I suppose it’s possible to call this camera the epitome of film point and shoots; it was, after all, quite possibly the Volkswagen Beetle of its generation. Made in huge numbers (3.8 million for this model alone, 10 million of all Mju variants), not especially expensive, but by all accounts incredibly reliable and delivering consistently excellent results. I certainly remember lusting after one while growing up, but through some strange turn of events landed up buying a rather useless Fuji 1010ix APS camera instead, which I still regret to this day. Thanks to some blind luck and the quick actions of a friend, I managed to eventually get my hands on one – new in box, for not much more than a brick of film.
This camera’s single claim to fame is its outstanding lens: a 35/2.8 equivalent, with four elements in four groups and focusing down to 35cm, with autofocus of course. It has active, multi-beam AF with focus lock (supposedly) and DX coding; there’s also a built in flash and self timer. It’s waterproof/ splash proof. And…that’s about it, really. So far as I’ve been able to tell, you can’t even lock focus by half pressing and recomposing; you have to just compose, shoot, and hope the multi-point AF picks up whatever’s closest (and that whatever’s closest is what you intended to shoot in the first place).
Design-wise, it’s a smooth, plasticky-feeling pebble with a flush sliding cover to both protect the lens and all other optical windows as well as cycle power. It fits in your hand quite well, and is remarkably compact, measuring just 105x59x35mm – take that, Sony RX1. It’s positively tiny; opening it up reveals that it really isn’t much larger than is required to cram a roll of film, the frame width and a takeup spool in there. Like all film compacts, there’s an optical finder; it’s actually quite useless too, as it shows a very small amount of the actual frame, which has a single central mark for AF, two small parallax correction marks for near focus, and a couple of LEDs for focus lock and flash ready.
Apparently, the focus locks with a half-press once the green LED is displayed, though I’ve never been able to make it work on my camera – the focusing noises only seem to happen on the full press. There’s also a spot metering mode which is rather cryptically explained in the manual – it appears to only lock exposure on the full press, which doesn’t really make sense (surely you’d want your subject to be in focus and properly exposed?). This is the only way to control exposure with this camera; there are no exposure compensation buttons/ toggles/ dials/ switches etc. In fact, the whole thing really only has four buttons including the shutter and rewind override.
Aside from that, there’s only one other thing you need to know about this camera: the flash automatically charges with the camera being powered on, so you must remember to turn it off every time you open the slider unless you want it to go off. This gets very annoying very quickly, and is the bane of a stealthy street photographer – forget it once, and you’re instantly Bruce Gilden whether you want to be or not.
The camera’s biggest redemption has to be its lens. It’s bright, contrasty, and incredibly sharp; we never really know what aperture the camera has picked or what it’s focused on, but so long as what you wanted to shoot was in focus, the lens really delivers the goods – I can only imagine how good this would be repackaged and remounted as perhaps an M-mount lens, or with an APS-C sensor behind it. (Olympus, are you listening?) Despite having only a three-bladed diaphragm, it actually delivers surprisingly smooth bokeh providing there aren’t any point highlights in the frame.
Many photographers have called this the ultimate point and shoot – I disagree for several reasons, mainly owing to the fact that the output has very little to do with the photographer (other than composition, which is affected by exposure anyway) and more to do with the camera. It’s democratizing, to say the least. Personally, I preferred the Ricoh GR1v – its controls just made much more sense, and actually offered quite a handy degree of, well, control. It’s a camera that certainly requires very little thinking to use, and delivers consistent results – mostly in the good category rather than excellent since you have absolutely no idea where it’s focused or what it’s metered. Truth be told, I didn’t like it at all; there were many aspects of its operation that were seriously annoying, like forgetting flash settings AF having a mind of its own; in the end I almost never carried it and had to force myself to finish the roll for the review. I actually think it’s too bad that Olympus didn’t develop this concept further – a few sensible control tweaks and a metal shell, and it could have been something quite special indeed. Instead, for serious photographers on this much of a size budget, you’re better off looking at the XA instead – it was the predecessor to the Mju, designed by the legendary Yoshihisa Maitani (who also designed the Pen and Mju II) and packs a rangefinder, aperture priority, and exposure compensation. MT
The best place to find vintage gear is on the secondary market in Japan – send an email to Bellamy Hunt of Japan Camera Hunter; he can source to spec and budget. I get a good chunk of my stuff from him and can’t recommend him highly enough. Send him an email and tell him Ming sent you!
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