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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
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!