The amazing thing about this inexpensive camera is its impressive features. Foremost, is its fast 35mm 2.8 lens, comprised of 4 elements. One element is aspherical which greatly helps the camera provide sharp and contrasty images. Secondly, the camera is tiny, light and very easy to carry with you at all times. Other wonderful features include weather resistance, multiple flash modes, fast auto focusing and even a spot meter feature ! However, because this camera is basically, auto-everything, one never really knows the aperture or shutter speed selected - but more on this later...
For under a $ 80 bucks, there is a lot of joy to be had from this little beast. I have 8x10 prints from Epic negs that I am really impressed with - and believe me, I'm generally not impressed with most results from 35mm cameras. The last 10 years or so, I have mostly shot 645 and 67 formats because the quality from larger negatives makes such a huge difference in print sharpness and tonality. I usually avoid shooting 35mm format at all costs, but with the birth of my son a year and a half ago, my needs changed. I wanted a tiny camera I could carry anywhere, not be worried about losing or breaking it and it needed to have a fairly fast response to capture my active son's lifestyle. So far, the Epic has fit the bill.....usually.... I say usually, because there are some quirks to this camera that can make it frustrating to use. But, before I get to those frustrations, let me show you some results I have gotten from this tiny camera.
Image # 1 Data: Kodak 400UC film. Fill flash used. Focus on face. Sunny, fall day with sun directly hitting the background. I am impressed on many levels. First, the image is very sharp. I can see right into my son's eyes and every detail is present and crisp. The camera also did an excellent ( not perfect ) job at balancing the huge difference in light values and the results are an excellent print. His face is a little bit overexposed - but that is quite easy to balance out in a final print. Colors are very accurate and saturated.
Image # 2 Data: Kodak 400UC film. Fill flash used. Focus on body. Late afternoon sun, directly hitting the entire image. Based on the late day, direct sun - I am estimating the EV value of the scene at EV 14.5 ( based on 100 speed film ). At this level with 400 speed film, I am estimating the camera chose to shoot ( more on this below ) at 1/1000 at F8. Again, the image is very sharp. Again, colors are very accurate and saturated.
Image # 3 Data: Kodak 400UC film. Fill flash used. Focus on body. Filtered, mostly sunny day. Sharp, sharp, sharp....check out the pine needles around his feet. Colors are again very accurate, although overall a bit blue from the shade in the scene. Based on the filtered sun and time of day - I am estimating the EV value of the scene at EV 12.5. At this level with the visible depth of field, and with 400 speed film, I am estimating the camera chose the following shutter and aperture ( more on this below ) = 1/500 at F5.6. Click on the print for a larger version which was only scanned at 92 dpi.
Image # 4 Data: Kodak 400UC film. Focus on body. Heavily overcast, dark day. I am estimating the EV value of the scene at EV 10. At this level with 400 speed film, I am guessing the camera chose the following shutter and aperture ( more on this below ) = 1/250 at F4. The image is not very sharp, but considering its only stopped down one stop from wide open and with my less than stellar handholding abilities - its more than acceptable. Check the larger version scanned at 72 dpi.
Image # 5 Data: Kodak 400UC film. Fill flash used. Focus on mom's face. Very overcast day. The fill flash worked perfectly in this image. Skin and all other colors are again very accurate. The close focusing performance is impressive. I havent found a lot of data on the Epic's flash, but I am estimating the camera chose an aperture of F8 based on the visible DOF and flash to subject distance. I was lucky not to have incurred red eye which is common with this camera. I have an 8x10 print from this negative which is just as good as those from the Canon EOS 50mm 1.8 II lens I have used in the past. Click on the print for a larger version which was only scanned at 72 dpi.
Image # 6 Data: Kodak 400UC film. Very overcast day. Flash turned off. Focus on the bottom of the tree trunk. Color is saturated - but a polarizer would have helped the leaves on the ground. Examine the close focus bokeh in the upper left corner..not bad for a simple, triangular aperture ! 72 dpi scan.
Ok, now the agony.
The Camera's Exposure Program: It becomes evident, very quickly, that this camera is programmed to choose high shutter speeds in every picture taking situation at the complete expense of aperture. Doug Whitman of http://home.adelphia.net/~dougwhitman/theory.html has derived the chart below from the Epic's repair manual. Although I cannot vouch for its precise accuracy, is does seem to be accurate based on my experiences with this camera.
To decipher what this graph says.... Outdoors with the sun directly hitting your "middle-grey" toned subject ( EV15 ) and using 100 speed film, the Epic will choose to shoot the camera at approx. 1/500 at F8* Change to 400 speed film and it will select 1/1000 with F11.
Did you even notice the Epic doesnt stop down any further than F11 ? I think thats odd, even for a point and shoot. Here's another tid bit...if this graph is precise, what it tells you is that when you are using 100 speed film on a subject FULLY lit by direct sun, you will NEVER get this camera to stop down beyond F8 ( and never beyond 5.6 with 50 speed film )! In addition, if you use 100 speed film, in any lighting situation that is EV10 or below, it will be shot wide open ! So, low light conditions like sunrise, sunset, dawn, shots in the woods or a very, heavily overcast day ( or anything darker ) will cause the camera to shoot wide open and thus, give less than quality images. At night, without the flash you'll ALWAYS shoot at F 2.8. This is NOT a low light camera ! Using faster film will help...but even 400 speed film needs a fairly bright day for the lens to stop down and get to experience the very high quality the lens can provide from F 5.6 to F 11. Use 50 speed film and you may think this camera absolutely stinks ( cause its going to shoot wide open in all but the brightest outdoor light ) ! How about using a tripod outdoors ? Why would you ? Its not going to really help..sure it will eliminate shake, but it wont cause the camera stop down any and since the shutter speed is already programmed to be high - the shake the tripod MAY eliminate probably wont impact the image quality much ( unless you have really shaky hands ).
