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Camera Review: Comparing the Olympus MJU and Canon Prima Mini. AKA: thw 1€ plus shipping challenge! – by Andreas Zieroth

Last summer we had in the company a weekly English training with a young US-American teacher. When he recognized my strong affinity for photography, he proudly showed me after a training session a few pictures he shot with such a disposable camera, which can be bought in any drug store. He explained that he always carries such a plastic part with him, in order to capture memories from everyday life.

Some will now smile about it. Me too. First. On a second glance there were also some really successful photos among all the personal memories. “Why does not he photograph digital or with the smartphone?” I asked him. Oh, he “does not like smartphones, does not use anybody and film has much more soul, anyway,” he grinned at me.

Ok, I thought, he is already very similar. I suggested to him to invest once in glass and maybe try with a real camera without these bad platic lenses. Some of his prints were rather fuzzy, underexposed, and grainy. Besides, the whole world of analog photography would be open to him, I tried to convince him. eg. Black-and-white or slide film, or sometimes a cross-development.

I recommended to look for a compact camera, such as an Olympus XA or a Trip35, or …

…. “Is there a flash installed?” He interrupted my monologue.
Ok, now he had me. I next suggested to him the Olympus μ [mju:], which I own beside the first mentioned, and immediately scanned the market. (Of course with the smartphone ☺)

And … my enthusiasm faded as fast as she came.

The prices for such used, tattered and scratched offers for years, were simply naughty. So I could not put anything convincing against his disposable camera. It was a shame. We said goodbye without any result, which annoyed me quite a bit.




I was challenged. Could this really be true? Was there really no (more favorable) way to open up the whole world of analogue photography to this young talent? I could not believe it. The Krux thereby: Through the years reading of forums, tests and reviews, increasing knowledge and demand, use of the most modern digital and also old but high-quality analogue fine mechanics, I had to realize that I am not really with cameras. And I also could not understand the needs of young people like my English trainer, who just wanted to have fun and to analog friends and family on holiday. Simply because this way of photographing is no longer mine. I just want high-quality glass and technology, and the possibility to influence the exposure process.



Is there a viewfinder camera as cheap as a throw-away camera, but as powerful as a μ [mju:]?

After scrolling the pages, you will pass the “Hanimex” , “Inst Plus” , “Chinon” , “Panorama” , “Vivitar”  and  “Praktica” and much too expensive copies of high quality brands. The Contax T2 / T3, I stumbled over a small white Canon Prima Mini.

Canon Prima Mini - Right edge

Canon Prima Mini – Right edge

A really nice, sporty looking compact camera. Ok, with Canon cameras I know not at all now, but with their SLR cameras does not make a bad job now.

Photos on Flickr, shot with this camera, looked quite promising, so I offered. This is by the way, not a bad idea to assess the performance of cameras and lenses. Let pictures talk!

3, 2, 1, mine! For 1 € & posto I got the surcharge.

A few days later, I held the small Canon in my hand, looked through the tiny viewfinder and asked me how they could be compared to the above. Unsuccessful, first recommendation, the much more expensive Olympus μ [mju:]. Thus came the plan to have these two compacts from the Nineties compete against each other in a direct comparison.




Olympus MJU vs the Canon Prima Mini - Side by side

Olympus MJU vs the Canon Prima Mini – Side by side

Both are quite typical representatives of this camera class from the Nineties and comparable equipped.

  • plastic case
  • 1x 3V battery
  • Fully automatic motorized film transport
  • Autofocus and program illumination
  • DX-coded ISO setting (film cans without DX code expose the cameras with 100 ISO)
  • Built-in flash
  • Tiny viewfinder
  • Spartan LCD display (Olympus), a few LEDs and buttons

Both are equipped with lightweight wide-angle lenses and provide a widest aperture of f3.5. The μ [mju:] comes with a 35mm, the Prima mini with 32mm focal length.
That’s it. For further technical details, follow these links.

The biggest obvious difference is the lens protection of the Olympus, which also turns on the camera when opening. A truly cool feature, originally invented in 1979 by Olympus’ ingenious engineer Y. Maitani for the legendary Olympus XA. After all, the Canon lens is protected by a built-in UV filter. Nevertheless, I would recommend to transport the Prima Mini in one bag.

Both are conceived as fully automated machines, but offer the possibility, for example. To turn off the flash or to use a “lighten”  function. The service is a bit different here. While the μ [mju:] allows the control of the flash setting via the LCD menu (every press on the button switches a menu step), and this setting is also stored until the camera is switched off, the Canon needs to press one of the buttons during the release! This is a bit tricky, not as comfortable as the Olympus, but it works. Nevertheless: 1: 0 for Olympus for the operation.



Shooting experience

In order to compare both as fair as possible, I have in each the same film, which I once in the bundle on eBay got. An expired but cooled AGFA portrait 160 with 12 pictures. So I was able to expose both films during a short walk around Berlin’s most lively place, the Alexanderplatz and one of the subway stations, the U5.

Olympus MJU vs. the Canon Prima Mini - Side by ... er, side

Olympus MJU vs. the Canon Prima Mini – Side by … er, side

Looking for suitable motifs, I stumbled around for about an hour on this busy giant square and the subway. And here was the first little surprise. The μ [mju:] squeezed another picture out of the AGFA film, which was shown with 12 pictures! I experienced this before, when we picked up holiday pictures. Always one or even two pictures more than indicated on the film box. Easy to use for Olympus.

