Olympus mju-V
Point & Shoot

Olympus mju-V Metal Review – Not So Famous Last Words – By Octavia Vans

October 9, 2020

I’m going to own up to it now, to pre-emptively caveat this Olympus mju-V review. I am one of the dreaded Millenials (or even Generation Z, depending where you draw the line) that are a significant part of the herd-like hipsters; hipsters that have inconsiderately driven up the price of old point and shoot film cameras.

Whilst I would never describe myself as a hipster, I’ll admit I probably have quite a lot in common with many of them when it comes to film photography:

  • My knowledge of things like aperture, exposure etc. is basic;
  • Auto-focus is a must. The idea of having to manually focus all my shots is vaguely terrifying;
  • How the camera looks and feels is probably slightly more important than it should be.

With that out of the way, I’ll get to ‘reviewing’, in a loose sense, the last hurrah of the film-era Olympus µ / mju cameras.

The Olympus µ[mju:]-V (or for ease of typing the Olympus mju-V), known as the Stylus Select 105 in the US, was released in 2002, and so helpfully there is quite a lot of information about it on the Olympus website. See here for the press release, which also has a link to the camera’s full specs.

The Olympus mju-V was apparently the world’s smallest 3x zoom camera for 35mm film, with a 38-105mm lens, and a metal, but also weatherproof body. It is the ‘premium’ model of the mju range, perhaps the last stand against the onslaught of compact digital cameras. I would be quite interested to know how it was priced at release, but haven’t managed to find out.

Olympus mju-V

I do really like the design of the Olympus mju-V, with the combination of matt and chrome finish. Mine has a couple of marks on the chrome – I reckon it’s survived a fall at some point

Olympus mju-V

Just to show how it looks with the zoom out – though I tend to stick to the wider end.

The How and Why

How did I end up with this Olympus mju-V camera? I can’t remember exactly what it was that piqued my interest in film photography a year and a half ago. I think the seed was planted at school, 10 years earlier, when I miraculously got one of the hotly-contested places in the photography club. We were sent off round school grounds with a SLR – no idea of make or model – to take pictures.

We developed them in the darkroom, and could each choose one shot to enlarge ourselves. While most of the details are now foggy, I do remember the surprise and elation as my print revealed itself in a soft reverse-fade. I was impressed by it, but not in a self-congratulating way. And these were the feelings I rediscovered more recently looking through the prints and scans of my newly developed films.

It is not that the photos are impressive or astounding in and of themselves, or that I am an impressive photographer. I do have a rudimentary understanding of the science behind film photography, but the photos produced still strike me as somehow magical. And that is a feeling I don’t want to lose. Although I could, with some time and research, teach myself much more about exposure, aperture, and use a camera with manual focus, it all seems too much like hard work. The magic of film, for me, in part comes from my ‘uninvolvement’ in taking the photos. Writing and drawing are processes I get heavily involved with, as I chase after an image or a sound in a futile struggle to pin it down. Taking photos with a film camera, the only vague idea I have of how it might look comes from the viewfinder, and that quickly fades. When I open up my prints or scans, it’s the surprise of seeing these half-forgotten moments.

My skill, or rather lack of it, doesn’t really come into the appreciation of the end result. And that, I think, is why I was drawn back to film photography, and why I decided a compact point & shoot camera would preserve that sense of magic. With a camera that decides nearly everything for me, hopefully I wouldn’t get bogged down taking photos. It could remain a light-hearted outlet for my creativity, instead of joining drawing and writing, which are often more frustrating than satisfying.

My quest for a compact point & shoot film camera started with the usual articles listing the ‘best’. I was immediately drawn to the classy, and classic looks of the Nikon 35ti, the Contax Ts, the Fuji Klasse, but not remotely tempted by the black plastic housing of the Yashica T series. However, even just over a year ago, when I think these cameras were significantly less than today, they were out of my price range. The Olympus mju range was frequently mentioned as a good value alternative, but it was still a lot of money for a plastic 90s camera. And so, the hunt for a bargain began. After some trawling, I came across a mention of the metal bodied Olympus mju-V.

I couldn’t find any reviews, and settled for searching Instagram and the Lomography site for examples of photos. Eventually I decided to take the plunge, and found one for a reasonable price (around £30 plus P&P) on our favourite auction site. Even this seemed like an extravagant outlay for a camera that might be broken.

The Olympus mju-V in Use

The Olympus mju-V feels solid in the hand, but not too heavy, and it is a neat size. The shiny reflective metal reminds me of the touches of chrome on classic cars. The shutter button is a good size, and responsive without being over-eager (not that I have anything to compare it to). I suspect some people might prefer slightly more differentiation between the half and full press.

The buttons for changing the shooting and flash modes are a little fiddly, and press down spongily rather than with a click. The LCD screen is a good size and shows the number of exposures, and the modes you’ve set. However, it is not backlit and can be hard to read in bright sunlight. The Olympus mju-V, like the rest of the range also requires you to turn the flash off every time the camera is turned on if you’re inclined that way. And I often am, because the flash is on the keen side, and when it does go off, it’s incandescent.

