Olympus mju-ii

Olympus Mju-ii Review – A One Roll Test on the Street – by John Hanson

As I’m sure you are aware dear reader, the Olympus Mju-ii has in recent years become the darling of hipsters everywhere. The second generation Mju has become a statement of coolness, an accessory to your outfit, a bauble to be seen holding rather than shooting. Fashion (I’m told) is a fickle business, and only the exact thing will do. Anyone who was ever dragged to Clarks’ shoe shop as a child, when all they wanted was Doc Martins will know this to be true.

The same holds true for cameras. In a world where all cameras should be equal, some (to paraphrase Orwell) are more equal than others. If you absolutely have to have a Mju-ii, then nothing else will do. Whether the Mju-ii deserves such hype is a subject that’s been done to death, so let’s try to not cover old ground if we can avoid it. I’d simply like to offer my personal experience of shooting one roll of film through this modern icon.

I came to the Mju 2 in a roundabout way, via it’s older sibling, the first generation Mju. A bargain find in a charity shop about ten years ago saw me walking away with a slightly battered ‘RPS Royal Centenary 1994’ edition Mju 1 which I use regularly and adore to this day. It’s a camera that’s been with me for a long time now, and is my go-to ‘point and squirt’ camera.

It’s churned out some amazing photos over the years and has been supremely reliable despite its reputation for mechanical delicacy. Though my camera collection has grown exponentially since then (GAS anyone?), it’s remained a firm favourite and looks set to be so for the foreseeable future. Something about that scrappy first-gen Mju just makes me happy. It feels right to me, and it does the job I need it to do. In short, the Mju 1 is a hard act to follow as far as I’m concerned.

Fast forward a few years from that charity shop find, and I’m heading in to my local town centre with the second generation Mju and a single roll of expired HP5+. Curiosity about the slightly faster lens of the Mk2 got the better of me I guess. Anyway… armed with the Mju 2, I’m on a street photography mission. My vague self-set brief to capture ‘life in a northern town’, whatever that means. I guess it didn’t mean all that much to me at the time, because that roll of HP5 was shot, stored, and ultimately forgotten about for years until the Covid 19 pandemic of 2020. Faced with weeks of lockdown in the house, every lost roll of film was rooted out, processed, and scanned – if only to stave off boredom. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

In action on the day, the Mju-ii worked well for me as a street shooter. It’s small enough to fit in to a pocket, and is ready to shoot as soon as the lens cover is retracted. That’s a simple one-handed job on the first generation Mju, but takes a little more care on the Mju-ii, whose sleek lines and tiny size make it keen to jump out of the hand.

Regardless, it’s easy enough to whip the Mju-ii out in an instant and shoot quickly. The inbuilt autofocus seems to react quickly too, and I didn’t manage to catch it out despite trying. One thing to mention here on both the Mju-i and Mju-ii is that turning the camera off reverts the flash back to ‘auto’ the next time it’s turned on; something to keep in mind if you’re trying to be discreet.

Speaking of which… I know some folks don’t like noisy, auto-winding cameras for street shooting, but both the Mju’s are really pretty quiet in this regard, and the noise is easily lost in the hustle and bustle of town life. In the real world, I just didn’t notice or worry about it.

Several years later then, and the negatives were finally developed. Even as I hung them to dry I knew I’d struck gold. Every frame on the roll looked strong. Scanning the negatives confirmed that, but it wasn’t the quality of the negatives, or the final results that pleased me so much as being transported back in time to that busy weekend market.

In the intervening years between shooting and developing, the once legendary and characterful market in my particular northern town has been demolished and rebuilt as a shiny, modern, and sterile box in which traders peddle their wares. Gone is the characterful building and gone are the characters who made it so special. Barely a trace of the places in these photographs exists today, so capturing these images of the market at the end of its glory days is more special retrospectively than it would have been at the time.

Perhaps there’s an argument that for all but essential work, letting a roll of negatives mature like a fine wine (or smelly cheese) can only make the final results sweeter.

My favourite shot from this roll is the image of ‘Sailor Sids’ sweet stall. Sids was a local institution for as long as I can remember, and seeing this image emerge from the darkness took me back to childhood bonbons and fizzy sherbet. I’m fairly sure Sid or his offspring are still there in the new market, but it’s somehow not the same.

None of that detracts from the shot though, and I think the little Mju 2 did a really great job of capturing the atmosphere of the place. It’s a timeless shot, and I particularly like the way that the expired film ages this shot and all the others on the roll. Capturing moments like this is (for me) what photography is all about.

