Oh dear ! I had a lot of hope when I started out to test this camera but 3 dud ones later I’m not sure. The mju-I (aka mju, µ[mju] or ∞stylus) was the camera that launched the mju series and would lead to the much sought after mju II (aka Stylus Epic) -one of those prestige fixed focal length compacts that change hands for lots of Dosh. Some feel the much cheaper mju-I is just as good but as we’ll see things didn’t work out for me…
Launched in 1991, the mju cameras were a return to form for Olympus. Best known for the modern classic mju-II but the various mju zoom models in the 3 series of cameras still command a cache. But all this began with the mju-1, fixed focal length AF compact with few options but designed by the legendary designer Maitani Yoshihisa whom gave us the original Olympus PEN, PEN F & OM SLRs. The mju was an evolution of another one of his legendary designs the XA which did for the 80’s what the mju’s did to the 90’s.
What he create was very compact AF camera that was a simple joy to use protected by a plastic clamshell case. The menu choices really only give you flash options or turn on the timer. But it is a gem of a camera to hold with a killer lens. Although small & plastic the curvey sliding clamshell body works well even with big hands like me. There are just 3 buttons on the standard version – shutter, flash setting and timer all of while are logically positioned. The winder is relatively quite and the lens retracts allowing closure on rewinding.
Olympus µ[mju] I specs
- Lens: 35mm 1:4.5
- 3 elements in 3 Groups
- Focus: Active IR AF
- Focus Range: 0.35m-∞
- Focus steps: 100
- Metering: Programmed
- Shutter: 1/15-1/500
- EV Range: 7.5-17 (100 ISO)
- Film: DX 50-3200 ISO *
- Battery: 1X CR123A 3V
- Flash: 0.35-3.5m (100 ISO)
*In full steps
A databack version exists and a silver limited edition was also made. The 1992 µ[mju] panorama is the same camera but with a switch that moves a mechanical mask over the film frame allowing you to shoot in the Kodak Panorama format (a bit pointless nowadays as you can easily crop the image where you scan your shots or still DIY develop and print)
It differs from it’s more prestigious sibling slightly. The mju II is water proof, has upgraded AF, a wider shutter speed range and a slightly faster 4 element lens. The shutter speed of the older mju I may actually be an advantage here as many compacts sacrifice their shutter speed rather than aperture in Low light, giving rise to shake in low light.
I shot my two mju-1s with the Ricoh FF-9s, I’ve already reviewed. On paper they should have wiped the floor (just look at the focusing steps 100 on the Olympus to just 6 on the Ricoh). But unlike the Olympuses (or is that Olympi) the Ricoh worked !
Sadly the curse of Olympus I suffered with the XA2 had returned. The first one had obvious issues as the flash didn’t fire. It’s images came back as just a tad soft at times but acceptable
The second one seemed better but it suffered from issues of focusing particularly at a distance (most close shots were good but occasional not – almost all distance shots were out of focus). I’m not alone with this issue and I’ve seen others with the reverse (poor close but fine at distance)
The third was a non firing databack version (still it came free with no 2…)
When it worked the images could be pretty crisp and SLR levels of sharpness were seen particularly in close to medium ranges. the camera was still good on the few distance shots and with the second faulty one I certainly couldn’t fault exposure. There was a minimal amount of radial distortion (pincushion) and the sharpness was pretty good across frame bar the far corners. This is a nice lens when working well for such a compact.
It’s sad as there was great promise. To paraphrase Stevie Nicks ‘When you were good, you were very, very good’ – but the reverse was true too. I still think if you get a good ‘un these bad boys will give the prestige class a run for their money. The problem for me is getting a good ‘un and I’m not able to say if it is better versus my 99p Pentax Espio AF Zoom which doesn’t just a zoom but a host o’ options to the party.
What I paid & What it sells at
- £17.99-20.99 + P&P on eBay
- £15-45 range + P&P on eBay (expect £20-30)
Why buy ?
- Killer optics in close to medium
- Very useable
- A quarter of the price of mju II
- Historic model
Why Not ?
- Average distance performance
- Limited options
- Pentax Espio AF Zoom – Its peanut but so good
- Olympus mju II – more expensive and sought after sibling
- Olympus XA – more reliable rangefinder compactness