The Olympus μ [mju]-1 is a basic small point-and-shoot 35mm film camera made almost entirely from plastic. It was the type of consumer-level camera that almost everyone owned back in the 1990s. Olympus sold 5 million of this particular model Olympus Mju-1 so there must be a lot of them still out there somewhere, or at least there was a one-time. Being fully automatic all the user need do is load the film, find the subject in the viewfinder and press the shutter button. The camera takes care of everything. The autofocus has 100 fixed points from which it sets itself. It works very well. In this article, we’ll simply call it the Olympus Mju-1.
The 1990s was the last decade in which film cameras reigned supreme before the market was almost entirely engulfed by digital cameras. Over the last 20 years, inexpensive cell phones with their good quality built-in digital cameras have all but annihilated the market for second-hand 35mm film cameras. Shooting film has the primary disadvantage that you have to pay to get it developed. Plus you’ll have to wait to see the pictures. This problem is compounded still further nowadays as very few shops still develop their own film. Instead, they must send it away to be developed making the whole process take even longer.
The price of all models of old Olympus Mju 35mm film cameras has skyrocketed in recent years. The most popular and valuable model is the Olympus Mju-II which I have seen sold on TradeMe.co.nz for as much as NZ$540, together with others which have sold for NZ$400.
I showed the Olympus Mju-1 to someone recently and said that I could get $100 for this on TradeMe.co.nz because that is what they have been selling for. In fact, several sold recently for $160. The person didn’t believe me, commenting that they had one of these 40 years ago and threw it away because it wasn’t worth anything! Well, it couldn’t have been any more than 29 years ago because that is when they were first made. However, I took note that they had thrown it away. With a digital camera in their phone, they could see no need to keep it. The conversation started me wondering how many of the 5 million that Olympus made had met a similar fate and made a one-way trip to the dump in a rubbish-bag?
The Olympus μ [mju]-1 was first made by Olympus in Japan in 1991. It was called the Infinity Stylus in North America.
I own six Olympus Mju point-and-shoot cameras all of which I purchased from op-shops for just one dollar at least five years ago.
I purchased them because:
There was also a Special Edition Panorama version of the Olympus Mju-1, 35mm f/3.5 Point & Shoot Compact Film Camera. The Panorama version doesn’t make much sense to me because all it’s doing is masking off the top and bottom of the frame. There was also a limited edition silver version of the Olympus Mju-1.
Like the Mju-II, the Mju-1 defaults to “flash-on” when you slide the clamshell across to switch the camera on. I don’t like this feature at all. However, you soon get into the habit of pressing the button on the top left of the camera, twice, to switch the flash off. There’s nothing worse than accidentally firing the flash in someone’s face when they weren’t expecting it. If you use these cameras regularly there’s a chance you’ll remember that if there is an orange light showing in the viewfinder it means the flash is going to fire, and if you don’t want that happening you should switch it off.
As the name suggests the flash works automatically when you switch the camera on. In most instances, the flash will fire unless the camera is pointed towards a bright light like the sun. If there is a large enough back-lighted subject in the frame it will choose fill flash automatically. If the back-lighted subject is too small to fire the flash then select fill-in.
This mode is “Red-eye” reduction. When in this mode the shutter is pressed and the flash fires a quick series of pre-flashes that causes the subject’s pupils to contract thereby reducing red-eye in flash portraits.
In this mode, the flash is switched off and will not fire. The green focus-lock light will be the only light to appear in the viewfinder. In low-light conditions, the shutter speed will be set to a low speed. In such low-light conditions, you are best to use a tripod and the self-timer to avoid camera shake and subsequent blurred images.
By pressing the same button on the top left three times you can cycle through to fill flash which is excellent for filling in those awful dark shadows on a bright sunny day. Built-in features like “fill-flash” make this little camera really useful, relieving you of the need to carry a separate flash.
