need to have plenty of RAM. At 8MP (3,264 x 2,448 resolution) a single RAW image takes up a fraction under 23 megabytes and a JPG image comes in at between 4MB and 5MB at highest quality settings. So you'll need a minimum of a 64MB card but 256MB is preferable and that will add a couple of hundred dollars to the cost.
It also is important not to buy a camera based solely on its resolution, because if it doesn't have good enough optics, resolution will not make one iota of difference -- it will still be a bad camera.
Thankfully, both the C-8080 and PowerShot Pro 1 have good lenses, but they perform differently.
The new C-8080 is the top of Olympus's Camedia series and comes with a 5x optical zoom (28-140mm) compared to the PowerShot's 28mm-200mm 7x optical lens. The big difference is where each one performs optimally.
Canon offers an autofocus system that will drive you to distraction -- constantly refocusing if you leave the camera turned on between shots and the lens cap off, which you are likely to do if you have the lens hood in place.
Both cameras have expandable lenses -- you can add an optional tele converter to the C-8080, and a choice of a teleconverter or a macro ring to the Canon. The latter is worth the expense if you want to do macro work on the Canon as its basic macro function is nowhere near as good as the Olympus, which has an excellent macro that produces top quality shots, even handheld in poor light. Even with the Canon set to Super Macro the Olympus has the edge.
However, while the Canon's macro is only average without the macro ring, its basic zoom is excellent and is not only more powerful than the Olympus but it's also sharper at maximum magnification.
Because both cameras rely heavily on electronic autofocus, the manual focus options they offer are slow, so ‘shooting from the hip' to snap that instant once-in-a-lifetime shot is not really an option. However you can still shoot your favourite sports stars in action.
Olympus has a speed mode for shooting fast-moving objects and while Canon does not offer the same mode, it will still stop speeding cars in their tracks and keep them sharp, even on full zoom as long as you pre-focus.
Olympus claims the lag between autofocus and shot is around 0.3 of a second with a maximum lag on the shutter release of 55 milliseconds, whereas the Canon requires a full second in standard shooting mode.
Both cameras offer tiltable LCDs with the Canon having the larger (2in compared to 1.8in), however, most true SLR fans will only use them for viewing the shots they have already taken because both cameras have excellent viewfinders.
The Canon is the smaller of the two with most of the function controls within easy thumb reach. It also has an additional mono LCD on top that tells you the camera's settings and status, with the same details also displayed on the main LCD or in the viewfinder.
The Olympus displays its settings on the main LCD or through the viewfinder and has
a cumbersome menu system compared to the Canon, which uses the same menu interface common throughout the rest of Canon's range.
Both cameras handle PictBridge direct printing well with in-camera editing and cropping options available. Although be prepared for much slower print times than if you were to transfer the images to your PC first.
There is no doubt that 8MP adds a new dimension to your photographs, particularly when using cameras as good as these two. Both produce images that remain remarkably sharp even when blown to 200 percent in Photoshop and show admirable accuracy in reproducing colours, even in dull light.
While on the surface there appears to be a $400 difference in price, the Olympus' lack of a decent size memory card adds at least $70 to the base cost (for a 64MB CF card). It comes with a 32MB SD card which is not large enough to store two RAW images and will hold only eight JPEGs at full resolution. Despite that the camera remains excellent value.
It seems only yesterday that the first sub-$2,000 6MP camera hit the stores, so at around $1,870 (with memory card) an 8MP camera of the quality of the C-8080 is an excellent proposition.
Although the Canon is more expensive, the better quality and more powerful lens, simpler menu system and smaller profile go a long way to justifying that extra few hundred dollars.