Olympus Infinity Stylus (Mju) – Point and Shoot Camera Review

The Olympus Infinity (Mju) line is one of the most-hyped families of cameras in analog photography. Google the name and nearly every resultant post will gush about the entire range, with tall tales of a twenty-dollar thrift store camera with a lens that puts SLRs and Leica glass to shame. Tiny camera, coffee-and-a-bagel price, and the best lens ever? Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

Unfortunately, this story ain’t quite what it seems. It’s 2017, and the bloated reputation of the Olympus Infinity Stylus range has changed things in a big way. What was once the photophile’s best kept secret is now on everybody’s top-five. As a result, prices for these cameras over the past few years have skyrocketed into SLR territory, and have largely stayed there. In truth, the twenty-dollar Stylus and Stylus Epic (Mju and Mju 2) are among the hardest cameras to find. I should know; it took me five years. And even then I didn’t get the one I wanted.

Instead of the crown jewel of the line, the Olympus Infinity Stylus Epic (Mju II), I got its older sibling, the original, slower Infinity Stylus (Mju), though for a lower-than-legend sum of ten bucks. I was slightly disappointed, but after five years of searching through flea market bins, thrift store shelves, and garage sale tables, I was happy to settle.

At first glance, it’s not hard to see why this camera and its siblings became the darlings of point-and-shoot camera culture. For one, it’s simple – no more than three buttons populate its top. Its front face features naught but Olympus’ signature sliding door, which pulls double-duty as a lens cover and an on-off switch, a feature pioneered by the Olympus XA, a camera that shares the Mju’s legendary reputation. That’s about it for complications. And just like the XA series, it’s incredibly small. The camera is as long as an iPhone 5 and as thick as an average wallet, making it one of the most pocketable 35mm cameras ever made. This portability is incredibly important to its appeal; it’s a camera that begs to be shot anywhere and everywhere.

It also happens to be an attractive camera; think Jackie-Kennedy-black-dress attractive. It’s sleek, with lines that flow and curve around the entirety of its form. With a distinct rounding of angles, its design brief is straight from the ‘90s, but this Olympus manages to avoid the ho-hum camera design typical of the decade. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine this shell housing the guts of a high-end digital point-and-shoot today, a camera I’m sure would be an instant hit (hope you’re reading this, Olympus).

Feature-wise the Olympus Infinity Stylus is sparse, but capable, with a couple of annoyances thrown in for good measure. It uses a single point auto-focus system capable of focusing as close as 0.35 meters, or 1.1 feet, which is about the standard for any ‘90s point-and-shoot. Locking the AF point and exposure are both possible by pointing at your subject and depressing the shutter halfway, a convenient feature for those of us who like the “focus, reframe, shoot” method. The camera’s automatic exposure system works great, even with a less-than-extensive range of shutter speeds (1/15-1/500th of a second). The rest of the spec-sheet is rounded out with DX automatic film speed reading ISO 50-3200, a self-timer with a 12 second delay, automatic wind/rewind, and a manual rewind button on the front face of the camera for those days when you can’t wait to finish a roll to see your photos.

The camera’s built-in flash is unsurprisingly simple yet surprisingly capable. While not the most powerful unit, it does deliver some of the most even and visually pleasing artificial light made from a point-and-shoot in this category. The camera also features a fill flash mode along with a red-eye reduction mode, the latter serving to date the camera more accurately than its design. I personally don’t find much of a use for direct fill-flash on a compact camera unless I’m going for that all-too-familiar family snapshot look, but it’s a nice feature for those who want it.

Operating the camera in the field is as simple as it gets, just lock focus, compose, and shoot. Easy enough, right? Unfortunately, this simplicity combined with the camera’s compactness does present a couple of problems. The AF must be locked before fully depressing the shutter, and the lens must extend fully for every shot, making for a noticeable lag between pressing the shutter and snapping the picture. For landscapes and portraits of friends and family this is a non-issue, but for candid shots on the street and quick-fire shooting, this shutter lag can mean the difference between a great shot and a wasted frame. The Olympus is small, but not as quick and nimble as I expected, again surprising after so much written about its prowess on the street.

