Some Alternatives to Those Over-Priced Compact Point and Shoots (Contax T and Olympus Mju)

Some Alternatives to Those Over-Priced Compact Point and Shoots (Contax T and Olympus Mju)

2200 1237 James Tocchio

On the strength of unexpected celebrity endorsements and the more predictable overzealous hype created by bloggers and YouTubers, the compact point-and-shoot bubble has now reached full bloat. Contax T series prices have risen to more than $1,500 per, and the comparatively cheap Mju series cameras are hovering around $300. These are good cameras, yes, but they’re not that good.

We want to give you some alternatives.

But before we get to that and before you say I’m just a grumpy, old man, let’s take a quick and critical look at the strange market surrounding the two cameras I mentioned; the T series and the Olympus Mju compacts.

The original Contax T is the best of the Contax minis. It’s a true rangefinder, the smallest of the bunch, faster to focus, and is the most reliable. But here’s a silly fact; it sells for a third the price of the T2 and T3. And the T3 costs more on average than a brand new Fuji X100f. What?

Speaking of the Mju series, the original is slow and unreliable and the Mju II is just a point-and-shoot originally designed for soccer-parents and people who didn’t want to think about photography. Yet ask any twenty-year-old film fan to name their dream camera and you’ll often hear the word Mju (usually sounded out with unsure hesitance – it’s “myoo” everyone).

For those of us who have been neck-deep in camera culture for longer than just the last few years, the sudden popularity of these cameras is a bit baffling.

But this is all beside the point. We’re here today to name some alternatives to these rather outrageously over-priced compact cameras. And though the lazy brains of The Internet will tell you there are no better cameras, people in-the-know know otherwise. Here are some cameras that cost much less and are as good (and in some cases much, much better) than those trendier point-and-shoots.

Almost Any Other Point-and-shoot

The first thing to realize, specifically when discussing the Mju series, is that during the 1980s and 1990s, every Japanese camera company was making an absurd number of virtually identical cameras. The Mju and Mju II are honestly and truly nothing special (if we ignore the fact that some famous photo nerds used or use one).

Chinon’s Auto 3001 has the same spec lens as a Mju II, focuses more accurately in any light, is easier to use (its flash controls are better), and costs $30. Nikon’s L35AF, though about as well known as the Mju, has a better performing lens than its Olympus competition and costs about half the price. The Pentax PC35AF‘s strong, metal body is world’s sturdier than the Mju, and its fast lens and capable flash match the Olympus’ spec sheet (at a quarter the cost).

And there are countless other better-than-Mju point-and-shoots that nobody ever seems to talk or care about. Like this oneand this oneand this oneand this one tooand also this one hereand this oneEven this complete and utter piece of junk will make equally Mju-like images in the right light.

Those boring cameras not special enough for you? Here are a few very specific ways to more smartly spend your Mju/Contax money.

Olympus’ XA, XA1, XA2, XA3, XA4

The original XA is a legendary rangefinder designed by a legendary man. I know that point-and-shoot fans would yell at me for including it on the list because its a rangefinder. If you’re among the manual-focus averse (even though at f/8 the XA will allow focus-free shooting that’s faster than autofocus, ladies and germs), there are other options in the XA range. These are the numbered XAs, and they’re some of the best point-and-shoots available.

The first numbered XA is smaller than the Mju and T series cameras, doesn’t require batteries, and is a perfect street camera. The XA2 and XA3 offer all of this, plus a combination of a higher degree of user controls. Set film speed, select one of three focus points, and then just point and shoot.

The XA4 is even more remarkable for its 28mm focal length lens. In addition to this wide field of view (which you won’t find in any Contax T or Mju camera) it offers much of what’s found with the XA2 and XA3. This makes the XA4 one of the best street machines ever made, and makes images made with it extra interesting.

All of the XA cameras will make images of a quality that can easily hang toe-to-toe with those made by Mju or Contax T series glass. And, in the case of the T range, they do so at about a tenth the price.

Canon’s AF35ML

People say they like the Mju II in part because it has a fast aperture (if you can call f/2.8 fast). Well Canon made a point-and-shoot with a much faster aperture, and it seldom gets any fanfare. Perhaps that’s because it’s a bit bigger, perhaps that’s because they’re not the most reliable cameras in the world. Who can say.

In any case, the Canon AF35ML has an absolutely blistering maximum aperture of f/1.9. This is just about the fastest lens you’ll find in a point-and-shoot camera, and it’s an amazing performer in low-light shooting situations. Its autofocus system is fast enough, and its built-in flash is as good as anything you’ll find on a Mju.

