September 2010


Call me greedy but in just a couple of months I now have four vintage Olympus PENs: an original PEN, a PEN S, a PEN W and a PEN EE.

The PEN W came to my attention by accident, when I bought an Ricoh Auto Half E off a local bloke who was disposing of his dead father’s camera collection. I spotted it among the pile of old cameras and went back to purchase it after a few weeks of researching it online.

The other PENs all came from Ebay, and arrived pretty much at the same time last week. The PEN EE has a problem with the aperture and meter. I don’t feel optimistic about it (when a selenium cell is dead it’s pretty much useless), so the EE might just be cannibalized for parts, since the various PEN models share many components. The PEN S and PEN have minor mechanical niggles but nothing my friendly camera technician can’t handle. They go in for CLA some time next week.

Here are some results from my three test rolls.

Olympus PEN (original)

Olympus PEN

Olympus PEN

Olympus PEN

Olympus PEN S

Olympus PEN S

Olympus PEN S

Olympus PEN S

Olympus PEN W

Olympus PEN W

Olympus PEN W

Olympus PEN W

Friday night at the Brasilipinas Street Party and I found myself testing the Olympus PEN W in low light conditions. With a Holga flash in hand, I used the same technique I use in light painting, aperture midway and speed on B. Press shutter, pop flash, depress shutter. This is the first time I’ve used that technique with film and I’m pretty pleased with the results, considering photographing fire dancers through a rowdy crowd isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do.

Again: Press > Pop > Depress

Get the timing right, and you’ll get your shot.

More photos on my Flickr.

Here’s a video for good measure.

Lately I’ve been obsessing on vintage Olympus PENs. You know, the ones that use FILM? About a month ago I managed to purchase one of the more sought after PENs, a PEN W from 1964. I found someone selling it online locally and, after running a test roll through it, I bought it for about $60, really cheap considering one of these babies just sold on Ebay for $450.

The test roll wasn’t too promising. All the shots came out fuzzy, mainly because of all the crud on the camera’s glass. I bought it on the hope that I could get this thing cleaned, lubricated and calibrated well enough for it to shoot decent shots at least. From the most excellent blog Manila Camera Style I found someone skilled enough to do the job. A couple of weeks later, and the beautifully refurbished Olympus PEN W was in my eager clutches.

The Olympus PEN W is one model among the full manual versions of the compact half frame series, which includes the original PEN and the PEN S. It was built and sold from September 1964 to May 1965, which accounts for its relative rarity. There is no onboard meter – you have to either estimate using your experience or bring along a light meter to measure for exposure. Total control over the aperture, speed and focus means you have to think before you shoot.

I can honestly say that I wasn’t expecting much from the refurbishing – the lens and viewfinder were just too damn cloudy, so imagine my surprise when post-cleaning test shots came out like this:

Not bad for a 46-year old camera, eh? The lens is terribly sharp and captures colors that really pop out. Looks like I’m parking my Ricoh Auto Half on the shelf for the near future.

When I get around to it, I’ll shoot macro shots of the Olympus PEN W and a camera porn video and post them here. Be patient.