Half Frame Frenzy – Part 2 Featuring The Olympus PEN-EE S

Spoiler Alert! This post has a sad ending!

I went looking for an Olympus Pen EE S following an idea which involved experimenting with better quality half-frame cameras and higher quality film stock that has become available in recent years. I was aware that the half-frame format was originally intended for the mass market where prints were rarely wanted larger than 6″ x 4″ or 7″ x 5″ at most. Nowadays, this market has been superseded by the digital explosion and social media. In addition, I would argue that recent software developments mean that images can be resized with little effect on quality.

I have previously mentioned that I had a Chaika 2 half-frame camera. That was a fun introduction to this format but I felt that I wanted to further experiment with a somewhat more sophisticated camera. Enter the Olympus PEN-EE S!

Olympus PEN-EE S
The Olympus Pen EE S was launched in 1962 and is a variant of the Pen E-series cameras. As with the Fujica Half which I reviewed in my previous post, the 18 x 24mm images are captured orientated vertically, in portrait format. It is fitted with a 3-zone focus 4-element D.Zuiko 30mm F2.8 lens and comes with two shutter speeds – 1/40 and 1/200 seconds. ISO speeds can be set from ISO 10 to 200.

This is a very solid little camera and is well made. It is pretty much all metal and has very clean lines. It is fitted with a selenium cell exposure meter and is entirely mechanical. The exposure meter is housed around the lens. The outer edge of the meter accepts 43.5mm filters which is useful if one wants to automatically compensate exposure settings. In addition it is possible to fit 22.5mm filters to the rim of the lens. This is the same size as for the Fujica Half, which is useful if as I do, you own both!

Focusing is achieved by rotating a ring around the lens housing and selecting one of three symbols representing portrait (approx. 1.4 metres), group (approx. 3 metres) or landscape (approx. 15 metres to infinity).

Loading the film is done by first rotating the lock on the bottom of the camera which allows the entire back to be removed. The cassette is installed on the left and the leader is passed over the back and fitted into the slot in the take-up spool. From there, the back is slid back into place and the lock rotated before advancing the film. Film advance is achieved by rotating a wheel on the back of the camera

On the base of the lens mount is the film ISO speed dial which ranges from ISO10 – 200, which sets the camera for auto-exposure metering. Some might consider this range somewhat limiting. On the opposite side of this dial are the aperture settings which are selected if the camera is used with a compatible flash.

Some might consider that the omission of any form of accessory shoe an issue. However, using a flash on the camera can be achieved by mounting the flash on an optional cold-shoe bracket that fits over the camera back and secured at the tripod socket. I do not possess this accessory and cannot comment other than to say that such a device exists!

Using the Olympus PEN-EE S
Having loaded and advanced the film to the first frame, the user simply sets the focusing ring; frames the shot and gently depresses the shutter. This is where it gets interesting!

I found that the shutter release felt very ‘spongy’ and had a long travel. To be honest, if it were not for the fact that I tend to keep my fingernails longer than perhaps I should, I actually wonder whether I would have succeeded in depressing the shutter!

When the shutter is depressed, a red flag will appear in the viewfinder if lighting conditions are too dull or too bright. In these circumstances, the manual advises moving the subject to another position. – a tad difficult if the subject is a landscape!

In my PEN-EE S, this red flag appears to various levels whatever the lighting conditions. However, it did allow me to take the shot. To be honest, the results were pretty dire! Things might have been better if I had used a film stock with more latitude that the length of bulk Fomapan 100 that I used. To be honest, with the current cost of film, I am reluctant to try. I may try again but only shoot a few frames before cutting the film in the darkroom and using the remainder elsewhere. To say that I am unhappy with the results is an understatement.

In conclusion, I think that it is fair to say that the Olympus Pen EE S has proven to be a less than remarkable addition to my photography gear. I suspect that were I to obtain a better example, I would be more impressed.

Its solid construction and clean lines should have made it a pleasure to handle, while the 3-zone focus lens should have ensured sharp and detailed images. Sadly, this was not my experience. Some may find the limited ISO range and absence of an accessory shoe to be drawbacks.

Having said all that, I eagerly anticipate the continued exploration of this format and and have something that I consider rather special on the way to me from Japan, as I write this review. Watch this space!

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