Olympus Mju ii // Kodak trix at 1600, hc110 1:47 dilution for 16mins at 20c. Grain, grain, grain – “Photographers seem to need periodically to resist their own knowingness and to remystify what they do” Sontag, on photography pg 126.
I started back at my photography course in Lincoln, having to do advertising and press research, when I just want to shoot. I’m keeping a compact 35mm camera with me to get away from starring at an lcd and word document. The only subject matter in Lincoln besides the old architecture, brayford waterfront, various decent parks, is the people.
This was all shot on an Olympus MJU II with rollei retro 400s, which has crazy contrast straight from scanning. I’m not sure if this will turn into a project, or just a fun habit, but I’m currently shooting my favourite film Hp5 at 1600 in a newly acquired ricoh GR1.
This is probably the closest I will come to writing a review of the Olympus MJU II otherwise known as Stylus epic, a cult point and shoot camera. There are already plenty of in depth reviews around, most of them stating the obvious that it’s small, like a slippery bar of soap -its that small.
After 3 and a half rolls (one was a tester), it looks like my MJU is cleared of light leaks which were ruining shots from my trip to Kinderscout. So I’ll just write some thoughts down, and show some snapshots, hopefully giving it justice. All the photos were shot with Rollei Retro 400s which is very contrasty.
First of all it’s small (very original blog post here). It fits in my jean pockets, along side my wallet, phone and keys. It also fits snug into a shirt pocket. I almost lose it in my jacket pocket. Roughly around 10.5 cm long, 5.5cm tall, and around 3.5cm at its most thickest depth. The ergonomics seem to have taken second preference to the size. It can be fiddly to handle, like I said at the start, a slippery bar of soap.
The 35mm f2.8 lens is beautiful. With the flash on, or in the right conditions -not a rainy evening, it offers punchy tones and a slight vignetting. It is surprisingly sharp dead centre. The lens is almost as good, if not better than some, expensive luxury 35mm compacts.
As a point and shoot it offers nothing in the way of manual control. The sliding front door opens to turn it on. Flash options and a timer are on the back door in the form of two buttons alongside a rewind button. Other than the shutter-release, that is all the control you get. There’s no ISO override either.
The viewfinder is painful to look through and compose. It is tiny and takes time getting use to. In the centre of the finder sits a crosshair. Presumably not to trigger gun crime, but to help with focusing.
The AF seems to just work. I’ve had one maybe two go wrong. But it might be me not half pressing the shutter release to lock in the focus. A green light in the viewfinder indicates if it is focused with no indication as to what on
Turning the flash off is a pain. This camera loves the flash. The first time I tried the camera was with dx hacked hp5 at iso 1600. Even at 1600 and in bright sunlight the camera still fired the flash! To turn it off you have to hit the flash button twice everytime time you turn the camera on. A pain, but whatever, I would rather get into the practice of turning it off rather than blasting some stranger in the face with fill flash in what was supposed to be a candid street shot. Just one of those things.
There is a spot meter mode! This is so useful for backlit photography like below, where you need the camera to meter the subject, it also focuses on that point. You can lock the metering by half pressing the shutter release. This was taken at dusk with no flash.
The reputation of this camera is high, almost too high. Is it really worth the three figured ebay prices it goes for? I recently saw a trailer for a documentary called ‘Don’t Blink‘ about Robert Frank, in which you can clearly see him using the mju. This makes me think: if its good enough for a legendary photographer, it’s good enough for me right? Well I still dont think its worth over a hundred pounds -its a plastic point and shoot camera from the 90s that takes good snapshots, it won’t turn you into Robert Frank.
I think overall the MJU II is compact camera showcasing the best of the late 90s photographic technology in one tiny package. It is very simple, but it makes beautiful images. I hope to carry the camera with me on commutes to art college in september onwards for some early morning street photography, hopefully accompanied by some autumn/winter fog.
I dont think its worth the 3 figures it’s going for on ebay. I’m glad I didn’t pay anywhere near that. Yes, mine is a little scratched and suffered light leaks, but it’s nothing a bit of sticky foam and black tape couldn’t cure. Compacts seem to be marketed on ebay at silly prices that make no sense anymore.
As a finishing note -this is the first time I’ve used Rollei Retro 400s. It is very contrasty, with little shadow, compared to hp5 it’s more like acros 100. May have to buy more.
I recently found a mju II going for the right price on ebay (not much over £50, rather than silly three figure numbers). I wanted to take it hiking with it being tiny, disappointingly it suffers with light leaks out the wazoo. I will do another post on the camera if I can get it to work properly.
Edale village is tiny with two pubs and one post office, however it’s full of ramblers with the village being at the foot of Kinderscout plateau. It is also the start of the Pennine Way.
We went via Grindsbrook, a rocky ravine with fords, in the search for waterfalls so I could setup some pinhole images with the reality so subtle 6 x 17 -one can be seen here flickr.com/photos/dnh500/28758833540.
Grindsbrook, though not an easy walk or for that matter climb at the end, was nice. We got to eat dinner by a waterfall. We didn’t stay long at the top of the plateau but it offered some nice views for which I’ll be back for.
All the photos were shot with a Mju II / hp5 at 1600 (hacked dx code). Processed in HC110 dilution H.