The Olympus mju-ii feels like a bit of a mountain to climb in terms of giving it a review. Not for it’s feature set or for how complex it is use. It is in fact a very simple camera with few features. But more for the fact that it has such a massive following and that is despite a few unavoidable shortcomings. Many people actually consider the Olympus mju-ii as the ultimate 35mm compact “point and shoot” camera! I’m going to give you my thoughts on that point of view… And hopefully clarify, in my opinion, why people feel such fondness for this cheap plasticky little camera.
Edit: Since writing this post in 2013, I have updated it with a follow-up post. If you would like my full opinion of this camera, please read on, then read the follow-up here
I can’t count the amount of times I have been reading forum threads, seen conversations on twitter etc where someone has asked “I’m looking for a 35mm compact camera…” And the obvious answer has been “Olympus mju-ii”. It seems many people looking to dip a toe into 35mmc shooting have similar priorities:
Small/compact/lightweight/easy to pocket -The Olympus mju-ii is arguably one of, if not the smallest and lightest going!
Inexpensive – it can be had for £20-£50.
Good lens – There is no doubting the mju-ii has a good lens! It’s 35mm which is probably the first choice for most people when looking at a fixed lens compact… and it has a f2.8 max aperture; excluding a few expensive or much larger cameras that’s as fast as they come anyway. It’s as sharp as anyone could ever need and it even focuses down to 35cm.
AE/AF – Both, from experience, fairly capable! (For most purposes anyway, more on that in a mo)
Easy to use – It has 3 buttons and a sliding lens door… It’s fairly self explanatory, especially when coming from pretty much any other camera. My iPhone has more camera features than a mju-ii I think!
Easy to come by – There is something like 3.5 million of these things knocking about people’s draws, charity shops and eBay so fairly easy to come by. Just be quick as Troy is buying them at some rate it seems.
It fits the above criteria arguably better than any other 35mm p&s camera, and that really is what makes it so hard not to recommend! If asked the question, I recommend it my self!
I walked this very path my self! Some years ago I decided I wanted to have a compact film camera, I was sick of digital compacts and how crappy they were at the time! A little research and reading online lead me to enough people saying exactly the same as the above. A little more reading and you find out it has up to 3200iso dx reading a 1-17ev meter and is weatherproof!!
And there is more to it than even that if we level the playing field a little! The mju-ii is most accurately classified as a point and shoot (P&S) camera… To be slightly awkward I would differentiate it from the likes of the Ricoh GR1, Fuji Klasse, Contax T’s et al. I prefer to refer to them as “Advanced 35mm Compacts”, point and shoot just doesn’t do them justice. Put the mju-ii up against them, feature wise at very least, and it falls short! The price tag alone of those cameras puts them in a different league anyway. So with those out of the equation we are left with just the vast array of 35mm compact point & shoot fixed, fast(ish) lensed AF/AE cameras for comparison.
So how does it compare? Well, the viewfinder is quite small, and it doesn’t provide full coverage. I don’t really find this a problem. I frame with the viewfinder, if I get more than I counted on I can crop if I want. I often crop to straighten or correct perspective a bit anyway, so a bit of extra frame is fine in my books… Just be conscious of the fact that one of the compromises the Olympus mju-ii has is a VF that’s a bit like looking through a keyhole. (It should be pointed out though, it’s no smaller than the Yashica T5’s vf which is a much bigger camera.) There is also zero info in the viewfinder other than the green focus confirmation light and an orange light to tell you the flash will be used. The green light flashes if focus can’t be found … and that, bar some parallax lines is it!
Focusing sometimes feels a little hit and miss! You aim with a cross hair of sorts… Precise focusing takes a little practice and some level of luck. When the green led in the vf lights up, the camera is focused and locked; reframe if required and shoot. It’s probably fair to say that most AF cameras move the lens at the point of focusing ie before full press of the button. With the mju-ii the mechanism of focusing the lens is separate from the act of gathering distance information. What I mean by this is that when you half press the button and the green light illuminates don’t expect the lens to move, it moves to focus after full press. I quite like this as a feature, it means the camera is silent until the shutter button is pressed. It’s an option I have activated on my Klasse W.
