Educational

Olympus PEN FT: Half Can Sometimes Mean More

Hello all.

Now that I have explained several medium format cameras over the last two posts; touting the inherent superiority of greater light gathering surface area let me immediately contradict myself…

Kind of.

With photography there are many ‘it depends’ situations. Medium format is great when image quality is the ultimate end goal, but 35mm is great when you are looking for that film ‘feel’ in a more portable package and image quality is quite nice as well.

Then Alex at SE Camera Carrboro showed me his half frame Olympus. Humpless rangefinder looking SLR?  Sideways mirror, you say? What manner of sorcery is this! Mindset at that moment, “The Industrial Engineer is intrigued and wants one of these cameras I did not know existed 10 minutes ago”. Image quality logic would dictate that this makes little sense. Bought mine from KEH.com bargain class, but other than some very minor imperfections this camera was in fantastic condition. There are some nice primes available, but I sprung a little more for a 40mm f/1.4 after a bit of research, also from KEH.com.

What would possess me to purchase this camera? *cough* sideways mirror *cough*

Glad you asked. Below I will list a collection of thoughts on this camera starting with any cons followed by (spoiler alert) why I am glad I bought this camera.

Cons:

  • Not specific to this camera, but has more to do with cameras of this vintage that top out at 1/500 of a second shutter speed. With my preference for 400 film this means an ND filter will be needed outside during daylight.
  • Metering system is a bit odd, using a 0 to 6 numbering system rather than aperture values. To go between aperture values and the native meter reading scale you pull out and spin the aperture ring 180 degrees. Not difficult to use. Just odd.

  • More of a good to know than a con light for the in viewfinder meter is provided by a window on the top of the camera. So if you are shooting from a dark location in to bright light you will not be able to see the meter reading.

Pros:

  • Sideways mirror so portrait mode is standard which causes a nice change of pace.
  • Paired images. When scanned two shots are paired as one. With practice, or luck in my case, this can make for some fantastic results.

  • Twice the shots from a roll of film. 24 nets 48, 36 nets 72. If you are like me and shoot pretty much always this is awesome.
  • The 40mm f/1.4 is quite amazing. It makes the most of such a small physical negative with it’s amazing sharpness. I have owned many lenses, but this may very well be the sharpest ever.
  • This camera is gorgeous and extremely well made. So much so that I would be happy just having it on a shelf, looking at it and feeling its heft and quality materials in hand.

  • Wonderfully portable and by far the smallest of any 35mm camera I own.
  • Very effective metering in my experience. The high hit rate of this camera combined with the number of exposures makes for way more keepers per roll than I am accustomed to.
  • Surprisingly affordable all things considered.

To sum up if you are looking for a great shooting and great looking camera that is portable, built like a tank and crams more great images (gallery here) on to a roll than makes sense then look no further.

Happy shooting.

-ELW

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2 comments

  1. Nice review ELW !…yes, Pen FT [1966-’71] is a stunning design and as an improvement on the classic Pen F [1963-’66]-with 15 lenses offered ! [all fit the FT]. The Olympus bug bit me in the late 90’s with the attraction of the high quality and sheer compactness plus exquisite image making ! Although, I have other great film cameras, the Pen reflex series caused me to seek out all Olympus, and it turned into 20+ different models of that marquee, all compact and beautifully built, mostly rangefinder and viewfinder models . I ended up only getting a Pen F and a Pen FT, both in chrome bodies + 4 lenses. The Pen FV [1967-’70] eluded me, they are rare and pricey. I love the article and yes, medium format film is a great tool… Thank you . SS

  2. I’m so glad you reviewed the Olympus Pen F series SLR. They are quite amazing and as you found out the primes are beyond sharp! I’ve had an FT model for years and the meter works fine. 10 years ago I had a local repairman adjust it for the 1.5 volt silver oxide batteries.

    When the shutter broke down last year I got a replacement used “F” model from KEH. There is no meter on the early model but the finder is even brighter.

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