Olympus MJU II — an honest review
It’s been a year since I bought my Olympus MJU II. Even to this date, it’s still a highly desirable point-and-shoot camera. Someone could say even overrated. The real (and only) reason I bought one, is because I happened to stumble upon one at a thrift store for only 5€. I really didn’t understand the hype surrounding it, but that was a good price to see what the fuss was all about.
I have now sold my MJU II and there were few things that I really liked about it and some that I really didn’t. Eventually I decided that it wasn’t the camera for me and I sold it for 150€, which was, to be honest, the most delightful aspect of the camera.
I’m a vintage nut and Olympus MJU II just doesn’t satisfy my vintage needs. That’s the biggest reason I didn’t like it. Sure it shoots film, but I guess I enjoy something a bit older more. To me personally MJU II feels something like a plastic digital camera that takes film… if that analogy makes any sense. (And as I side note, I have nothing against digital photography — I shoot both a lot, but I value the built quality of the good old vintage mechanical cameras over almost anything modern, any day of the week and twice on sundays. That is to say, I don’t even want to get into the tired and pointless digital vs. film discussion.)
This is an updated review
I wrote another review about the Olympus MJU II back in the day. While I wrote that review, I was still somewhat excited about buying one, which manifested in a rather positive tone. Now that some time has actually elapsed, I thought I’d put out another review with a more objective, and to some extent, maybe a bit more honest review.
Don’t get me wrong — buy one if you wan’t but there is certainly a huge hype around Olympus MJU II and I think some features are less talked about that might make you want to reconsider, especially if you’re paying a premium price. To be completely honest, I would have never paid more than 20€ for one of these. But that’s just me.
Before going into the features, I think there’s something to be said about the build. 90’s electronics are going to break at some point and I highly doubt just how repairable these cameras are. Olympus MJU II is no doubt built really well for what it is, but I’d definitely bear in mind that electronics in plastic bodies don’t withstand the test of time necessarily too well. And these things are couple of decades old cameras already. Many highly regarded specialists in the film community suspect that we will actually run out of point-and-shoot film cameras in about five years, simply because majority of them will come to the end of their life cycle. Even I don’t believe that these are products that were intended to last for more than couple of decades (if even that), not to mention to be mended.
Ok then, I’ll run through some of the features that I really liked about the Olympus MJU II. Then I’ll jump into the less nice features.
- Really fast and easy to use, even one handed
- The emphasis on usability design is very apparent
- Top notch optics, imho
- The auto-focus seemed to be more accurate, precise and reliable than in most digital cameras I’ve used
- Metering seemed to be flawless
- Very small and ergonomic
- No useless functions or features — it just takes photos
- It’s not laggy at all. Everything works quickly and precisely.
Olympus MJU II makes a horrible sound! On my previous review I wrote that it is a very smooth and silent sounding camera, and to be honest, I don’t know what the heck I was thinking. Maybe I perceived the sound differently back then, but now that I think about it, the operating sound seems just horrible and loud. Because it’s an electronically controlled camera, it doesn’t have manual film advancer lever. The advance mechanism has a loud motor, as well as the auto focus. The actual shutter sound is probably very quiet, but it gets lost between the other noises. When you take the picture, there will be a long series of different kind of buzzing noises that are in my opinion far away from anything discreet.
The flash control is very annoying. I don’t know whether the flash can be set “off” all together… like permanently, but in my experience, it always seems to turn the flash back on after the camera has been turned off and back on. If you don’t want to use the flash, you’ll need to turn it off each time separately. I ended up in many situations when I managed to flash someone unintentionally, which I find extremely embarrassing, especially in street photography situations. Sometimes I didn’t understand why it wanted to use the flash in the first place. Sometimes it resorted to flash even in broad daylight.
Film speed (ISO) can’t be set manually. It reads the film speed automatically from the DX code of the film canister. Pushing and pulling the film becomes hard. Some films of course don’t have a DX code, which is when the camera defaults to ISO 100.
Buttons and controls
Point-and-shoot camera of course isn’t even meant to have manual controls and the only controls that the camera actually has, are very hard to use. There are only few little buttons that you use for controlling the flash etc. The buttons are small little rubber thingies that are meant to be pushed with a tip of a pencil.
This is a minor gripe compared to the issues mentioned above, but the viewfinder is somewhat small for my taste as well. Maybe I’m too used to the view of my Olympus OM-1, which is famous for it’s big and bright viewfinder.
As a bottom line — I’d say that in the niche market of 90’s point-and-shoot cameras, MJU II is probably the cream of the crap. After actually shooting with it, I can say that it’s certainly not my my type of camera. Without the few critical annoyances, I could perhaps see myself shooting with an Olympus MJU II because it has such good features to offer too.