However, oddly enough, if you put the flash in red eye reduction mode, the camera will remember this when turned off. The viewfinder is a bit pokey, but bright and clear once you get your eye lined up. I like the sliding lens cover to turn the camera on and off, although sometimes I forget to shut it all the way as you have to wait for the zoom to retract. It has a good few flash modes, an infinity focus mode, spot metering and a +1.5ev backlight compensation mode. In terms of noise, I think the shutter click and film wind on are fine – definitely audible but not deafening. The zoom has a distinctive whirring sound, so not suitable for stealth shots, but not obnoxiously loud.

Despite having the camera since summer of 2019, I’m only now shooting my 3rd roll. University and that sort of thing got in the way. So far, I’ve only shot Kodak UltraMax 400, and Fuji Superia Xtra 400. Next on the list is a lower ISO film and some black and white.

Results from the Olympus mju-V

And finally to the important part of the review, the photos. I will forewarn you about the dog-heavy content. They were my most willing subjects when trying to get through the test roll!

dog lying on wooden floor in sunlight

The first photo on the test roll of Kodak Ultramax 400. I was impressed by the sharpness and contrast, and how the camera had coped with the light and shadow. It really has done an excellent job of picking out the colours and textures of Dog’s coat (something my iPhone X camera often doesn’t manage).

landscape of crop fields with dog in foreground

Kodak Ultramax 400 – I think it’s done a good job here on the definition of the crop and the set aside close to us, although I think as a consequence the sky is a little blown out.

dog in long grass

Kodak Ultramax 400 – Not sure that this photo demonstrates anything in particular, but I enjoy the symmetry of outline in Dog’s topline!

dog barking at camera

Kodak Ultramax 400- I think it says something good about this camera that it managed to focus on the underneath of Dog’s tongue at this precise moment, with only some fuzziness around his muzzle…? Curiously I feel this almost has a fisheye feel to it, the corners are quite blurred. I think I took this nearer the long end of the zoom.

dog sitting pompously on sofa arm

Kodak Ultramax 400 – I think from this shot you can see how bright the flash is. I was probably around 1.5 – 2m away. I’ve yet to get a photo I’m happy with when the flash is on. Possibly a combination of the strong flash and ISO 400 film too.

handsome dog looking handsome

Kodak Ultramax 400 – I love how sharp and glassy his eyes are. The camera has coped pretty well with the contrast of bright light and shadow, although there is some loss of definition in the highlights.

Border Hills zoomed out

Fuji Superia 400 – View of a hill from another hill. This is at the wide end. A little bit of vignette.

Border Hills - Zoomed in

Fuji Superia 400 – At long end of Zoom. These were taken at slightly different times when climbing our hill, so the angle has changed, but I think still give you a sense of the zoom.  Like most of them, I think this camera is better at the wide end.

Border Hills

Fuji Superia 400

Border Hills

Fuji Superia 400 – I think the Superia’s cooler tones compared to the Kodak Ultramax work well with the heather etc. Possibly the camera has underexposed the hills slightly, but I like the contrast. They look a little forbidding and moody.

old wood cutting machine

Fuji Superia 400  – Close up shot of an old wood chopping machine (I think!) taken in bright sunlight. I love how it has picked up on the textures here.

Crop flowers at dusk

Fuji Superia 400 – taken at dusk in quite low light. I turned the flash off for this, and just prayed I wouldn’t get shake. I think it did pretty well at keeping the flowers reasonably sharp, and getting the colours of the sky.

Dogs at the beach

Fuji Superia 400 – an overcast day at the beach – but still lots of reflected light from the clouds. We were all in our sunglasses! Not sure that this demonstrates anything in particular, but I like it.

I would love to hear opinions on the Olympus mju-V lens, because my instinct is that it’s pretty good, especially for a zoom. It seems quite sharp, with good contrast. Of course it does vary through its length, and there is some blurring at the corners.  I also enjoy the colour profile – I think there’s a certain character or warmth to it, though this of course has a lot to do with the film as well.

There is a part of me that wanted to keep the Olympus mju-V relatively unacknowledged, and maybe pick up another in case this one dies on me. Especially because since last year the price has already crept up. This is a sturdy, premium compact camera with a reasonable lens. It’s weatherproof, and I would hope that being from the early 2000s it might keep going for longer than the 80s and 90s equivalents. And also, I like looking at it and handling it. The fiddly buttons don’t bother me too much as I can easily press them with my fingernail. By no means is this an undiscovered gem in terms of quality, but as a combination of all it’s parts it’s been the perfect partner as I slowly slide into film photography!

I would love to know what people think about it compared to the feted mju-i and mju-ii, and indeed any of the other popular, more expensive compacts.

