It’s kind of amazing to hold the Olympus Pen FT camera in your hand. Cast in all-metal, it's amazingly solid. From its size and heft, it feels a lot like an M-series Leica rangefinder. But it is – in fact – a true single-lens-reflex camera which uses a mirror system to project what the lens sees into your viewfinder. Its size and ease of handling make the Pen FT one of the most pleasurable cameras to shoot – ever! It's a half-frame SLR camera with interchangeable lenses, perfect for the daily analogue routine.
The original Pen F was created in 1963 by Olympus’ legendary designer – Yoshihisa Maitani. At the time, 35 mm film and processing was considered quite expensive – so much so that Olympus was actively developing a line of “half frame” cameras, which yielded two shots on a standard 35 mm frame and allowed the user to shoot 72 images on a standard 36-shot roll. The Pen F was a groundbreaking half-frame SLR that used an incredibly innovative body design in order to keep its size so compact. The mirror system used with the lens is recessed into the body – thereby avoiding the pentaprism “hump” that nearly every SLR camera has. A collection of small and truly excellent lenses – from an ultra-wide 20/3.5 to an impossibly rare 800/8 were developed alongside it. The Pen FT, introduced in 1966, included a built-in light meter.
Pen FT images are incredibly sharp and detailed. Originally, the half-frame format was designed to double your amount of pictures. Nowadays – with nearly every developer offering film scanning, you can use the camera to create unique dual images – small diptych’s that connect two shots on a single frame. The camera is fast and very easy to handle.
The only potential disappointment is the meter. As it was designed for mercury batteries (which are no longer made and nearly impossible to find), you’ll have to power it with today’s zinc-air batteries. These can be a bit unpredictable and can affect the meter’s usefulness. On top of that, the meter uses a special “exposure value” system, which seems designed to make everything more complex and confusing for the photographer. Your best bet is to carry an inexpensive external light meter around your neck and use it before every shot. It’s much more accurate and a lot less frustrating!
Overall, the Pen FT is an important step in classic camera development, a beautiful collector’s piece, and a truly fine shooter that’s capable of very unique images.
Tip: The Old Switch-er-oo: As with any half-frame camera, the great feature is the ability to superimpose two subjects next to one another. Try rotating the camera, flipping it upside-down, spinning it into a motion blur, or otherwise getting a little crazy over the two exposures: thereby creating an unpredictable and exciting dual-image!
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