Alternatives to the Olympus Mju-II

Alternatives to the Olympus Mju-II

Introduction

The Olympus Mju-II (known as the Infinity Stylus Epic in North America) is an incredibly popular film camera. It’s a compact & weatherproof point & shoot with intuitive controls and a sharp, fast lens. It’s easy to use and delivers crisp & consistent results. Plus, Olympus made almost 4 million Mju-II cameras, so they’re relatively abundant.

Sounds great, right? For the most part, it is. The Mju-II’s combination of ease of use, quality, speed, and size makes it the ideal point & shoot for many, and led to its meteoric rise in popularity. Fame is, however, a double-edged sword.

For the Mju-II, this means high prices. While it’s true that all film cameras have risen in price, the Mju-II is often used as the poster child for this price hike. Along with the Contax T2, the Olympus Mju-II is pointed at as representative of overall price trends.

Without getting into the negativity in the community or the economics that prove increased prices are actually a good thing, we can just say that some newcomers are turned off by the price of the Mju-II. What can they do?

Well, assumedly you read the title and are here asking that exact question. Are there other film cameras like the Mju-II that don’t cost as much? The answer is a resounding yes.

Instead of just listing them, we’ll go through some features that make the Mju-II special and talk about cameras with similar specs. When searching for a film camera, it’s important to understand why you want the camera you want. So read through this, decide which features matter most to you, and search accordingly.

One more note before we start; not every camera I mention will be cheaper than the Mju-II. Some will be around the same price, some a bit lower, and some a bit higher. We won't discuss the most expensive models, like the Contax T2, Leica Minilux, or Nikon 35Ti, though. I’ll also try not to recommend zoom models, although most of them are excellent as well. These will be mostly mid-high range point & shoots with prime lenses.

With that out of the way, let’s go through some of the high points of the Mju-II and find cameras that can match (or exceed) it. I’ll list some cameras at the end of each section and go more into detail on a few models towards the end of the piece.

The Olympus Mju-II

Key Features:

  • Compact Size
  • 35mm f2.8 Prime Lens
  • Weatherproof
  • Easy to Use

Compact Size

The Olympus Mju-II is a very small camera. It fits comfortably in the palm of my hand and weighs less than 150 grams. It’s made almost entirely of plastic, which helps it remain lightweight but shows that the Mju-II was not a high-end camera when it was released. In fact, Olympus’ Mju-II Zoom models were quite a bit more expensive due to the complexity of their design.

But back on track, there are many cameras that can match the Mju-II in size. The original Olympus Mju is probably at the top of this list, but the Canon Prima Mini II also sticks out. If you don’t mind losing autofocus, a ton of other possibilities open up. Cameras like the Olympus XA or even the fully manual (and metal) Rollei 35 are some of the smallest ever made but still give the photographer tons of creative control.

Alternatives (With Autofocus): Olympus Mju, Canon Prima Mini II, Pentax Espio Mini, Ricoh R1, Minolta AF-C, Nikon AF600

Alternatives (Without Autofocus): Olympus XA, Rollei 35, Ricoh FF-1, Chinon Bellami, Cosina CX-2, Lomo LC-A

35mm f2.8 Prime Lens

It’s no secret that the film community loves prime lenses. For point & shoots, the most common “fast aperture lens” is the 35mm f2.8. The joke around our office is that any point & shoot with this lens formula is bound to get popular eventually. It’s silly, but true to some extent.

While f2.8 is not fast when compared to many SLR or rangefinder lenses, it’s blazing fast for a point & shoot. When compared to similar zoom lens models, a compact camera with a 35mm f2.8 can shoot much more capably in low light situations. For example, let’s take the Olympus Mju-II Zoom 80. This camera has a 35-80mm f4.5 - 8.9 lens. Without getting into the math behind it, at f4.5 this lens lets in less than ¼ of the light of an f2.8 lens. At f8.9? It lets in  dramatically less light than the 35mm f2.8 of the Olympus Mju-II.