So did I fall in love with the Mju-ii? Well… not really. It’s a good camera for sure, and packs a mean punch for its size despite the light leaks on my example. It’s a clever design that works well in lots of different situations, but it just didn’t feel especially right for me. Given the choice, I still prefer the first generation Mju.

The original incarnation is still the camera I pick up most often, and is still the camera that makes me happy most often. Truth be told, I couldn’t tell you objectively why that is, but when all’s said and done, does it really matter? If you own a Mju-ii and love it more than life itself, then we can still be friends. I’ll bring my clunky old Mk1 and I’ll see if I can win you over. Just don’t expect to see my photos for a good five years or so.

This article was written by John Hanson, whose film photography blog you can find here, and Instagram you can find here.

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22 thoughts on “Olympus Mju-ii Review – A One Roll Test on the Street – by John Hanson”

  1. Jeff Bigguns

    Spoken like a true elitist knobhead. Film photography is thriving again due to & for the younger lot. Good on them!
    The snobby elitist dinosaurs who bash younger kids as know-nothings & hipsters are just jealous because they’re doing more & better work than they ever did. I may be older than you by 6 or 7 years, but I despise your mentality. The film community I belong to embraces people of all ages & checks egos at the door.
    You need to grow up mate. You really should know better by your age. Without these kids & whoever else who is getting back into film is keeping film making companies alive for the rest of us. Be grateful to them.

    Carry on…

    1. Whoa, settle down. There’s no real hipster-bashing here. The mju-ii has an entirely over-inflated price and that’s entirely because of the fashion-seeking out there. That’s not arguable, it’s fact…

    2. Apologies if I caused any offence Jeff. My comment about hipsters was tongue in cheek, but perhaps that doesn’t come across in the article as well as I’d hoped. As far as I’m concerned, anything that gets people in to film photography is a good thing.

    3. @colinrobinphoto

      Damn dude, you completely missed the heart of a really good article. No shots were fired at hipsters, and certainly no shots were fired at new photographers.

      Maybe eat a meal before commenting next time. This was tone deaf.

  2. Jeff Bigguns

    Yeah, fair enough Hamish. I just didn’t like his snooty tone. Whether they’re fashion accessories or daily shooters, a lot of us have benefited from the price hike on such cameras as the mju-ii or Yashica T’s & others. It’s a seller’s market right now, thank f**k. You both may not like the mju-ii, but the appeal of film again to the younger kids benefits us all. It’s way too small for my massive hands, so I really don’t mind selling it for £300. Let the kid who buys it do whatever they please with it, but I’d hope it’d be to put as many rolls as possible until it dies.
    I noticed Pierro from ppp_repairs doesn’t fix them anymore. Not a great sign for the future of such a cult classic…lol

  3. brian nicholls

    From your body of work here my favourite, by a long shot. is of the senior citizens walking past the graffitti with total indifference. Are they a couple practicing social distancing? We’ll never know. If he is a Yorkshire man he’s probably saying …”daft is that!!”… I’ve got a couple of Mju 1 pieces that I picked up in charity shops quite a few years ago for a few quid in my home town of Bridgnorth (UK). I must get ’round to trying them out I suppose.

    1. Hi Brian! Please do try out the Mju 1 if you have one. I’d love to hear what you think about it. Your favourite shot was also my girlfriends favourite shot. She’s just getting in to photography, so she’ll be pleased to know that she picked the ‘right’ one ha!

  4. I’m always surprised to see these P&S cameras going up in price. Glad I kept my Leica Mini. I used to drop it in the camera bag rather than carry a flash. The prices these cameras are getting when compared to others is crazy. These cameras rely on electronics and mechanisms connected by ribbon cables that give them a much more limited life-span than the mechanical cameras that preceded them. Want a camera that has a two-stop faster lens and can be easily repaired- Canonet QL17l or GIII. Cheaper, with an even better lens- Minolta HiMatic 9 or Minolta AL-E. Nothing quite like it- get Minolta HiMatic C All of the Minoltas mentioned are under $50 on Ebay. There are a lot of great cameras out there, going for reasonable prices. The difference in price is more Hype than capability.

    I’ve given away a number of cameras to the younger generation when they express an interest in photography. Kodak Retina, Canon AE-1, Konica SLR’s, many fixed-lens RF’s, many bought dirt cheap needing repair, or given to me in payment of working on lenses. Just changed the light seals on a Konica C-35, just waiting for the right person to come along. I’m looking at my repaired Olympus 35-S as I write this. Well under $50, will long outlast every P&S sold in the 80s and 90s. Including my Leica Mini- bought new almost 30 years ago for $70 or so at the Ritz camera outlet store.

    Walz 35 may be the only fixed-lens Rangefinder made with a Sonnar formula lens. $35, in the box.

