Camera Reviews

Olympus Stylus

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).

Olympus Stylus

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.

Olympus Stylus

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.)

Olympus 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 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.

Bridge at IMA

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.

My neighbor's house

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 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.

Gracie

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.

Arby's

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.

Fountain Square

I seem to shoot a lot of expired film in the Stylus, here Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400.

Garfield Park

The Stylus gives me good results on any film I throw at it. Here’s a photo on Eastman Double-X 5222.

Along the Wall

And here’s one on good old Kodak Tri-X.

Carrying a jug

The Stylus handles challenging lighting conditions surprisingly well.

Reflected on the water 1

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.

Lion graffiti

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.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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17 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.

    • 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.

  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

  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.

  4. Looks good! By the way I decided to give my kid one of those on his birthday, he already ran through a roll of Gold 200 he’s on a roll of HP5 now.

    • 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.

      • 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”

  5. 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…

    • My biggest beef is the infernal flash turning on every time you turn on the camera. But otherwise I find this to be a fine pocket companion when I’m out and about.

  6. Erik says:

    Bought one just before the digitals hit to photograph my kids when they were young. (Olympus Stylus Epic) Recently getting back to b/w film photography and pulled it out to take on a trip. Worked great convenient pocket size b/w film camera along side my GR ll. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/10/arts/robert-frank-dead-americans-photography.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share
    Check out this article from NY times. Pic of Robert Frank holding a Stylus!
    Great blog, btw.

    • I’ve yet to use a Stylus Epic. People seem to like them better than the original Stylus, but I’m happy enough with the Stylus! Thanks for stopping by.

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