Olympus Mju ii & Kodak T-MAX 400: Lessons from The Forgotten Ones – by Jon YK Lee

“Why did I let her go?”, a voice whispered in my mind when I received my film scans on an unusually quiet Friday night. I watched as the images slowly populated my screen, producing a wicked cocktail of emotions that felt all too familiar, with my only source of comfort being Wesley Shultz’s raw, bare voice. As I lingered on every single image, pausing to examine each contour and imperfection, my heart sank. I started texting not one, but three people to lament my loss. Their empathy was of no consolation. Clichéd words of support like “She’ll come back to you” and “There are plenty fish in the sea” of scarce, and ultimately empty, comfort.

OK, to cut the drama, I am indeed talking about an “ex-camera”.

This camera is none other than the much-hyped Olympus Mju ii, also known as the Olympus Stylus Epic. A few years ago, when I was living in the “Land of the Long White Cloud” (that’s New Zealand, for those of you who live outside the “Land of the Long White Cloud”), an opportunity to purchase a pristine copy of the said camera came knocking. Shortly after acquiring the Olympus, the seller informed me that he also owned the Yashica T4 and out of goodwill, was willing to let it go for the exact same price. This was a camera that I had heard and read a lot about, more so than its Olympus rival. The foolish thing to do was to say no, thankfully I ain’t no fool! But I was naive to think that I could own both cameras and use them equally. After spending some time with the Yashica on a trip, I knew my choice was made and she became the favourite. The Olympus on the other hand got loaned to a friend for the next few months and was hardly used for the remainder of the time that I owned her.

Fast forward to 2018, with a wedding on the horizon, I needed to free up some funds. I looked at my camera collection and it made sense to let the Olympus go, though, it wasn’t an easy decision and I was in a constant dilemma over it. I did eventually sell it but not before taking it for one last ride, with a “swansong” roll of Kodak T-MAX 400. It was an unconventional choice as I have always shot colour film. But I had challenged myself to explore shooting more in black & white this year, so the Kodak T-MAX it was.

I used to like black & white images and the feelings that it invoked. Those images were actually what made me fall in love with photography but I was quick to abandon them for colour photography. Over the years, I’ve developed a preference for a certain colour palette and will at times, skip shooting a scene altogether due to its unsuitable colours. When I was in New Zealand, I found the grey tones of the cloud unpleasant and would only look out for clear skies when shooting landscapes. But shooting in monochrome meant that I wouldn’t need to worry too much about these things and it provided me with an alternative, stripped down perspective.

Shooting with the Olympus again was an amazing experience of resurgent and rekindled familiarity. The more I shot with it, the more I didn’t want to part with the camera! But perhaps it was for the better. Sometimes you need to part with something good to experience something better.

Coming back to the camera itself, there’s not a whole lot to say about point and shoot cameras. However, I do feel obliged to give a review of some sort, so here’s my take on it:
The size: will fit in your pants.
The casing: non-biodegradable plastic.
The auto-focus: like a condom, with a success rating in between 9 and 10.
The lens: fast enough, sharp enough and wide enough.
The batteries: don’t expect to find them at 7-Eleven.
The shutter noise: not loud enough to wake a sleeping baby.
The flash: definitely bright enough to wake a sleeping baby and triggers faster than Leeroy Jenkins.
Oh, and it’s weatherproof.

If you have yet to use a point and shoot camera, I would encourage you to do so. I enjoyed having a no-fuss camera which gave me the freedom to shoot anything with minimal consideration and expectations. Pairing that experience with black & white photography has challenged me to expand and diversify my art.

Here are some of my favourite shots from that “swansong” roll:

Jon YK Lee
Instragram: @jon.kit

You can read another review of the Olympus mju-ii here, and a follow up on it’s value in 2019 here

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23 thoughts on “Olympus Mju ii & Kodak T-MAX 400: Lessons from The Forgotten Ones – by Jon YK Lee”

  1. “OK, to cut the drama, I am indeed talking about an “ex-camera”.”

    Good read with a few chuckles, I needed that this morning! Thanks.

  2. Christos Theofilogiannakos

    Great read, but I simply cannot sympathize. The camera is hugely overhyped, there are plenty of cheaper and equally capable P&S from the early nineties that don’t handle like a wet bar of soap, don’t have a squinty viewfinder and don’t require you to constantly turn the flash off each time you shoot under borderline lighting conditions. Most fixed-lens Canon Sure Shots perform comparably and cost 1/10 of the money.

    1. While I would say to each their own, I also agree with you that P&S prices have reached an unbelievable level. The Mju ii is definitely an example of this. I’m just glad I had the opportunity to own one to see what the hype was all about.

  3. I have had a mu2 from new, and still use it. Very recently tried out kentmere100 in it. At the same time I tested an Olympus is-100 acquired for £1 + postage etc. off eBay. is-100 is a 28-100 fixed SLR. Testing them side by side I took a number of the same pictures for comparison. I expected the zoom pictures to be worse than those on the mu_II. What a surprise to find I cannot tell the difference. Not that the mu_II is bad, it is just that the Olympus is-100 zoom is just as good. OK, the is-100 does not slip in my pocket like the mu_II so the mu will not be put out to grass. But just shows the uality of the zoom optics from the same company.

    1. Thanks for sharing David. One of my first film cams was an Olympus OM-2. I also owned the XA2 for as brief period. Very underrated cameras.

  4. Nice series of shots! I see familiar places, especially The Cathay, Bras Basah Complex and Raffles Hotel, i think. Definitely enjoy the story about your ex as well. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Jon, these are fabulous. You have a great eye for symmetry. I really like your straight on shots, in particular, the wall with some garments hanging from a rod and the alley with the bicycle in the middle. Merry Grinchmas is a another straight-on picture with the odd folded balloon sculpture – well done. Hmmm, maybe I should revisit TMax 400 film.

  6. Everyone seems to be on the mju-ii bashing wagon lately. Prices will stay the way the market deems demand. For what it is to the younger kids these days who spend $1000 on an iPhone every 2 or so years, $250-300 bucks isn’t really that much. They want it then & there. No old farts telling them it’s way overpriced will stop them buying it. Not at this time anyways…

  7. Steve Rosenblum

    This was the camera that I gifted to my three kids when each set off to travel the world with a backpack during college in the 90’s. It is a robust, truly slip in your pocket sized, auto everything camera with a sharp lens and an auto program biased towards small aperture settings for max depth of field. It cost $79(US) when it was new. They all brought back focused, perfectly exposed (for the most part) photographs of their travels. This camera was also used by my sisters to document our family gatherings and holidays for the better part of a decade. I don’t think this camera is “over-hyped” though I do think certain P&S cameras are now overpriced due to crowd psychology favoring certain models thought to be more desirable. I have owned and used most of them, and still have a collection in my cabinet that I use. However, I think that the Maitani designed Olympus compact cameras starting with the XA through the mju ii/Stylus Epic, were the best designed of the bunch to fulfill their intended function. Always have in your jeans pocket. Point and shoot. Perfect snapshots.

  8. Fun story and great photos! The shot of the man in the doorframe is brilliant. I like the idea of a swan song roll of film. I shoot with an mju ii and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to part with it.

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