Olympus Mju Infinity Stylus Compact Camera Review

Olympus µ[Mju:]

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Olympus Mju Infinity Stylus (Mju I) is a well-designed, fun to use point-and-shoot 35mm film camera. It’s light, compact, and ergonomic with brilliantly-simple controls.

The Olympus lens is reasonably sharp and, despite having a somewhat slow max aperture of 𝒇3.5, can construct a pleasing bokeh with an impressive close-focus distance of .35m (1’1”). Infinity Stylus takes one CR123 battery that powers its 1/15 — 1/500s shutter and works with ISO 50-3200 DX-coded 35mm film.

Olympus Mju Infinity Stylus cameras manufactured for the US market.

Mju is Olympus’ 1990s series of compact 35mm film cameras that includes 13 models, characterized by 𝒇3.5 lens apertures on primes and 𝒇4+ on zoom lenses.

The next generation of these cameras was Mju II which had 𝒇2.8 primes and weatherproofing, amongst other improvements. The last generation, Mju III, had five zoom-lens-only models.

In this review, I will focus on the model that started it all: Olympus ∞ Stylus and its gold-accented Deluxe sibling with the quartz date feature. Both of these cameras were produced for the US market, which mirrored the exact same cameras that were instead labelled with “Olympus µ[mju:]” everywhere else.

A brief history of the Olympus Mju series.

This little fully automatic gem was meant as a modern successor to the most compact 35mm full-frame rangefinder camera ever made, Olympus XA. Armed with motorized film transport, built-in flash, and autofocus, it comes with plenty of modern advancements over its older sibling.

Introduced in 1991, the Mju series sold over 20,000,000 copies until ceasing production in 2004. The cameras received dozens of prestigious design awards over the decade they’ve been in production.

The ones being reviewed here were made for the US market: ∞ Stylus. The rest of the world has these cameras labelled as µ[mju:] where µ is a scientific Greek-letter designation for micro and [mju:] is supposed to be pronounced so that it would rhyme with pew: m’joooo!

I’ve used and traded a lot of these cameras during the past couple of years. And in that time, I’ve noticed that the earlier series of this camera (smaller serial numbers) was entirely produced in Japan. But the later batches were assembled in China with parts made in Japan. There’s no difference in apparent quality or reliability between the two assembling countries; although the Chinese variants seem to look fresher as they are simply younger cameras. The prices on eBay and elsewhere are the same for both versions.

Olympus Mju Infinity Stylus Deluxe and Olympus Mju Infinity Stylus.

Ergonomics, design, and operation.

On its own, Mju Infinity Stylus doesn’t look like much. A black plastic box with rounded edges, like a bar of soap. Its unassuming appearance could be the reason these cameras used to sell dirt-cheap at thrift stores a few years back. But as film photography began to make a comeback, the prices have changed drastically. Today, they go for around $200-$300.

While their plastic, often weathered shells may not give off “premium” vibes, the simple act of grabbing one can feel so good you may never let it go. With the viewfinder eyepiece towards you, a perfectly-shaped bump on the right side forms a firm, comfortable grip for the thumb. Your fingers would rest on the lens cover that has its own little ramp to make sliding it open a breeze. A large round shutter button will immediately make operation obvious.

Sliding the cover immediately turns the camera on, which an autofocus motor would make plain with a quick whizz as the lens protrudes slightly. This isn’t the only camera to have this kind of design, but it is one of the first and the best. Others, like Pentax Espio, won’t let you slide the cover closed quickly enough as their lens needs time to retract — but not on Mju: opening and closing works like a charm.

Some of the smallest 35mm film cameras ever created. From the top: Voigtländer Vito C, Minolta TC-1, Olympus Mju Infinity Stylus, Olympus Mju Infinity Stylus Deluxe, Rollei 35. Note how ergonomic the Olympus cameras appear compared to the boxy designs surrounding them.

The overall shape of the camera makes it very easy to slip into a pocket. Infinity Stylus weighs just 170g (6.5oz) and measures about 12✕6✕4cm (4.7✕2.4✕1.6”). With the CR123 battery and a roll of film, it weighs 208g (7.3oz).

Loading these cameras is easy: push the black tab on the side upwards with your left thumb, open the door, get your 35mm canister fitted on the left and pull the film leader to the right over the take-up drum. The battery compartment is on the opposite side of the film door tab; it’ll require some gentle prying near the tripod hole to open.

Other than the oversized shutter button, there aren’t that many controls. In fact, you may never need to touch the other controls. But if you fancy a self-timer or if you want to cycle your flash modes, you can do that with one of the two buttons on the top plate. And if, for some reason, you want to rewind all the film back into your canister, there’s a hidden pin button under the lens for that.

