All of a sudden it became an obsession. Well, it was essentially a practical solution. I needed a smaller SLR. And why not the half-frame one? I was used to the format from the Canon Demi and my digital Fujifilm X-Pro1 half-frame sensor camera.
The first impression is of course the heaviness. It's all metal plus a large glass prism in the middle. I mean it's not super heavy but more so than an Olympus Trip or other fixed lens rangefinder cameras of the same size. And - like with stereo equipment - the heavier the higher the quality.
I bought the body only. My intention was to use my M42 mount lenses which I already have for two full frame SLR:s. The adapter to fit the lenses actually cost half of what I paid for the camera body since there are only 1960s ones around (that aren't super bulky). But it is a blessing to be able to use all those intriguing lenses on my favorite cameras.
Since I can't help tinkering with leftover stuff I now have two Pen F mount lenses as well. They were rescued from deceased fixed lens compact cameras and merged with Pen mounts.
What I'm actually saying is I don't have any experience of using original Olympus Pen F lenses. This is my impressions of using the camera body only.
Single Lens Reflex (SLR)
I don't have a problem using rangefinder (or even viewfinder) cameras in the regard that I accept that I don't see "what the camera sees." I did have that issue for my first decade and a half as a photographer: In my mind SLR:s were the only way to photograph. Today alternating between the two types is seamless for me.
The Pen F has a unique reflex system which is explained extensively elsewhere so I won't touch on that. What I can say is that the shutter is not quiet. It is quite a large sound for such a small camera. But it's not on par with the Chinon or Nikon F 'clacks.'
The fact that the F is so small is truly liberating! The Pen F format's inherent quality is what it shares with the Leicas and other rangefinder systems - small size combined with the choice of lens. No other SLR can compete with that. And that's truly the unique selling point of this camera.
My F is the two stroke film advance version. I've now grown accustomed to the two strokes but it took me a while. (Actually it's two strokes and then a little nudge on my camera.) I did have some irritated moments when I missed opportunities because I hadn't advanced the film properly.
The recessed position of the shutter button is really ingenious. It means that you can advance the film after each exposure and not risk having the shutter going off when the camera is in your bag.
The shutter is controlled with the wheel situated on the front of the camera. Most SLR:s and high-end rangefinder cameras have the shutter control wheels on the top of the camera. This one offers shutter speeds from Bulb mode to 1/500th of a second.
There is no ASA/ISO indicator on the camera.
And that's it. Shutter speed + film advance. 'Nuff said.
Exposure and lenses
What can I say. It's bare bone photography. You start with light metering. Then set the shutter and aperture. And: Expose! 'K-schkk!'
The Pen F system contains a large number of lenses. Since I don't have experience using any of them you can find extensive info elsewhere. I you take into account adapters where you can affix lenses from other camera systems the options are infinite. That is - if adapters have been manufactured. In my research I've discovered adapters for Canon EOS, older Nikon, M42 screw mount, Canon FD and Olympus OM lenses. If you are overly curious like me you can make your own lenses with Pen F mounts using parts from adapters. My two mods for my F camera are made from a Lomo Smena camera paired with a Pen F mount from a microscope adapter and from a Voigtländer Vitessa 500 AE with a mount from a Pen F to Nikon adapter, respectively. You can read about the mods on my blog tobbetecknare.blogspot.se.
I have to say that the finder isn't super bright and it is sometimes a bit tricky to nail the focus spot on. That said, my impression may depend on me using a number of lenses and not yet having stuck to a favorite one which I've gotten used to handling.
Again - the small size. The body is of similar size as those of the Olympus Pen EM or EED half frame cameras. And with a small original 38 mm lens or a modded one from a compact camera attached to it the F is entirely comparable with them.
The grip is very good. I don't have particularly small hands but I would suspect that those of the readers with bigger hands would have trouble with the handling. The weight of the camera gives it a stability (some lenses attached double the weight) - it is not flimsy feeling at all.
