Stylus and Stylus Epic
Two pocket classics by Olympus
I wrote this page after being asked, not once, for a recommendation for a simple, pocketable camera, capable of delivering quality results.
It was originally posted in 1998, but still remains of more than only historical value. The Stylus Epic stayed in production until 2003, and both models can be bought (cheaply!) on the used-camera market.
The "old" Stylus: a classic and a bargain!
Back in 1991, while still using my SLR for taking pictures on slide film, I bought a backup camera: the original Olympus Infinity Stylus (called Mju in Europe). It was inexpensive, compact and handy to carry along with (or instead of) my SLR system for shooting family pictures and mementos on negative film.
As it soon turned out, the unassuming Stylus was a respectable camera by its own and I used it much more than I thought I would.
Its f/3.5 lens was of surprisingly good quality: most of my 8x10 or 11x14 prints (close to the standard European 18x24 or 30x40 cm formats) were almost as good as these shot with SLR lenses.
It also had a precise autofocusing down to 35 cm (rare among pocket cameras), quite accurate two-zone exposure metering and a neat clamshell design.
True, the construction was all-plastic, but you wouldn't expect anything else from a camera in this price range (I paid $130); a metal-bodied model would cost you three to eight times more.
Four years later I've lost that camera and immediately replaced it with the same model. This one had a bad luck: in 1997 it stopped working after I spilled beer on it (please don't ask me how). Yeah, splashproof it certainly wasn't.
As I was already addicted to having a small pocket camera on me most of the time, it was time to see my friendly photo dealer again. This time I decided to get a newer model: the Stylus Epic (in Europe called Mju-2). And, boy, am I delighted!
Note of 2003: The original Stylus is no longer being manufactured (more than ten years, not too shabby!), but you can buy a clean, working one second-hand for $20-$30 - an incredible bargain, as it still will deliver pictures better than most P&S cameras! By the way, the camera splashed with beer was repaired in Poland at the expense of $3 or so, and still serves the current owner just fine.
And in Spring of 2003, Popular Photography ran a story on the Stylus Epic, with conclusions coinciding with mine. Well, with the inroads digital cameras are making lately, this may be the last great small camera we will see...
Stylus Epic: how to improve on a good thing
It is risky to try to improve upon a classic, but it took me just a few months with the new camera to conclude that the good people of Olympus succeeded in every aspect.
The new Epic (in Europe: Mju-2) is also quite inexpensive: you can get one for $90 or so (as of 2002), even in the "deluxe" version: gold, with date imprint (for which I paid $160 back in '96).
Really, I consider date imprinting a next-to-useless gadget (although it may be handy on the first frame of each film) but the gold metallic look is hard to resist.
The first thing you notice is that the new model is even smaller than the previous one (watch your fingers: it is very easy to put them in front of the lens or the flash). It is also quite pretty, especially the gold version.
The wedged shape makes the camera look even smaller than it really is. The clamshell cover closes, hiding the lens, flash and viewfinder.
The back contains all controls: date imprint mode and clock setting (right), and, most importantly, flash mode and self-timer buttons (bottom).
The bottom buttons scroll through the displayed symbols — self-explanatory; to switch into spot metering mode (or back), both have to be pressed at the same time.
More important, however, are improvements in the specs, all very welcome (and yes, the Epic is splashproof!).
This is the cross-section of the Stylus Epic lens (with the film plane at the right). We can see that this is not a simple anastigmat, like in most non-zoom point-and=-shoot cameras, and the last element is aspherical (I'm not sure: glass or molded plastic).
In any case, this lens beats any compact zoom hands down, and when stepped down (in good light) it delivers most pleasing results!
Why not a zoom?
This is the first question I hear from the people who have a look at the Epic. The guys who invented the term "zoom lens" did a great marketing job: I don't think zooms would sell so well in point-and-shoot cameras if they were just called "variable focal length" lenses or so.
Many pocket cameras have zooms. Olympus has zoom look-alikes of both Stylus cameras, old and new. They are not much more expensive. Still, I'm not recommending them, and, putting the cost factor aside, this is why.
|Lens||35 mm f/3.5|
|35 mm f/2.8|
|Shutter speeds||1/15 - 1/500s||4 - 1/1000s|||
No. of steps
35 cm (14")
35 cm (14")
(ISO 100 film)
|35 cm - 3.3 m (14"-11')||35 cm - 4 m (14"-13')|||
|Flash modes||Auto, off, on, red eye||Auto, off, on, red eye,|
|Size||117 x 64 x 38 mm|
4 5/8 x 2 1/2 x 1 1/2 "
111 x 60 x 38 mm|
4 3/8 x 2 3/8 x 1 1/2 "
|Weight||184 g (6 1/2 oz.)||145 g (5 1/8 oz.)|
|Accessories||None||Infrared remote ($15)|||
|$90 (black, data back)||$100 (black)|
$130 (gold, data back)
What does all this really mean?
Camera manufactures like to treat us like idiots: they will be stressing that a camera is cool (whatever that means), while skimping on technical data and, even more so, on explaining what that data means. Well, obviously this approach is good for sales.
If you are buying (or using) a camera, knowing what the specs mean may be quite helpful in making better decisions (or taking better pictures). Here are explanations to the table above, applicable to any camera, not just to the Olympus models.
If you consider yourself technically not-too-adept, skip the finer print, but still go through all the points. One day these things will come useful.
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|Posted 1998/02/02; last updated 2006/03/12||Copyright © 1998-2006 by J. Andrzej Wrotniak|