I’m also open to constructive criticism on the photos. While I like to be relatively ‘uninvolved’ in the technical part of the process, I’m still looking to improve, especially in terms of composition.

Fuji Superia X-tra 400 developed and scanned by filmdev.co.uk – I will definitely by using them again! Kodak Ultramax 400 developed and scanned by Stamford Photo Express that are great to deal with, but too far for me to go just for the sake of getting film developed.

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10 Comments

  • Reply
    RoyT
    October 9, 2020 at 11:31 am

    I remember drooling at an LT1 in the shops but couldn’t afford one in my college days. However as time went by and everything went digital I picked up a lot of MJU camera for next to nothing, especially at car boot sales. One I did pick up very recently though is a MJU – V. I picked mine up at a charity sale for the sum of 5 quid with a small case. In general it’s a good solid feeling camera, more so than my battered but working MJU II. The camera does feel quality. The flash is annoying but I’ve got in to the habit of switching them off over the years. The lens is not quite as sharp as the MJU II in wide mode but it still good renders colourful shots, however the autofocus system seems more accurate. I’ve only ran 2 rolls of Ektar through it and I’m happy with it. I’ve got some expired LOMO slide film in at the moment so looking forward to the results in the next week or so.

    • Reply
      Octavia Vans
      October 9, 2020 at 11:57 am

      Yes, I know that feeling of drooling over something you can’t afford! I’m ever hopeful I might chance across a contax/rollei afm etc in a charity shop for a song. But for now the mju V serves me well. I definitely think the auto focus is reliable, and pretty quick. I’ve only had 1 out of focus shot so far, and that was because the subject was closer than the minimum focusing distance, so not the camera’s fault at all. Would love to see some of your shots, I can imagine it would deal pretty well with the slide film.

  • Reply
    Gorpalm
    October 9, 2020 at 12:30 pm

    Definitely one of the best and under-rated mju zooms – The only other mju zoom I’d rate alongside it is the mju III with the 28-100mm lens (love the 28mm!). The V has a pretty slow lens (wide open it’s still only f/5.6), which means it’s happier in the sun and the flash is a must indoors, but whether it’s the coatings or the construction, it manages to bring out warmer colours and an enjoyable, analogue sharpness.

    IME with most of these zoom models, stick with the wider end up to the half-way zoom point, and output is fine (most Samsung Vega/Rollei Prego models, amongst others, even tell you on their LCD how much you’ve zoomed in so you don’t have to guess where 60mm etc is) – Your fully zoomed-in photo looks good in the centre, but I’ve got models where it’s All a hot mess at the far end lol, and have to say my own experience with the mju V when zoomed in to the max wasn’t as fortunate as yours.

    In regards to the (in)famous mju prime models, IMHO the original is perfectly sharp and worth the money (well it was when they were £30-£40). The stratospheric sums asked for the mju II preclude it from serious consideration – I’d say it’s *not* worth that kind of money by any means – unless you have an emotional draw to that form factor – hobbies are for pleasure, so yes as you’ve already pointed out emotions come into play!

    • Reply
      Octavia Vans
      October 9, 2020 at 12:40 pm

      So nice to find some other ‘fans’ of this camera! Yes the long end of the zoom definitely doesn’t stack up on landscapes etc – however interestingly the close up of the wood cutting machine is taken at the mid to long end, in order to get the closer focal distance of 0.6m, and I think this still looks pretty sharp with not too much fall off at the corners. But as you say, maybe I’m just lucky with my copy!

  • Reply
    Kurt Ingham
    October 9, 2020 at 3:54 pm

    Nice dog shots (and the others)! What separates your writing from the majority of the M word is a sense of humor and a modicum of self doubt. A Superior Post, Thanks

    • Reply
      Octavia Vans
      October 9, 2020 at 8:10 pm

      Thanks Kurt! A little bit of self awareness and being able to laugh at yourself goes a long way.

  • Reply
    Ed
    October 9, 2020 at 10:27 pm

    Nice to see your dog. We have a wired haired standard daxie and he is a great character. I also enjoyed the camera stuff.

    • Reply
      Octavia Vans
      October 10, 2020 at 12:10 am

      We have two and they’re such personalities! They keep me entertained with all their antics. Glad you enjoyed the review too.

  • Reply
    David Hume
    October 11, 2020 at 8:48 am

    Hey Octavia – nice article! This camera is definitely NOT my cup of tea (because of the zoom) so I nearly didn’t bother to read on, but when I did it highlighted to me that a “good” camera is really just one that suits your own needs and tastes, and the way you described those so well was very refreshing and informative. And I found your description of the camera in use and also the sample photos really useful and fun, so thanks for that!

    • Reply
      Octavia Vans
      October 11, 2020 at 12:38 pm

      Thank you David. I have to say I am starting to hanker after a point and shoot with a nice prime lens! Not that I really need one for my purposes, but we’ll see how long I can hold out against it.

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