Bridging the Gap ?- Olympus iS-1000 Review

Want a step up from a zoom compact but don’t want to commit to a SLR ? Well the Olympus  IS-1000  might be for you. Costing hundreds at launch this  1990  bridge camera now can be bought for a tenner or less. But how does it compare to other compacts and modern cameras ?

The term Bridge Camera was coined in 1988 by Sandy Cotton an AP journalist. He used it to describe the new cameras that were bridging the gap between compacts and SLRs. The term was generally attached to AF Zoom SLR cameras like the iS-1000. The term has lived on into the digital era although digital bridge cameras. Interestingly Olympus preferred to use the term Zoom Lens Reflex (ZLR).

Night Sell
Olympus iS-1000 with Fujifilm Neopan 400CN. Dumfries Jan 2017

Olympus’s take on the Bridge

Unlike many rivals, the iS series of cameras actually looks like a SLR or a modern bridge camera. And using the iS-1000, you don’t feel conspicuous. And the rest of the series follow the same aesthetic. The iS-1000 would be followed by 3 other high end ‘thousand’ models (2000, 3000 and 5000). All of these cameras had cutting edge optics with ED (Extra Dispersion) glass as standard.  By and large the models are incremental improvements over the predecessor. However the last model  the  iS-5000, whilst having a bigger lens range, more optional features and better modes. actually end up with  smaller EV compensation  and no option for external flash.

Sold alongside were the iS  ‘hundred’ models. Cheaper to buy but had lower quality glass and more basic options. Key models include the is-100, 200, 300 and 500 although odd market specific models turn up. Data back (Quartz Data) versions were sold for most models  with QD, DLX or DLX QD designations.  Olympus irritatingly sold the cameras as the L series in Japan and as the iS in the USA with a different numbering system. So our iS-1000 was aka the iS-1 and the L-1000. Meanwhile the more basic iS-100 was aka the iS-10 and L-10 !

Roof Gull-y
Dumfries June 2017. Olympus IS-1000 with Agfaphoto Vista 200.

Olympus iS-1000 Spec

  • Lens: 35-135mm 1:4.5-5.6
    • 16 Element in 15 groups
  • Focus: TTL Active AF
    • Manual Option
  • Metering: TTL
    • ESP, centre, Spot
  • Shutter: 15-1/2000 +B
  • DX Range: 25-3200 ISO
  • Battery: 2x CR123A
  • Flash GN: 20  (100 ISO in m)
  • Filter Thread: 49mm

Control and Handling

The camera is an interesting mix of an SLR and a compact in use. For a 1990 SLR it’s viewfinder is a stonker. Bright, big and with a clear in viewfinder display of shutter speed, aperture, focus lock and if flash needed as well as if in point focus mode. Unlike later models there is no adjustable diopter for eyesight setting  but you can buy diopter adjusted eye pieces.

Olympus iS-1000
Olympus iS-1000 with lens extended and flash unit open

All controls are by push button from the zoom toggle to even when you are focusing manually. If stepping down from a SLR or dSLR, this can be a bit of a jump initially. Luckily the layout is reasonably good. The zoom toggle sits on the lens barrel naturally positioned for your left hand in use. If you want to switch from auto mode or activate any of the settings you’ll do so by pressing a selector button around the rear large LCD or those behind a flip down door beneath. A toggle switch behind the shutter lets you move between options where relevant like aperture in AP (aperture priority)  mode.

Rear LCD and controls of iS-1000
Rear LCD and controls of iS-1000. Note Spot Focus button to right and the open flip down cover

You can lock focus and exposure by half depressing the shutter and you have the option of a separate spot metering button if you want to switch out of the default matrix ESP metering mode.

Options du Jour

For a 1990 camera the options are pretty good. For common exposure modes thing are pretty good. Hold down the mode button on the LCD display and use the toggle to switch between Programmed Auto (P, default), AP (A) and Metered Manual (M) modes. The camera stays in these modes even when turned off. Below that is the EV compensation button which offers an incredible ±4 EV range. The iS-2000 on have Shutter Priority (SP) if that’s an issue for you.

Hound Down
Olympus iS-1000 with Ilford XP2. June 2017

The PF option allows you to switch to manual focusing (using the zoom toggle). All makes sense so far, so I guess the 4th button will control something like flash mode or scene selection ?

Nope.
It is part of the camera’s zoom memory system (allowing you to set the default focal length on turning on). Worthy but this requires the use of buttons located behind the pull down panel as well.

