5 frames with...

5 frames with the original Olympus Pen – by Graham Spinks

January 2, 2022

The original Olympus Pen is a design icon.  It is small, elegant, lovely to hold and shoot and has a fantastic 28mm lens.  It is an early masterpiece from the designer Maitani Yoshihisa who was later to create other revolutionary camera designs including the OM-1 and the XA.  When the Pen was released in Japan in 1959 it was an instant success and paved the way for the development of a series of half-frame Pen variants during the 1960s and beyond. 

The original Pen weighs only 350 grams, fits neatly in your pocket and takes 72 wonderfully crisp half-frame images on a roll of 36 exposure film.  

Part of Maitani’s design philosophy was that ‘the lens is the soul of the camera’ and this 28mm f/3.5 D-Zuiko lens will certainly not disappoint.  It was acknowledged to be fantastic value in a camera with a price tag of only ¥6,000 when it was released.  And if you buy one today you can still expect a bargain.  I bought mine a few weeks ago on eBay for only £35 plus postage.  It’s my new best friend.

The Pen doesn’t have a rangefinder.  And it doesn’t really need one as the wide lens has a formidable depth of field — ‘one of the greatest depth of fields in existence’ according to the owners’ manual.  There are few occasions when you would need to set the distance on anything other than the two recommended guidance marks on the focussing ring.   However if you find judging distances tricky the manual provides some handy hints: remember that a five year old child is about 3 feet high, a bed is around 6 feet long and a large American car is about 19 feet long (or roughly 6.3 five-year old children).

Nor does the camera have a light meter, which is also great because it means you won’t need batteries or have to worry that your selenium cell is about to die.  Sunny 16 rules OK! 

Here are some images I made recently on Ilford FP4. I have done my best to follow the rules in the manual for taking a Perfect Picture:  (i) hold the camera firmly against my face (ii) stand with my feet apart and refrain from rocking backwards-and-forwards or from side-to-side and (iii) hold my breath as I press the shutter. 

Excellent advice! And here are the ‘perfect’ results.

I’ve just loaded a roll of Kodak Gold and am planning to take this camera with me on my winter walks.  The size, weight and quality of the images might just make this camera the ideal hiking companion.

Many thanks for reading.

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12 Comments

  • Reply
    Juna
    January 2, 2022 at 10:09 am

    Which reminds me, I should take out mine more often. You’re right, it’s just a perfect little camera to always have with you. And thank you for not complaining, that it takes ages until all frames are used.

    • Reply
      Graham Spinks
      January 2, 2022 at 10:42 am

      If you keep it with you the frames get used up quick enough! But I remember my Dad bought a half-frame camera for my Mum (who was not a photographer) during the 1960s and by the time her films were developed we had grown and changed quite a bit.

  • Reply
    Paula Smith
    January 2, 2022 at 11:11 am

    Great read Graham. I too recently bought an OM Pen. It really is a beautiful camera and the results for a half frame surprised me. Interesting that your pictures shown here are all landscape. One of the reasons I enjoy the Pen is because it gives a vertical orientation when you look through the viewfinder so it forces me to see differently and look for compositions I might not naturally go for. Do you find the same or still go for the landscape perspective?

    • Reply
      Graham Spinks
      January 2, 2022 at 11:21 am

      To be honest ….. the key reason I bought this camera was that I wanted to try creating diptychs and triptychs with it. More discipline required!

  • Reply
    Royt
    January 2, 2022 at 11:14 am

    When I came back to analogue photography some 10 years ago one of the first cameras I bought for 22 quid was Olympus Pen S, a slightly later variant of the pen. With modern films it amazing the quality that can be achieved. The lens works well with colour, Ektar being my fave so far. The camera is a miniature marvel and incredibly well built. Cherish that camera, and if anyone knows anyone with a cheap Olympus Pen W for sale please let me know.

  • Reply
    John Tarrant
    January 2, 2022 at 11:19 am

    These cameras ere also widely used by seaside “walkie” photographers as if loaded with colour reversal film the resultingg slides fitted neatly into lovely key rings.

  • Reply
    Dan Smouse
    January 2, 2022 at 3:22 pm

    Half-frame cameras are such fun! I have a Fujica Half.

  • Reply
    Mark
    January 2, 2022 at 4:04 pm

    Darn you. After reading trying to buy a D.
    Regardless Happy New Year!

  • Reply
    Gary Paudler
    January 2, 2022 at 4:19 pm

    Thanks, Graham, for a well-written piece on a great camera with lovely images.

  • Reply
    Ian R
    January 2, 2022 at 9:01 pm

    Half-frame is great fun. I have an early pen-ees and a pen-ee3. Both great cameras. It has to be said I’ve used the ee3 more but reading this is making me want to take the ees out again.

  • Reply
    Wes Hall
    January 2, 2022 at 11:11 pm

    Beautiful in miniature- every time I see an article extolling the fun of these small, capable cameras I get urges. Nice job on the carousel photo.

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