The shutter control could in theory be controlled with your index finger. But I think it's designed to be moved using both thumb and index finger. The Leica CL control (also positioned on the front of the body) is much easier to move with one finger. But then again the one on my Chinonflex has to be moved with both fingers. What matters is that after a while you get used to your camera you learn where everything is situated and don't have to lift your eye from the viewfinder to make adjustments to exposure controls, be it with one or two fingers.
Love. I love using my Pen F. The bare bones functions and the 72 pictures per roll are right up my alley when it comes to my philosophy concerning photography: I control the parameters of the exposure and I have a lot of chances to compose the pictures that speak to me.
If you are interested in purchasing an Olympus Pen F please use this eBay link to help support HFC
Background and first impressions
This camera sure looks like a child of its times, designed in strict graphic patterns but rounded off by soft curved lines. It was released in 1965, one sibling in the Demi family of cameras. But it was an odd bird there, and in the world of compact cameras as a whole.
The singular reason for the camera being an exception is the fact that you can use two lenses. One is a 28 mm f:2.8 - which since this is a half-frame camera equals a 42 mm image as projected on a full frame film - and one a 50 mm f:2.8 (≈75 mm). Having the option to switch between lenses on a very compact half-frame camera was unique - not like today.
I felt that this camera would be great for me, particularly since I had grown tired of lugging a heavy camera with a large lens when I wanted to take tele pictures. The Demi C 'tele 75 mm' lens surely is small. Hence, since my interest in this camera was to use the tele, this review is mainly based on my using it with the 50 mm lens.
Some would argue that 75 mm isn't a tele lens but a 'portrait' lens. I'm fine with that. The way I use it is to narrow down/minimize the image more than my usual compact cameras 50 or 45 mm lenses do.
The viewfinder is surprisingly bright and large with the 42 mm picture filling the finder while the 75 mm picture size is articulated with a grey square in the middle. The frame is positioned standing in vertical "portrait", like in most half frame cameras.
Focus, aperture and shutter
Unfortunately the Demi C is not equipped with a rangefinder, so focusing is done depending on the photographer's preferences. The focus ring shows the distance in meters and feet. It is important to not confuse the marking indicating the focus distance with the one marking shutter time. I added my own reminder with a sharpie pen.
There are no aperture blades placed in the detachable lenses, like in all other non-bellow cameras that I know of. Instead shutter and aperture blades are placed in the camera body, where the lens is mounted. This is because of the rather original exposure control of the camera.
You can manually set the aperture with a control on the underside of the lens housing. The exposure will be automatically set to 1/30th of a second. This is the camera's flash mode - similar to how it works on lots of other cameras. This aperture scale is also a visual aid when in shutter speed priority mode you turn the exposure control ring between 1/30th and 1/250th of a second.
The camera has a special system. Based on which shutter speed you choose when you turn the exposure control ring (1/30th to 1/250th of a second) the exposure system adjusts the aperture accordingly. To set exposure "correctly" you align the exposure control needle of the light meter display - placed on the top of the camera - to the one of the light meter by turning this ring.
There is the very common manual override option as well: Set exposure to B (bulb) mode and choose the aperture of your choice by moving the peg on the underside of the lens.
I would say that the 50 mm lens is as good as any - if not better - compact camera lenses. I always compare to Olympus XA and RC which are outstanding lenses for such small cameras. And the 50 mm Demi C lens is not far behind, considering its half-frame projection size.
The 28 mm Demi C lens hasn't been used on the camera. However I've used it on my digital Fujifilm X-Pro1 after some modding to make it fit a M39 adapter. The pictures are as good as you'd expect from an experiment as this. Focus is good, apart from being off at the edges - an effect occurring in this situation but not when used as intended, from what I gather from other users. Also on the X-Pro the lens is fully open since the aperture blades are situated in the Demi C body.