Being able to let in more light means you can use faster shutter speeds when it's dark, so low light performance will be better.

Prime lenses also tend to be sharper than zooms. Zooms are more flexible, but spread their sharpness across the zoom’s entire range. A prime lens masters one focal length, while a zoom lens is a jack of all trades and a master of none.

So 35mm f2.8 prime lenses are both functionally beneficial and en vogue. What other compacts have this classic lens formula?


Off the top of my head, the Yashica T3 is a great option. While other Yashica T models have 35mm f3.5 lenses, the T3 has the f2.8 we’re looking for. The lens is also designed by Carl Zeiss, so you can trust it to be sharp and contrasty.

Nikon's first compact camera, the L35AF, also has a 35mm f2.8 lens. This 80s-styled camera has manual ISO control, which you can use for basic exposure control. Just make sure to grab the model that goes up to ISO 1000 for extra control!


Alternatives: Yashica T3, Olympus AF-1, Ricoh FF-90, Canon AF35M, Nikon L35AF, Fuji DL-300, Pentax PC35AF, Chinon Auto 3001, Mamiya U Autofocus, Minolta AF-C


Weatherproof

This one’s a bit tougher. Weatherproofing didn’t find its way into compact cameras much aside from special “rugged” models. Olympus went all-in on weather sealing their compacts, though, which was probably a big selling point for the people who bought them.

It makes sense too. The market for the Mju-II was mainly travelers who wanted as small a camera as possible to handle a wide variety of situations. If your camera can’t get wet, that severely limits its possibilities. It’s not a diving camera, but you can bring the Mju-II out in rain and not worry about frying any electronics.

The first example I think of is the Olympus AF-1 (Known as the Olympus Infinity in North America). This slightly blocky camera is a predecessor to the Mju-II, but features solid weatherproofing as a selling point. It was actually the first 35mm autofocus camera with built-in weather sealing and earned the nickname “Wet Flash” (Nurepika) in Japan.


Alternatives: Olympus AF-1, Canon AS-1, Pentax Zoom 90-WR, Chinon Splash, Nikon L35AW, Konica Jump, All Olympus Mju-II Zoom models


Easy to Use

This is another one that’s hard to quantify. Ease of use is entirely subjective, but most people would agree that the Olympus Mju-II is easy to use.

Aside from its compact size, the Mju-II has a clamshell lens cover that doubles as the power switch. This makes it easy to tell when the camera is on or off. It also has a large shutter button that’s well-positioned where your finger naturally falls.

Between the door, the shutter, and the small size, the Mju-II is operable with only one hand. This makes quick snapshots fast, simple, and effective. For a snapshot camera like the Mju-II, it’s hard to argue that this isn’t incredibly important.

The only negative of the Mju-II’s handling is that the flash is digitally-controlled and resets when the camera is powered off. This is very common with compact cameras, but does make shooting slower if you don’t want the flash to go off.

The Yashica T5 is another camera that was clearly designed with ease of use in mind. It’s not the smallest compact, but it has a great lens cover switch positioned right below the shutter button. The T5 is even easier to use one-handed than the Mju-II. It also has a waist level finder, making it easier to shoot from low angles than the eye-level viewfinder of the Mju-II and other compacts.

The original Olympus Mju also deserves a mention here for being very similar to the Mju-II. It has the same clamshell design, can be operated one-handed, and is just as small as the Mju-II.

Alternatives: Yashica T5, Olympus Mju, Canon Prima AS-1, Yashica T AF, Minolta AF-C


Thoughts

The Olympus Mju-II is extremely sought after because it combines popular features better than other cameras. It hits all the high points for a modern compact camera. Other cameras may have similar features, but finding one that's exactly like the Mju-II is impossible. There is no camera that's simply a cheaper Olympus Mju-II.

That’s why it’s better to look at why the Mju-II is popular rather than just list other point & shoots. If you have big hands, for example, a tiny Mju-II might not be a great camera for you. In this case, something like the Yashica T3 or Chinon Auto 3001 might suit you better.

