Most serious photographers like to carry a small pocket camera with them at all times. For those of us raised on 35mm film, the Olympus Stylus Epic (called the Mju-II outside the USA) is our camera of choice. For those of you who don’t know what this camera is, it is an inexpensive point & shoot. It just happens to have a sharp-as-a-tack 35/2.8 lens permanently attached, a provision for spot metering (which I never use), and it fits in your pocket without leaving a bulge. I’m not going to go into any more specs here. You can find a wealth of information about this camera by doing a Google search.
This is not a scientific test. It’s not meant to praise or criticize. It’s simply a report on how this camera works for the type of shooting I do.
When traveling I carry this camera in addition to all my other gear, all the time. I usually load it with a fast negative film…either Kodak Tri-X or Ilford XP-2 for black & white, or Fuji NPH or Kodak Portra for color. All point and shoot cameras work best with a faster emulsion in the 400 speed and up range, because this allows them to stop the lens down and not shoot wide open all the time. This is especially true with point and shoot cameras that have a zoom lens.
What this camera isn’t.
Let me state right here that this camera lacks sufficient control to make it more than what it is…a simple point & shoot. You cannot easily adjust the exposure, you cannot focus with precision, you cannot rely on it to even focus on what you’re pointing it at. If you use the flash to shoot people indoors, or at night, you’re going to get horrendous red-eye. It isn’t a replacement for a slr.
How I use this camera.
As I said, along with my other gear, I carry the Epic all of the time. I usually keep it loaded with either black & white or color negative film. I use it for grab shots. That is to say, if I see something I want to photograph but feel my slr is the wrong tool, I shoot with the Epic. I do this when I think the slr is too obtrusive, too loud, too obvious, or if it’s just going to be a fleeting moment. Many times I’ll just take a quick snapshot knowing that I’ll probably have to crop stuff out later. That’s what happened with the “Nun” shot, to your left, taken in Prague. Because I saw the nuns from a considerable distance away, and they were moving even further away, I quickly grabbed the Epic, turned the flash off, and snapped the shot. If I had had a longer lens on the slr hanging around my neck at the time, I would have used that, but I had a 20mm attached. If I took the time to change lenses, they would have been gone. And since they were a fair distance away, on the final edit I had to crop out some other people and objects that made the shot look too cluttered.
The same approach was used for the “little-girl-pretending-to-fly” shot, to your right, taken at the Palace of Versailles, near Paris, France. I had just finished the roll of film in my slr when I spotted the girl approaching me. I turned the Epic’s flash off, held the camera at my waist, and took the shot. I was hoping she would take a few steps closer because I wanted her to be in the foreground a bit more. But she dropped her arms, a bit embarrassed that I was watching, and ran off. I had no idea how these two shots would turn out when I took them. It was just as the name implies, point & shoot. I was lucky that they came out sharp enough to work for me. The only control I had was to turn the flash off. And this is what you should do for most daylight shots. The exception is to use the fill-flash mode when shooting people in harsh sunlight or shady areas. It will get the shadows off of their faces. But by turning the flash off, the camera is forced to use a shutter speed and aperture other than the default mode. Chances are that by leaving the flash on, I would have gotten the shots anyway. But I wanted the lens to stop down a bit for increased depth of field, and most point and shoots default to a wide-open, or near wide open, aperture when the flash is on.
Using the flash.
The two shots here, on the right and the left, where taken inside the huge beer tents at the Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. Having been inside the tents the previous evening, I knew that I wanted to return without my slrs because the place is just too crowded and somewhat on the dark side. Besides, I wanted to party a little myself (luckily, the Epic is water-resistant, in this case, beer resistant)…so I left the rest of my gear locked up at the hotel, and just carried the Epic.
I used the default flash mode for both shots. But I held a piece of tissue over the flash to diffuse it a bit. This evens out the light, and makes the shot look a little more pleasing, almost like it was shot with ambient light. Again, I could have used a different mode, namely the fill-flash setting, but the flash in this camera is weak, and I wanted to make sure it froze the action. And it worked out OK.
But, I say again, these are just hit or miss shots. I didn’t know what I would get when I took them. I applied a little basic photography technique that I would have used regardless of the camera I was shooting with, and this helped to get a better result. But in the end, it was still largely a matter of luck.
Using a tripod.
The next shot on the left was also taken at the Oktoberfest, but with the flash turned off again. I wanted to convey the motion of these two guys dancing. I placed the camera on my trusty, little, bendable-legged tripod, set the automatic timer, and let the camera do its thing.
I used the same method for the shot on the right taken at Disneyland’s California Adventure. A crowded amusement park is not the place to carry a large slr with a lot of lenses. The Epic, and my tiny, bendable tripod, fit easily in my pocket. For this shot, I just set the camera on top of a wall, turned the flash off, set the self-timer, and the camera figured the exposure beautifully.
You can use these techniques with any point and shoot camera on the market. But I feel the Epic stands apart because of its fast, high-quality lens. Most point and shoots give you the option of turning the flash off. This is by far the most useful feature on these little cameras. Take advantage of it.
There’s a whole slew of high-end point & shoot film cameras that offer more exposure control. The Contax T3 and the Ricoh GR-1v received rave reviews from photographers. These models will let you choose the aperture, and adjust the focus to a point. These are tempting alternatives, but they still aren’t suitable replacements for full-sized slrs…so my feeling is why pay the high-price for them? The Epic is a cheap investment. Your film costs will be many times over the price of this camera if you use it a lot. The T3 and GR-1v are wonderful but you still can’t change the lens. And they cost as much as a mid-range slr.
The Stylus Epic is fantastic little pocket film camera. Just remember what it is…a simple point & shoot camera. If you’re serious about photography, this camera will leave you unfulfilled on one hand, but on the other hand you’ll get the occasional outstanding shot. The best you can do is make an educated guess about how things will turn out. The simple methods I’ve mentioned above should improve your percentage of keepers.
Jump to the Future.
This piece was obviously written before the advent of digital cameras. Today you can use a never ending variety of digital pocket cams. All of them offer far more control over the Epic…even your cell phone has more options. But if you want the film experience, the Epic is a good camera to get you going. Have fun!