The AF35ML can be bought for around $50. Sure, they break easily, but at that price you can buy four of them with your Mju II budget and you’ll still have money left over to buy film and batteries.

Leica’s M

That’s right. If you’re considering spending the outrageous prices that Contax point-and-shoot sellers are demanding, then you’ve got enough cash to buy a Leica. Which would you rather own?

Pick up a beautiful M2 with a 50mm lens, get good at manual focusing and manual shooting, and spend the next fifty years enjoying one of the best cameras ever made. Unlike the point-and-shoots everyone’s buying today, your Leica will never break (unless you drop it).

Arguments against will likely sound something like, “It’s not autofocus!” and, “It’s too big!” To which I’d likely reply, “F/8 and be there!” and, “Go to the gym!”

Olympus’ Trip 35

Josh called the Olympus Trip 35 the quintessential compact camera, and he’s probably right. It’s about the same size as a Contax compact, features battery-free metering and auto-exposure, and exposes film through an incredibly sharp Tessar clone lens.

Olympus Trip 35s were made by the millions, and this surplus means that there are still plenty to go around. Find one with a good light meter, buy it for fifty bucks, and have fun. Spend the remainder of your money on film, or low-grade Scotch whisky (the latter of which I consumed last night in far too great of quantities).

Yes, I wrote this while hungover. But at least I’m a shrewd shopper.


Before we wrap up, listen. We’re not bashing the Contax T series, the Mjus, or the people who love them. If those cameras do it for you, buy one and shoot the hell out of it. But there’s no denying that the prices of these cameras are undeservedly high at the moment, and for no other reason than because well-known people have stood on their soap box and decreed that prices should be high.

But the truth is that much of the allure of these cameras comes not from their supposed inherent ability to make better photos than any other camera. The great images you’re seeing made by photographers using Mjus and Contaxes would be just as exceptional if made with any other camera. And that’s because those shooters are shooting with purpose and thought.

Your ability to make amazing images is well within reach, even if owning the trendiest film cameras isn’t. Grab any film camera, think about your shot, and go make something good.

Want to hunt down your own Point and Shoot?

Find one at our own F Stop Cameras

Find one on eBay

Find one at B&H Photo

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is the founder of CP. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic cameras and the most advanced digital machines. In addition to his work on CP, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio
35 comments
  • leicalibrararian April 23, 2018 at 7:06 am

    What about the Minox GT range? This must be one of the smallest full frame 35mm film cameras made and easily fits in a shirt pocket. Although it seems a bit plasticky, it is very robust. I carried one for years on business trips. It is lacking a rangefinder but zone focusing is not a difficult skill to learn. The lens performance is excellent and and at least as good as the Sonnar on the Rollei 35S I had before the Minox.

    Wilson

  • James, don’t forget the Rollei AF35/Voigtlander VF135 same camera, different badges… This has a 40mm Zeiss Sonnar lens, needs to be focused but does the rest on its own. Excellent camera and available for much less than 100 ($£€) units.

    Oh, and the old pre-M Leica, if you are going to mention Leica, they can be had for nothing, and the respected blogger “The Online Photographer” recommends it for teaching people how to become good at making pictures… See under “OCOLOY” on his site.

    • Thanks Stephen. The Rollei is indeed a solid alternative. And the pre-M Leicas are going to be the subject of an upcoming retrospective! Stay tuned.

  • I’ve recently been carrying around my Canon Sure Shot M (other model names elude me at the moment). It’s a nifty little kit and produces great images as well. Though the Mju still gets it’s fair share of use too.

  • Bought a Mju new when they first came out. It was a gift for mom and she used it for about ten years until it stopped advancing film.
    For it’s intended purpose, the Mju was fine. Mom’s not a “Photographer”, she just wanted something small and straightforward to use. Lots of family photos and vacation shots later and when it broke, she wanted another but they were not still in production. Can’t remember what her replacement was. Some disc camera, I think.
    I found with most of the cameras like the Mju, that the default of “flash on” was always annoying. I did have an Espio Mini for a while, functionally very similar to the Mju II and, for me, a bit better to hold–the Espio is more rectangular.
    Recently I’ve been using a Canon Sure Shot Multi Tele. That camera is definitely NOT a compact but is fun. Half frame is selectable–not mid roll–and there are some fun possibilities with the date back and the teleconverter attachment.