The camera is small; the shutter is very silent (and there is a nice ringing tone emanating from some spring inside); the lens with the big glass appears to strangers to be a wide angle but is the opposite; it fits in a coat pocket (the lens protrudes 3 centimeters from the body - how's that for a tele lens!).
So - size, appearance, framing are great. But there are annoying things. And they are design related.
First: The focus ring, at least on my specimen, is too loose. So, when taking pictures using zone focusing one still always has to keep an eye on the focus setting since it slowly glides out of place.
Second: The ASA setting ring is aligned to the shutter speed control ring. But when turning the shutter speed ring the ASA ring most often has more resistance and "clicks" out of place. Yes, I've tried lubing it, to no avail. So the solution is to use electrical tape to keep the rings in sync. Not very pretty.
Third: As there are no strap lugs on the Demi C it has to be carried upside down on a strap screwed on to the tripod mount. Or you need to come up with your own solution. I use a halfcase which I got from a Smena 8 camera, if I remember correctly.
It's great to have a very compact interchangeable lens camera. Later compacts would of course feature motor zooms, but where's the sport in that? Well, at least for me this is the perfect tele photo kit even though the exposure system is a bit too 'automatic' for my overly analog tastes. But I can live with that when the resulting pictures are as nice as this.
Thanks for reading!
Visit my camera shop at Etsy https://www.etsy.com/se-en/shop/getOurBooks/
and my blog at tobbetecknare.blogspot.se
and @flashknappen at Instagram
Why Olympus Pen?
Yoshihia Maitani. If you have never heard of him, do a google search. This guy was a badass camera designer who helped Olympus make some of the best 35mm cameras ever. He was particularly adept at designing compact, functional cameras that were very reliable like the OM series, the XA series and of course many of the Pens.
Ubiquity. These cameras were produced in huge numbers during the 60’s and 70’s and as a result are relatively easy to find today. A quick eBay search can yield hundreds of Olympus Pens for under $100.
Durability. The above point is bolstered by the fact that many of these cameras still work perfectly. Sure I’ve had a few faulty PENs but the majority work great even though they are over 50 years old. Better still the all manual models and the ones which use selenium meters don't need batteries making them even more reliable.
List of Olympus PEN Half Frame Cameras
Full Manual Control
Full Auto (Electric Eyes)
Pen EE2- I always have it with me.
This camera is a point and shoot, fully automatic beauty with a selenium meter and 28mm/f3.5 fixed focal length. EE stood for “ Electric Eye” and this second model has only two shutter speeds 1/40 and 1/200 . You set the ISO from 25-400, point it something at least 6 ft away and click away. There is also a red flag exposure system which prevents you from taking a picture in insufficient light. The later Pen EE3 is the exact same and the EEF includes a flash. This sparse feature set may seem a bit limiting but once you get used to it, it’s actually quite liberating. You can spend your time focusing on composition and getting the best shot rather than fiddling with different setting while the action passes you by. This camera really lends itself to documentary, travel and landscape photography. In addition the simplicity and speed of use makes multi shot composition (diptychs, sequences, etc) a breeze. This camera also fits in a pocket making it a take anywhere option for me. There are a couple of hacks I’ve used over the years to get even more control out of this cameras. First is using the ISO setting as an exposure compensation. If you start at ISO 100 you have two full stops of exposure compensation available to use when, and this comes in very handy when shooting backlit scenes or you are looking for a certain aesthetic. Another trick is to manually set the aperture to 3.5 which fixes the shutter speed at 1/40 and shoots with the smallest aperture possible. This comes in handy when you want to shoot in low light and the red flag won’t let you shoot. The Trip 35 has the same feature and you can read all about it (see link at bottom of page).
