November 5, 2010

shooting with the olympus pen ee for a day


I try to get the most out of my film, literally. When I load a camera, I pull out as little leader as possible in an attempt to eek out 42 pictures from a “36-shot” roll. So when I saw that the Levi’s Workshop was loaning out an Olympus Pen EE — a camera that turns 36-shot rolls into 72-shot rolls — I knew I had to take it out for a test.

The Pen EE is an early model from the Olympus Pen series of half-frame cameras, which are exactly what their name implies. Each image taken with the Pen EE is 18x24mm (half the size of a frame on a roll of 35mm film) allowing for double the number of images per roll.

I borrowed the camera Saturday night. Levi’s loans out the cameras for 24-hour periods, so I had to shoot 72 exposures before closing time on Sunday. I thought it would be a challenge for me to fire off so many shots, but the Pen EE is such an incredibly efficient camera that it was a breeze.

It has a fixed lens, a fixed focus, a fixed shutter speed, and a selenium cell around the lens for automatic aperture adjustment. Really, all I had to do was point and shoot!
I was worried that the selenium meter might be off or not work at all — quick googling shows Olympus produced the Pen EE from 1961-1966 and these things only last so long — but the results show that after over forty years the meter is still reliable!

For the most part, the shots were evenly exposed, even in some pretty tricky lighting situations. There’s an internal mechanism that prevents the shutter from firing when there’s not enough light, so I didn’t have to stress underexposure. I also didn’t need to spend time focusing. Since I wasn’t exactly how far the minimum focusing distance was, I only shot subjects that were more than a few feet away. Everything turned out to be in focus!

The Pen EE is very small and weighs nothing. I had it dangling from my wrist by the strap and wore it like a bracelet for most of the day. Other times, I stowed it in my pocket.

Because the frames are split down the middle, holding the camera normally produces vertical images. That’s actually a really cool quirk that really challenged me to seek out vertical compositions (though turning the camera vertical gets horizontals).

The half-frames produce ready-made diptychs — which was also a lot of fun. It got me thinking about taking back-to-back shots that look good next to each other.

Considering that the Pen EE’s negatives are half the size of normal 35mm images, this isn’t a camera I’d use if I was planning on making large prints. But it’s awesome for small prints and Flickr-ing, and bringing along on photo safaris.

It’s a totally fun camera!


  1. This is totally awesome! Thanks for sharing -- what a neat little camera, and such lovely diptychs. :)

  2. Thanks for this! I was looking for a new(yet old) camera to have some fun with, and this sold me. Managed to pick one up for $25 in NZ so looking forward to trying it out!


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