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The Olympus Mju II, also known as the Olympus Stylus Epic, is a cult favorite point-and-shoot film camera that has skyrocketed in popularity—and price—over the past decade. The original Olympus ad promoted it as "the tiny camera for epic moments," and that tagline still rings true today. The dominance of this compact camera (and the many Zoom iterations that succeeded it) in the point and shoot market is matched only by the Yashica T4 and Contax T2, which are currently basking in celebrity status thanks to Zendaya, Kendall Jenner, and others, commanding secondhand prices reaching well into the thousands.
The Mju II hasn’t quite reached this level of analog stardom yet, but it’s sure getting there, especially as 1990s and Y2k aesthetics continue to dominate the cultural zeitgeist. Olympus Mju II prices currently range from $200 USD all the way to $750, and units are becoming harder to find in the secondhand market. But is this point and shoot camera just another over-hyped Instagram prop, or are the aging Millennials really onto something here? I’ve been using the Mju II for just over a year as my daily shooter, and I’m here to break it down for you.
Scroll on for a full hands-on review of the Olympus Mju II, a camera you're going to be itching to own by the time you're done reading.
Olympus Mju II Release Date & History
The Mju II’s predecessor, the Olympus Mju I, aka the Infinity Stylus, was released in 1991 as the quintessential consumer-level camera, the kind that almost everyone had stashed in a bedroom box back in the '90s (and before that there was the Olympus XA rangefinder, a truly unique looking camera). The Mju I was a slightly bulkier, boxier, classic Japanese-style, but still had the same slide-to-reveal lens cover feature that is so popular in the Mju II, and the same Olympus μ branding. Following this, the Olympus Mju II, aka Infinity Stylus Epic, was released in 1997.
(Ed Note: Neither the original Mju I or Mju II feature Zoom lenses, though many models later released by Olympus under the "Stylus" naming convention do. While these Zoom lens iterations are often more affordable and readily available, keep in mind that with zoom capabilities comes more moving parts that can and will eventually fail—bear in mind, these are 20-30 year old cameras we're talking about after all.)
Compared to it's predecessor, the little Mju II camera was sexier, smaller, and sleeker. And it quickly gained a foothold in the consumer market, selling over 20 million units in that decade. It was the amateur’s creativity tool, marketed as a pocket camera that would fit inside your pocket no matter how skinny your pants fit so you’d never miss a moment. These snapshot-style cameras gained popularity after fashion photographers like Terry Richardson revealed them to be a secret tool of the trade. These instigators proved that none of the bells and whistles of modern-day digital cameras were needed to create the dream-like, hazy aesthetic of point and shoot film cameras that dominated the magazine covers and billboards of the '90s.
Olympus Mju II Design & Ergonomics
For a camera that is still ultimately a flimsy, plastic pocket rocket designed for casual shooting, the Mju II has developed an astonishing reputation. It was one of the first cameras to offer a built-in flash mode for red-eye reduction. It really is tiny too—you’d struggle to believe you can even fit a whole roll of film inside.
The first thing I noticed when I finally got my mitts on one was how damn good this thing felt in my hand. Sure, it’s made of plastic and feels a little insubstantial, but it is sleek, sexy, and ergonomically perfect. It almost flows from right to left while sitting in your hand. The shutter button is a shiny ellipse that yearns to be pressed. The Mju II seems to have been designed with aesthetics at the front of mind. It comes in black or silver, plus a limited edition being a deep maroon that’s almost brown. (In real life, the silver comes across as more of a shimmering matte gold, like a subtle eyeshadow, or James Bond's Aston Martin DB5.)
When you slide open its signature cover, the lens stays surprisingly flat to the body, to the extent that I actually thought it was broken when I first purchased one. I even messaged my eBay seller in a fluster, who promptly put me back in my place and told me to test a roll before whining. The film in this camera loads right to left, which I find to be atypical. It’s fully automatic, so as long as the camera has a working battery (it takes a 3V lithium CR123 or CR123A), it’ll take care of the rest. Its limited features include flash, flash without red-eye, self timer, and date stamping.