  • Joe shoots resurrected cameras April 23, 2018 at 9:35 am

    I have a Trip 35 and love it! It’s one of my favorite cameras for all the reasons you’ve stated. Even after 40+ years the meter is still spot-on: I know because I shoot slide film in it! 🙂

  • Francisco Taborda April 23, 2018 at 9:43 am

    I have a Mju II that I don’t use it very often. I load my own film with a bulk loader. That means I can’t just used any film canister because of the DX coding with no over ride. So I end up using my XA2 or my Rollei 35 more. Also, funny enough both of them were cheaper than the Mju.

  • I appreciate that you stuck to fixed focal length for the whole list. I often see people recommend zoom models as alternatives to the mju ii, so it’s cool to see some decent non zoom alternatives. That being said, all the mju zooms I’ve tried were great, especially the 100 wide.

    • Good eye. We definitely wanted to stick to prime lenses. And you’re right, the Olympus Infinity Zoom cameras are just as useful.

  • One camera that is way under the radar, and I think it’s because it came out just as film was fading, is the Rollei QZ35W and QZ35T. (28-60 or 38-90) This was a super premium zoom ‘P&S’ designed by F.A. Porsche for Rollei in about 2003. Completely made of titanium, including the lens cap that doubles as a remote release. Unequaled shutter speed range of 1/8000 sec to 16 sec in auto/program and manual. Full info in the VF which changes it’s magnification depending on zoom setting (like a Contax G2). Awesome three dial interface – shutter speed and focus on the top corners, aperture ring on lens. No menu diving to change modes – just pick which one you turn away from ‘A’ (auto) and that becomes the primary control.

    Of course I just happened to pick one up, and am hoping my gushing for it is validated once I get my first test rolls back today!.
    Oh yeah, in 200-whatever it was $2500! Now you can pick one up if you can find it in an actual auction (not overpriced Buy It Now) for under $500.

  • I want to caution against getting just any P&S. There are gobs of utterly crappy ones out there. Like this erstwhile Nikon: https://blog.jimgrey.net/2014/04/07/nikon-zoom-touch-400/ <– holy wow is this thing awful.

    • Second. A lot of big name cameras had point and shoots manufactured and even designed by inferior companies and just slapped their logos on them.

  • Great read and good alternatives!! Some other examples of compact cameras that aren’t so expensive (ok, no autofocus, but f8 & be there… !) could be the Cosina CX1 (also known as Porst 135) or CX2 (much cheaper than the overpriced Lomo LC-A which is a copy of the CX2), the Chinon Bellami, Vivitar 35EM, the Rollei Rolleimatic (ok this one isn’t easy to find…but what a fantastic little camera!) or the Fuji HD-M (clunky one, “Heavy Duty – Motor”, really good “all weather” camera, great Fujinon lens, water resistant and shock proof… can support a lot of extreme conditions!)

  • Oh, and I forgot the Canon Sureshot A1 (or WP1): looks like a toy, but is waterproof (5 meters depth I think, enough for snorkeling, the beach and fun in the poolpool) has a good autofocus (fixed focus underwater) and the 32/3.5 lens renders some really good results! Used it a lot a few years ago… some samples here: https://www.lomography.com/homes/vicuna/cameras/3327301-canon-sureshot-a1/photos

  • William Sommerwerck April 23, 2018 at 12:35 pm

    I highly recommend the XA cameras. I can’t speak to lens quality, but the Rollei 35 (which started the modern trend toward pocketable 35mm cameras) is, compared to the XA, an ergonomic disaster, a Frankencamera devoid of any sense or utility. By the time you open the Rollei 35 and get it ready for the first shot, you could have taken a half-dozen on the XA. Maybe more.

    The XA1 can take pictures under bright fluorescent light without a flash. And the XA4 focuses down to 1′. There’s an optional mirror that deflects the light from an A11 flash onto the subject. It’s the most-versatile of the XA series.

    The Infinity Stylus Zoom 80 Wide DLX (yes, really) has an agreeably wide 28-80mm lens, an integral flash, and just about every feature one could want in a pocket 35mm camera, but its autofocus can be annoyingly slow.

    The Minox 35mm cameras are worth considering, but there’s such a variety that you need to look carefully before buying.

    • The problem with the Minox 35 and ML series cameras is they are so unreliable. Just because the shutter may click, doesn’t mean they actually exposed the film.

