Vacation camera audition: Olympus Stylus

In deciding which film camera to take with me to Ireland, I’ve been auditioning some of the contenders in my collection. I’m taking the camera with me and pretending I’m on the trip, shooting the kinds of things I plan to shoot, to see how the camera feels and performs. First up: the Olympus Stylus.

Olympus Stylus

I thought surely this would be The One, given how it slips easily into my jeans pocket, is dead simple to use, and packs a sharp 35mm f/3.5 lens.

Overall I had a great time shooting the Stylus, enough that I put two rolls through it: Kodak Gold 400 and an expired roll of Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400. But a couple flaws, one fatal, caused it to fail the audition.

Readers with long memories will remember that my Stylus failed the last time I used it. It was so messed up I just dumped it into the trash and bought another. This one came with date imprint function. I left it off except for one trial shot in my living room.

My living room, dated

Margaret and I have been taking a lot of walks lately to get into better shape for the trip. A favorite destination is the streets of Zionsville. Here’s a typical home in town.

Zionsville Village

Just dig the birdhouse built into the roof gable on this house.

Zionsville Village

Here’s a shot from Monument Circle in Indianapolis. The camera was performing so well, letting me get all the kinds of shots I expect to take in Ireland, landscapes and architectural shots leading the way.

Circle Theatre

I’m especially pleased with this dusk shot in Garfield Park in Indianapolis. I did have to bring this shot into Photoshop and boost shadows, however, to bring out the fountains.

Garfield Park

But the camera is not without issues. First, a few shots had a strange light area in the upper-right corner.


Second, the Stylus seems to focus on whatever is at the center of the frame. The cars in the background of this photo are perfectly sharp, but the tree is a little fuzzy. You can see it at larger sizes.


Margaret was the intended subject here, but is so out of focus the shot isn’t usable. I’ll bet if I put the subject in the center of the frame, press halfway down to focus, and then reframe, I’d get the shot. But I’d always be anxious the camera would muff focus anyway.

Margaret out of focus

But here’s the Stylus’s fatal flaw: every time you open the camera, the flash defaults to “auto” and fires in low light. I almost never want flash; every time it went off I muttered a bad word under my breath. There’s no way I’m going to remember to shut the flash off every time I open this camera.

Garfield Park
Garfield Park

So I’ve been auditioning other cameras. I put a roll through my Nikon N2000 SLR with a 35mm lens attached, just to see whether I’d find lugging an SLR around to be too much. (Answer: not as much as I thought.) Photos from that session on Monday. At the moment I have film in my Olympus XA, and that’s going well, too.

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21 responses to “Vacation camera audition: Olympus Stylus”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Ha, I’m walking the streets of Zionsville almost every night! The green house with the white lights is literally two blocks from where I live, they have a sweet big fluffy white dog…when you see me, I’m the guy with the cigar handing out dog treats…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Margaret and I have been most charmed by Zionsville Village and the Old Northside/Herron Morton as places we’d like to live. Unfortunately, most homes in these areas go for more than I’m willing to pay. But we have some luxury to wait for the right deal.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        Yeah, I’m renting an “old age” apartment with restrictions, if I had to buy, or had to get a newer place with no age restrictions out near Ford Road, I’d be out of there as grossly un-affordable, even tho I love it. Ditto for if I retire or lose my job, couldn’t afford to live there. As a generalization, there’s two types of people in Zionsville: newer folk with very substantial incomes, and ‘townies’ who have been there for 50-60 years or better, that bought in when things weren’t that expensive. I’m neither of those people. Someone did tell me that the little houses north of Ash Street on the north side of town (Bailey Ct. and some others), have gone for as cheap as 90K recently, but they have smaller or non-existent yards, may be right up on their neighbors, and the places might have needed substantial work!

