Fifty years ago, Olympus released the PEN D, a small half frame camera with a brilliant 6-element 32mm Zuiko lens. It had a selenium meter, uncoupled so you wouldn’t have to be a slave to its whims (or be stuck with a dead camera after the selenium went dead). Aperture went from the fast f/1.9 to f/16 at its most narrow, shutter speed from 1/8 to 1/500 a second, including a bulb setting for really slow shutter action. Like the Olympus 35 UC, the PEN D had a clever way of setting exposure, based on EV, which made it easy to maintain proper exposure settings while tweaking aperture-speed combinations. Focus is, like the other PENs (except the PEN F series), by scale focus guesstimation as well.

Of the PEN D, I have two, one with a meter that still works. The other one is easy enough to use via Sunny 16 rule or with a handheld meter. As always, image quality is stellar. Being half frame, the camera gets you 72 shots for a 36-exposure roll, which is great if you’re on a tight budget. The contact prints are just so retro cute.

Thought I’d shoot a bit of camera porn for the fans. For some reason the soundtrack won’t play at 360p, so just play it at 240p or 480p. At 360p you hear the koi pond waterfall in the background.

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Look at the time. 2010 is almost over, and it’s been a good year for me, not just in my personal and professional life but also in this photography hobby of mine. I was able to travel to the United States and stay there for a month, shooting as we went crisscrossing the country. I was able to shoot the Great Wall of China and Beijing’s Forbidden City.  For Christmas, I gave out framed prints, which were very well-received by my immediate family. And, I was able to acquire some very choice pieces of vintage gear.

The first one I mentioned last post: an Olympus PEN D2. I’ve been shooting with it for some time now and I can say that it is one really sweet shooter. It took a while to get used to focusing with the lever but after a few days, I could guesstimate focus fast like the best of them. Still haven’t taken it to my technician so I don’t know if the meter can still be revived, but that’s a minor niggle – I’m seldom without a handheld meter anyway.

This morning I was able to take some digital shots of the camera, just to give readers a closeup look at this cool piece of kit. Here they are, with more after the jump.

The CdS meter may be dead but at least I can go ahead and shoot manually.

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Walk On

No trip to Beijing is complete without a visit to the Forbidden City, which truly deserves a day or two (more even) in your itinerary. Unfortunately we only had a couple of hours to walk through the site’s vast grounds. Better than nothing, of course, and I took the opportunity to practice street photography, which candidly frames human subjects within their environmental context.  It’s quite the challenge for me, a natural introvert, to take photos of strangers in public but I manned up and just did it.

The best advice from experienced street photographers I’ve put to practice is to smile while you’re taking photos. A natural smile, mind you, never creepy. Meter for ambient light and set your camera’s aperture and shutter speed well in advance, so you don’t waste time fiddling with your dials just when you see a shot coming together. When you find a backdrop you really like, compose the shot in advance, pre-focus on a sweet spot and just wait for a subject to walk into the frame. You can also keep your aperture as narrow as possible for maximum depth of field to keep things in sharp focus.

For these shots I used my vintage Olympus PEN S.  It’s small and discreet, and hardly makes a sound.  Its 30mm lens is wide enough to capture huge chunks of scenery and gives great depth of field. Perfect for street photography.

Fashion Rampage

(Okay, for this shot above I cheated: these aren’t strangers.)

Forbidden Walk

Open Window

Courtyard

I’ve yet to figure out if WordPress has a Readmore function, so I’ll cap this at five shots. If you want to see more from this set, feel free to view the collection at my Flickr account. Add me as a contact and I’ll add you back. Good night!

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.