Whenever the flash is going to fire in Flash Modes 1, 2, and 4 a red warning light on the front of the camera comes on, along with an orange warning light in the viewfinder, as you press the shutter release halfway down. The lights in the viewfinder on the Mju-II work in a similar way but with several more flash modes. For some reason on the Mju-II, the red warning light on the front of the camera was omitted.
On the downside, like the Mju-2, the flash in the Mju-1 comes on automatically when you slide the clamshell open to turn-on the camera on. Unless you want the flash to fire every time automatically at start-up you have to get into the habit of switching it off (by pressing the left button on the top panel twice) every time you switch the camera on.
The Olympus Mju-1 has a relatively slow f3.5 lens. Wide-open it tends to be a little soft in the corners but not annoyingly so. The low-light performance without flash is passable but not great. A tripod would be the best option in most instances when shooting in poor light. There is a tripod socket on the bottom of the camera. The thread is plastic so be careful not to over-tighten the tripod screw.
There is an LCD panel on the camera’s top plate which shows battery check, the flash mode selected and frame counter only. There is no way for the user to control shutter speed or aperture. Or for that matter know which combination of the automatic settings the camera has chosen. What could be simpler?
35mm f3.5, which has 3 elements in 3 groups – a simply triplet design. Focus is from 35cm to infinity.
1/15 to 1/500 of a second.
50 to 3200 set via DX automatic film speed reading. If there is no DX coding on the film then use 100ASA film which is the camera’s default setting.
Automatic after each shot.
Fully automatic. There is also a manual rewind button on the front of the camera near the bottom. It is recessed so you will need to use something like the tip of a pen to activate it. This button is there so you can rewind your film without having to expose the whole roll if you so wish.
Use this when you want to position your subject outside of the autofocus frame in the centre of the viewfinder. By pressing the shutter release button halfway down the autofocus will be locked in that position. A green light comes on in the viewfinder when autofocus is locked. By continuing to hold the shutter release halfway down the green light will remain on while you recompose the shot. If you lift your finger the green light will go out and the autofocus-lock will be switched off.
On an SLR the focus-lock generally works by first pressing the shutter release halfway down which focuses the lens. Then you press a separate focus-lock button to lock the lens at that focus distance. However, as is typical on a point and shoot camera, on the Olympus Mju-1 the focus is locked by pressing the shutter release halfway down. Focus lock is indicated by the green light in the viewfinder. The actual lens itself doesn’t move at all until you press the shutter release all the way down.
CR123A (3 volts) or DL123A (3 volts).
Yes. Works by pressing the self-timer button on top of the camera and the shutter release at the same time. The self-timer takes 12 seconds to release the shutter once set. For the first ten seconds, a red light glows brightly on the front of the camera. Then for the final 2 seconds, it blinks rapidly as a warning it is about to fire. You can cancel the self-timer by either repressing the self-timer button or by closing the clamshell.
Overall, I found the Olympus Mju-1 to be a pleasing camera to shoot. I’ve read on the internet that the camera is slow in use and that the autofocus has a tendency to hunt. Also that it isn’t good for street photography because of its tendency to fire the flash when you don’t want it to fire, potentially causing problems should the subject not want their photograph taken. Personally I haven’t found any of these things to be a problem when I’ve been out shooting with it. I’ve found quite the opposite to be the case. Although the lens is a stop slower than the later Olympus Mju-II, it is very quick to use.
If you are worried people might get angry if your flash accidentally fires you are most likely approaching street photography the wrong way. Say, for example, you would like to take a photograph of someone’s dog at a street market. The way to do it is to smile. With your camera at your side, say something like “what a cute dog you have, would you mind if I take his picture?” If the owner says that’s fine crouch down to the dog’s level and take your shot.
Very few people will deny your request if you approach them in this manner. You can always take a pic of people’s backs too, in which case it won’t matter if the flash fires or not. Look confidant and relax. Whatever you do don’t look like you are doing something you shouldn’t be doing. Just look like a dumb tourist and no one will take any notice of you anyway.
User Manual for the Olympus Mju -1 (also called the Infinity Stylus) can be found here at OlympusCamera.com
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