        Herron Morton and the Old Northside were areas I spent a lot of time looking at when I first got here, but I could never find decent rentals with safe parking. Without getting into a whole thing about how Indianapolis isn’t really a developed city, let’s just say that 75% of places like Milwaukee, and northside Chicago look like the Old Northside in Indy, and were all developed pre-war,with beautiful courtyard apartments and old apartment buildings, all kept pretty well up, with reasonable rents; so that was the type of neighborhood I was familiar with. Old Northiside in Indy is literally the only area of the city that sort of looks like that, with the possible exception of a very small part of Irvington and around Woodruff.

        People know I’m not a “small town” guy, so they ask why I like Zionsville, and I tell them it’s becasue it’s like living in your neighborhood in Chicago, you can walk down the block for a soda or paper. 75% of Indy you can’t do that at all.

        I cannot recommend Zionsville enough! Not to mention, for some reason, I meet people from all over living there, they sort of gravitate there if they’re from out of town. Brits, Aussies, French, I’ve met them all just while walking around.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I’m hip to a small yard. I’ve had 1/3 to 1/2 acre for 20 years in Indy’s old suburbs, and am tired of the upkeep grind. I live near 56th/Kessler/Cooper. Drive into any of the subdivisions, the ones built in the 50s and 60s, and see the sprawling yards.

          One thing about Zionsville that neither of us is excited about is the lack of diversity. That isn’t as much of a problem in the Old Northside, or in Broad Ripple, or in Butler-Tarkington.

        2. Andy Umbo Avatar
          Andy Umbo

          It’s kind of a problem there, but to tell you the truth, there’s a lot of “Fire Pence” signs on the lawns, and a lot more liberal thinking going on there than Carmel/Fischers. A lot of the long time residents are more working class, and a lot of the “Euro’s” are more socialist/liberal than the average white Indianan. But yeah, there’s a lot of what I like to call “expense segregation”. I’m very sure that the people I’ve met, would not be racially against any person of color that wanted to buy into the neighborhood; but buying a 400K fixer-upper is not going to be within the scope of many people of color in Indy; and I can tell you from reading the local paper, that no one is going to mandate affordable housing there.

          The diversity is much better in Irvington, which is one of the reasons I liked it,and a little neighborhood called “Little Flower”; but of course, the crime is a lot higher. When you live in diversified neighborhoods, one of the decisions you make is that you have to tolerate a larger amount of crime to your person. How many car break-ins a year are OK for you? Not walking the street after dark (I know people robbed at gun-point in Irvington)? These are not crimes of race, tho, these are crimes based on education and sociology.

          It’s tough to make those decisions, tho. My sister, who lives in a very diverse neighborhood, and I (who has lived in many), were talking over the weekend that we’ve spent so many years with it, that we are now spending far more of our income than we want (and are willing to do it), just to get out of “crime zones” and “bridge neighborhoods”. My insurance and psyche can’t take it anymore after 40 years. It’s a constant swirl of an argument in my head, tho…

        3. Jim Grey Avatar

          Safety like this isn’t something Margaret and I have talked much about, beyond “would like to send the grandkids to the park and not worry for their safety.” I am so used to parking my car in the driveway and not worrying about it being vandalized that it is a little shocking to me to think that the neighborhoods we have been scoping might have that as an occasional problem.

        4. Andy Umbo Avatar
          Andy Umbo

          Unfortunately, I don’t think that problem is “occasional”. When I first got here, I was looking around SoBro, which I liked, only down around 38th. A fairly liberal woman at work tried to dissuade me, saying that after years she just moved out of there for Brownsburg. In 5 years she had gotten 4 cars stolen off the street outright, and the house broken into 3 times. Myself, having lived in DC for years, it becomes debilitating always planning for the next break-in or theft. Constantly upgrading the alarm system, checking the locks, not leaving windows open, checking the cars that are out, jumping out of bed every time you hear a noise, either in the house or on the street. It takes over your life.