It is here you access the more useful other modes to control flash, macro photography etc. There are a good range of flash options (see later), portrait modes, various night modes (±flash)  and a continuous drive mode.  It lacks however a dedicated landscape or sports mode. The iS-2000 adds the sports mode and the iS-3000 gets a landscape mode in.

Fancy A Hotdog ?
Dumfries June 2017. Olympus IS-1000 with Agfaphoto Vista 200.

Flashtastic

I touched on the flash in modes but that’s not the half.  This bridge camera’s unit out performs many SLR bodies flash unit. We have a TTL flash unit with a corking peak GN20. The camera uses an intelligent variable power (IVP) to adjust output and actually has 2 flash tubes allowing the camera to adjust brightness at both ends of the zoom.

If that ain’t enough you can seek out the legendary G40 dedicated TTL flash unit. Awesomely advanced & powerful even by 2017 standards,  It can be used in sync with the in-built unit.

Olympus iS-1000 Flash Shot
Example of Olympus iS-1000 Flash Shot taken on Burns Parade Jan 2017. Fujifilm Neopan 400CN. Not a great shot but illustrates the raw power.

A range of other accessories exist including screw on converter lenses (wide, tele and macro).  Of course you can also use conventional filters

The cameras has DX coding in single stop steps from 25-3200 ISO. Worth noting the camera has a fairly unique loading system to allow it to be narrower than a conventional SLR, which most of the time is fine but can be an issue if the film lead bends the other way.

Performance – Class in Glass

This is an understated killer of a camera. You have a combination of a good TTL phase detection IR focus, combined with a matrix metering system (or optional spot or mode dependant centre weight) along with killer glass. For a x4 zoom, an aperture of  f/4.5 at wide which falls to f/5.6 on tele is pretty impressive compared to most compacts and comparable AF SLR lenses.

It is a brilliant shooter overall. I’ve used in low light conditions, night and on rare sunny days  and it has coped pretty well. This is a corker of a 16 element lens combined with accurate SLR IR assisted AF focusing and an impressive exposure metering. The zoom lens is pretty crisp at  most ranges maybe a bit soft at distance with the wide (yup a landscape mode would help) but actually not that bad. There is a bit of radial distortion (pincushion on tele and moustache on wide) but it is pretty good for a compact lens design.

Although a handy camera for street shooting, this is no compact and the AF Zoom is as noisy as a compact as unlike a AF SLR Zoom it is motorised. That and the focus time are reasonably good.

Ice Scream
Olympus iS-1000 with Ilford XP2. June 2017

In summary

If you want to step up from a compact camera but don’t want the hassle of seeking out or changing lenses this could be for you. In fact it will out perform many SLR of its day with standard lens kits. Its main rivals come in the form of its own successors with the iS-3000 probably being the sweet point.

Sadly it isn’t frustration free. The compact controls won’t suit everyone. Loading is more fiddly than it should be and nor is this beast in anyway pocket-able and the original model’s controls can be irritating but…

Alternatives

  • Ricoh Mirai – Legendary but space aged late 80’s bridge
  • Chinon Genesis Series – rarely seen but influence alternative
  • Yashica Samurai series – Half frame camcorder like bridge
  • Olympus iS-3000 – Irons out many of the issues of its predecessor
  • Nikon F55 – 99p SLR body  offering more practicality

Helpful links

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3 thoughts on “Bridging the Gap ?- Olympus iS-1000 Review”

  1. Solid review. Thanks! I keep looking at these bridge cameras as they tick two of my favorite boxes: capable and inexpensive (as at least where I live they often sell for under $25). Yet I’ve not managed to pull the trigger on one yet.

  2. I came very close to buying one of these a couple of times last year. Saw some very interesting images and was interested in what they could do. The time has kind of passed now as I’m shooting less film, but I can see the appeal and the potential.

    The nearest I’ve been in terms of using a film camera is probably the Canon Epoca, which handled like a 90s HandyCam, and again was maybe too ahead of its time to be understood!

    http://global.canon/en/c-museum/product/film154.html

    I wonder if currently the Olympus IS series are still too modern almost, and most people exploring film would look at a “classic” SLR or rangefinder from the 60s or 70s. They might be more appreciated in a decade’s time maybe, along with SLRs from a similar era, which can also be picked up very cheaply, as you know!

    1. The canon reminds me of the half frame Yashica Samurai I had – almost the weirdest looking thing until I got a Minolta 110 Zoom SLR Mk1 (never seen – just look beyond General Ackbar’s flasgship in that star wars battle scene – I’m sure it was the 3 starship down.)

      However do note your comment re SLRs as oddly got the 99p F55 body and a cheap as chips Nikkor AF zoom out at weekend and instantly more comfortable. That said the Oly really ain’t bad

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