  • Speaking of trendy/pricey cameras, I’m curious to get your take on the yashica T series at the price, specifically the 4 and 4 Super/5

  • vintagefilmhacker April 23, 2018 at 1:29 pm

    Nice write up, and a very overdue topic. The prices that folks are willing to shell out for mjus and T series point and shoots always reminds me of the Emperor’s New Clothes story.

    One little known model I’d add is the Mamiya M. It looks and behaves much like the Nikon AF35 – focus distance icons, prefocusing, and a nice fast 2.8 lens combined with shutter speeds down to 1/15!

  • Clearly you drank too much, because there’s no “e” in Scotch whisky! 😉

  • I was expecting at least a top 10 alternatives point & shoots but alas no as you mention a leica rangefinder camera. Not one mention of some of the gems from the Pentax Espio range, which was disappointing. I suggest the writer strays a little away from the usual suspects in a revised article.

    • Well, to be fair I did list a total of fifteen point-and-shoot cameras in this article. Some are directly comparable to the Mju, some are directly comparable to the Mju II, and others are included because the images made by them will be indistinguishable from those made by the trendy cameras. I included the Leica M to really drive home the absurdity of a point-and-shoot camera selling for $1,500.

  • Hell I have a Canon Sure Shot that I got for $4 that takes pretty good photos for what it is. I know someone who wants to get into photography and was thinking about buying a Contax & I had to explain to him how it really was not worth the price at all.

  • The Olympus XA line is wonderful and in some ways superior to the later Stylus Epic or Mju line, since the XAs offer more manual control. However, my personal experience, as well as that of others on various forums, is that they are prone to shutter problems and are just too old to be reliable. I recently ordered an XA2 and the shutter failed after two rolls of film. Fortunately, I was able to return it for a full refund. These cameras are now 30+ years old and are not repairable. My best luck with vintage compacts has been with the Rollei 35, probably because they have mechanical shutters.

    • That’s seriously one of the main reasons I never recommend people buying these old point and shoots for so much money. These cameras are old & alot of them were not made to last. Once they stop working that’s it, and now you have a paper weight you bought for hundreds of dollars.

  • I have the Mju II, the Canon AF35M, and the Nikon L35AF. I really do love the photos from the Mju and because it’s the smallest of my P&S, I tend to carry with me more than any other camera. But man, that Canon Autoboy has given me some gems! One of my all-time favorite portraits was shot on that camera with Fomapan 400. Great write up James.

  • As an owner of a 35RC and a Trip, and never having suffered a problem with them, not having even a touch of GAS, the prices of some cameras astound me. Great article.

  • Well, I have three things to say.
    First and the most important, I already imagine some “well-known” people from certain websites reading this post and thinking “oh look at how many more point-and-shoot cameras we can glorify!”
    Second, I remember Olympus store in my country when I was a teenager. There were Mjus, Mju zooms and XAs, but since I’m from Post-Soviet country and all of our people were well-trained on “Glorious Soviet Steel”, most of us never considered buying those plastic things which we called “soap holders”.
    And Third: I should be a total moron to buy something at such ridiculous price, while I can simply use my Oly OM4 with 28 mm lens in aperture priority mode. And did I mention it’s the only lens I actually enjoy using in zone focus mode? It takes less than 90 degrees to go from MFD to infinity! So no, thanks 🙂

  • I had an Mju and I hit a time in my life when I thought I would go 100% digital and, can you believe, I tossed it in an electronics recycling bin? Fast forward 15 years: I’ve mostly re-embraced film and I still pinch myself for foolishly tossing aside the Mju. When I want to shoot with something compact these days, my camera of choice is a Yashica Electro CCN. Not exactly point & shoot, but it’s tiny and gets the job done.

  • hi, i use a olympus af-1 (1986) i’m not sure but belive it’s the same lens and it’s also weather sealed like the mju, do you know some more about this p&s ?
    i pay it 1Euro on a flee market in Brussels (i live there) thank you

  • leicalibrararian May 1, 2018 at 6:07 am

    The Minox 35GT was a very popular camera in France and I would guess that a number of the original owners are now pushing up the daisies. There wives will be clearing out their cupboards and selling off what they regard as junk. There have been two sold on eBay France in the last week or so for less than €10. Remember at the time they were made, Minox was owned by Leica, and unlike many of their owner’s compacts and sub-compacts, the most of the Minox cameras and lenses were made in Germany. Many of the Leica compacts were made for them by Minolta in Japan, although the lens elements were sometimes made in Germany.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is the founder of CP. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic cameras and the most advanced digital machines. In addition to his work on CP, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio