A film photography friend recently clued me in to the best local spot for thrifting film cameras (sorry, can’t say where – sharing the good thrifting spots is a trust not easily broken). I paid the shop a visit, and came home with an Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 ($6), an Olympus Infinity Twin ($6), and an Argus 110-format camera ($1). So far, all three have been excellent budget purchases, but the Stylus Epic Zoom has the most character so I thought it fit the bill for a mini-review here on 35mmc.
The Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 (wow, what a name) shares some of the characteristics that make its prime cousin so desirable. The clamshell design, weatherproofing, and reasonably fast lens make for a good pocket camera. Not as fast or sharp as the Olympus Stylus or Stylus Epic, but still very much in the same family.
It also has a well-known flaring issue that creates a porthole-like effect in photos. After I got my first roll back, a quick Google revealed that basically every Stylus Epic Zoom 80 has this issue, which leads some to love it and some to discard it. I’ve even heard of people asking for a filter to add the porthole effect to their phone snaps. I decided to put some Fujifilm C200 in the camera and take it on a trip to Monterey, CA and an 80s-themed film photo walk (at which I won best outfit) in Ann Arbor sponsored by my local shop, CameraMall.
On the walk, we encountered a number of characters:
- A student rushing a fraternity, identifiable by his natty suit, goldfish in a plastic bag full of water, and bemused expression. When asked what the fish was for, he said, “I don’t really know…they just told me to bring it.”
- A deaf-but-friendly pug named Bob. Bob decided that to sit for portraits and settled in for some belly rubs in exchange for his likeness.
- A couple of people appearing to be students adamant that they didn’t want to be photographed…despite our professed lack of interest in photographing them. I guess they wanted to be really sure.
I mostly used the Epic Zoom 80 at its shortest focal length, but occasionally zoomed in. The zoom button operates in the opposite direction that I’d expect, so zooming was never a quick affair, but it was handy to have. The autofocus worked surprisingly well – it didn’t nail it every time, but probably about as well as I would have manually. The fully automatic exposure still freaks me out a bit since I’ve become used to fully manual cameras, but it definitely gives the signature compact camera look of the 90s (and New York Fashion Week today).
Speaking of the signature compact camera look, we have a flash and a quartz date function! I haven’t been able to figure out how to reset the quartz date, so all of my pictures are stamped with a date in 1998. People use apps to do that today, but this is the real thing. The flash is no match for a real speedlite, of course, but it does well enough for fill in dark settings (or to make my cats’ eyes flare dramatically).
The Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 is an admirable performer, if you can accept the unpredictable flare. It’s possible to create a hood from construction paper that seems to mitigate the flaring for the most part, but it’s next to useless when the clamshell design would knock it off the minute you turn off the camera and the lens retracts. I’ve decided to accept the flaring from time to time and keep it loaded up with cheap consumer film – when I need a pocket camera up to some light spritzing or with a range of focal lengths, out it comes.
The Olympus Stylus family of compacts are largely responsible for a look that remains popular today, especially as the 90s come back in vogue. Some might say the look is a cliche, but when you shoot on consumer film with a thrifted Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80, it’s only a cliche because this setup created that look in the first place. Everything else is just a pale imitation.
For more photos from our photo walk and the Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 (though you might have to scroll back a bit), check out: