A compact SLR camera with clip on light meter

5 Frames of trains with an Olympus Pen FV

For many of us film photography comes with many advantages. The disconnect from the world digital technology. The enforced rituals and meditations. The total mental and physical involvement in producing that final physical asset, the negative, and maybe even a print. Few of us would include size and weight in such a list. Holiday travel on trains and buses with our k9 companion in tow, forces us to pack light. My beloved OM1-N is sleek, but full frame lenses, even the Zuikos, are not.

The carriages of the Dean Forest Railway at rest on a station platform curve off into the distance.
The Dean Forest Railway carriages we travelled in.

My search for a camera that could give me the control and involvement I crave, yet fit in the spare space I have has brought me to the Olympus Pen FV. This is the 3rd incarnation of the Pen half-frame SLRs, featuring the bright viewfinder of the F, but with single stroke advance and improved shutter of the FT. The body is small, if not exactly light (with standard lens it comes in at 615g). The clip-on light meter is far from essential, but is a reasonable quick check of my sunny 16 guesses.

An old train cargo carriage next to an old train station tower
An old carriage in the siding at Whitecroft station.

The thing that has truly made me fall for this system though is the 38mm f/1.8 standard lens. This is equivalent to about 54mm. Not only is this a little longer than normal, the default portrait mode, and 4:3 aspect ratio make it feel quite a bit longer. That would normally put me off, but I can’t stress what a pleasure this lens is to use. The focus throw is just under half a turn, and buttery smooth. It also has a minimum focus distance of 35cm, when coupled with a close up filter, this makes for great detail shots. Unfocused areas are best described as “characterful”, with pentagonal highlight, but we do not always get to choose the things that we fall in love with.

Head on view of an old rusty cylindrical container train carriage on tracks,
Rusty train car seen from the bridge by Lydney park

Another advantage of half frame is, of course, needing less film. 76 shots on a roll 36 frame roll is common, I’ve gotten 80 by loading rolls in a dark bag. The lust of eeking out that extra shot has come with an unexpected issue. The camera’s single stroke film advance (compared to the Pen F’s two stroke), allows it to impart considerable force. In my eagerness to get the shot of the locomotive, I did not notice this was the last shot on the roll and wound on with enough force to tear the sprocket holes, hence the extra crop.

An old steam train engine, with it's number on the front plate.
The Dean Forest Railway steam engine we travelled on.

The big trade off with half frame is grain. As much as I like grain, half frame can really push the limits of the aesthetic. Film choice is key. I have found Ilford FP4+ in D76 1+3 to be a good choice. For our latest trip to the Forest of Dean I wanted something a little faster. Previous effort with HP5+ were OK, but I have had great results before from XP2+ in D76 in full-frame.  My original intention was to develop this roll in 510 Pyro, hoping that the staining property might soften the grain a little, perhaps approaching the dye clouds of C41. As it happened I had two other rolls of C41 unprocessed for some time, so opted for my local friendly high street lab. I have attempted one print from the resulting negatives, from the shot of the engine, which printed very easily and I think we be perfectly acceptable at 8×10. I find scanning C41 tricky, and my process is not from optimal,  so these images  may not show these images at their best.  Overall though I am very pleased with the results.

An old train carriage (maybe?) abandoned in a field
An old train carriage, or possible caravan, abandoned in a field

There is a lot to love about the Olympus Pen FV. The lenses are excellent, compact, and fun to use. The bright view finder, and true SLR nature makes focusing quick and easy. Classic grain 100 speed films can still look great in half frame. For faster films  XP2+ performed well here, but both HP5+ and Kentmere 400 give results I’m still happy with too. I suspect Delta 400 would be even better for those more confident in their metering. The biggest downside of half-frame is not image quality, but a direct result of it’s biggest selling point. If you shoot film to slow down, 72 frames is an awful lot of photographs!

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11 thoughts on “5 Frames of trains with an Olympus Pen FV”

  1. Great pics. I have the Pen F and the same lens I absolutely love it. Ultramax 400 looks great in this camera, and I’ve had good luck with 50 and 100 Ilford. And you are right about the 72 frames taking FOREVER! I’m considering bulk loading smaller rolls, but that open up a few new cans of worms for processing…

    And I thought I would hate having no focus aids (no split prism or checkerboard) but I’ve had no trouble at all getting sharp pictures.

    1. Tristan Colgate-McFarlane

      I bought a couple of 24 frame rolls of Fona 200, but there aren’t loads of great 24 frame options off the shelf. I do think I’m going to end up bulk rolling too.

