Olympus Pen-S
5 frames with...

5 Frames with an Olympus Pen-S in a Fishing Village – By Alex Vye

June 16, 2021

The Olympus Pen-S is a 35mm half-frame camera that takes 2 photos for every normal-sized every frame, which means you get 72 pictures on a 36 frame roll of film. The lens is a Zuiko 4-element f2.8 with 30mm focal length. Shutter is Bulb, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, and 1/250. F-stops are the standard stops from f2.8 to f22, inclusive.

The camera is tiny – 2.7 inches high, by 4.2 inches wide, by 1.6 inches deep (roughly the size of a typical wallet), it weighs 400 grams. It easily fits in a coat pocket. The orientation of the frame is in portrait format. Shooting landscape requires holding the camera on its side. All controls are manual, no meter. The viewfinder is nice and bright.

To summarise the Pen-S, I have a few pros and cons:

Pros

  • The Pen-S is a great size. Fits easily  in a pocket
  • Innocuous. Because of it’s small size, it is great for candids and nobody freaks out when you pop it out for a quick snapshot
  • Tiny camera that lets you set f-stop, shutter speed and ISO, and lets you handle focusing.
  • Bright viewfinder
  • Half-frame gives you 72 shots on a roll – no real worry about counting shots, just shoot

Cons

  • The aperture is changed by moving a tiny dial surrounding the lens.
  • It is hard to not accidentally smudge the lens with your thumb
  • Maximum shutter  speed is 1/250, which makes it difficult to use with higher iso films. Using the sunny 16 rule, even a slow (in 2020) film like Ektar 100 is shooting at f/16 at 1/125. An ISO 400 has to be shot at 1/250 at f22 (which is maxed out for both) , which means a lot of photos tend to get over-exposed.
  • Zone-focussing is difficult if you aren’t used to it, which can result   of shots ending up out of focus.

The Adventure

The small fishing village (population: 232) is an hour’s drive south of where I live, and is next to a national park which is full of hiking trails giving access to a variety of coastal views, waterfalls, streams, etc.  The fishing primarily consists of lobster, scallops, and clams.

A couple of times a month, I make the following trip:

  • Drive to Alma
  • Go on a hike
  • Have a plate of fried clams and fries (reward for hike)
  • Stop at the bakery for peanut butter cookies and a strawberry rhubarb pie (more reward)
  • Buy a few cans of craft beer (hey it was a long hike)
  • Drive home, while eating the cookies

The Photos

Fishing Boat, Alma

Fishing Boat, Alma

Alma, with only 250 people, has 4-5 Alma restaurants/take-outs.  Sitting on the patio eating your lobster or clams, the wharf and boat that brought the stuff in is often within eyesight. Straight from boat to table.

Alma Lobster Shop

Alma Lobster Shop

Fishing Boat, framed

Fishing Boat, framed

Alma had two churches. One is in the midst of being torn down, and the other has been converted into a craft beer brewery/pub/coffee shop. The craft beer part is called the Holy Whale and the Buddha Bear (the coffee part). The glass display case in the front of the church/brewery that used to display the day’s homilies and prayers now displays the beer menu. The lovely wooden tables inside the pub are lit by the sun shining through the stained glass of religious scenes. Filling my beer growler feels a bit sacrilegious.

Holy Whale Beer Garden

Holy Whale Beer Garden

The hiking trails of the nearby national park are gorgeous. The Olympus Pen-S/Ektar 100 is a bad camera/film combination for walking trails.  Walking trails, with areas of darkness and intermittent bright light are almost impossible to gauge a  proper exposure with a camera without a light meter. An ISO 100 film just isn’t fast enough for trails with a lot of shade. Usually I use a film of ISO 400 or better.

Caribou Plain Trail

Caribou Plain Trail

Where to find me:
Website: https://3d6.ca/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/doomhiker

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10 Comments

  • Reply
    Mike Gayler
    June 16, 2021 at 1:44 pm

    A great review of an interesting camera.
    I’ve never found a Pen at a price I’m willing to pay but this has given me inspiration to keep looking, but I’m very nervous about the EE series and the possibility of the failing metering – your S looks like a good alternative.
    I do like half-frame cameras – they are great for snapshots, and as you say they tend to be smaller and less conspicuous. They are really good for taking on bike trips and walking days out because of the form factor and the number of shots you can get on a film.
    But – as your photos show – although the photographer can compose some great pictures, the smaller image will never be super sharp. I find that part of the charm of half-frame, but it will be hard to live with for others.

  • Reply
    Alex Vye
    June 16, 2021 at 3:03 pm

    Thanks for the comments. The sharpness is a struggle; I read a lot of reviews and everyone talks about how sharp the lens is, but I just can’t get the results. I find the focussing difficult – my primary camera is a Nikon FE where I can see what the focus is through the viewfinder, so I am used to looking through the viewfinder and focussing closely. The zone focussing required with this camera is difficult for me personally, I’ve started to fix the focus at a fixed length then going for f/22, which should in theory give me sharpness from 6 feet to infinity. I may end up selling this camera because I’m generally not happy with the results, but I want to keep trying at it.

  • Reply
    Juna
    June 16, 2021 at 9:47 pm

    Thanks for the article. I own a first verion Pen and I tend to believe, something must be wrong with your camera. The focus is really too far off. Mine is pin-sharp and I only use the two zone setting with this camera – although I usually don’t do that with other cameras. But with this, it’s just working perfect. I don’t agree though, that 100ISO is too slow for shady paths. I never use faster film, except of in winter. Give the camera another try with a different film maybe? I get more and more back to your pictures and I believe, there’s a camera mistake. It would be such a pity if you gave up on this little gem which it is.

    I only have one picture of my Pen online, shot without even thinking or measuring: https://www.flickr.com/photos/irgendwiejuna/50443431623/in/dateposted-public/

    • Reply
      Alex Vye
      June 16, 2021 at 10:06 pm

      Thanks for the comment and picture. I can see how very sharp it is on the right hand side. I am beginning to think there is something wrong with the camera, but I will give it another try. I have had a couple of rolls where every thing seems slightly out of focus. I think I will take it out on a bright sunny day, take my time, and see what kind of results I can get. Thanks again.

    • Reply
      Alex Vye
      June 17, 2021 at 11:41 pm

      It ended up being a sticky shutter (which was keeping shutter open too long, hence shaky pics). Fixed it with a cleaning. Thanks for the suggestions.

      • Reply
        Juna
        June 18, 2021 at 4:59 pm

        Oh, that sounds great! I had one too, it just didn’t fire at all. Cleaned it with the help of youtube. Hurray to such wonderful constructed pieces! Holding my fingers crossed for a future for the camera and you!

  • Reply
    Alan Jones
    June 17, 2021 at 8:56 am

    I’ve had to give my Pens with leaf shutters (two of them) CLAs. The shutters have habit of getting sticky after 40 years or so. With a sticky shutter you will get overexposure issues, certainly, but it might also be affecting focus if the aperture isn’t opening correctly. I have a Pen EE and a D3. The auto exposure Pen EE had under exposure issues and a sticky shutter, while the manual D3 just had a sticky shutter. I’ve used the Pen EE very successfully for snapshots on the street with a compact flash on the hotshoe. The image quality is absolutely stunning – the images look like a really high quality full frame. See an example on my Flickr https://flic.kr/p/SYeQeG

    • Reply
      Alex Vye
      June 17, 2021 at 11:49 am

      Ya, I think there is something wrong with it. I’ve had a couple of rolls where everything seems just out of focus. Might be beyond my skills to fix. Thanks for the feedback.

    • Reply
      Alex Vye
      June 17, 2021 at 11:39 pm

      I need to thank you – you helped me fix the camera. It was a sticky shutter – even when I set it at 1/125, the shutter was sticking and going at about 1/15 of a second. Thats why all the pictures aren’t sharp. I applied lighter fluid from a cotton Q-tip and cleaned the leaf shutters, now it works like a charm. And to think I was this close to tossing it 🙂 (I had ruined multiple rolls). Thanks again.

  • Reply
    Wally Beagley
    June 30, 2021 at 10:29 am

    I used two of these from 1964 to about 1984, both meter-less. I carried them in my pocket when I didn’t want to be encumbered with my Pentax slr or when I wanted to economize on film. I shot Kodachrome or Tri-X which I bought in 100 ft. rolls and spooled in the darkroom.. The chromes were very sharp. The B&Ws, shot mostly in available darkness, had wonderful gritty grain. Guess focusing takes practice but you get better at it. The close focus distance was short enough that I was able to invent the handheld selfie, in 1964. With no autofocus and no viewing screen, everything was guess. From a dozen tries, I got two good pictures. My first pen got a light leak after I loaned it to my sister and she somehow broke off the plastic baffle under the film winding wheel. I used the second until the shutter started sticking and the wind mechanism began to malfunction.

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