Another Olympus: Superzoom 160

I guess I really am becoming a film camera guy. Not only do I like using them, but they just find their way to me.

I’ve remarked about some people become “the bike guy” and they just get bikes given to them because they have a reputation of liking bicycles. It’s along the line of “Since you like bikes, I figured you’d appreciate this.” This also happens with cameras, and apparently a bit of it has rubbed off on me. Someone who follows this blog (hi, Alex!) sent me a camera he had. Since he didn’t have a use for it, he figured I’d appreciate it.

What Alex sent me was an Olympus Superzoom 160. This camera was released in 2001, making it a “millenium compact”, one of the last (but not the last, that would happen about four years later) film cameras Olympus offered. Like many other camera makers in that era, Olympus had two ranges of compact point-and-shoot cameras in the 90s and early aughts. Everyone knows about the mju/Stylus line, a series of very slim and highly covetable cameras. This was the premium series. The Superzoom (also known as Accura or Citia depending on where you be) was the step-below series, aimed at the more casual consumer, the Oldsmobile to the mju/Stylus’s Cadillac . Nothing wrong with that, if anything it means that these cameras can be had for much less than the asking price on mju/Stylus machines.

There seems to be scant info online about the Olympus Superzoom 160. I could not even find a manual (at least not one for free), whereas the manuals to every other camera I’ve gotten over the past year and a half have been easily obtained. Nothing resembling a review, either. Interestingly the only real thing I could find was a press release on the Olympus site from February 7, 20011 announcing the camera’s debut:

The Superzoom 160 comes equipped with a 4.2x 38 mm – 160 mm zoom lens, but achieves the world’s smallest body in the 160 mm lens class* thanks to the use of an aspherical lens element to reduce lens group’s size and weight. In addition to the high-performance lenses and compact body, the Superzoom 160 also features a sophisticated, urbane design with a silky gold front body color and pearl-tone accents to emphasize the camera’s compact size and distinctive bodylines.

Small? It is smaller than the 90s compacts that came before it, like my Pentax IQZoom (Espio) 928. But within a year both the Minolta Freedom Zoom 160 and the Pentax IQZoom (Espio) 170SL would be released, cameras even smaller than the Superzoom and also sporting a 160mm (or longer) zoom lens. So much for that superlative. And “urbane” design? It looks no better or worse than other compacts of the era.

As for the other specifics of the camera, as evidenced by the spec sheet it’s pretty ordinary: A maximum aperture of f/5.7 means using film slower than 400 is a no go, and a minimum of f/12.3 means that landscapes will be sharp enough but no more. It has the typical flash modes, a self-timer, and a not-included remote. It interestingly lacks any autofocus modes other than “auto” and infinity/landscape.

The Olympus Superzoom 160 powered up when I popped in a CR2. I then loaded a roll of Kodak Ultramax 400, my standard test-out film. While I was flying without a manual, the camera was pretty damn easy to figure out. The on/off is done by a sliding switch, which I liked better than a fiddly little button. The viewfinder was small and adequate and the shutter release button didn’t need much of a push to engage. Within a couple days I shot my test roll as I rode around Portland.

The results? Decent, as long as I didn’t zoom. I did one test shot with zoom at 160mm, and it was blurry, the difficulty of getting a good shot this way handheld. I will say that the camera tended to not want to flash, at least this particular specimen, which runs counter to how these cameras usually work. I got some good shots out of the Superzoom 160, at least the ones at medium distance. One shot of a madrona tree came out a bit soft, probably due to that minimum f/12.3 aperture.

The Olympus Superzoom 160 seems to be a decent little camera, as long as you work within its limitations: stay at the 38mm end of the zoom or maybe a wee bit zoomed out, no low-light shots without flash, and don’t count on sharp landscape shots. It was also very easy to use. Will I keep it? Probably not. While it’s nice to have a bang-about camera like this, I’ve got other cameras that fill that niche: My Minolta Freedom Zoom 160 has the same zoom range, better autofocus, and a slimmer body. My Pentax IQZoom 928, while bigger than the Superzoom 160, has a wider max aperture, wider lens (28mm), and lots of features. Its zoom only goes to 90mm, but that’s a pretty respectable, and easier to get decent handheld shots. I’ll make sure the Olympus goes to a good home, though.

Ironically enough, Mr. Fishyfish Arcade tested an Olympus Superzoom 160 and posted about his just a few days ago. From nothing on the internet to two posts in the same week!

Photos from the Olympus Superzoom 160 below or click here.

Olympus Superzoom 160

1 This would have been when I was living in Oakland and getting a root canal (fun!) and a few days before I attended the Alternative Press Expo (APE) in SF.

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