There’s also another annoying caveat to its operation; all of the camera’s functions automatically reset once the sliding door closes over that lens. Now this doesn’t sound like a big deal, right? But then, the flash resets to the ON position every time the camera’s switched off. For portraits of the family on vacation this is a welcome feature, but for candid stealth shots this is a big problem. If you don’t pay attention and remember to make a habit of turning off the flash, you could easily end up with some very angry strangers on the street. That this is a fact of life with the Mju is interesting, again, in light of its widespread proselytization by many point-and-shoot street shooters.

The Olympus most definitely sacrifices speed and the ability to really capture the decisive moment to gain good looks and compact form factor. It’s a hefty compromise, and one that may turn demanding shooters off from the camera. But if we accommodate the camera just a little bit and relax our shooting style, we’ll discover the most incredible aspect of the Mju. I’m talking about the little Olympus lens housed just underneath that sliding door.

Olympus has a habit of of packing incredible lenses into small bodies. The Trip 35 and XA series are prime examples of this philosophy, and Olympus decided to keep the tradition alive in its Infinity Stylus line. Although the lens found on this camera is a slower lens (f/3.5 compared to the Trip 35, XA, and Stylus Epic’s f/2.8 lenses) with a simpler triplet lens formulation, it can pack a serious amount of sharpness into its tiny form. When stopped down in broad daylight, this beautifully simple lens delivers incredibly sharp photos, and wide open it offers a pleasing, artful detail rendition and lowered contrast that recall the Cooke Triplet/Triotar lenses of old. Combine this with consumer grade expired film and generous flash and we can very easily recreate that Instagram-worthy, hip photo blog aesthetic. That’s not to say this is a lomo lens –  when combined with modern film such as Kodak Portra or Ilford HP5+, we can achieve some seriously gallery-worthy pictures.

The lens, however, does have its limitations. The slower speed of f/3.5 combined with a shutter limited to 1/15th of a second makes this camera a little challenging in low-light when we’re avoiding flash photography. This is a shame, especially considering how pretty the lens tends to render wide-open. There also tends to be quite a bit of light falloff and a general lack of sharpness in the corners regardless of aperture, which may serve to irk lovers of sharp-across-the-frame landscape shots.

So, is the Stylus the perfect point-and-shoot? It certainly delivers when used for casual shooting, such as when making snapshots of friends and family, vacation shots, and general purpose memory-making. It offers incredible image quality and ease-of-use for a low price (if you’re lucky), perfect for the casual shooter just looking to have fun, and maybe make a few impressive images along the way.

That said, in my time with the Stylus I just couldn’t help but feel the shadow of expectation hanging over the little Olympus. It’s a good camera, but does it live up to the hype?

I’m not convinced. It’s more sluggish than I expected, has a trigger-happy flash, and its available-light capabilities are hamstrung by its slower lens. And to top it all off, unless you get lucky on a thrift-shop deal, it’s way more expensive than most other consumer point-and-shoots. Over time it’s gained a reputation for being one of the best cameras for street photography and candids, but ironically these are some of its weakest areas of operation. Sure, the lens can make really pretty images and it’s one of the smallest and best-looking cameras around, but with a price that implies it can be a photographer’s primary tool it’s just a bit lackluster for that.

But perhaps I expected too much of the Olympus Infinity Stylus. Perhaps I’ve unfairly grafted a narrative onto this camera and its siblings based on a narrative derived from bloggers and Instagramers looking to sell a product or lifestyle. And perhaps I shouldn’t hype it up, give it superpowers, and make it out to be a camera that it’s not. As soon as I do that and disregard the hype, the pure fun of this incredible little camera comes to the front. When used for its intended purpose, as a lovable sidekick for making occasionally fantastic shots, it’s a perfect camera. And if it takes me another five years to find a low-priced Epic, this original Stylus will do just fine.

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25 Comments

  • Reply
    Huss
    January 22, 2017 at 8:35 pm

    Nice honest review. I still have my Mju, bought in the days before digital. I hadn’t used it in years but decided to pull it out for an Oktoberfest occasion. And remembered why I had moth balled it. Sometimes, and this happens a lot, you push the button to take a pic but the camera has decided that it needs to focus again, or the object is not in focus, or or .. which results in a pic being taken literally several seconds after I wanted to.
    So after that outing, the camera went back into my sock drawer!

    • Reply
      Josh
      January 23, 2017 at 7:06 pm

      I feel you! I’ve missed some great moment because the AF got confused. Thanks for reading again Huss!

  • Reply
    Wilson Laidlaw
    January 23, 2017 at 2:43 am

    I never liked the half melted plastic look of the Mju line cameras, together with the silver paint finish, which makes them look like an accessory to a bargain store music centre. The compacts I have always liked are the boxy all titanium metal Contax T line but the prices for these have become astronomical and I never managed to find one in a charity shop.

    They are super tough. My son was using a TiX, the APS film version, on a project in the hill tribes area of northern Thailand. It got run over by a truck but apart from a couple of scratches, was still working just fine. However like many of these early AF cameras, they use a single horizontal phase detector and can be fussy about picking up a focus, where there are no strong vertical features to provide the input.

    • Reply
      Josh
      January 23, 2017 at 7:08 pm

      Thanks for reading Wilson! I prefer them in black, but then again I prefer most every camera in black. Crazy story about the TiX, too.

  • Reply
    Dexter
    January 23, 2017 at 5:20 am

    Interesting read. Owning the mju I (same as the stylus but without the rewind button I think) I’ve shot it plenty, and is always on my person when I head somewhere. It’s a compact companion and can take a decent shot, and has been an introduction to film photography for a couple of friends. I agree that it can be slow and the resetting of all settings once the clamshell has been closed is a pain, but I’m happy to live with it. For the £12.50 I paid in a charity shop I’m more than happy. I’d like to shoot the more fabled mju II to see whether that is any quicker. Great article.

    • Reply
      Josh
      January 23, 2017 at 7:11 pm

      Thanks for reading Dexter! Slow as it is, it’s probably the perfect carry-around camera. Perhaps we can give the Epic the treatment in an upcoming review…

  • Reply
    Dustin
    January 23, 2017 at 9:00 am

    Good Read! I currently own one point and shoot- a Nikon One Touch with a 35mm 2.8 (the fully auto version) I bought for
    35 bucks on eBay. Remarkably, sometimes I think I like my point and shoot almost more than my OM-2N. Even though it is full auto, again this turns into a pro for me as I can focus on the limitation of simply film speed, subject, framing instead of getting lost in the technical details. I consider it my iPhone camera for film in that it’s just so quick and convenient. Sometimes the shutter seems to lock up and
    I have to repress the button, sometimes I get a small line on some of my prints but the pros far outweigh the cons for my use. I’ve been shooting this guy since last march and it really is capable of putting out some cool images. Autofocus even is pretty decent for static shots. Didn’t mean to hijack the thread, I love Olympus cameras and was actually looking for the same camera you were but the Nikon fell into my hands and I don’t regret it!

  • Reply
    Adam
    January 23, 2017 at 9:12 am

    Pardon the pun, but a nicely “candid” review. I recently picked up the 1993 vintage “Stylus Zoom” mju in a thrift shop for $5 and find it is hampered by some of these same weaknesses, most notably the flash setting refreshing every time it is started up. Aside from the (slower f/4.5) zoom, one feature that the mju zoom has that is admittedly a joy is a 2 second max shutter speed, a huge improvement over the 1/15 you state this model has.

    I think you are spot on in noting how this camera line’s semi-cult reputation has largely overshadowed its true usefulness in the field.

    • Reply
      Josh
      January 23, 2017 at 7:23 pm

      We’ll forgive the pun! Everybody gets one. The entire range of Stylus’s (Stylii? Olympii?) are great cameras for sure, but they’re far from holy. Thanks again for reading, Adam!

  • Reply
    Jeb
    January 23, 2017 at 10:14 am

    “Occasionally fantastic shots” is about a perfect description of this camera. I had one and the best stuff it produced for me were black and white shots in Berlin, about half of which were at night with flash. I ended up giving it to a 7-year-old who showed an interest in photography. I’m still looking for the right Epic. I just can’t seem to pull the trigger on the champagne colored ones.

    • Reply
      Josh
      January 23, 2017 at 7:27 pm

      Thanks for reading, Jeb! Good move giving that Olympus to a youngster; my very first photographic experiences were with my family’s Olympus Stylus Zoom.

  • Reply
    Alan Yahnke
    January 23, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    I have three of these, one like new, two users, one of them in my coat pocket almost always. I have two Epic 2.8s also but I like shooting the Stylus better even though the Epics can deliver a little better photos. (I use the Epics if I think I may need the extra qualities they offer) If you are interested, examples are posted from both of these on my flickr site in separate albums as well as a number of the zoom models also.

    • Reply
      Josh
      January 23, 2017 at 7:28 pm

      Hi Alan! Thanks for reading. Link us to those photos! It’s always great to see what our readers can do, especially with these point-and-shoots.

  • Reply
    Neilson
    January 23, 2017 at 12:36 pm

    I’ve never used one of these but I’ve owned a Stylus Epic ever since it first came out (I’m on my 4th one) and it sounds like the Stylus has the same issues. Is the auto film advance as loud as that of the Stylus Epic? This aspect of the Stylus Epic makes it useless for street photography for me. The Stylus Epic’s ace in the hole is the fact that it’s water resistant. It’s always the camera I take with me in bad weather.

    • Reply
      Josh
      January 23, 2017 at 7:33 pm

      Thanks for reading, Neilson! The film advance isn’t terribly loud (especially when compared to the 80’s point and shoots), but it’s certainly there. It’s the rewind that’s incredibly noisy, and I suspect it’s about the same for both the Stylus and Stylus Epic. I have a friend whose Epic whirred pretty loudly in the middle of an intimate song. She tried to cover it up into a jacket, but to no avail. The Epic’s weatherproof nature must be nice though!

  • Reply
    BC
    January 23, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    I bought a DLX new many years ago in champagne (classy!). When I dug it out from the junk drawer it was living in for 15 years when I starting getting into film again last year, it still had a roll of Fujifilm Super HQ in it. It’s become my adventure cam due to its weatherproofness and size. It stayed with me during a 7-hour, 26K mountain run.

    • Reply
      Josh
      January 25, 2017 at 7:19 pm

      Thanks for reading! Enjoy that DLX Epic!

  • Reply
    Dok Madrid
    January 24, 2017 at 1:55 am

    I have used it several times and it has served its purpose of taking good photos. I love the fast response of turning on the camera after sliding the clam shell open however If not annoyed you can get use to pushing the button to turn off the flash after it opens. Overall, I have no qualms about it but finding reason not put a roll on it.

    • Reply
      Josh
      January 25, 2017 at 7:21 pm

      Thanks for reading! The Stylus has its quirks, but its certainly capable of greatness.

  • Reply
    dan james
    January 24, 2017 at 3:54 am

    After trying a few dozen compacts in the last four years or so, the Mju-1 had become as close to ideal as I’ve found. Along with one other camera – it’s sibling the LT-1.

    I’ve had a couple of Mju-2s but just could not get on with them. They flash too readily, I found the handling too slippery and almost dropped every half dozen shots, and the viewfinder is really pokey. Plus the price of those now is just silly – I’ve seen them sell for £120+ on eBay! They surely weren’t that much new!

    Anyway, the Mju-1, for me, is just the right size, and once you shoot a few rolls with it and learn its strengths, it’s capable of excellent photographs, as you’ve found.

    I disagree about “capable of focusing as close as 0.35 meters, or 1.1 feet, which is about the standard for any ‘90s point-and-shoot”. One of the reasons I love the Mju-1 is its close focusing whichvery few cameras come close to – I would suggest from my experience the standard for a decent P&S is more like 0.6 – 0.9m. The difference between even 0.6 and 0.35m is huge, in terms of photographic opportunities – I’ve taken nearly whole rolls of film with the Mju-1 at that close kind of range.

    I mentioned the LT-1, which I believe is the same innards and lens as the Mju-1 but in a rounder leather covered shell. Instead of the sliding cover there’s a leather flap that covers the lens to protect it, and the camera has a specific on/off switch on the front.

    Now, this looks and sounds at first like it’s going to be a bit of a faff and less immediate than the Mju-1 to use. But the great thing about the LT-1 is when you’re walking around knowing you’ll likely be taking a shot every few minutes, you can turn the camera on, turn flash off, then fold the leather flap back down and keep it in your hand/pocket ready.

    The way the lens housing is designed means the leather flap never touches the glass, even with the camera on and lens protruding a few millimetres. To shoot, just flip the flap (which relocates itself with a clever magnetic popper) and you’re ready to go.

    This eliminates the reset at power off issues with the Mju-1 you mentioned. I actually slightly prefer the handling of the LT-1 too, that leather skin makes it pleasing tactile and grippy.

    Anyway, you might want to check out the LT-1. I got a black one for about £10, the same sort of price I paid for my Mju-1, and they came in brown leather too.

    There are usually plenty of Mju-1s around on eBay for reasonable prices, I’m not sure why you looked for one for five years in thrift stores etc when you could have got on online for about £10-20 really easily?

    Anyway, great to see a review about the camera that many consider inferior to the over-hyped (IMO) Mju-2, but for me and others is actually a much better and more enjoyable option.

    • Reply
      Josh
      January 25, 2017 at 7:32 pm

      Hey Dan! Thanks for that info on the LT-1; that seems like a strange bird indeed. And to clarify, I was trying to see if the Infinity/Mju series, specifically the Epic, was as common at secondhand shops/garage sales at the price many say they found them. It’s a common enough narrative which I thought could use some testing, especially after the recent resurgence in interest for these cameras, and film photography in general. Anyway, thanks for commenting and reading! Always appreciated.

  • Reply
    Jordi
    February 2, 2017 at 2:18 pm

    Ahh, there was a listing nearby in my town and could get one for 10€. When I queried, and it was less than 24h from the time of listing, it was already gone.

    It would be really nice to run with some cheap Lomo (Kodak Gold) CN film alongside my Nikon F80 or substituting it on EDC! Been looking for more P&S but the MjuII/Epic is crazy priced and no cheap ones around. Ironically, with patience, good Nikon AF SLRs (F80, F90) come around for 30-40€ rather often.

  • Reply
    Oscar R
    March 1, 2017 at 4:32 am

    Just got one in San Antonio at “Texas Thrift” for $4.95. I put a new battery in and some Fuji Press 100 everything seems fine. Now waiting to see how the film develops. I typically carry my Canon Sure Shot 70zoom 4.2 as my point and shoot but this olympus is technically smaller and has a faster lens so I have high hopes for it… I love my Canon although its lens is not as fast , it has a real poppy flash so it has served me well. Somehow I don’t feel Olympus will live up to expectations. The design for both these cameras is very similar they could be cousins.

  • Reply
    Brendan
    March 3, 2017 at 7:57 pm

    I found one today at Good Will for $4. Looking forward to shooting with it! I’ve cherished my XA’s and Nikon L35AF’s for a couple years now, but I’m really excited about the higher ISO rating of the Infinity Stylus. Although paying 4 times as much for the cr123a battery as i did for the camera was a bit of a buzzkill… though I guess that’s on me as I would have paid far less online if I had any patience!

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