- Johnny Wilson
Olympus mju-II - first experience with this "premium compact".
Updated: Jan 14, 2021
Usually when your discussing premium compact cameras, in the film photography community, your talking about the likes of Leica, Rollei, or the Contax T range or maybe even the Yashica T3, and T4 models. Cameras known for their premium build quality, but also the premium price they attract as a result. The little, humble Olympus mju-II (or Olympus Stylus Epic in America) finds itself mixed up in this crowd somehow, perhaps for the same reasons as the Yashica's; that some random celebrity was spotted holding one on Instagram and now as a result they command outrageous, unrealistic prices. Taking a quick glance on eBay and mju-II's are advertised at around £160 - £350. I got mine secondhand in an Oxfam charity shop in Kenilworth for FIVE POUNDS boxed complete with case and battery. I bloody love a charity shop me.
The mju-II was introduced in 1997, the follow up model to the original mju, it's a rugged but lightweight water resistant compact film camera with a fully automatic exposure system ranging from a max aperture of f2.8, a 35mm focal length lens with a focusing distance as close as 35 cm, a built in flash with 6 different settings including a red eye reduction mode, and an automatic DX-coded film speed reader ranging from ISO100 to ISO 3200. I found the camera incredibly easy to carry around, comfortable to hold and mostly enjoyable to use despite the slightly irritating 1-2 second wait between depressing the shutter button, the lens focusing, and the shutter exposing.
I hooked up my mju-II with a fresh roll of Fujifilm Superia X-Tra 400 which generally speaking is now my go-to test film, but also because ISO 400 film is a general all-purpose film speed and I wanted to test just how good that f2.8 aperture could be. I shot the whole roll throughout November and December, when I wasn't too busy having panic attacks over Christmas, and whilst the weather was pretty poor both months I still managed to grab the odd few days with decent enough weather to get some shots.
Despite the gulch of features the mju-II was never intended to be a replacement for your SLR or anything and was more of a enthusiast level compact camera. Although in comparison with other compact cameras the f2.8 aperture is something of a rarity and the cameras lens, and exposure depth has a reputation for being a top performer. Whilst the quality of the lens optics was certainly evident in the photos from my first roll of film, I also discovered it tends to go very soft at edges at times, too soft. Less obviously so with long distance exposures but certainly shorter length exposures will show up just how soft and vignettey those corners will get.
I took a shot on Christmas Day that was so soft in the bottom right hand corner you can barely make out my mothers face... I also had a few shots come back with some weird line or crease in the side? I can't be sure if this is down to the camera or the film, and I guess I won't know until I run another film through it, but my feelings are that something is going wrong somewhere...
More on that at a later date... Aside from those 2 faults however, and slight miscalculations with the autofocus and exposure in one or two shots, I'm generally pleased with how my photos turned out. The f2.8 aperture is certainly a game changer and most of the shots I took in low light turned out great. The saturation, generally, shines through beautifully and there was only a few shots where things look muddied or underexposed. Here's the rest of the best:
I think though, we need to address the elephant in the room a little bit here, because so far I've talked about this camera like it might be any other >£10 secondhand camera you might find in any random charity shop. But the reality is that getting your hands on a mju-II for less than 3 figures nowadays is pretty difficult (my incredibly lucky charity shop find aside) and these cameras regularly command prices of circa £200 - £300+ to buy used and the truth is this: this is not a £300 camera. The camera is sturdy, and rugged yes, but it's still only plastic, and when switching between flash modes pressing the buttons on the back, I was terrified at first that I was going to damage the LCD display just above as every time you press the button it's flooded with a sea of colours. The quality of the photos you get back whilst generally will be very good, are not without the odd handful afflicted with defects which is disappointing, and the photographic quality is not that different to anything you might be able to reproduce with the mju-II's older brother, the original mju. They aren't that far removed qualitywise from the Trip 500 which cost me a pound and I've talked about it before, and I know that came much later than the mju-II but nowadays if you are shopping for a compact film camera retrospectively you have the option to buy any of the above mentioned models and the price difference between them and the mju-II will be worlds apart. I was really happy to get hold of a mju-II yes, because it now completes my trinity of mju model cameras: I own a mju, a mju-II and a mju-III, and I'll maybe one day do a blog post, but I'm honestly glad I didn't shell out big money to have to buy one and my recommendation to you is that you don't either.