A small LCD screen next to the shutter button will show the frames taken counter, flash mode, and battery status.

The Deluxe model has two buttons to help you set the date/time on the camera, which would show up on every frame. Most people would probably want that off.

The viewfinder has an OK eye relief — it’s possible to use with glasses, although it’s not the largest and most comfortable eyepiece it could be. When you look through it, there’s a small square in the middle that indicates the area that the camera will use to determine its focus. A barely-noticeable set of thin square brackets are there to inform you of the parallax shift at close distances.

Pressing the shutter button halfway will lock the focus and light up a tiny green bulb to the right of the viewfinder (it will blink if the focus cannot be found). An orange light is a low light indicator; if you have your flash on — it will fire. If you keep your finger on the button while the green light remains, you can recompose your shot — more on that below.

Olympus Mju lens and image quality.

The lens on the Stylus has a very sharp center with a slight but noticeable loss of detail in the corners. It has minimal flaring; the lens appears to have an OK amount of contrast and virtually no vignetting. There’s very little perspective distortion in the corners — you’d have to photograph something with a lot of defined lines up-close to notice it. There’s virtually no chromatic aberration on the photos my Mju takes.

I think that the 35mm focal length is very versatile; it’s similar to what you’d get on most mobile phones but is a tad wider than how most people see the world. If you’re like me and are used to shooting 50mm lenses almost exclusively, it may take a little time to get used to Mju’s wider focal length.

Olympus Mju Infinity Stylus with Fujicolor 200. To get this image to the place I want it to be, I had to adjust the exposure a bit in Photoshop and apply a bit of sharpening. I think the result captures the mood of the day very well; didn’t mind doing the work here. In the center, the lens is very sharp, you can almost read the small font on the far-away sign; however, you can also notice a considerable loss of detail in the corners.
Olympus Mju Infinity Stylus with Ilford HP5. This is one of my all-time favourite photographs. Thanks to the camera’s auto-everything, I was able to capture the pigeons in flight despite having to hold a dog leash in my left hand at the same time. This isn’t the sharpest 35mm photo out there, but it prints very well.
Olympus Mju Infinity Stylus with Fujicolor 200. This is by far the most bokeh-licious 𝒇3.5 point-and-shoot camera. Just look at all this background separation!
Olympus Mju Infinity Stylus with Ilford HP5.
Olympus Mju Infinity Stylus with Fujicolor 200. If you’re viewing this page on a large screen, you’ll notice some blurring in the corners, especially on the bottom-left (look at the sand grains).
Olympus Mju Infinity Stylus with Ilford HP5. Despite being black and white, I think that the film rendered the bright-yellow maple leaves beautifully.
This last photo, shot on Olympus Mju Infinity Stylus with Fujicolor 200 has zero edits. I had my PrimeFilm XAs output a digital negative which I inverted and equalized in Photoshop — nothing else.

Note: All of the photographs above were scanned on my PrimeFilm XAs 35mm film scanner with VueScan software. I’ve inverted and normalized the scanner’s direct output negatives, which means there are minimal or no software adjustments to the images other than the ones I’ve explicitly assigned.

Olympus Mju Infinity Stylus has capable glass, but it’s not without its flaws. I wish it had a bit more contrast, and I also think that the amount of blurring/loss of detail in the corners is a little too much.

In the end, I had to spend a few minutes on every good photo from the camera in Adobe Photoshop, bringing back some of the contrast to the image. But once the job is done, the results are almost always very good. As of this writing, I’ve put just two rolls of film through my Mjus, and I have already got more keepers than from most of my point-and-shoots in months.

Auto-exposure and autofocus.

Both of my Mju cameras tend to err their exposures on the bright side. For the most part, this isn’t a problem. Negative film tends to tolerate overexposures well, much better than underexposures.

However, I haven’t tried to shoot slide film in those cameras, which can easily lose detail when exposed to too much light. This is why I think that Stylus may not perform well with slide film.

The camera’s simple controls give no option to make any changes to the exposure values. You can’t push or pull your film without hacking the DX code on your film canister. And there’s no backlight compensation button — although Mju’s tendency to make brighter pictures may help with that (or you can just use fill-in flash).

Brighter exposures also mean that the camera is likely to prioritize wider apertures giving you a bit more bokeh/background separation than other point-and-shoots with a 𝒇3.5 lens. In a world where most mobile devices have to manufacture their bokeh using software due to their minuscule sensors, this is a good thing.

Like Pentax PC35AF, Infinity Stylus will only move the lens into the focus position while taking a shot. This means that there’s a slight delay between the button depression and the shutter actuation. Which I never thought of as an issue — even with candid, serendipitous shots that required fast reaction.