I should add, on the subject of focusing, that although precision focusing in the case of the above example is maybe a little harder than I’d like, I generally find focusing very good, it rarely misses in “normal”, “snapshot” point and shoot situations.
Regular readers might be aware of my referring to cameras as ‘eager’ or otherwise with regard to the shutter release. The ultimate in eager is my Yashica T5, but the oly isn’t far behind, it certainly feels satisfyingly responsive. And despite the lens moving to focus after the fact, there is little discernible lag.
So what about that minimal feature set? Well, this is probably the area of biggest concern for most when it comes to the Olympus mju-ii! The minimal features are reset when the camera is switched off. So close the front hatch, and whatever the setting you have been working with are lost. This is most frustrating and most likely to cause issue with regard to the flash mode. When you open the Olympus mju-ii it is set to auto. like many others I prefer to shoot with the flash set to off and only switch it on when entirely necessary. So having to remember to switch it off every time you switch the camera on can become a little tiring. Bare in mind though, this is not unusual… Most 35mm compacts of this era act similarly to the Olympus mju-ii. But because the likes of the Ricoh GR1 have features that are retained, it is regarded as a major shortcoming of the Oly… And I sort of agree! It’s just such a good camera in all other ways, a flash switch (a la GR1) would probably escalate this camera above all of its contemporaries. But as it stands there are other compact cameras that handle flash automation or otherwise better. The Ricoh FF90 springs to mind, the little button on the top that you can hold down to prevent the flash from activating is a very clever idea to my mind!
I have attempted to find a solution to this, but it’s not been entirely successful!
The Olympus mju-ii does attempt to redeem itself with regards to flash. It’s fill flash is very good, it has red eye reduction, slow sync (“night scene”) and even red eye and slow sync combined. And of course flash off.
Other features include a spot meter which is really aimed at (excuse the pun) backlit photography where the point of focus and the area you want to meter from are the same. The usual self timer and a mode for use with a remote… which I don’t have. There is also a “date” version… And that’s your lot for features!
So how is it in use? Well once you get used to switching the flash off (if that is indeed the way you are inclined), it’s pretty good! The hatch on the front is easy to open with one hand, the viewfinder does black out quite quickly when not viewed straight through but it manages to feel like it’s in the right place, so I can let it off that! The shape of it means that in holding it I’ve never felt like my finger is going near the lens. Yet despite this I somehow find it a little uncomfortable to hold, I’m not sure if it is the size, it’s slightly odd shape, it’s plastic construction or just because I have got used to my Ricoh GR1, but one way or another it’s not quite ergonomically correct. But then because of it being so small you don’t think twice about taking it out with you! Another notable attribute of the Olympus mju-ii is the noise it makes, it is undoubtedly one of the softer sounding cameras when its doing it’s winding or focusing! It does of course make a noise, but it’s a much more unobtrusive one than most other AF, motorised compact 35mm cameras than I have used (I am lead to believe that the Konica Hexar AF is the quietest, I’ve just not tried one yet.)
You might have gathered, I like the Olympus mju-ii, but also that it’s not a perfect fit for me. For me, I still feel the Yashica T5 is a better fit, but that might be down to the emotional attachment I have to it for getting me back into compact camera shooting. The Yashica, unless you’re lucky like I was, is an expensive camera by comparison. It’s also bigger and what “advantages” it offers in picture quality are definitely subjective.
So as I said because of its accessible price point, how easy they are to find, it’s features and it’s size it’s hard not to recommend! There really is no other camera that ticks all of those p&s boxes as well. Yes it might be a better camera with a flash switch (or memory for flash mode) and maybe a slightly better designed metal body… Why not add aperture priority to this hypothetical camera too? But then of course it would be a lot more expensive and competing with cameras like the Ricoh GR1…
By being what it is and nothing else it manages to provide just the right balance between features and cost!
I think that what I am trying to say is that yes, the Olympus mju-ii might not be the perfect camera… But nobody said it was… It is though, more than likely, the ultimate point & shoot. And with every ounce of respect to Olympus, alongside the Trip 35, it is another one of their models that every photographer should at very less put one roll of film through!
Here is a small selection of other recent images:
And here is the set on flickr that I will continue to update
Thanks for reading!
Some useful links