Olympus Mju II Professional Review
The Mju II is so compact. It boasts an incredibly sharp fixed f/2.8 Zeiss lens with a 35mm focal length and a shutter speed as fast as 1/1000. The flash is fantastic—with the night mode being able to illuminate the subject in the foreground and maintain colors of the background to bring night scenes to life. It weighs under 150 grams (without film). The autofocus always nails it. The metering is excellent, and it also has a spot meter mode, though I never feel the need to use it. It’s also "splash proof" and I’ve used mine in rain and snow and it has performed beautifully. It is extremely easy to use and quick to actuate whilst being fairly idiot proof. By that I mean, you can’t really mess up your settings.
The camera reads the DX code of the film and automatically sets the ISO so you don’t have to worry about getting that number right. It has a small but bright and mighty viewfinder—not awkwardly tiny like some of its market competitors (I’m looking at you, Leica Minilux). It also automatically winds film, so for anyone switching from disposables to a reloadable point and shoot, you’ll appreciate the lack of creaky winding plastic that has a tendency to ruin candid moments.
Another noticeable trait of the Mju II is that it's definitely not silent—the shutter sound is a slightly long-winded mechanical whir. And the converse of the handy auto DX code reader is that obviously you can’t push or pull your film, box speed only. There's also a Panorama mode, but it's kind of a gimmick because it simply cuts off the top and bottom of the negative frame rather than shooting any wider than standard. And while the camera can shoot at f/2.8, you can’t force it to because the system is fully automatic. (Sometimes it shoots at 2.8 when you’d rather it didn’t, such as when shooting landscapes.) If you want to shoot at a higher aperture, I recommend using a higher ISO film.
Lastly, it takes a while for the film to rewind once you've finished a roll, and this too isn’t especially quiet. But these are all trade-offs I’ll happily take. My only true pet peeve with this camera is its overly eager flash; every time you close the cover, it resets to Flash Mode as default. This means that every time you open the cover, you need to manually turn off the flash using the two buttons on the back.
What to Look Out for When Buying an Olympus Mju II
The Mju II has rubber, weatherproof seals that will eventually degrade and are impossible to replace. Be sure to check those before purchasing to see if they look intact so you don’t get a dud that produces light leaked images. Also, the LCD screens on all of these cameras will all eventually fail—old tech is old tech. If you see one listed with a failing or problematic LCD, that means that this camera is likely on its way to camera heaven, so avoid it.
Lastly, check the battery door. As they aren’t the most robust cameras ever built, the battery doors bear the brunt of the impact when dropped, and you’ll often see them taped together somewhat artistically. I would avoid buying one that has clearly been dropped from a decent height, for obvious reasons.
As briefly mentioned earlier, the success of the Stylus/Mju line spurred Olympus to build it out into a full collection of point and shoot film cameras. If you're looking for one, you'll likely encounter the Olympus Mju II Zoom, which is essentially the same camera equipped with an 80, 115, or 170mm zoom lens (there are other focal lengths too). If you'd like a little more reach, a camera from the Stylus Epic Zoom series is worth a look. Though same as above, check the seals on these telescoping lenses—failing gaskets will lead to light leaks when zoomed in.
Based on its unique aesthetic, compact size, the quality and speed of the lens, the level of reliability in terms of its auto exposure and autofocus, how easy it is to use, its remarkable weather resistance and how readily available they are on the market, I do feel that the Olympus Mju II is the ultimate point and shoot for film photography. The crux of the issue comes down to how much you’re willing to pay for one, as there simply isn’t a comparable alternative for less moolah. Yes, it’s overpriced and rising, there’s no question about that, but this is a camera I'll have on me forever (or until it dies).
Would I spend $500 on a replacement if mine died? Probably. I don’t necessarily recommend that you do, as it’s essentially a $500 gamble on what could ultimately just be a piece of plastic hand candy. I have become emotionally attached to these cameras and rarely leave the house without one. It looks good, it feels good, it shoots good. All in all, I believe these cameras are truly worthy of the hype, though I’m sure I’m not doing myself any favors by broadcasting that to the world. I haven’t found a shot I can’t shoot with it, but I'll sure as heck keep trying and report back when I do.