  2. Dear Sir,
    If I may be so bold, I would like to slightly disagree with you. I dare to claim, that OM series Zuikos are NOT very large, by any standard, as you say. I have traveled far and wide, with nothin more, than my loyal OM2n, accompanied with the 28 and 50mm Zuikos. Not once have I felt, I have missed a shot with this kit. The 28 & 35mm Zuikos are about the same size and they are small, fit for all-around photography. The 50mm is not much larger. Some rangefinder lenses are sligtly smaller, but I doubt any other SLR lenses are.

    May I also congratulate you for your very fine photography. Please, keep them coming.

    1. Tristan Colgate-McFarlane

      The 28mm, 50mm and 100mm zuikos are my favourite lenses. They are tiny by some standards, but too big for my needs. The zuiko pen lenses are truly tiny gems. Unfortunately the 70mm (100mm equiv) is beyond what I could justifiably spend.

  3. Nice pictures, I’ve been interested in half frame photography for a little bit! I’ve wanted a Pen FV for a while, we’ll see what the future holds.

    At the moment, I’ve acquired two Agat 18ks to see if that will satisfy the desire.

    For reducing grain, have you considered either Adox CMS II or Kodak Tech pan?
    The Kodak film is no longer in production and requires a special developer. The Adox also requires a special developer, but appears to offer amazing, low grain images, and is quite reasonably priced.

    The greatest weakness of both is their low ISO rating; I don’t recall for Tech pan, but the Adox is 20 with their developer, 3-6iso with conventional black and white developers.

    I’ve wondered what the CMS II would look like on a half frame, perhaps something to try in the future?

    1. Tristan Colgate-McFarlane

      For me personally, grain is not a major issue. FP4+ is excellent fine enough at 100. At 400 I personally don’t mind XP2 Super, and HP5+ isnt too bad. I have a roll of Delta400 waiting to try next. For colour, my one attempt with Fujicolor 200 was rough, but not unpleasant, and I have a roll of Ektar in progress (my full frame ektar attempt makes me think itll be a great choice).
      All of my experience with the above films suggests I’d be happy with 8×10 half frame prints of any of them. And if you do the whole diptych thing, that results in a regular 35mm full frame anyway

  4. I owned and still do own a PenFT,with a pin sharp 1.8 38mm lens.I used to be a B&W sidekick to a wedding photographer using a Nikon Photomic T loaded with color film. My experience is that if you control all processes from shooting to developing to printing,then you can acheive spectacular results,blowing up to 8×10 and beyond.I filtered all my solutions,using a Buchner funnel and residue free filter paper and a modified venturi suction to expedite the process.I used mostly Ilford FP3, in Microphen as one shot diluted 1:3(as advised by a kind person at Ilford ,who also provided a time/Temperature chart) in a Patterson Tank.Also I always used a Flash with my rotary FP shutter set at 1/500 th sec. to avoid camera shake and’ghosting’,also my aperture was always set at F4 as I found that the optimal performance of the lens was at F4according to my test results using a Paterson lens chart.i used a Nikon enlarging lens in my enlarger and waited till late at night to print so that vibration from passing trucks donot affect exposure.I had an ioniser full on in the Bathroom where I had set up as my darkroom.The enlarger was ‘earthed’ to avoid static electricity attracting dust.
    unfortunately I have no photos to prove as I was in the habit of giving away to the weded couple the negatives (a practice frowned upon then and result of many a threat)
    I have since acquired a Pen FT with a F1.2-42mm lens but find that it gives a softer image compared to the F1.8 38mm lens.
    I have had to replace the electrical contacts within the Pen FT due to usins the flash

    1. Tristan Colgate-McFarlane

      Wow! Thanks for the detail! Microphen isn’t that economical for my relatively occasional need (I average 4 rolls a month, across various formats).
      I picked up a 40mm scheider for my enlarger (intrepid compact), and my printing is a bit crude in all regards, but I’m happy with my results
      I’ve been tempted by the f/1 4 , but in truth, the f/1.8 does everything I need. It truly is a gem!

    1. Tristan Colgate-McFarlane

      I have a hazy 20mm, a jewel of the 25mm, the 150mm, and the 50-90mm (which get me my 100mm equiv).
      The 25mm and 150mm are great, but both are f)4, and both have comparatively large focus throws. The 150mm is a bit long for my liking, so I got the 50-90. That lens is great, but is big and heavy.
      I think the 70mm would be my dream lens, but it’s extremely expensive

  5. The images work very well at recreating the nostalgic attraction of steam and old railways. What camera or film were used are less relevant, film and the experience matter more. Thanks for a great post!

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