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.
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 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.
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.
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.
The cemetery’s gates are spectacular.
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 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.
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.
Do you like vintage cameras?
Then check out my entire collection!