Pen EES 2 - More versatile, but more fickle
This camera is almost the exact same as the EE 2 above but it has two differences. 1) The widest aperture is f2.8, for some this is insignificant but for others who like to shoot in low light this is huge. 2) Because of the faster lens, the camera has the addition of a 3 zone focus system similar to a Olympus XA2. For some this is a hassle (because they forget to adjust the focus zone before shooting :) but for others this gives you a bit more flexibility when shooting at close distances or great distances. I really loved my EES 2 but I dropped it and the zone focus system kinda stopped working and all my shots went blurry. In comparison I’ve dropped the EE2 a few times and everything still works. I’m using the older EES now in its place, which is the same camera with a max ISO setting of 200, which mostly doesn't bother me, except when it does ;)
Pen S- All manual, maximum control
This camera is even more compact than the Electric Eye cameras because there is no meter to worry about. The 30mm/2.8 lens is really nice and has a really swell feel to it. The camera offers full manual controls with shutter speeds of B, 8, 15, 30, 60, 125 and 250, distance focusing with a couple premarked sweet spots at 2m, 5m and Infinity. This is essentially a precursor to the zone focus system employed in later models. If you can shoot Sunny 16, this camera is great. As I mentioned above it’s more compact than any of the EE series and since the lens is near flush with the body, its fits in a pocket with minimal fuss. Most of the time when I shoot with this camera I load it with some 400 speed film, set focus to 5m, aperture to 16, shutter speed to 200 and shoot. The fully manual controls allows some more creative stuff too and I spent a bit of time pushing film to 1600 with good (yet very grainy results) There is a lot to like about this camera and I believe that spending any amount of time shooting full manual makes you a better photographer over time.
Pen F- ½ frame SLR
I really wanted to like this camera. It’s so beautiful and the ability to actually focus thru the lens is unique to half frame cameras, but it’s heavy, really heavy. When I first picked one up I was flabbergasted by it’s weight. (Colonel Mustard in the atrium with the Pen F!) I may be exaggerating a bit but there are several full frame 35mm cameras (Olympus OM1,2… or Pentax ME,MX…) which are just as small and weigh 50-100 grams less. The FT features a built in TTL meter but adds even more bulk to the package. That being said if you really want to shoot a half frame SLR, this is what you want to shoot. And if portraits are your thing, this would be a great camera to shoot them in mass. Viewfinder setup for vertical composition, ability to focus exactly on subject and control depth of field is pretty nice plus that whole 72 shot thing allows you to burn thru some film to make sure you get the shots you want. If I was going to make a book of portraits or catalog specific objects like antiques, art, plants, animals, etc. this camera would be a compelling choice.
Original Pen- Original Gangsta
Essentially the exact the same as the Pen S but a slightly slower lens and different shutter speeds ( B, 25, 50 100, 200) . I like this camera a lot, I would just rather have the S for the faster lens, which I also believe to be better for no immediately discernible reason. Also this camera crapped out after 3 rolls of film when the winding mechanism just gave up and lacked the oomph to advance film any further. But if I found a working one for less than $50, I would be on it like white on rice.
I believed this camera would be my half frame holy grail with its fast 30/1.7 lens, built in manual metering and abundance of focusing options. Alas, it was not to be and all these features ended up being hindrances. Why? Faster lense with metering means significantly less pocketability, in fact my Olympus 35 RC ( look it up) is smaller. Also the meter is an Old CdS meter which requires an old mercury battery which is rare, illegal and toxic. Lastly the enhanced focus options would be wonderful with a rangefinder, but this camera functions just like the Pen/Pen S/Pen W and require the use to know how far the object is away from the lense or to rely on the preset zones like the Pen EES. This pen was just too complicated for what it was and I ended up going back to my EES 2 after one roll.
I believe @arbitrarium said it best when he said “ I like automation on a half frame, suits the snapshot style they were made for”
Pen W - Wide angle rarity
I really want to shoot with a Pen W. They are rare and thus $$$ but I believe the wider angle lens 25mm would be fun to experiment with, adding a bit more functionality to landscape and documentary work. They also only come in black, which I suppose adds to the allure. But at the end of the day, this is probably more a symptom of an underlying GAS problem. The Pen S offers the exact same feature set with a 30mm lens, what is an extra 5mm worth to you???
