Pity the poor Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80. Did it ever really have a chance? It was introduced in 1999, just a few years before everybody would start switching to digital.
That’s not to say that this affected sales. Olympus sold these by the bajillions. But every one you find seems to be in like-new condition, suggesting that they got little use before the digital wave hit.
Known as the μ[mju:]-II Zoom 80 outside the US, this little camera packs in autofocus, autoexposure, and a telescoping lens that zooms from 38 to 80 mm. Its 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.
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. They’d think it was digital.
By the way, if you like compact 35mm cameras, also check out my reviews of other little Olympuses, such as the original Stylus (here), the XA (here) and XA2 (here), as well as of the μ[mju:] Zoom 140 (here). You could go up a little in size and experience the legendary Trip 35 (here). Or just check out my master list of camera reviews, here.
I gave my first Stylus Epic Zoom 80 away several years ago and missed it. So when I came upon another at a reasonable price 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 camera has a tendency to produce a curved flare in the image’s corners. The camera forums are full of stories from other users who experienced this problem. Some theories blame the lens, saying this is a form of flare. Others say that the seal around the lens fails with time and leaks light.
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 returns otherwise. 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. Just look at all that detail!
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.
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.
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.