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Olympus Pen EE3 (Pic: George Griffin)
The Olympus Pen EE3, one of the classic 35mm half frame cameras (All pics: George Griffin)

By George Griffin

I have always been an Olympus fanboy. I got an OM-10 in 1980, an XA3 in 1985 and in 1995 I bought my wife the Mju Zoom 105. I’m still shooting today with these same cameras.

One camera I never considered was an Olympus Pen – that is until recently.

I did a piece for Kosmo Foto recently about bulk loading film in order to save money, but another option is to shoot with a half-frame camera.

Originally I bought a Reto/Kodak H35 camera but was not impressed with the build quality, although the images were OK. After reading my post, Andrew Bartram offered me a loan of one of his Olympus Pen EE3s. I have since bought the camera from him.

This is a small camera weighing in at just 330g but it has a solid construction with an all-metal body.

Olympus Pen EE3 with meter and flash (Pic: George Griffin)
The Pen EE3 is dwarfed by even the smallest modern flash

There are very few controls on the camera, on the top plate are the rewind knob, shutter button, flash hot shoe and the film counter. The front has a 28mm lens surrounded by the selenium meter. Behind this sits the control ring to set ISO, aperture and flash, and the PC-sync flash socket. At the base is the rewind button release and a tripod mount.

The back has the film advance wheel, viewfinder eyepiece and the latch for the hinged back. Unlike most 35mm cameras the default in the viewfinder is portrait, so the camera needs to be turned 90° to shoot landscape.

Moving back to the control ring, the ISO can be set from 25 to 400. When using the ISO setting, the aperture and shutter speed are decided by the light coming into the selenium meter, so the camera becomes a fully automatic point-and-shoot.

Top plate of Pen EE3 with hot shoe meter (Pic: George Griffin)
The top plate of the Pen EE3 is clean and uncluttered

If there isn’t enough light a red flag will pop up in the viewfinder and the shutter button will be locked and no image taken.

One thing to note is the camera only has two shutter speeds, which are 1/40 and 1/200. Neither is that fast, but with a 28mm lens camera shake is very unlikely. Most people will probably shoot in the ISO mode and let the camera automatically make all the decisions.

Next on the control dial are the apertures, these are f/3.5 through to f/22. By using these it will allow you to partly override the red flag in low light. Using the apertures, the camera will default to a shutter speed of 1/40.

Pen EE3 with back open (Pic: George Griffin)
The Pen EE3 shoots images in portrait format

The final settings are for the flash. There are settings from 1.5m to 4m distance and a GN14 (this indicates the power of the flash).

Now I’m not a person that uses flash a lot but from what I gather Olympus had a system called flashmatic, and when using a flash connected to the PC sync, you set the distance and the camera will automatically work out the flash power for the distances up to 4m.

I have a Lightpix Labs Q20 which works when attached to the hotshoe. The flash also has a transmitter, so I can use the flash off camera too. This flash has full range power from 1/1 to 1/64. As this flash has a GN20 I needed to work out the best settings when using it with the camera. Luckily, I found a calculator to work out the right settings and, with some testing, I have a range of apertures and flash power.

Four black-and-white street images (Pic: George Griffin)

Triptych street scene in black and white (Pic: George Griffin)

I would say that 95% of the time I have shot by setting the ISO. So far the films I have used are:

3 x Kodak Double X

1 x Kodak ColorPlus

2 x Kosmo Foto Agent Shadow

1 x Kodak Ultramax

All the films worked fine, except the Agent Shadow. Now I don’t know if the emulsion is thicker than the others but on both rolls I got to around frames 52-56 and it was starting to get very hard to wind on the film. So much so that I rewound the films.

Apart from this, the camera has performed really well.

As this is a half-frame and the frames are 18x24mm, it lends itself well for shooting diptychs and triptychs, so the majority of my images have been this way, with the odd single frame. The frames can show a little more grain but not so much that the images can’t be printed up to 7×5.

Four images of telephone boxes in black and white (Pic; George Griffin)

Before I ever shot a half-frame camera I always thought that I could never shoot 48/72 frames but this gives you freedom to experiment with which type of images you want to make, dip/triptychs, four-plus frames, even pseudo-panoramics.

I said at the start of this article that a half-frame camera will help you to save money on film but in reality, it is definitely more fun shooting multiple frames and making stories within those frames.

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