Out Of Tune – Olympus AM-100 Review

I’m a bit of a sucker of Olympus’s overlooked fixed focus shooters from the legendary PEN EE to the Supertrip. But this later model is a bit like its AM radio moniker – it does a serviceable job but lacks the punch of its siblings.

Back to the Future ?

Mrs Green and the Specilaity Sausage
Dumfries May 2017. Olympus AM-100 Agfaphoto Vista Plus

Combining brick like looks of a 80’s non-zoom AF with a pseudo zone focus lens – this is an usual camera for its era.  Especially as it was part of the AF/infinity series  hence the US  infinity S moniker.  The Japanese nicknamed it the Picasso Mini (the Picasso moniker was first applied to the legendary AFL).

Powered by 2 AAA batteries, this a motor wind, DX coding auto exposure fare, wrapped up in a clamshell plastic body. This is quite rugged and although not that compact is easy to hold. The camera is auto exposure with shutter speeds of 1/45-1/500 sec and the 35mm 3 element lens opens up to f/3.5 from f/22. The camera allegedly can DX code for 50-1000 ISO although with just 3 DX pins I suspect that might be a broader range.  The flash has GN10 (at 100 ISO) and is fully auto. This is pretty weedy and only good for shooting a few metres.

Door Stand
Queen of South Ground, Palmerston, Dumfries. Olympus AM-100 with Lomography Lady Grey 400 (Fomapan). Mild sharpening in Microsoft Photo

Fixed or Zone Focus ?

The  focus is interesting but not really clear.  In the large part you’ll shoot it as fixed focus but 2 buttons sit on the front for close up  (0.5-1m) and distance. It is easy to assume that pushing these makes the camera act in zone focus mode but I suspect things are a bit more complex. The close up feature which forces the flash on certainly seems to do something as background objects are out of focus. However I’ve no idea what as the camera doesn’t seem to do anything when pressed

Olympus AM-100 Close up test Shot
Olympus AM-100 Close up test Shot with Agfaphoto Vista Plus 200. Note rear background out of focus.

I suspect the infinity mode just cause the camera to force the smallest aperture to ensure hyper focal distance. Certainly nearer objects seem to be in focus as well.

Shooting Stars ? – In use

Word of warning, use fresh batteries with this camera. A ready light comes on when you open the cover (in essence this is the camera charging the flash) – This will take longer if the batteries are drained. The camera is simple enough to use as a quick snapper in good light but there are some issues. The first is those 2 focus mode button – yup hard to get. Second is the unpredictable flash – you just never know when it will kick in.

Result wise lets start with the good news. The exposure this little number does is generally okay although you’ll need to live with the flash and don’t try anything to complex.  There is minimal  radial distortion, with a subtle pincushion effect (better than some more advanced compacts) but there is some feathering from the cheap lens on edges.

Focus – Highs and Lows

Focuswise it produces okay images for a fixed focus but somewhat disappointing compared to even more basic Olympus siblings like the Supertrip or the XA1.

I suspect in part that to do with the auto exposure system. The XA1 is assumed to use the same system employed by the legendary Trip 35 and PEN EE series – geared to keep the aperture small hence boost depth of field. The AM-100, I’m guessing,  uses the same more advanced exposure system found on the AF models in the infinity series. That will probably sacrifice aperture for higher shutter speeds to reduce shake as AF cameras will start for a better point for focus. Sadly that’s not the case for our AM-100 perhaps with the exception of close up mode and to a lesser extent distance.

National Museum of Scotland
National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. April 2017. Olympus AM-100 with Lomography Lady Grey 400 (Fomapan). Using distance setting helps but image just that bit soft. Complex lighting means a degree of underexposure on the balconies but that is to be expected with such a simple compact

In good light on routine settings the camera takes okay images around 2-3 m but just a tad soft. The distance setting helps for landscape shots like the National Museum shot above.

Close Up star

Dog sleeping
Olympus AM-100 with Lomography Lady Grey 400 (Fomapan), 2017. A good example of close up mode. Note soft background suggesting the close up mode is more than just relying on narrow aperture.

Close up is actually quite impressive when you get it right. Flash is gonna fire so don’t try it on reflective surfaces. I wouldn’t use it over a good AF with macro feature but this actually hits above many cameras.

The quality of the glass is probably another issue. The cheaper Supertrip has a Zuiko lens, this doesn’t – just a generic Olympus Lens.

Conclusions

To be honest this is a disappointment. This is actually what you’d expect from a cheap fixed focus camera. However Olympus have done so much more with that in the past. I never expected this to rival my PEN EE-2 but even the much more basic Olympus Supertrip is optically better (and that’s a camera with no real exposure control). If you like the style buy a AF-10 (or its later rehash the OZ-10) – you’ll get sharper shots with more control for the same money.

Maybe I got my hopes up too much due to my experience with the much maligned but in my opinion flawed gem the XA1. That camera is much better.

In balance though this is better than many a cheap 80’s fixed focus number. The exposure control is a boon and close up actually works

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2 thoughts on “Out Of Tune – Olympus AM-100 Review”

  1. I have to admit I’m not really in love with mine. It seems to totally miss focus quite a bit. I did experiment with the landscape and macro settings without really seeing much. Olympus seemed to flounder a bit for many years in trying to get a camera with the optics of the XA in an easier to use format – I honestly don’t think they got it until digital.

  2. I’m also a fan of Olympus’s fixed focus compacts. The Shoot n’Go is an ultra basic, no battery, manual flash, wheel advance camera that turns out way better shots than some of my AF models.

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