All hail Yoshihisa Maitani, the master of photographic miniaturization. He designed the camera you see below, the Olympus Stylus. He spent his career at Olympus shrinking cameras, actually, first the 35mm SLR (the OM-1; see mine here) and then the 35mm rangefinder camera (the XA; see mine here).
Maitani then turned his attention to shrinking the 35mm point-and-shoot camera. Olympus was very late to that party as good-quality point-and-shoots upon the Stylus’s 1991 debut. But when Maitani delivered a camera no bigger than a bar of soap, he delivered another small winner for Olympus.
In most of the world, Olympus gave its small camera a small name: µ, the prefix for “micro” in scientific measurements. As sometimes happens in the camera world, the µ got a different name for the American market: Stylus. That’s probably just as well, because the average American probably couldn’t pronounce µ anyway. (It’s myoo, by the way.)
I thank reader Derek Wong (see his film photography blog here) for donating this little camera to the Jim Grey Collection. When I mentioned in an earlier post that the Stylus was on my short list, he e-mailed to say that he had several of them sitting around doing nothing, and that he’d just send me one. Here it is!
The Stylus packs a 35mm f/3.5 lens, of three elements in three groups. It sets exposure for you; there is no manual control. I don’t know how far down the lens stops, but the shutter operates from 1/15 to 1/500 second. It reads the DX coding on the film canister to set ISO from 50 to 3200. Olympus claims the Stylus has an “active multi-beam 100-step autofocus system,” whatever that means. The Stylus automatically advances and rewinds the film. It includes an electronic self-timer and a tiny flash that you can set to fill and to reduce red eye. An LCD panel atop the camera counts down frames, indicates the flash mode, and tells you how much charge is left on the CR123A battery, which the Stylus needs to run everything.
Slide the front cover back to turn the camera on. The lens extends a little. Frame the shot in the viewfinder. Press the shutter button down halfway to let the camera focus and set exposure, and the rest of the way to take the photo.
If you like point-and-shoot 35mm cameras, also check out my reviews of the Canon AF35ML (here), the Kodak VR35 K40 (here), the Nikon Zoom Touch 400 (here), the Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 (here), the Olympus µ(mju:) Zoom 140 (here), and the Pentax IQZoom EZY (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.
I loaded some expired Kodak Gold 200 and went a shootin’. This iron bowstring pony truss bridge dates to around 1900 and was originally part of a longer bridge that spanned a creek in Montgomery County. This span was moved here, to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, where it crosses the canal that flows behind the museum. It is open only to pedestrians.
The Stylus feels great in the hands. After having recently shot cameras that demand a lot of interaction with the photographer, I found it freeing to take this a competent point-and-shoot camera out for a day’s fun. This is my neighbor’s house. Even on expired film, the Stylus grabbed great color and clarity.
Despite the “active multi-beam 100-step autofocus system,” I found it impossible to know what the Stylus decided to focus on in the frame. I also didn’t know how close I could get with the Stylus, though I expected it to be around three feet. I moved back what I guessed was three feet from these leaves and pressed the button. As you can see, the closest leaves are out of focus. I was probably just too close. But I like the swirled effect in the blurred background.
I took a couple of shots with the flash, too, and it did the so-so job typical of tiny, built-in flashes. This turned out to be the last photo I took of my dog Gracie before she passed away. Boy, did she look old and tired.
On another outing I loaded some expired but always cold-stored Kodak Plus-X. I just brought the Stylus along everywhere I went for a while.
The Stylus is so easy to carry. It slips into the back pocket of your jeans or into your coat’s side pocket, riding undetected until you want it.
I seem to shoot a lot of expired film in the Stylus, here Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400.
The Stylus gives me good results on any film I throw at it. Here’s a photo on Eastman Double-X 5222.
And here’s one on good old Kodak Tri-X.
The Stylus handles challenging lighting conditions surprisingly well.
The Stylus has bungled a few shots when it couldn’t figure out what the subject was and focused behind it. That’s my only complaint with this camera, and it’s happened to me on only a handful of frames.
See the rest of my Olympus Stylus gallery here.
The only barrier to owning an Olympus Stylus is cost, as prices have risen considerably over the years. I used to see these sell for $20 all the time, but now they start at three times that, and minty ones sell for more than $100. Quality point-and-shoot cameras are hot! Don’t hesitate to pick one up if you find a good bargain, though. You’ll have a great time with this tiny camera.