Never wishing to be seen to stand idly by while the competition innovates, Olympus is always looking for ways to develop its record-breaking Mju cameras. Last time the sacrosanct design was refined brought about a format evolution, from film to digital. This time it's a ‘streamlining n' downsizing'exercise, to offer more camera in less body, giving Olympus the perfect product to challenge Casio's Exilim and Canons Ixus I ultra-compacts.
The body of the Mju-mini is a 5mm shorter, in length, and 50g lighter than Mju 400 digital, measuring only 95mmx55.5mmx27.5mm and weighing 115g. Frontage is a specially bent single piece of lightweight aluminium with reverse panel and battery door made of colour matched plastic. To maximize fashionista appeal, and learning from Canon's Ixus i, Olympus have made 6 different colours, Jewellery Silver, Pure White, Cosmic Black, Crystal Blue, Velvet Red, Copper Orange!
Gone is the awkward manual lens cover that had to be operated by hand to activate the camera, replaced by a automatic slide n' lock system more reminiscent of a Casio or Canon. The shape of the body also reflects a dramatic departure standard Mju design. A forwards / backwards knurled jog-wheel has been mounted on the top of the body, next to the shutter release, to allow selection of the camera, video or playback modes. The shutter release has been given a curved surface and is possible too close to the power switch for safe operation at speed. The 4-way menu pad on the reverse, with the select button in the centre, has had it's profiled reduced, making it nearly flush with the cameras body, to the right of the viewing screen. The 'Quickview' on the left of the screen though, this has been reduced so much it's now a little tricky to operate. A rubber water-resistant seal has been placed around the lip of the battery door and the Mju-mini claims to be "all weather", but if you want the camera to carry on working, I'd avoid excessive exposure to harsh environments. An interesting optional extra, again borrowing heavily from the Ixus i and the Mju 400, is the waterproof case, CWPC-01, that will keep the camera working down to token three meters.
The new model boasts an impressive 4 Megapixels resolution and a 1.8in, high contrast, TFT sunshine viewing screen on the reverse. Stills are stored as JPEG files with resolution options ranging from SHQ 2272x1704 pixels down to SQ2 640x480 pixels. Video is Quicktime JPEG and the sound, be it video soundtrack or audio notes with still images, is WAVE. The micro-flash has plenty of ‘welly' and can throw photons out over 2.8m, giving the image good broad coverage, in reasonable situations. The recycle time of the flash is around 5 seconds, acceptable for the size of the battery. The flash can be a little overbearing though. Some images showed signs of flare points, but only when viewed on the camera. A point to note with all small-bodied cameras is that fingers have a tendency to get in the way of sensors, leading to inaccurate reading. Activation time has been enhanced, with the camera being shot-ready, from power off, in about 1sec.The 2x optical zoom, made up of 5 lenses arranged in 3 groups, has an optional 4x digital booster, and optical side alone is equivalent to 35-70mm on a 35mm camera. The auto focus is still a little sluggish, a reoccurring feature in Olympus cameras I have tested and all you can do is refocus and wait for the green indicator to lock on, but it can be infuriating.
The look of the menus has been refined to make the graphics smoother. Basic functions are as we remember them but as with the overall size of the camera these have also been pared down. The manual functions offer flexible necessity rather than broad creativity, while the number of embedded preset modes is now 13. New modes include candles, fireworks and objects behind glass. White balance and ISO can be altered manually but the Mju-mini is really designed from snapping in optimum conditions.
Overall the Mju-mini is a pocket full of dynamite. The design looks great and Olympus fans will be delighted by the familiarity of the controls and functions. It's nice to see Olympus getting the bit between their teeth again and developing their mainstay products in intelligent new directions.