Olympus Stylus Zoom 80 Wide DLX – Kodak Tri-X

For an ultra-compact, the Stylus Zoom 80 is on the chunky end of the spectrum. Featuring a wide(ish) angle lens, auto-everything, and weather resistance, it’s a recent purchase intended to be taken on bike rides.

While bulky, its contoured shell allows it to slide in and out of my jersey pocket effortlessly. My knuckles and ID bracelet still catch on the elastic, just as they do when I reach for a gel.

I wear tighter-fitting jerseys to keep the camera’s mass snug and still against my lower back. Its plastic body is smooth and rounded much like a bar of soap against my spine. It’s a welcome change from the squared corners and stamped levers of the Rollei 35 and the Olympus 35 RC. I forget it’s there even on rocky, technical trails.

The camera’s girth allows for ample purchase even with gloved paws. The sliding lens cover doubles as a hand grip which rivals what’s on most mirrorless bodies today. It fits nicely in my medium-sized hands.

Sliding open the lens cover also powers up the Stylus. In essence I can single-handedly retrieve the camera and get ready to shoot while my other hand is steadying the bars.

In practice it’s not that simple. The viewfinder is too small to be useful on the go. And disabling the flash—which is on by default—requires visual confirmation on the LCD because the tiny, spongy button provides zero feedback.

Also, it takes five-or-so seconds for the lens barrel to lock into position. That is… five-or-so seconds of tired, intermittent whining as if the lens is extending for the last time. It’s not very reassuring.

The focal length markings on the barrel are 28, 60, and 80mm. They’re useless. Since it’s a 28–80mm zoom, 60mm is the only practical mark and who shoots at 60mm? I would’ve liked to see a 35 or 50mm tick instead.

The viewfinder has a crosshair indicating the center of the frame at infinity and markings showing the parallax shift at the minimum focus distance. The offset between the two distances is large leaving every distance in between in framing limbo. Since I don’t crop photos, the best practice is to avoid symmetry at the near distances.

On the negatives, the frames aren’t consistent in size and shape. At the telephoto end, the image area is slightly smaller with a perfect 3:2 ratio and a bit of wiggle room between the frames. At 28mm, the exposure is larger with a wider ratio and much tighter spacing.

This Olympus has a panoramic mask; it’s dumb and I should just pull it off. The camera also does date imprinting; that’s dumb too.

The lens is slow, but that’s just fine for its intended use as an outdoor shooter. It’s sharp when enough light allows it to stop down. However, there is no way to see what settings are being selected. I often find myself cringing/bracing for a longer-than-expected handheld exposure.

The Stylus does flash exposures well. In fact it has nailed every flash photo so far while some daylight exposures were totally blown out. It’s a pleasant surprise; I’m normally squeamish about using the flash. Guide number what?

One feature I appreciate is its weather resistance. My other cameras travel in a Ziploc bag to protect against precipitation from above and condensation off my back. I don’t know the science, but items in my pockets end up evenly wet even when I don’t sweat.

For this first roll I pulled Tri-X one stop for a classic look from a not-so-classic point-and-shoot. There is no way to specify the film speed; I hacked the DX encoding using a blade and some vinyl tape. Developed in Xtol. The photos turned out punchier than I prefer even when I pulled for shadows.

It’s a mixed-bag using the Olympus as ride-along camera. It’s quick on the draw and simple to shoot. It features modern luxuries like auto-focus and built-in flash. Should be easy peasy.

But without any exposure controls, I’m at the mercy of the Stylus fairy. And though the photos mostly turn out fine, I miss the satisfaction of seeing the decisions I made—good or bad—on the negatives.

I get the impression that this shooter rewards the impulsive shutterbug more than the deliberate hand-wringer that I am. I guess… welcome to the world of compact cameras, me?