Design my own camera- Pie in the Sky
If I could design a half frame camera today it would be really simple. An EES 2 with the addition of 1/500 shutter speed so you could shoot a bit faster film and guarantee the greatest depth of field. I would also adjust the lense to a 28mm/f2 to give it a bit wider angle and more low light capability. Lastly, I would add aperture priority mode because that's my preferred method of exposure all things being equal. Until then I will continue to carry my EE2 with me everywhere and bring my EE.S when I anticipate lower light and the need for greater control of focusing distance loaded with a few of my favorite half frame films like Portra or Acros ( another article in the works)
This article is not intended to be a full review of all the models but rather a quick overview of my favorites and my experiences using many of the above cameras. Your experiences may vary :)
If you are interested in purchasing an Olympus Pen Half Frame Camera please use this eBay link to help support HFC
Half Frame Camera Experiences...Shooting Half-Frame cameras can and will be pretty rewarding if you give them a chance.
Shooting half-frame cameras has been very convenient for me. I have learned to take the disadvantages and make them a plus. Knowing the capabilities of the camera, using the right film, right angles, and targeting a loosely defined audience will make a better experience of it. Once you get those, The advantages are truly amazing.
One particular disadvantage the format seems to have, at least in the old days, when there was little choice when it came to sharing was printing. These days very few of us actually print some of those frames we make. I tend to do mostly single frames. For me, the use of a single frame instead of a diptych, is a little more disadvantageous. One single frame means the picture will be blown up, and the grain will show a lot more. Using the right film can be great help.
My cameras are old. mostly from the 60's. The top speed on my half-frame camera is 1/500. it has no light meter either. I absolutely love it.
Family portrait, Olympus Pen F Gothic, Kentmere iso 100
Having tried iso 400 prior, I came to the conclusion that I was over exposing a lot. With a maximum aperture of f/16 it is also an issue. I had to try to use the lowest iso available. The results? I can handle more my depth of field and shoot in broad daylight without polarizers or neutral density filters. ISO 100 seems to be the best for the format in my opinion.
Lower ISO will mean less grain, generally. so when it comes to making prints, I would say that depending on how close or how far you are from the subject don't bother making too big a print. 8x10 seems to be borderline for a shot that has a primary subject far away.
The picture above was taken at close range, and if you zoom in you will see that the grain gives the vintage look that I like as a photographer. I try to sell that look as much as I can to those who are used to the modern sharp ones. This would make a pretty good 8x10. More room on the wall for more pictures! and if you look at them from eight feet away they look amazing if the contrast is well done.
A Biker zooms past me in a tunnel of trees, making a turn into the unknown
If you shoot landscape or long range subjects and they appear little, they will be hard to distinguish in a large print such as 8x10. I printed this particular one and noted a few things.
This bicyclist was a bit far, and it seems almost to vanish as you zoom in. I was committed to the the shot and took it. The nice thing is that it does bring a sense of adventure while exercising in this particular place. That was my message.
When taking a picture with a half frame camera, in my opinion, you have to know a bit what the image will deliver to an audience. In this case, people will look at the picture and put the pieces together. It is almost as seen on the architect job description in the movie Inception. If the picture appeals to someone, it will look amazing even when it has a few flaws. People will make it perfect in their heads. Quality is relative. I think that there are advantages to delivering a picture that has a few gaps, like quality because of the grain, makes the beholder work a bit. I like to give them a run for their money, because of a few reasons.
I often think that a grainy picture is a good invitation to see the real thing. It is a bit of a teaser. Which is something I actually love. The fact that the modern pictures are so sharp makes you think that you have been there or that you don't have to go. Black and white and grainy images makes the observer interact with the picture at another level.
