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Bikepacking in the old Blue Mountains with a classic film camera in tow

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The elderly Olympus Mju II becomes something Nju for an extraordinary bikepacking excursion into Australia’s Blue Mountains.

A couple of weeks ago, along with two friends, I spent three days bikepacking on mountain bikes in the glorious Blue Mountains west of Sydney. We rode 230 km, mostly on dirt roads and trails, and climbed a total of 3,533 metres. And I chose an extraordinary and much-sought-after mini film camera as the best tool to record the adventure.

We were a self-contained unity, carrying changes of clothing, tents, sleeping bags, cooking utensils, stove and all our food. We topped up with water from town supplies and from streams along the way. Carrying enough water is always a major issue if you are backpacking or bikepacking. Currently, there is plenty of water in the streams in the area which can be drunk after filtering, but that’s not always the case.

The trip was a great success and the three of us are already looking at routes for our next long ride. The weather was ideal for the trip but it would not be feasible in high summer—just too hot—and it could be too cold in winter.

To record the trip, I used an Olympus Mju II which I last used in 2006. It entered an early retirement in that year when I went digital. The camera had laid unused in a box for 14 years, with an unprocessed film inside it. Sadly the shots on that film were junk when processed so no unexpected delights there. I had high hopes but…

The Olympus Mju II, which was launched in 1997, was a very popular camera in its day. And going by the prices on eBay it is currently enjoying a cult following. This is a full-frame, point and shoot, 35 mm film camera with a good 35 mm f/2.8 lens in a very compact body.

The Mju fits easily into a pocket and, when shut, it is dust-proof—a major consideration on a mountain bike ride. There is no digital equivalent to the Mju II today. That category of compact point-and-shoot camera has vanished from the market, displaced by smartphones.

I loaded the Olympus with the excellent Kodak Portra 160 negative film for the trip. The results are not at all bad by my reckoning and it’s not difficult to see why the Olympus is so well regarded even today.

8 COMMENTS

  1. I can’t even remember whether I still have mine (I or II) hidden away somewhere! Dust-proof as it was/is you don’t even have to manoeuver it out of a bag – a real point and shoot! Thank you for starting a hunt!

    • And it is found! – a mju 1. So now to load. Shall I use colour or shall I use black and white? I’ve never tried Kodak Portra.

  2. Lovely photos, Toby. Portra 160 is my favourite colour negative film and I was already admiring the colours long before I came to the end. An Olympus Mju II would be a veritable youth in my collection, of course.

    William

  3. This is an great article Toby, the thought of getting out in the open, camping, and just enjoying nature again seems like a long distant memory. Here I sit in restriction city – although beyond the window it doesn’t look that restricted to me – but. I just wish I could get into Yorkshire, the Lakes or somewhere similar, and see a bit more of the world, alas I am sure we will get there again, but it seems a way off yet.

    I look forward to seeing what other adventures you get up too with that little gem.

  4. A great article and lovely photos you pulled out of the camera. I still have my mju ii silver version but has notused it since I went digital. Which scan did you use for your negatives? You’ve talked me into using it again and welcome to the Macfilos community

  5. I live in Buffalo NY and spent a 1/2 year in Sydney when I was 20. I did a 5 day mountain bike group tour in the Blue Mountains, supported and guided, in Spring 1988. It was one of the first trips organized by a local company there. I don’t recall the guides’ names. I had no camera, not a single photo as a momento for a very memorable trip. Your images brought additional memories. I recall an epic crash caused by a water channel crossing the road, a ghost town with an inn for tourists, a short flight in that area which revealed feral cows and pigs, lots of rain, snakes crossing the road (we were told they were deadly), lots of koalas and kangaroos, tent camping and camp food.

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