Cameras, Photography

Olympus Stylus

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All hail Yoshihisa Maitani, the master of photographic miniaturization. He spent his career at Olympus shrinking cameras, notably the 35mm SLR (the OM-1; see mine here) and the 35mm rangefinder camera (the XA; see mine here).

Olympus was very late to the party as good-quality point-and-shoot 35mm cameras ascended during the 1980s. But when it finally arrived in 1991, it did so in prime Maitani fashion: very small. Olympus gave its small camera a small name: µ, the prefix for “micro” in scientific measurements.

Olympus StylusOlympus Stylus

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.)

Olympus StylusOlympus Stylus

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 can be 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 needed to run everything.

The Stylus is very easy to use. 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. The camera is about the size of a bar of soap and 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 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.

Bridge at IMA

I was shooting expired Kodak Gold 200 film, which I think explains the noise in all of these photos. You can especially see it in the shadows in this shot. This is part of Oldfields, a mansion on the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. If I had known I was going to encounter such great shadows that day, I would have chosen black-and-white film instead.

Column shadows

I also spent some time in Crown Hill Cemetery with the Stylus. One section of the vast cemetery is given over to military graves. I love the blue and green in this photo.

Rows with flag

The cemetery’s gates are spectacular.

Gates

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.

Little leaves, out of focus

I took a couple of shots with the flash, too, and it did a 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 died. Boy, did she look old and tired. You can also see my Voigtländer Bessa, my Agfa Clack, and my Ansco B2 Speedex on the shelf.

Gracie

See the rest of my Olympus Stylus gallery here.

I shot expired film on impulse – I have several rolls of it to burn through, and on the day I loaded the Stylus I decided to just get on with it. But I regret it now, as I think it didn’t show the Stylus in its best light. That just means I’ll have to shoot it again one day. It’s always a crying shame when I am forced to use a good camera again.

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13 thoughts on “Olympus Stylus

  1. Great results from the mju. It is such an easy camera to slip in your pocket and ready for about anything. As you found, focus can be a little tricky. My impression is that the focus area is very small and that you need to be sure to lock the focus on what you want to be the area of sharp focus before pressing on for the final exposure. An easy mistake I have made is to make a shot of two people standing not quite close enough together and to end up with them out of focus because the little focus spot is actually in the background space between them. On the plus side, if you are careful with your focusing technique you can actually shoot as close as a foot-and-a-half.

    The other small irritant with the mju is that the flash is on by default and will fire if you are in a low light situation. So, you need to remember to turn off the flash when you open the camera. Both of these complaints seem pretty unimportant when you consider the quality of the images that the Olympus lens can produce.

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    • Thanks Mike! I can see me slipping this into my pocket when I’m on my bicycle during the warm months. (Not today; there’s a foot of snow on the ground here.) I love to just ride around and photograph whatever feels interesting. On those rides, I’m likely to shoot landscapes, which seem like they’d be right up the Stylus’s alley. I can see that precise focus is a little challenging with this camera.

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  2. Maitani Collection,

    I own four models made by Maitani: OM-1, Olympus XA, Stylus and a Pen Half Frame.

    I think of all of them, my Olympus Pen half frame is my favorite. It needs no battery, still meters correctly, and has a dazzling lens (like all Maitani cameras).

    Always glad to see your blog articles. Happy New Year.

    Richard

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  3. Christopher Smith says:

    I picked up the Quartz Date version of this on eBay I have yet to put a film through it,
    but I like your results that you have got with this neat little camera.
    Nice photos Jim.
    I only wish I had your Journalistic and writing skills and maybe I would a write blog too about all the camera’s I have, but I enjoy reading your blog as it inspires me to go out and use my camera’s.

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    • That’s great! How old is your kid? Gotta get ’em started early on film. I missed that window with mine. They’re teenagers now and have about zero interest in photography.

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      • He just turned seven, and he always like to pick up my different cameras to try, and he knows when I get a new one, he can tell the difference, its pretty funny. He’ll go… “what one is that, its new isn’t it”

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  4. Andy Umbo says:

    I spent years with the Olympus Stylist as my pocket film point-and-shoot, and in fact, I have 2 of them now, holding on (I’ve even gotten them repaired a few times). I filled almost 9 scrapbooks with “walking around photos” with them. When my corner drug store stopped doing film, and 3X5 prints, which fit easily into my scrap-book format, I sort of lost heart, and haven’t shot anything since about 2011 (plus my Mom’s passing). Still, a pretty good camera for what I was using it for.

    I’ll tell you, tho, it had one flaw, and it used to be talked about on some “pro” sites that review cameras pro’s like to use for themselves: the programming keeps the lens wide open for most of the exposure programming, hence a lot of times there’s trouble keeping stuff in focus (and of course, with a lot of lenses, wide open aren’t the best stats, it’s usually a few stops down from wide open). Simply put: if the camera can find a shutter speed anywhere in its program, and keep the lens at f/3.5, it does it! It never starts shutting the lens down until the programming wants to take in beyond it’s highest shutter speed! This leaves you during the day, in some cases, at 1/250th, at f/3.5, when you would have rather been at a 1/60th and f/5.6. A lot of auto-programming in cameras tries to shut the lens down a little as fast as possible, hence the lens tries to shut to f/5.6 as fast as it can, then drops (or raises) shutter speed after that, because it’s a great f/stop for getting the best out of lens, and getting Uncle Joe and Aunt Mildred in focus!

    Kind of a weird quirk that helps if you know it’s doing it…

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    • Thanks for explaining that quirk! That explains a lot about how this camera behaves. I agree; it would be better if the lens could be stopped down at least one stop, as long as the attendant shutter speed doesn’t have to go too slow to accommodate it. Wonder why they programmed it the way they did.

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      • Andy Umbo says:

        Here’s a program exposure chart comparing the Yashica T-4 and The Olympus Stylist Epic…you can see how the lens stays wide open!

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  5. Pingback: What’s the best compact 35mm film camera to take on vacation? | Down the Road

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