Welcome to the eighth in my series of quick compact 35mm camera reviews. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be publishing a total of 12 of these articles as part of an upcoming 35mm compact camera mega test spanning cameras made from 1990 to 2003 – arguably the golden age of these pocketable beasts. You can find the full list of cameras being tested here.
I’ll be comparing image quality, durability, speed and overall performance for cameras ranging from the very high end of the 35mm compact camera world to the very low – or close to it. The final articles will cover my criteria and scoring in full. At over 12,000 words in total, it seems a sensible approach to break these mini-reviews out, rather than trying to cram everything onto a single page.
You can check out the reviews that have already been published over on this tag page.
Ah, the Olympus MJU II.
I have a warm feeling for this modest little camera. A few years ago, I bought three MJU IIs for $10 for my kids. This was back when film compacts were virtually worthless. Can you imagine three little kids between 5 and 8 years old, running around taking random snaps with these cameras? It was hilarious! The MJU II totally delivered: indoors, outdoors, near, far, whatever they pointed it at, it just worked. Fabulous.
The MJU II sold 3.5 million units, which I believe is around ten times as much as all the premium compacts combined. It was a phenomenon in a way the rich man’s toys never were.
During this test, I took the MJU II many places with me to find out whether it could be considered a serious camera. In many ways I loved using it. The MJU II is simple and pure. It reveals none of its secrets: it tells you nothing about what shutter speed or aperture it is using. It is a true point-and-shoot. Its svelte form slips into a pocket more easily than any other camera in this test. This means the Mju II has the potential to get the shot, simply because you have it with you.
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I found it slightly annoying to have to press the mode button twice every time I switched on the camera, to cancel the automatic flash, but that’s no big deal. The shutter lag (the delay between pressing the shutter button and taking the shot) was a bit longer than I would like, but I would say it was acceptable.
When I analysed the results, the photos were perfectly adequate. They’re nice, you know? Nice. They looked sharp to me until I put them next to Contax photos. Then the difference in performance was undeniable. I even tested two different MJU IIs to make sure: they produced identical results. Actually, my hunch is that the MJU II 35mm lens is very good at medium apertures, but possibly not quite so impressive at large apertures. Also, I get the feeling the autofocus is not always accurate enough to completely capture all the sharpness of the lens. If the MJU II was a puppy at a dog show, it would earn a commendation, but not a gold ribbon.
Perhaps the real question is this: do MJU II photos look different from Contax photos once they are downsized and compressed to go on the internet? Check this photo.
The MJU II photo on the left, the Contax TVS III photo on the right. When I look at the high-resolution photos, the difference is obvious. The Contax has the ‘wow’ factor, the MJU has the ‘meh’ factor. However, small, compressed images look almost identical. That tells us the MJU II is perfectly good enough for social media.
The MJU II remains, as it always was, the people’s camera.