After this shooting session I gave the films right away in a drugstore at the station. (Ok, as you’ll see later, but not quite immediately, I needed a little break ☺)

This drugstore market belongs to one of the largest drugstore chains in Germany, and would send my films to one of the largest photo labs in Germany. Namely CEWE. My plan was: There, only machines would edit my movies. All work steps are fully automatic and programmed. No human factor would affect the development process or scanning. Thus the results would have to be as comparable as possible.

A week later, I held two CDs for a couple of euros and a stack of prints per film. All together for less than I usually pay for only one film and without deductions at the otherwise used specialist laboratory. This is an offer.




Ok, let’s talk about what I think most important aspect in camera judgments .. Images.

The first thing to count on is content and composition. But this is a matter of taste, and therefore I will not rate it here.

But reliable statements about the quality and performance of lenses and cameras, eg. How reliable the exposure works, or how sharp the lenses are, you get only about the images shot with it. So let’s look at some of the results of these two microcameras. Olympus left, Canon right.

Canon Prima Mini - World Time Clock

Canon Prima Mini – World Time Clock

When I now impatiently opened the envelopes already in the drug store for a first sighting, I unfortunately had to find a few blurred pictures of the Olmpus ☹. What the hell was going on? Ok, first calm blood and at home the scans look at. Unfortunately, the scans were not better either. On the contrary. It seemed as if the little Olympus would no longer set precisely to infinity. Everything in the vicinity was as sharp as expected, everything else more or less out of focus.

Very annoying!

Because I know the possibilities of the μ [mju:] from the past, I decided to continue the comparison nevertheless. There seems to be no longer working properly or broken, while she was lying in the closet for so long unused. I’ll check this out later.

Olympus up, Canon down

Canon Prima Mini - end station

Canon Prima Mini – end station

So let’s look at the rest of the pictures and talk about portraits. As you can see, the images of the angel are not as similar as if the built-up focal lengths were to be assumed. While the difference between the two lenses with 3mm on the paper does not seem much, the effect is visibly different. With the Olympus you get a bit closer and gets a little more bokeh in the background.

And pay attention to the colors. As I mentioned above, I chose the same film emulsion and the same development, scanning and printing process for both. Nevertheless, the colors are somewhat different. This could attach with the built-in UV filter of the Canon. The colors of the Olympus are somewhat redder in comparison; The Canon’s effect on me is somewhat more natural. Unfortunately, I have not taken real portraits, so we can not judge skin tones …

But wait a minute … I shot one at the end of my walk … ☺

Canon Prima Mini - "Potrait"

Canon Prima Mini – “Potrait”

Here is a similar result in close-ups. Both cameras are now not really macro-capable, but with the Olympus one comes closer to the flower at the edge of the way.

(Note the “flower” at my edge of the road ☺)




Canon Prima Mini - Low light performance

Canon Prima Mini – Low light performance – Olympus top, Canon bottom

Last point: Exposure under low light conditions, with and without flash. As you can see in the photo on the left of the photo of the Olympus without flash, everything appears very grainy and the dark colors in the picture are more gray and not as clear and contrasting as the photo below.
This has two reasons.

The longest exposure time of the Olympus is only 1 / 15s, while the Canon can expose up to 2 seconds.

Therefore, the photo of the Olympus is clearly unexposed. The scanner in the lab tries to compensate for this, and thus these “sunken” shadows, and black is not properly black, but rather dark gray.

On the lower right photo of the Canon with full flash you can see that the wall of the stairs down to the last stage is well lit. Hats off !

Clear advantage for Canon

In summary, we can give the following judgment about the results of the two small compact cameras:

Operation: goes to Olympus

Image Quality and Impression: While you get closer to the motifs with the Olympus and create the more beautiful bokeh in the background, you get more with the Canon and more realistic colors. That’s a question of taste, I’d say. The one might like to photograph more portraits, while the next landscape and architecture may seem like. The performance of the built-in lenses is similar in terms of sharpness, vignetting and distortion.
Perhaps a bit more contrast on the photos of the Canon, but balanced in everything. Point for both.

However: the point for the performance in poor light conditions goes clear to the Canon.




The question was: Is there a viewfinder camera as cheap as a throw-away camera, but as powerful as a μ [mju:]?

The answer is definitely YES!

As a longtime Olympus fan, and users of Olympus cameras since the Eighties, owners of some geniuses of this manufacturer, such as. The XA, the Pen Ft or the incredible 35S measuring camera and, of course, the μ [mju:] considered here, I must admit: Yes, there is!

Let us remember the beginning of this comparison. First of all, I wanted an adequate replacement for a disposable camera! And for this case the small Prima Mini is a really serious recommendation. If someone is looking for a ridiculously cheap, quite serious small analogue Imerdabei, should not hesitate and instead of the much more expensive well-known competition these small compact times.

Who asks me if I would bring my Olympus μ [mju:] for a lot of Gled to repair to solve the problem with the autofocus …. Of course not. And if the small μ [mju:] could not be repaired, I would put a new used μ [mju:]? Neither. Instead, I would also get such an underrated Prima Mini for a Euro plus postage. (Which I have succeeded in the meantime)

This little white here went as a good-bye to our young Enlischlehrer. He was obviously happy about it, but unfortunately we have not had any contact since then. I wonder how his experiences with this little one have been so far. I will probably send him the link to this review, but I hope he will not be too embarrassed about the English version of this text. In any case, I can assure that this has nothing to do with his qualities as a teacher

~ Andreas Zieroth






About The Author

Andreas Zieroth

I'm a Berlin based hobby photographer shooting landscapes, traveling, portraits and daily banalities on digital, mobile and of course analog gear. Always curious about shooting unusually or expired film stuff what my sticky fingers can get on. Amazed and happy about that roaring analog occurrences nowadays. So spread the word and shoot film.

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