Olympus Pen F/ FT

Finally, I can take some time to write about the camera that started off my trip (get it? olympus trip. snort snort) into 35mm film.

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This camera holds a emotional attachment, and also a artistic symbol for me. The shape, usage, and ideas that went into this camera is indeed a symbol of Maitani’s genius. If the Olympus OM was Maitani’s crowning achievement, then the Olympus Pen F was his quiet masterpiece. It was a quiet masterpiece because it was the pinnacle and culmination of design and engineering of Maitani’s half frame Pen series. (eg. the Pen EE and others)

A SLR that didn’t have the conventional pentaprisms of other SLRs. This was the PEN F/FT/FV. SLR’s had the easily recognizable shape of the triangular top on the camera. However the PEN’s top was slick, flat, and reminiscent of a rangefinder camera. (But there was no rangefinder window!)

*Yes, it had a sexy rangerfinder shape, but due to the conventional mirror system instead of a pentaprism it’s viewfinder was darker and prone to dust and other stuff dirtying it up over time. Good luck finding a PEN F or FT with a viewfinder that looks as bright as a SLR.

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The Olympus PEN FT, and PEN F with attached light meter. Lens are the G. Zuiko 40mm 1.4, and F Zuiko 38mm 1.8.

On the technical side, the Olympus Pen F and FT had a maximum shutter speed of 1/500 all the way down to 1 second. There is a bulb mode as well. There are flash syncs for both cameras on the left side lug of the camera. (A more advanced one for the FT) I don’t use flashes so these features don’t matter to me. However, you will need a clip on hot-shoe for your Pen F and FT as it was designed without one. It might be a problem because most Olympus Pen F or FT have cracked eye cups. (They were plastic whereas the clip on hot-shoes were metal, so a little twist from the detachable hot-shoe mean that that SNAP! = cracked viewfinder eye bezel.)

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There are some differences between the Olympus Pen F and FT.

I read that there were numerous improvements made in the FT over the F. The first obvious difference is the change from advancing the shutter. It now takes only one advance with the film lever on the FT compared to two on the F.

The FT also has a built in meter. (however this is uncoupled with the lens, and you must match up the numbering system on the lens 0..1…2…..all the way to 6) The interesting thing is, if you don’t like the numbering system and matching it to the match stick meter in the finder, then you can actually pull out the aperture ring and twist it until the ‘normal’ aperture numbers appear on the upside.

Which brings us to another interesting point. Maitani designed the lenses with the aperture ring on the ‘outside’ of the lens. (away from the camera body) This was following in the tradition of earlier cameras (and other makers) but different than other japanese SLR’s at the time (AFAIK). This tradition followed on the Olympus OM and was a design evolution into future models. Personally I think that the PEN F lenses feel much more better and boutique (makes sense?) than the OM lenses. PEN F lenses feel very special, and they just have this quality to them that is lacking to the OM lenses. And the OM lenses were supposed to be great feeling too! (at least compared to the Canon FD lenses….yuck!) All very subjective….moving on.

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FT improvements include a better film take up spool, better groves for advancing the film, and a self timer as well. There are other improvements included on the mechanical aspects of the FT. ISO sensitivity of the built in meter and the attachable meter is ISO 25-400 only. (But if you use a external light meter you can use any ISO you want. Those are settings for the built in meter only obviously)

For rewinding your film, the knob is a conventional push button on the bottom of the camera.

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Olympus OM to PEN F adapter.

Now on the usage of the camera for everyday shooting. The Olympus PEN F/FT is great to use. I can hold the camera up to my eye and adjust the shutter speed and aperture easily. However I won’t have any indication of which aperture I am (on the FT) as the match stick meter of the FT is tied only to the shutter speed but uncoupled from the lens.

I can use my forefinger on my right hand to adjust the shutter speed while my left hand can adjust the aperture. It is quite quick to fine tune the settings.

In everyday shooting it is a great camera if you can work with the slow max shutter speed. I also have a OM to PEN F adapter so I can use all the great OM lenses on it too. This is vital as this is a option to get cheaper wide angle lens for the PEN F as the wider options for your PEN For FT might be lacking (and $$$). Also you can put some telephoto lens too.

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In summary, the PEN F and FT is a awesome teacher to students in film photography to learn about exposure. The F and FT are just wonderful all-mechanical cameras. Just pop in some film and go out shooting!

*I didn’t really talk about the FV, because I don’t own one. They are the last and relatively most expensive model because it had all the mechanical improvements of the FT without the viewfinder which dimmed it by half a stop or something. Also good luck finding a BLACK FT without selling your kidneys or some organs. Black FV’s and F’s don’t exist so watch out for people painting their F’s and selling them at a high price. (I personally don’t think they are worth it but they look pretty sexy…)

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In the camera cabinet: The retro futuristic plastic super tiny rangefinder 35mm film camera Olympus XA (with A16 flash). Equipped with a 35mm M.Zuiko f/2.8 lens and a whole lot of attitude. I must admit, I fell in love with the fantastic design, the red trigger, the size. I haven’t yet put a roll of film through it, got it last week, changed batteries and light seals. But I’m counting on it being able to produce some really sharp neg’s. 

And it slips right into my back pocket. 

Why aren’t all cameras this cool?

And small?

Watch on kaiwasoyokaze.tumblr.com

The History of Olympus PEN and OM (in japanese) credit to VirtuThe3rdTV for uploading the video - Some insights offered by Maitani on his design and creative input in the two systems.

One of Maitani’s first focus in Olympus was on getting cameras into the hands of lower income families. PEN’s in japan were originally seen as girly cameras due to their easy use by beginners getting into photography. This ease of use was reflected by the huge number of women users of PEN half frame P&S cameras.

Before the PEN F half frame SLR’s, Maitani’s goal was thus: simplistic, cheap to manufacture, and economical easy to use cameras.

With the PEN SLR and OM, Maitani was given the power to work miracles. The Olympus PEN F, FT, and FV was the result of this initial genius.

The PEN series. Wow. Just wow. What a camera. Rotary dial shutter. Half frame SLR. Porro prism shutter allowing the exterior to be shaped like a rangefinder camera.The shutter speed dial was located in a easy to access position in the front of the camera and changing the settings of aperture and shutter speed was a breeze. Fully mechanical. Careful selection of material such as titanium for the shutter to be as light and strong as possible. The lens were also top quality works of art. As Maitani was quoted as saying, he still could not believe how Olympus sold the cameras due to the way the PEN’s production (…and material) costs were.

The OM series. Maitani shows his love letter to the Leica cameras by designing a SLR that feels comfortable to use from a Leica shooters perspective while also offering a brand new take on handling. The form factor, switch and button placement are reminiscent of a Leica M series rangefinder cameras. The film rewind switch is located in the front of the camera. However positioning the shutter speed dial around the mount of the lens was a highly innovative and intuitive way to manually handle your SLR’s settings. Also, don’t forget the sound of the OM1 shutter! Despite it being a SLR camera with the mirror slap and whatnot, it still managed to remain quite quiet with the use of air brakes and other devices in the body. The influence of the OM1 can be seen in the camera industry at the time. It was credited with starting the whole explosion in the Japanese camera industry aiming for a more smaller and lighter SLR system in the 80s.

These are the real PEN and OM series that I have grown to be a rabid admirer of. Unfortunately, the new plastic fantastic OMD and PEN micro four thirds series is kind of a watering down of the legacy of Maitani in Olympus. I still like the micro four thirds system, but it will never be the same as the film era. Borrowing the names of the ‘greats’ in the past is a good marketing strategy I guess.

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