The Pen FT
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Shooting Diptychs with the Olympus Pen FT – by Noel Roque

October 26, 2020

What are diptychs, you might ask? And why shoot diptychs with the Olympus Pen FT? Originally, a diptych was a picture or series of pictures (as in an altarpiece) painted or carved on two hinged tablets, or panels. In photography, they are a great tool for storytelling. You can have two images which can be from the same photo walk, or they can be visual opposites to show a contrast of ideas. The Pen FT is a half-frame camera. Two half frames comprise a single frame of 35mm film! This is a challenging and fun way to compose and tell a story. You can use two images shot one after another on one piece of 35mm film!

A Short Story About My Olympus Pen FT

Before we get to the diptychs, allow me to share how I acquired my Olympus Pen FT. Back in the day, a favorite pastime of mine was going to the Camera Show in Pasadena, California. It’s a great place to buy and sell gear, hang out with photo buddies, talk shop and enjoy good company. I always go in with the thought that “I don’t have to buy anything”, yet why is it that I usually walk out with something? And in the summer of 2019 PC (Pre-Covid era), one awesome Camera Show find is my Olympus Pen FT. Talk about the right place at the right time… I got the sought after black (original, not painted) body with the faster 40mm f/1.4 lens, original metal hood and black leather case. The Pen FT flash adapter was added to mount my Voigtlander light meter.

Wide shot of the Lotus flowers and a close up of a bloom. Echo Park Lake, near downtown Los Angeles at the Lotus Festival. Shot on Kodak Color Plus 200 with the Olympus Pen FT.

This woman took a picture of the Lotus blossom then showed it to the little boy. Echo Park Lake, near downtown Los Angeles at the Lotus Festival. Shot on Kodak Color Plus 200 with the Olympus Pen FT.

These two (2) photos look like they are part of one picture! Echo Park Lake, near downtown Los Angeles at the Lotus Festival. Shot on Kodak Color Plus 200 with the Olympus Pen FT.

A full shot, then a close up of the statue. Photo Walk at Old Town Pasadena. Shot on Fuji CN100 with the Olympus Pen FT.

Two shots of street corners juxtaposed in a diptych. Photo Walk at Old Town Pasadena. Shot on Fuji CN100 with the Olympus Pen FT.

Technical considerations

  1. There is a 1.5x crop factor. The field of view is narrower as each shot is half the size of a 35mm frame. The 40mm lens on the camera has a field of view equivalent to a 60mm lens in a full frame camera.
  2. The top shutter speed is 1/500. Exposure compensation is needed depending on the film used, lighting and time of day. Slower shutter speeds will require a tripod and cable release.
  3. It is a system camera and there are lenses specific to the Pen F series for every type of situation and use. You can adapt full frame lenses, but they will make the camera look bigger and unbalanced.
  4. The Pen FT viewfinder is dimmed by its built in light meter. In comparison, the Pen F and FV viewfinders are bright because both don’t have them. The Pen FT lightmeter is powered by the outlawed PX625a batteries. You can get an adapter to use safe and newer batteries. I prefer my Voigtlander external meter on the camera.

Shooting considerations

  1. The default orientation is vertical. Hold the camera sideways to shoot in landscape. This takes getting used to and will affect your compositions. For diptychs, most shots will be vertical. You can try to shoot a diptych sideways, then scan each shot separately and combine in post. Or, shoot both frames in landscape and scan as is, one on top of the other.
  2. Get to know your film exposure choices. For some, shooting half frame is a money saver. You can get 72 shots on a roll of 36, 48 from 24, and so on. Then you’ll realize it can take a while to finish each roll! So this is both an advantage and a disadvantage! I prefer shooting 12-shot rolls if possible because I can easily finish 24 half frames. My maximum is a 24 exposure roll, and hope that I can finish 48 shots!

Conclusion

The Pen FT is quite the camera. Solid, with considerable heft, the feel is similar to my Canon P rangefinder, yet smaller in size. It is a system camera using interchangeable lenses. Many are great performers despite being smaller than full frame lenses . Holding the Pen FT gives an impression of a well crafted, precision instrument that inspires me to shoot. It is not perfect, yet even if I have other cameras, the Pen FT is an all time favorite!

While this is not a review of the Pen FT, more info is available online. Here are a couple of good places to start – Olympus Pen F page on Cameraquest  – 5/10 Frames with my Olympus Pen-FT (Sophie) in the Poppy Fields – by Tiffany Perez.

I had a great time shooting diptychs with the Olympus Pen FT. It is the best half-frame camera for me. The image quality is very good, build quality fantastic, and it is fully mechanical. What more could you want from a film camera? This one is a keeper!