Only you can know what features matter most to you in a camera. Hopefully this list can help you understand your own needs and wants from a compact camera, and help push you in the right direction when shopping.

Now, let’s talk about three specific cameras in a bit more detail.


Olympus Mju

  • 35mm f3.5 Lens
  • Compact Size
  • Clamshell Design

It makes sense that the original Mju would be similar to the Mju-II, and it is. The handling is more or less identical between the two models, although the older Mju has a slightly slower f3.5 lens and lacks weather sealing.

Price-wise, the Mju slots in quite a bit lower than the Mju-II, making it a great alternative to its younger brother.


Yashica T3

  • 35mm f2.8 Carl Zeiss Lens
  • Clamshell design
  • Waist Level Finder

The Yashica T3 is not a very compact camera when compared to the Mju-II. The Mju-II’s sleek, rounded design showcases the advancements made in plastics and electronics between the late 1980s and late 1990s. Aside from being chunky, though, the T3 is a great alternative to the Mju-II.

In terms of lens performance, the 35mm f2.8 Zeiss Tessar is probably one of the few that can outcompete the Mju-II. It also features a clamshell lens cover, although it will require two hands to operate.

If you like the T3 but want a smaller camera, then look for the more expensive T4 or T5. These models trade size for a 35mm f3.5 lens.

Canon Prima Mini II

  • 35mm f3.5 Lens
  • Sliding lens cover
  • Manual flash-off
  • Compact Size

One camera that doesn’t get much attention is the Canon Prima Mini II. I’m not sure why, but I’m here to champion them. These cameras are small, sleek, and have features even the Mju-II doesn’t have. Namely, the manual flash switch.

With the Olympus Mju-II, you have to press the flash mode button a few times to turn the flash off. Otherwise, it’ll be in automatic mode and may fire when you don’t want it to. This may not sound annoying, but if you’re constantly opening and closing the lens cover, this means resetting the flash over and over and over again. If you’re, for instance, a street photographer who needs to be ready to capture the decisive moment, this can cause failure.

The Canon Prima Mini II does not have this issue. A physical dial means you can turn the camera directly into flash off mode. It’s a little thing that goes a long way towards making the camera easy to use.


Pentax PC35AF

  • 35mm f2.8 Lens
  • Clamshell design
  • Attachable motor
  • Compact Size

The Pentax PC35AF is another camera that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It’s quite a nice looking camera that delivers some excellent images with its SMC coated 35mm f2.8 lens.

While the PC35AF’s clamshell is not as easy to open as the Mju-II’s, the PC35AF has plenty going for it. It has no built-in motor, which makes it generally quieter to operate than the Mju-II or other compact cameras. If you want the speed that comes with automatic advancing, there is an attachable motor or the later Pentax PC35AF-M, which came with the motor by default. It’s also quite lightweight, being made of plastic and lacking even the motors that might make other compact cameras heavier.

Whether or not these features make the PC35AF more attractive than the Mju-II or not is subjective, but I think it’s worth giving special attention here!


Conclusion

We’ve talked about a lot of cameras today, including the famous Olympus Mju-II. This compact camera has captured the hearts (and wallets) of many photographers, especially newcomers.

We’ve gone through some key features of the Mju-II and named some cameras that can replicate those features. While none of them will give the exact combination of these features as the Mju-II, all will be great cameras and take great photos if used properly.

It’s important to note, though, that there are other excellent point & shoots besides the ones on this list. For the sake of space, I can’t list every single good compact camera out there. Honestly, most compact cameras are good. Even most zoom models will surprise you with their quality.

So that’s a big takeaway here: most point & shoots are good and will get the job done. If you’re looking for something specific, there are usually options out there at various budgets.

My advice to you? Check out the popular models, figure out why you like them, and then hunt for cheaper cameras that can scratch the same itch. They’re out there, I promise. You can shop on our site for compact cameras, or sign up for our email list to receive weekly notifications of our new stock.

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