          I used to work in public broadcasting in DC, and I worked with a salt-of-the-earth, media lawyer from Chicago, who lived in a pretty rough “bridge” neighborhood. She was moving to Bethesda after years saying that she joined all the neighborhood coalitions, promoted all the great stuff for her neighborhood, worked with all the groups, and she kept being in danger and the neighborhood never changed. After a while, she said she just couldn’t take it.

          I know a whole lot of people in their 60’s that after years of “doing the right thing”, want to live a relatively crime free life! Something to think about…

          1. Jim Grey Avatar

            Ugh. Depressing thoughts. My boring little non-walkable neighborhood has very little crime.

  2. pesoto74 Avatar

    I have never been bothered by the weight of carrying around an SLR. The main trouble for me has been swinging that big camera around when I am in a crowd or in close quarters like in some old stores. It can get to be a distraction.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I wear my F2 over my shoulder all the time and it doesn’t bother me — but in traveling overseas we are trying to travel light. And we will be doing some cliff hiking, which is more than the walks through neighborhoods I normally do! Seems to me that in that situation a heavy F2 might become a real pain in my neck.

  3. hmunro Avatar

    The Irish are quite tolerant of cussing, but I wouldn’t want to travel with a camera whose default setting is “bad words.” :) In spite of the camera’s limitations, though, you still managed to get some nice shots! I’m especially smitten with that bird condo …

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Isn’t that bird condo just the height of cool?

  4. Stu from England Avatar
    Stu from England

    Interesting process you’re going through Jim – I like the idea.

    I’ve been on various holidays with various 35mm compacts backing up my Digi-cam, I took a Olympus 35RC around Scotland a while back and a Nikon AF3 on a few trip – they were good, but nothing beats having an SLR.

    I’ve just got back from a two week holiday in Wales (unpacked the car an hour ago) – I went up mountains, explored forests, coastlines, towns and plenty of castles – all the while lugging a Canon EOS 90e with a 24-85mm lens – and I was so glad of that 24mm – I shot 10 rolls.

    What ever you choose to take – I hope you both really enjoy your trip.



    1. Stu from England Avatar
      Stu from England

      Woops! 50e…

    2. Jim Grey Avatar

      Stuart, thanks so much for chiming in! I’m planning to bring 5 rolls of b/w to Ireland and shoot color with my digital. Check back Monday for pics from the SLR I’m considering taking.

  5. conspicari Avatar

    Hello Jim, I had the same camera dilemma recently when I went to Latvia. I wasn’t sure whether to take my Olympus XA or Canon Super Prima 130, the flash can be programmed to be permanently off on the Canon but the lens is quite slow, which wouldn’t have mattered as it turned out because the weather was so good. On balance though manual focussing suited the subjects I was after. Hope you and Margaret have a great holiday. :>)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m gonna shoot ISO 400 film so I’m hopeful to not wish for a faster lens than f/2.8. I have film in my XA now auditioning it.

  6. Rick Scholl Avatar
    Rick Scholl

    If you are now considering an SLR, don’t overlook your Olympus OM. Remember it is much smaller and lighter than most.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That’s very true. It’s a great camera.

  7. dan james Avatar

    Alas, the fatal flaw of most compact AF cameras made after about 1985 – the auto flash!

    This is one reason I love the early 80s compacts, whether from Canon, Nikon, Minolta or Konica – they had a flash where you had to physically press a button to make it pop up before it worked. I just leave the flash down the whole time!

    These cameras also nearly always had a sharp and vibrant little 35/2.8 lens, another major appeal!

    I recently shot another roll with my Mju 1 (Stylus). You can’t deny the excellent design and ergonomics and almost unrivalled compact size. But the flash thing is annoying, and I find the results very hit and miss.

    When it’s good, it’s excellent, but maybe three out of four shots end up disappointing, in my experience. Maybe I’ve got a flaky example.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yep. The camera manufacturers were clearly trying to help casual photographers, but in so doing they frustrated anyone who knew what they were doing. As you can see, my experience with this Stylus is similar to yours: too many disappointing shots.

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