Noel R

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15 Comments

  • Reply
    Neal A Wellons
    October 26, 2020 at 4:44 pm

    Great photos and a great looking FT.

    I like the 72 exposure roll as I feel free to bracket exposures and play with focus. I also just open the camera in my changing bag, snip and load into a developing tank when I don’t want to wait to finish a whole roll. Then I have a short roll to use wen if fits the situation.

    I often take Diptych and Triptych photos but as panoramas instead. I like your story diptych method and will try it too.

    I started with an FT but not a beauty like yours. Decided I loved the camera but not the viewfinder so I bought an F and like it better. Your f/1.4 lets in more light than my f/1.8 so the dimming effect was worse with mine.

    I enjoyed your story and look forward to more.

    • Reply
      Noel Roque
      October 26, 2020 at 6:12 pm

      Thank you, Neal! What a neat idea… I have been limiting myself to 12 or 24 shot rolls for my Pen FT. I will try your way. I fact, I have an unfinished roll I can snip and develop right now, no need to wait ’til I finish it! Yes… I got lucky with my Pen FT. It is a beautiful camera, as I’m sure yours is too. They both will take the same photos anyway! Also, pls share your panos from your Pen. I hope to see them here too! Cheers!

      • Reply
        Neal A Wellons
        October 26, 2020 at 7:23 pm

        Back to you Noel with my Flickr Pen F and FT album. I’m adding to it regularly but there are a few panos there for you to see.
        https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/albums/72157715199166483

        • Reply
          Noel Roque
          October 26, 2020 at 7:31 pm

          Awesome panos, thanks for sharing, Neal! Which also reminds me to be more active on Flickr too. Haven’t update my photostream in a while. I think I’ll start with my images from the Pen FT!

  • Reply
    Michaelangelo
    October 26, 2020 at 5:09 pm

    Lovely blurb!

    I too own the Olympus Pen F, with a differences, mainly lens choices!
    I’m from LA and can easily recognize those Lotus flowers anywhere, you did a great job pairing the images.
    I also agree that despite the gate being smaller than standard 135 format cameras, those Zuiko lenses deliver!

    • Reply
      Noel Roque
      October 26, 2020 at 6:20 pm

      Thank you for the kind words, Michaelangelo! What lenses do you have for your Pen F? I recently got the 25mm f4, aside from the 40mm f1.4. I am also thinking of adding the 100mm f3.5 to complete my trio. What I really like is the rare 70mm f2… but too pricey! Have you ever joined the meetup photo groups? Hope to meet and shoot with you in one of them.

  • Reply
    Kurt Ingham
    October 26, 2020 at 8:02 pm

    Where do you have your film processed/scanned?

    • Reply
      Noel Roque
      October 26, 2020 at 8:19 pm

      I process my own B&W. For color, I have a local place. Are you in the LA area? The local lab I use is in San Gabriel.

  • Reply
    Barry Reid
    October 26, 2020 at 8:22 pm

    Great article makes me want to dust off my half frame yashica fx-3. Love making diptychs with half frame and while it’s great to deliberately pair frames with a narrative in mind, sometimes the random juxtapositions work even better!

    • Reply
      Noel Roque
      October 26, 2020 at 10:54 pm

      Thanks Barry! Wow, the half frame fx-3… that is one rare camera! Have you written about it here, on 35mmc? You should! Not a lot of info about it online. Hope to see your images with it too!

  • Reply
    Ian R
    October 26, 2020 at 9:58 pm

    Nice shots. I love my Pen-EE3 although I’ve never gone out with the intention of shooting a diptych. Half-frame cameras give you a freedom that’s hard to describe to someone who has never used one. I like the idea of the pen system cameras but as I am of limited means, I’ll just have to dream.

    • Reply
      Noel Roque
      October 26, 2020 at 10:34 pm

      No need to dream, as I’m sure your Pen-EE3 is capable of great images too! In fact, it is probably the best Pen travel camera. I don’t have one, but i can easily imagine how the simplicity of the EE3 gets the camera out of the way to make you just focus on your images. Now go shoot some diptychs! 🙂

  • Reply
    chris love
    October 27, 2020 at 12:07 pm

    Can you still get 12 exposure films? I thought they were discontinued years ago.

    • Reply
      Noel Roque
      October 27, 2020 at 3:16 pm

      Sure! I stock up on Ultrafine 100 and 400 B&W, both available on eBay. And for color there’s the Fuji CN100, also on eBay, but not as easily available as the B&Ws. These 12-shot rolls i use only for the Pen FT.

  • Reply
    chris love
    October 28, 2020 at 10:12 am

    Thanks Noel. I’ll certainly have a look on Ebay.

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