But unlike PC35AF, this camera will give no indication of where the focus will fall, which means it’s possible to mess up the shots, which is exactly what happened to me a few times — see below.

Thankfully, Infinity Stylus can focus on infinity well, which comes as a challenge to some AF cameras of the period. The Stylus AF system uses 100 steps (focus distances), making it a precise instrument, especially when compared to the more common 5-10 steps on cameras of that period.

If you’re viewing this page on a large screen, you’ll notice that the seagull is slightly out-of-focus. The reflective surface of the car may have confused my Olympus Infinity Stylus’ autofocus mechanism and I was not able to know about this until the film got developed since there are no focus indicators in the viewfinder like those on Pentax PC35AF or Minolta TC-1.
Another case of missed focus with Olympus Infinity Stylus. This time, the camera ensure that the flower pot is perfectly crisp while Norah turned out a little hazy.

Infinity Stylus Flash.

The flash on this camera is good — if you are the kind of person who likes to use one. It has a nice balance of output power so that your scenes are well-lit while not overexposed. Some of the later models even have clour-balanced flash options, a feature that Apple touted as revolutionary only five years ago. In fact, most of the reviews of this camera online agree that this is one of the best flash units on a point-and-shoot camera. Ever.

Olympus Mju Infinity Stylus with Ilford HP5. Here I had the flash set to its default auto mode which managed to light up everything within about 10m/30” — including the raindrops. Though the image looks dark, I’d say this is an impressive amount of power for such a small unit.

There are four flash modes available that you can cycle through by pressing the ↯ (flash) button on the top plate whenever the camera is powered on. They are auto, auto-s (red-eye reduction), OFF, and fill-in. Fill-in flash will activate in all lighting conditions (even if it’s bright out) to help you illuminate deep shadows; it can be useful in backlit situations when you photograph someone with the sun shining into your lens.

It takes about five to seven seconds to recharge the flash — you’ll see the orange light next to the viewfinder blink when you try to take a picture while it’s charging. Unfortunately, the camera will prevent you from taking a shot if the flash isn’t yet available until it is ready or until you turn it OFF.

I usually prefer to avoid flashing my subjects, which is why whenever it’s dusk (but still bright enough to take a picture), I press the flash button twice to turn it off whenever I power on my Mju. Unfortunately, the camera resets my flash-OFF preference every time I power it on. It will also “forget” the preferences if I set it to fill-in flash, but it will remember and keep the red-eye reduction mode between power cycles.

Known issues.

Olympus Mji Is are relatively new cameras. They are well-made; however, the plastic shell isn’t scratch-resistant and thus your copy will likely to have many tiny scuffs on the outside. The blemishes aren’t particularly noticeable and have no effect on images but this camera tends to get more of these than other point-and-shoots.

The shutter button may loose sensitivity if the camera was used a lot, dropped a lot, or had some other kind of damage happen to it. In practice, this means you may have to press the button twice or have to find a position for your finger to make it work right. I’m not sure how easy it is to fix, so I suggest you check whether the copy you’re about to get has this problem. It’s very easy to diagnose with a working battery.

Some Mju copies may have problems with film transport. The gears inside may have stripped from overuse or improper use and your camera may not be able to wind your film. This is a fatal issue that will prevent you from taking photos with this camera. The best way to test this issue is to load a junk roll of film and see if the camera advances it with each shot.

I’ve tried about a dozen of these cameras and had a fairly good success avoiding most of the issues listed above. Knowledgeable sellers who list their cameras as “tested” got me good, working copies. I’ve got a few for a bargain successfully, too — but I knew the risk and asked questions.

Is Olympus Mju Infinity Stylus worth the money?

While it’s still possible to find a deal, these cameras go for $200-$300 today; this isn’t a small amount of money. Thankfully, Mjus aren’t famous for breaking unexpectedly like the uber-expensive Contax series, but most sellers won’t have any warranty on their thirty-year-old equipment.

For the money, this is still one of the best cameras you can have as a beginner or an avid photographer who needs a point-and-shoot in their collection. I like these particular models (reviewed here) that started the series for their simplicity and the looks — though there’s a whole world of options out there when it comes to Mjus, with some of the later zoom models can be easily found for less.

If you’re looking for a better lens and premium everything, I think that Minolta TC-1 will be a worthier choice. Or, if you’d rather spend less, check out this list of compact 35mm film cameras for under $200.

Of course, no camera — cheap or pricey — is flawless, and you’ll have to decide what’s most important when it comes to purchasing one. Hopefully, this review was informative enough to help you form that opinion, and the sample shots I spent hours preparing gave an insight into this camera’s true capabilities.

By the way: Please consider making your Olympus ∞ Stylus camera purchase using this link  so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!