Testing an Olympus mju1 (Stylus)

2016-mju1-002-2

This post is the result of two rolls of Agfa Vista 200 put through an Olympus mju-1, or Stylus (not the mjuii or Stylus Epic that I use all the time). Some North Americans refer to it as the Stylus Infinity though it is unclear to me why as it only says Stylus on the cameras I have seen. I found the camera in a thrift store in the spring for less than $10, which is a pretty good price. A few years ago I bought one for $1, but I got what I paid for as it was not working.

Conclusions first – the camera, when working, can make excellent photographs. While not quite as capable and flexible as the mjuii, it is definitely a camera to keep an eye open for. They are usually much cheaper than the mjuii and well worth the price.

I was looking for a camera to send off with a friend on a trip to Vietnam – she wanted a small film camera to supplement digital. The first camera I bought for her to try was the Pentax Espio 120SW which has a very good reputation (here is my post about that camera). I was finding its images a bit soft, but the big strike against it was being too complicated for what was essentially a single use – there would be little time to learn the camera and its electronic menus and options. So, I was very pleased to spot this Stylus as I knew it by reputation and had wanted to try one anyway. I put a roll through the camera and everything seemed pretty good. While there was one slightly out of focus shot I did not think much of it at the time, mostly because the other shots were by and large really nice.

I sent the camera off to Vietnam, but with a lingering doubt in the back of my mind about the focus and that I should have shot another roll. When the camera came back to Victoria, and to me, I put another roll through and had several out of focus pictures. The friend I lent it to is very polite and insists everything came out fine, but I have only seen a few shots. I suspect there were quite a few out of focus. Mostly the problem is when focusing at a distance and infinity.

The problem is intermittent and the camera is apparently reliable for closer subjects – I have seen the same concerns from a couple of other people. One reviewer has hypothesized it might be due to leaving the flash turned on causing confusion for the focus system, but I don’t normally do that if I think it might fire. I am guessing the focusing system is out of whack somehow, perhaps the sensor for the infrared beam is losing sensitivity, the beam itself does not always fire, the focus lock engages unintentionally, or something like that. You can see in the first photo above that the focus lock works just fine, at least some of the time. And one of the photos below shows it sometimes works well at infinity. Given the quality of the shots that did work out, I will be keeping my eyes open for another one, but will be sure to test for this kind of focus problem as it might be common as the cameras age.

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As you will have noticed, I use an Olympus mjuii (Stylus Epic) a lot (15 rolls so far this year). I like that it is small and produces very reliable results of high quality. It has enough features to accommodate some tricky situations, such as a spot meter that works really well. Overall it is one of my favourite cameras. It was for those reasons I was looking forward to trying its earlier cousin the mju1. The main differences between the cameras are:

  • Size – the mju1 is a little bigger in all dimensions and thus is not quite as comfy a fit in jeans pockets. I find both fit well in the hand and are easy to use.
  • Lens – the mju1 lens is slower (f3.5 vs f2.8) though both are 35mm. I would say the mju1 is not quite as sharp in the corners as the mjuii, but overall both are very good lenses, especially for a point and shoot camera. You will be hard pressed to find better optics in a p&s camera.
  • Focusing – the mju1 has a simpler focusing system, which should work fine in a functioning model. My experience is the mjuii has rarely caused focus issues. Since you can use a spotmeter combined with focus-lock it is a more flexible and superior camera.
  • Both cameras have focus lock and both near-focus to 35cm, which is unusual and very useful.
  • Shutter button – the mju1 has a round slightly raised shutter button which is easy to find by feel. The mjuii shutter button is elongated and feels much like a ridge for the clam shell door in front of it. I have frequently pressed that ridge and been annoyed when the shutter did not fire – this is the biggest irritant for me with the mjuii, so for this.
  • Rewind button – both have the ability to rewind the film before it is finished – on the mjuii the button is on the back, and for the mju1 it is beneath the lens.
  • Film loading – both cameras have very easy loading, pretty much automated. The film loads on the left in the mju1 and the right in the mjuii.
  • Flash – I don’t use flash much, so the single test I did with the mju1 is not very informative. The mjuii is one of the best flash performers in its class so perhaps the mju1 is good too though it has less choice of setting. Both cameras have the flash turn on to auto mode as a default when you turn on the camera which drives some people to distraction, and even to some complicated mods to over-ride the features. Whatever setting you choose, the camera returns to the default when you turn it off (= close the clam shell), unless you had chosen Auto-S (red-eye reduction) in which case it returns to Auto-S. If the camera times out when you leave it sitting with the clamshell open for too long (~5 minutes) it remembers the setting you just programmed into it. The mju1 offers auto flash (which includes automatic fill light), flash with red-eye reduction, flash off and forced flash on (for fill light when the camera does not detect the need for it).

The Olympus mju1 has a very good lens, accurate exposure determination and less reliable focus systems, at least as they get older. A fully functioning mju1 is a very capable camera and better than the large majority of compact point and shoot cameras. There were 5 million of them sold, so if you are looking in thrift stores you should come across them from time to time. If you do, buy it and try it.

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These images come from my 2016 rolls 35 and 36.

 

 

To see an enlarged version of any image in the gallery below, click on it and then navigate to others with the arrows or with swiping.

References I found useful while preparing this post:

  • tests of mju and mjuii in same conditions, many of them difficult light, lots of images on subsequent pages of the forum (link)
  • test of mju1 with comparable out of focus results (link)
  • a thorough review of the mju1 (link)
  • Olympus’s corporate review of historical products in the mju series (link)
  • Official Olympus manual for the mju-1 (link)
  • Flash auto-on override mods part 1 and 2 (link) (link)

 

2016-35,36:Olympus mju1, Agfa Vista 200, commercially processed, one scanned at home, the other scanned commercially.

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5 thoughts on “Testing an Olympus mju1 (Stylus)

  1. Reblogged this on burnt embers and commented:

    Rolls 35 and 36 from my 52Rolls project, shot half a year ago now while testing this small camera. Some of the photos have appeared on Burnt Embers, but most have not. Click through the link to 52Rolls to see many of the images from these two rolls.

    Like

    • Thank you Torsten. It is a sad discovery as it may spell doom for the long term viability of this fine camera. I am still going to try to find a working copy, but won’t be paying more than a few dollars due to heightened risk.

      Like

  2. Great review. I love the curiosity you display for old cameras. Please check out our blog on WordPress Victoria862.com. I am sending a Canonet around the world in memory of my daughter. The third post should be up any day. Right now the camera is in NZ and bound for Australia. L.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lovely idea to have the camera travel to places that your daughter might have seen had she lived. I can’t imagine the pain you have had to deal with.

      I think Victoria should meet Victoria! I’ll figure out how to sign up on your site. I have two non-working Canonets and thus have yet to successfully try one, so this would be a treat.

      Like

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