Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Olympus Mju results

Over the last weekend I finally finished a roll of Kodak 400CN film in the Olympus Mju (Stylus Epic) 105. At the same time, I handed the Olympus Mju 1 (with fixed 35mm lens) loaded with colour film, to my 10 year old son Joshua. I didn't give him any instructions since it's a fully automatic camera - other than to show him how to slide the front cover across to start the camera. With that sorted, off he went.

We'll get back to him later, but first let's look at the Mju 105 (with 38 to 105mm lens).

Olympus Mju 105 with Kodak 400CN
In one sense, this is going to be a fairly boring post, since there really isn't much to say. The Mju (Stylus Epic to our American friends) is a completely automated camera - there are no 'picture modes' to choose from - no aperture or shutter speed priority settings to contend with. It really is just point-and-shoot simplicity. Pretty limiting right?

Maybe. But there is also no denying that you can take some amazing photos with this little camera. The lens is super sharp and produces images with lots of detail, tone and contrast. The exposure meter gets it right most of the time, although there were a couple of over-exposed images on the roll of 36 (but the Mju's automatic winder extends that out to 38 shots).

Olympus Mju 105 (at 38mm)
I found that most of the time I stuck at the 38mm end of the lens - just because I tended to like the wider angle of view and was trying to fit stuff in, rather than getting in tight one something. Although when I did use the zoom feature it performed as expected, and the results are just as sharp. Probably not surprising though, really, since at the 105mm setting the widest aperture you can use is f8.9! This isn't really a camera that you can use to get nice blurred backgrounds with a shallow depth of field. Then again, no compact is.

What it does have is a lens with 6 ED glass elements (yes, I said 6!) and 1 Aspherical element. That's a lot of good glass! And it certainly does seem to be working, with negatives that scanned as good as (if not better than) images from my Canon and Olympus 35mm SLR gear. That's pretty impressive!

Lake Brunner, Moana
ISO is managed automatically through DX coding on the film canisters, winding and rewinding is automatic, the autofocus is active through 860 steps, and exposure is automatic with shutter speeds ranging from 4 to 1/500th of a second. In fact, about the only thing that can be (semi) controlled, fortunately, is the flash. By default the flash is always 'on', and pops up whether it needs to fire or not. It can't be tucked away in a 'down' position inside the camera - it's always 'up'. Which is kind of annoying, but at least it can be turned 'off' so it doesn't flash. Unfortunately you have to do this every time the camera is turned on! Bit of a pain - but only a button push (twice) to disable it. Of course if you want it on, then you also have the other options of red eye correction, fill flash etc...

Olympus Mju 105
So all-in-all I was mightily impressed with the little Olympus Mju 105. It's a very small and lightweight fully automatic camera with a stunning lens capable of truly fantastic images. It really does rival my SLR cameras for image quality, albeit with a complete lack of any creative control. This isn't a classic portrait shooters camera, but more of an environmental portrait or landscape shooters camera. I can also see it being useful for street/city photography - especially at the 38mm end of the lens.

And what about Joshua? How did he get on with the Mju 1 with fixed 35mm f3.5 lens?

Lake Brunner as shot by Joshua on the Mju 1

Very well actually. He thoroughly enjoyed shooting with the Mju 1 - so much so that at the end of the roll he told me he wanted one! He's not all that excited about photography, whereas his big sister has her own Canon 10D and is right into using her digital SLR whenever we go on walks as a family. Joshua has never really gotten excited about digital photography, but after using the Mju he told me he could get right into this film thing!

Olympus Mju 1 with Fuji Superia 400
On one level that's great and I find it exciting that he is more turned on by film than digital. But if you had seen the way he burned through a roll of 36 shot colour film you'd be a bit apprehensive too :-(

It's a pity, because I would like to encourage him into photography as a hobby - but I think one film shooter in the family is enough!?

It does, however, highlight the fallacy around digital that claims it's 'what the youth want' and film is a dead art form. Many are finding that actually the opposite is true - but I'd never actually experienced this myself until this weekend with Joshua. He really was quite excited shooting film on the Mju, and wasn't at all concerned that he wasn't getting to see the images instantly.

Frozen ground. Joshua, aged 10. Olympus Mju 1
Would he have had the opportunity to shoot with the Mju if he didn't have a father that was keen on film? Probably not. But is it worth persevering  with him on film now that he has had a taste and likes it? Probably. Heck, these cameras are so cheap - and so good, that it really wouldn't be a problem to pick him up another Mju (or toss him mine), for the times when he feels the urge to take some photos.

That's all I need. Two film shooters in the family!

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