Olympus L-10 Super

An Affordable SLR Review

6 min read by Dmitri.

Olympus L-10 Super is a 35mm film zoom lens SLR that you can find today for less than $100. Its integrated lens with aspherical elements has a motorized variable focal length of 28mm-110mm with a maximum aperture of 𝒇4.5 (𝒇5.6 at longer focal lengths). Its top shutter speed is 1/2,000, powered by two CR123 batteries. L-10 also sports an integrated flash, spot and TTL center-weighted metering, a “panorama” mask and a date stamp option.

For a while, it’s been the longest-lensed camera on my shelf and the only 35mm SLR — until I got my Pen FV. And despite its cheap tag, it still has the fastest shutter speed than anything else I own.

While by no means a perfect camera, I can’t say that I don’t enjoy its relative versatility and ease of use. The body of L-10 is reminiscent of consumer tech toys I remember from the ‘90s, plasticky, plastered with logos, and very comfortable in hand.

Olympus L-10 Super in use.

L-10 is one of the earliest cameras to implement the modern SLR look and ergonomics. By today’s standards, it looks somewhat boring and unremarkable. The upside to this design is a much better grip than that of a typical vintagebrick” and easy one-handed operation.

Despite its plasticky build, there is some delightful attention to detail: a nob at the bottom of the lens so that the camera can stand perfectly upright without leaning down. Materials aside, everything seems to be fitting really well together on this “Made in Japan” gadget.

The designers went as far as they possibly could with automation on this camera. Auto-film winding, auto-focus, auto-exposure, auto flash sync, and motorized zoom. The complexity of operating a film camera is completely removed, replaced with a limited set of options to override the defaults.

Thankfully, the common auto-sin of the cameras from that era — a relentless hard-to-shut-off flash — isn’t present. Turning the camera on with the switch on the left side pulled halfway won’t pop it at all. And if it does end up in the “on” position, it’s easy to shut it down by drawing it back into the body. When you do end up using flash, it could be cycled between “Auto,” “Auto-S” (red-eye reduction), and “Fill” — to open up the shadows in the daytime.

Note that the flash takes the spot of an accessory shoe, so you are stuck with what you got — no external flashes, metres, or finders.

The options that I found the most useful on L-10 Super are the button that forces the 1/2,000 shutter speed and “F.No.” to set the widest aperture available, typically 𝒇5.6.

I’ve never touched the “panorama,” as all it does is masks the top and bottom slices of the frame, which I could do myself in Photoshop or in print without potentially losing the “good bits” of an image.

The best part about these controls is that I do not need to explain how to get them to work — look at the top plate and find all the options in plain sight. No elaborate menus or hidden switches. Easy. There’s absolutely nothing difficult about this camera: changing the batteries, loading film, operating the zoom lens can all be easily figured out without a manual, even if this is the first time shooting film.

Autofocus and auto exposure.

Though good controls layout, nice grip, and convenient automation features are feasible to accomplish even on the cheap-end cameras, good exposure and focus control are a different story. To this day, cameras are struggling to cover up the bugs and operational complexities of these two essential functions an experienced photographer could nail consistently on a fully manual camera. While good automation does make taking spontaneous photographs much easier, inadequate electronics may screw up even the simplest of shots.

In my experience, Olympus L-10 has shown to suffer from slight under-exposure and a perpetual inability to focus in tricky situations. Particularly when most of the scene is lacking contrast elements. The worst part is that it defaults to near focus, which in my use is almost never the distance I wanted. I wouldn’t call this a dealbreaker as this happens in only about 5% of the photos I attempted to take, but when it does, it’s aggravating.

I really wish this camera had a manual override for the focus and exposure. Alas, it does not.

Olympus L-10 Super lens and image quality.

Olympus L-10 with the now discontinued Fuji Pro 400H. This was taken off the balcony of my condo.

The minimal focal distance of the L-10 lens is about 3” at 110mm zoom and about 1” at 28mm wide-angle. Being 𝒇4.5 at its widest, this is the slowest lens in my collection. Though with the zoom all the way to 110, getting background separation with this camera is easy.

L-10’s lens isn’t the sharpest thing out there — it’s just reasonable. The distortions and aberrations dissipate for the most part at longer focal lengths, and there’s a good amount of contrast with minimal flaring. It’s a decent lens which I think works best at its longest focal length, whether for close-up macro-like shots or to capture distant scenes.

Note: I’ve made slight adjustments to some of the samples here, mostly to correct scanner colour and exposure.

Olympus L-10 with the now discontinued Fuji Pro 400H. I got lucky with the light, but some sharpness is missing from this shot.
Olympus L-10 with Portra 800.

I found that L-10 works best with ISO800 films. Larger grain adds the perception of sharpness, and its exposure system seems to cope better with higher-speed films.

The photo above is one of my favourites, despite looking somewhat plain. That is because I was able to capture the red balloons out of the window of my condo, which is a testament to this camera’s ability to ready quickly.

Olympus L-10 with Portra 800.
Olympus L-10 bokeh with Portra 800.

All in all, Olympus L-10 Super is a lot of fun to shoot, despite its few drawbacks. It’s not fidgety and is really easy to handle. It’s reasonably reliable, as long as you understand the limitations of its autofocus mechanism — it certainly isn’t ready for fast action shots. The lens seems to exhibit variable performance, with the best end being its longest focal length.

Seeing the current prices and availability of this camera makes me wonder how many more of these are stuck in the basements and bargain bins at thrift stores. My verdict is that this camera is certainly worth a try if found in good condition at a fair price.