Bear in mind, I am referring to outdoor use...indoor use is going to force you to use flash. You can shut the flash off if you desire, but you will be using F2.8 under EVERY circumstance. I dont have any idea what the flash programming is - but based on the flash power, I am going to guess that in most common situations, it uses F4 to F8, depending on film speed and flash to object distance.
Another side effect of the cameras exposure programming is the lack of depth of field the camera will provide. Its "virtually" impossible to get front to back sharpness with this camera despite its wide angle lens...Why? Again, even using 400 speed film, the camera cant stop down beyond F 11 and since there is no easy way to use hyperfocal focusing with this camera, it rarely will provide great depth of field. See image # 2 above. Even in very bright light and using 400 speed film, that building behind my son is not even close to being in focus ( check out the larger image ). This is really not a good point & shoot camera for landscape shooting !
Focus issues: The camera does seem to misfocus a bit more than the average point-in-shoot camera. I say only "a bit" because in using this camera and reading many, many comments on the net - I believe some of the misfocus problem has to do with people not realizing how fast this camera focuses. A very gentle, half-press of the shutter button locks this baby on whatever it catches in its focusing area. If you are careful and deliberate, the camera focuses properly. The manual states you should center your point of focus within the cross marked areas as seen in the viewfinder and gently press the shutter half way to lock the focus. A green light will glow when focus is locked. Then, while holding the shutter button depressed and the focus locked, recompose as needed.
In some cases where users are complainging about misfocus, I think the camera has already focused on something before the user even knew it OR they locked their focus correctly but didnt keep the shutter button depressed (maintaing the focus point ) and the camera re-focused right before the camera took the photo. Another warning - it is possible to take a photo with this camera without it focusing on anything. The camera will fire without lighting up that green focus confirmation light. Here's an example where NOTHING is in focus despite it being mid-day sun and using 400 speed film....!
Another thing you should know....this camera utilizes an active-type, multi beam focus, which is less accurate than passive-type focusing which more expensive auto focus cameras use. Active focus cameras perform very well when focusing on objects within 20 feet of the camera - but become less accurate beyond this distance. You will sometimes find it is difficult to get this camera to focus on infinity unless there are vertical lines in the scene for the camera's auto focus to lock onto.
Flash issues: The camera, when started up by opening its shell, defaults to auto flash and will fire if the camera shutter speed falls below a certain speed. I am not sure of the exact speed that triggers flash use, but I think its rather high because this baby loves to fire that flash ! One must select, via a tiny button, to shut the flash off. Secondly, being such a small camera, the flash is very close to the lens which is a recipe for disaster in terms of producing red eye in your pictures. Compounding the problem, the red eye reduction function on this camera is laughable. It fires something like 15 quick, flash bursts before actually taking the final image. By the time it does this, so much time is passed you may have lost your subjects interest, have dazed them with all the light, lost your focus point or didnt hold the camera steady because you never knew when it actually took the photo.
On a positive note, I tend to use fill flash in almost all of my outdoor people photos and this camera does very well at balancing the flash exposure with ambient light levels. However, I do have to pray that red eye doesnt occur. Here's a great image pretty much ruined by the camera's red eye...
PS - Bokeh.....Despite the triangular shape of the Epic's aperture, the bokeh the camera produces is actually neutral to good. I have never found any offensive out of focus highlights ( see image above ), and on many occasions I find the camera has pretty smooth out of focus details ( see images # 1, # 5 and #6 ).
PPS - Lens Flare....I have found the lens is good ( not great ) at handling flare. Since using a lens shade is out of the question, I'd advise keeping direct sun out of your images as much as possible. As a torture test, I did take an image where the sun was directly shining onto the lens ( albeit a bit filtered by a tree ) and the results are below. I'll let you form your own conclusions ( but remember this is a fairly torturous test for any lens ! )
This camera is great in bright light with fast film. It also has an excellent program to balance fill flash photos. Its small, light and can be brought anywhere. When the lens stops down 2 or more stops, image quality is really superb. Not just good, but superb. The viewfinder is also excellent with very little parallax error due to its thoughtful design. However, the camera's major issue is that it takes very bright light and/or fast film to get it to stop down and produce quality images. It also produces red eye quite frequently, which might be fine for B&W film users, but for most of us using color - it stinks. Bottom line...its a very fine camera but only in select lighting situations. On the other hand, its hard to complain when it costs as little as $ 79.95 new and sometimes under $ 40, used.
In short, if you're looking for a good point and shoot to be able to function under all types of lighting situations, choose a camera that allows some manual intervention ! The Epic is not the answer.
* I say approximately because I dont think the Epic has intermediate shutter speeds or aperture settings. The graph above actually shows that EV15 would cause a 1/700 at F6.7ish setting, but I doubt the Epic has those settings available. My assumption is that the shutter only has 1/500 OR 1/1000 to select from, nothing in between...and only F5.6 or F8 with nothing in between.