I wonder if the Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 ever really had a chance, given that it was introduced in 1999. Within a few years everybody who bought auto-everything 35 mm cameras like these would be ditching them for digital cameras. If the number of these cameras available on eBay at any moment is an indication, Olympus sold a ton of these cameras. That they all seem to be in like-new condition says a lot about their unfortunate place on photography’s timeline. This camera’s time in the sun was so short that many of them show up on eBay with marketing stickers still on their faces.
The Stylus Epic Zoom 80, which was known as the μ[mju:]-II Zoom 80 outside the US, was feature-packed, starting with autofocus and autoexposure. The telescoping lens zooms from 38 to 80 mm. It’s flash can adjust to reduce red eye, fill to brighten shadows, and fire in conjunction with a slow shutter speed for better night shots. It also has “infinity mode” that focuses on infinity for landscape shots, and “backlight mode” that reduces exposure by a stop and a half when your subject is lit from behind. What it lacks is any manual control whatsoever.
This camera is small; it reminds me of a bar of soap in my hand. Its design is so modern that if you took this camera out in public nobody would give it a second glance because they’d think it was digital.
This is my second Stylus Epic Zoom 80. I gave my first one away several years ago and missed it, so when I came upon another for cheap recently (ahh, supply and demand) I nabbed it. I immediately put a roll of Kodak T-Max 400 through it. When the film came back from the processor, I was reminded of this camera’s two big flaws.
Flaw #1: In contrasty situations, the exposure system seems biased toward resolving the darker areas, which has the effect of blowing out the lighter areas.
Flaw #2: The lens has a tendency to produce a curved flare in the image’s corners. I can’t figure out what lighting conditions bring this on, but it happened on at least one shot on every roll with both of my Stylus Epic Zoom 80s. The camera forums are full of stories from other users who experienced this problem.
Another issue that doesn’t quite rise to the level of Flaw: At full zoom, the lens goes a little soft. The zoom isn’t that deep anyway, so I hardly use it. When I want a tighter shot I just move in closer.
What makes me call out these issues is that they stand in such stark contrast to how pleasant this camera is to use and what good results it can otherwise return. I slipped it into my pocket on a recent bike ride – it’s so small and light I hardly noticed it. It feels good in my hands. I can slide the lens cover out of the way with one hand, and by the time I get the camera to my eye the lens has finished extending. The shutter button is right where my finger wants it to be. All I have to do is frame my shots. The viewfinder isn’t very big, but it’s plenty bright and surprisingly accurate. This signed tree is in a wooded lot not far from my home.
It was a day for shooting trees, I guess. I’m super impressed with the tones in this shot.
It’s fitting that when my previous Stylus Epic Zoom 80 was my go-to camera, I shot plenty of my go-to film, Fujicolor 200, in it. I took it on my early road trips. State Road 45 is a twisty handful to drive between Bean Blossom and Bloomington.
State Road 62 is also twisty fun through some of Indiana’s southernmost counties. Here, the road curves around a rock formation at the entrance to Harrison-Crawford State Forest.
This is the Ohio River at the town of Leavenworth, which is also on State Road 62.
I took my Stylus Epic Zoom 80 on my third and final mission trip to Mexico in 2006. Vida Nueva Ministries has a large compound outside Piedras Negras in Coahuila. They run a school there; this animated student wouldn’t rest until I took his picture.
This is a side street in Piedras Negras near their open market, where they are happy to take gringo dollars.
The last road trip I made before I bought my first digital camera included a stop at the Bridgeton covered bridge. It had just been rebuilt after an arsonist destroyed the original 1868 bridge. It was a rare opportunity to photograph brand new wooden Burr arch trusses.
Outside, the scene looked like a set from Little House on the Prairie.
If this were my only camera I’d find its flaws to be a major bummer, especially that unpredictable flare. It’s a shame, because otherwise there’s so much to like about the Stylus Epic Zoom 80.
See more photos from this camera in my Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 gallery.
Do you like vintage cameras? Then check out my entire collection!