Castle Mountain, Banff Nal. Park, Alberta, Canada.
Spectacular views become almost too realistic. If you use HDR. Myself, I like the possibility of enticing someone to think a little bit, to use their imagination, to wonder and speculate. This is how I have become more fond of landscape photography using half-frame.
The composition is there, the contrast is there, the grain is there, questions... also there. How blue is the sky? How green are the trees? How rough is the rock? if you want to know, come by.
What I call the right angles, can be taken for composition. Using rules such as the rule of thirds, can be helpful, but in most cases, just having a clear image the has few elements in it can be helpful. This will appeal to photographers in my humble opinion, and people will appreciate the simplicity.
Central Park, NYC. Happy family vs what seems a chalk outline of a body. Some variation of rule of thirds and humor.
If you compose the image well, I think that your craft will be a bit more appreciative. You can use humor to make the image appealing. I am a subtle person, my sense of humor is just like that as well. The following picture has a bit of rule of thirds and humor.
In sum, shooting half frame besides the obvious plus of being cheaper to develop per exposure, can create a good image these days. We don't print all that much anymore, and unless your pictures are viewed in a tablet or or computer monitor of considerable size, the grain is not an issue. Most people use phones to view their pictures and that is just about the optimum size for a half frame camera exposure. With good choice of angle, subject, and film, the downside is negligible, and the level interaction with the print is much higher, which is the goal of any photographer.
Posted by Andres Barillas Photo
The main reason I was attracted to half frame photography was the ability to shoot 72+ shots on a roll of film. For someone on a budget , this is an enormous benefit. You are literally doubling the productivity of a single roll of film and thus halving your costs associated with development and scanning. Now that comes with a drawback of a smaller negative size decreased resolution which may limit one’s ability to make large prints, but for web work and small prints this is minor issue. This decrease in resolution is just another way to say increase in grain. Grain is such a polarizing topic, some people love it, others hate it. Some grains may be more appealing than others, but grain is almost always visible in half frame photography. I found that using modern films like Acros or Portra can minimize it’s effect, but there is no escaping it. I’ve also found using traditional emulsions like HP5 or Tri-X can yield some beautiful grainy images that would be difficult to duplicate in full frame 35mm film without push processing.
Another reason I found half frame photography so appealing was that I loved shooting vertical and (most) half frame cameras have a vertical viewfinder. The ratio is also a 3:4 ratio which makes more appealing vertical composition than the 2:3 ratio of standard 35mm photography. Coincidentally, half frame cameras share this vertical ratio with many medium format cameras which produce a negative 4.5cmx 6cm in size. Not so coincidentally, the majority of print media is vertically oriented and with the increase of media delivery on mobile phone platforms, the vertical composition will likely overtake horizontal in the near future (wait they’ve been saying that forever)
The vertical composition, paired with the ability to take 72 shots on a roll of film really make it easy for half frame shooters to do diptychs, triptychs, panoramic sequences and photo collages. For me this was a huge draw. Diptychs and triptychs allow some real creative freedom and make it easier for me to tell a story. I also love panoramic landscapes or shooting a scene from several angles and stitching them together to make an altered reality. I always felt too stifled by a traditional 35mm camera when attempting projects like this, but with the half frame, not so much.
Speaking of landscapes, another side effect of the smaller negative is an increased depth of field. f/8 behaves much more like something between f/11 and f/16. People who are looking for blurry backgrounds will be disappointed but those looking for everything to be in focus will be really happy.
Most half frame cameras are also quite compact. Not everyone cares about size, but for me it’s paramount. I shoot all the time and I like to keep a camera in a pocket or in my hand. I can't stand wearing a neck strap and I don’t like carrying a camera bag around everywhere I go. Super cliche mottos like “ the best camera is the one in your hand” or “f/8 and be there” sound redundant after awhile but in the end they are true.
Dan Marinelli - Founder