    1. Hi Brian. Thanks for reading this and for your comments. It’s funny you mentioned giving cameras away to the younger generation as I’ve given two away in the last two weeks to friends who want to get started. It’s a great thing to do. I too wonder about the lifespan of electronic point and shoots. I have an article coming up soon about the Olympus Pen EE3 which I really love (along with the full frame Olympus Trip 35). They make great point and shoots without all the complicated electronics. Currently I’m shooting a full manual Zorki. I guess part of the joy of film photography is being able to try different things on different cameras.

  5. I guess 20 years ago the Diana camera was all the rage. I found one in an antique shop, new in the box, for $0.50, put it up on Ebay. A college girl bid $150 on it, I asked her about her photography and got “My room mate has one, I wanted one too”. She also shot 35mm. I used boxes of out-of-date 35mm and 120 film for packing material, including Kodak IR and a filter to use with it. She got her money’s worth.

  6. As far as I’m aware, there are no elitist knobheads writing for 35mmc. This post read to me as a playfully ironic mocking of the cult of the hipster-maelstrom that we’ve all observed, and which is more reported than real. That aside, it’s nice to read people’s thoughts on why they prefer one of their cameras over another. This article made me ponder that question with the cameras I own, and reinforces that there’s a lot of the subjective along with the objective when it comes to camera choice. Cheers John.

    1. Thanks David. I agree completely about subjectivity which even changes from one day to the next. Which camera I pick up is dictated by how I’m feeling that day rather than their technical abilities. The luxury of a hobbyist I guess!

  7. Geoff Marshall

    Some great images from the old ( new market ) John, they brought back some memories for me despite some negative comments from a certain contributor to this post. Love the photo of Sailor Sids stall, Sid was a friend of my dads and he always gave me a free bag of sweets when we went to the stall. Barnsley is a good place for street photography and it’s good to see film being used in the area.
    I agree with you about inflated prices of cameras, I bought a camera, I won’t mention the brand, for £599 three years ago and the same model is now fetching more than £1000 which seems pretty stupid to me seeing as it’s jus a tool to take photos.

    1. Cheers Geoff! Some friends and I have each bought ourselves a film camera for £5 (or less) from eBay, and we are planning on heading in to town together for some street shooting once the world goes back to normal. I’m really looking forward to it. Thanks for sharing your story about Sid too. I bet the pictures were a bit of a surprise for you as I didn’t specifically name the town. Are you still in touch with any of the Sid family? I wondered if they’d like a copy of the photo.

  8. Pure.amateur

    Great article and photos. I agree with you about the constantly growing prices of all the cameras. I’ve used Mju 1 and Mju 2 in the past and I wasn’t as impressed as I was expecting to be. I’ve given Mju 1 to my brother as he wanted to shoot some holiday photos and kept Mju 2 in my collection.
    This recent hype and spike in prices is oy good for second hand sellers. To be trully good for analogue photography masses of people would need to be buying film to the point its almost unavailable to make companies redevelop new stocks. High camera prices unfortunately will put a lot of people off. Mind you need to add cost of film and development. It’s a fashion hype and will go away once the fassion trend is saturated.

    1. Thanks! A good point well made too. Thankfully there are still plenty of cameras out there at sensible prices, which will hopefully encourage people to take up film photography. The trick will be to convince people that they don’t need one of the overhyped compacts, and that there are plenty of alternatives that do just as well without the price tag. As you say, that’s where the fashion element comes in. It will run its course eventually, and those who want to stick around because they love the medium will stay. The rest will move on to something else. Such is life I guess!

      1. Pure.amateur

        Yes … there are hundreds of cheapish compacts that will introduce you to film photography as good as those more expensive ones. On the other note, I find Mju to lack a bit of settings and at the end limiting what you can actually do with them. For £260 (seen those pricetags for Mju2) you would expect a bit more.

  9. Hey! This is a lovely article. I’m happy to hear that those old photos bright you so much joy. Thanks for sharing your story.
    I shot with an Mju ii for years- my grandpa passed it down to me- but it broke two years ago. Since then I fumbled around with a few SLRs, too wary of the steep price-tag to buy another Mju ii. But nothing was a good match.
    Three months of quarantine made it clear how deceptively short life can be. So I went for it, and my new Mju ii arrived last week. What a delight! Shooting with it is so natural. It feels like running into an old friend and falling deep into conversation. Cheers.

    1. Hi Jacob, and thank you! I think being in global lockdown has encouraged a lot of people to do some of the things they’ve been wanting to do. I’m really glad that you found another Mju ii and that you’re enjoying it so much. Hopefully it’ll serve you well for years to come.

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