Olympus Stylus Epic Camera Review

Point-and-shoot cameras have meant compromising features for size and portability. They are simple tools for taking snapshots, but that’s about as far as they go. Their zoom lenses are horribly slow at the long end, the lenses aren’t very sharp overall, and the metering and focus system is simple at best. The zoom mechanisms are usually sloppy, and it’s hard to get the right focal length.

The Stylus Epic solves all of these problems. The Epic has a fast 4 element/4 group 35mmf/2.8 lens, without zoom. It’s one of a few point-and-shoot cameras sold without doesn’t have a long, slow zoom lens. The lens is impressively sharp  – I can’t tell the difference between pictures taken with my Epic and pictures taken with a 35mm SLR. The camera powers up quickly, since it doesn’t have to extend a big zoom lens. At f/2.8, the lens is fast enough to work in low light without a flash, and nicely blurs the background on portraits and closeups.

 

I’m normally not a big fan of tiny on-camera flashes – they wash out the subject and almost always cause the dreaded “red eye” effect. The Epic flash is a different beast, however. It will automatically fire to color-balance fluorescent lights. It syncs at all speeds for flexible fill-in flash. The red-eye reduction mode works well. It will even fire when it detects a backlit subject!

The Epic uses “Multi-Beam Autofocus” or traditional single-beam AF. Instead of focusing on whatever is in the center of the picture (ever see a picture of two people centered in the viewfinder, the people are out of focus and the background is sharp?) the Epic focuses on whatever is closest in the viewfinder. You can override the focus by using spot mode.

The key to the camera’s flexibility to me is the spot mode – you can meter and focus on a specific portion of the viewfinder. By paying attention to focus distance and metering, you can tweak the camera’s exposure system into giving back some element of control to an experienced user.

The camera has a self-timer and a remote shutter release is available. I plan on packing my Stylus, a portable tripod, and the remote release with me to take family photos when there’s no one around to take the picture for us.

My only complaints are that the camera reverts to default settings when it powers down. I’d like it to stay at the last setting until it’s changed. A more convenient spot mode button would be nice, too.

It’s weatherproof, it’s small enough to carry with you everywhere, and the AF and flash system are flexible enough to allow you to take pictures in any setting. I’ve seen them locally as low as $79, and refurbished models on the web are available for $49.99. That’s one hell of a lot of camera for a little money.

I’ve combed the web looking for tips with this camera, and have found the people on www.photo.net and www.photographyreview.com to be very helpful. I can’t take credit for any of these suggestions, but I will be trying them out myself and adding to this list as I find out more about this little camera.

 

 



Update, 2008:

 

I bought a black Stylus Epic (no day/date) for $2 at a thrift store, and just finished shooting a roll through it. I’m surprised (again) at how often it wants to fire the flash, but turning the flash on and off is simple enough. I’m wearing glasses now and have noticed that the viewfinder is a little difficult to see.

A copy of the manual is online at http://mcfaddenphoto.com/camera_manuals/stylus_man.htm.

Another great site, although not updated for some time, is http://mju-mju.blogspot.com/.

A thorough review is online at http://members.aol.com/dcolucci/epic.htm.

Photo.net covered the camera at http://photo.net/equipment/olympus/mjuII


  • The Stylus Epic has a f/2.8 lens, and will try to shoot wide-open if possible. The Stylus Epic starts at 1/60s f/2.8, then reduces shutter speed/aperture opening at 1:2 ratio. For example, on a sunny 16 day , with ISO100 film, it goes 1/60 f2.8 -> 1/125 f5.6 -> 1/250 f11. If you use a faster film, you will be able to use smaller aperture more often (but the min is f11?). Because of this, the depth-of-field can be very shallow. Use 400 or 800 speed film to assist the camera in stopping down the lens to increase DOF, and to increase the shutter speed, and reduce blurriness from camera shake.

    Olympus Stylus Epic exposure graph

  • 400 or 800 speed film also increases the effective flash distance. The flash is good for only 12 feet with ISO 100 film, 24 with ISO 400 film. I prefer Fuji Superia Xtra 400, which is a nice vivid film without costing an arm and a leg.
  • The multi-beam AF can be confused if there is an object in the foreground, or by wide scenes with lots to focus on. Set the camera to spot mode by pressing the flash and self-timer buttons together – then you can force the AF to focus on the subject. Or, use the multi-beam mode, center the subject, press the shutter button halfway (the green light will blink, then shine solid) re-center, and shoot.
  • With spot mode, you can try to focus on the hyperfocal distance by spot-metering on a light object at infinity. Doing this forces the lens to open up and provide greater depth of field.
  • Alternatively, if you want a faster shutter speed, try spot metering on something dark. Keep in mind that the depth of field may be very shallow.
  • The flash wants to fire all the time, especially indoors – this is meant to color-balance indoor light.
  • Red-eye is a problem with these cameras. You can get around this by using the Red-Eye Reduction (RER) flash mode and by increasing the ambient light if possible.
  • When using the flash, use spot mode, focus on the subject, then re-frame and take the picture. Most overexposed flash pictures occur because the camera thought you wanted to take a picture of the wall behind your subject.
Olympus Stylus Epic specifications: 

 

Type Full automatic 35mm autofocus lens-shutter camera
Film Format 35mm standard DX-coded film (24x36mm)
Lens Olympus lens 35mm F/2.8 4 elements in 4 groups
Shutter Programmed electronic shutter
Viewfinder Real image viewfinder with autofocus mark, close-up correction marks, autofocus indicator, and flash indicator
Focusing Active-type multi-beam autofocus system; focus-lock possible. Focusing range: 0.35m/1.1ft – infinity
Exposure Control Programmed automatic exposure control; two-zone light metering; switchable to spot metering. Auto-exposure range: EV1.0 to EV17 (f/2.8 @ 4sec to f/11 @ 1/1000sec)
Exposure Counter Progressive type with automatic reset; displayed on LCD panel
Self-Timer Electronic self-timer with 12-second delay
Film Speed Range Automatic setting with DX-coded film for ISO 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, and 3200; for non-DX and for film less than ISO 50 camera is set to ISO 100
Film loading Automatic loading
Film Advance Automatic film winding
Film Rewind Automatic film rewind at end of roll or with mid-roll rewind button
Flash Recycling Time 0.2 to 3.5 seconds
Flash Working Range 0.35 to 4.1 meters with ISO 100 film; 0.35 to 8.2 meters with ISO 400 film
Flash Modes Auto (automatic flash activation in low light, backlight, and fluorescent or other artificial light)
Redeye-Reducing (otherwise same as Auto)
Flash Off
Fill-In (forced activation)
Night Scene (for night scenes with shutter speed of 4 seconds and flash operations as in Auto)
Redeye-Reducing Night Scene
Battery Check Displayed on LCD panel
Weatherproofing protected against splashing water
Power Source 3 V lithium battery DL123A/CR123A
Dimensions 108(w) x 59 (h) x 37 (d) mm
4.3 (w) x 2.3 (h) x 1.5 (d) in
Weight 135g/4.7oz without battery

Information taken from Olympus Infinity Stylus Epic user manual.

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