Half-frame cameras are an acquired taste. For those that have that bend, the Olympus Pen series caters very well, from the more professional type SLRs through to the basic point and shoot cameras. The Olympus Pen EE-2 falls squarely into the latter category.
Between the portrait framing and massive grain when the picture is blown up, you need to be passionate about it. I’m not there. Closest I get to half-frame thinking is using a 6×4.5 camera, which is half-frame compared to my 6×9 camera, but that is medium format. I tried this camera, and the more manual Pen-S, and while the results were good I do not think I felt fully happy with the what I got. So, at this point, realising that someone must enjoy this camera for it to be built (and maybe I was missing the point), I asked my 11-year old son, Alec, to see what he thinks. The pictures in the article are his.
Alec has grown up in the fully digital world, with his only previous experience on film being a Pinhole Camera class he took (where he and his older brother got to build a pinhole camera and use it) and one night on a Canon T60 I happen to have. He usually uses a digital Fuji bridge camera, with a massive zoom, and his iPhone.
The picture above is of him the first time he got to use the Pen EE-2, with the photo obviously taken with another camera.
Before we delve into his experience, which I have captured interview style, let’s cover the camera. I purchased the camera as a bit of a whim. Interestingly because it was cheap and thought it would be something fun. The camera needs some restoration, it is a bit rough around the edges, the skin should be replaced, but overall functions well. When I first got it though, I accidentally flicked the spring off the rewind lever which I thought would be the end of the camera, as it would not stay down and keep the film cartridge in place. Luckily a kind camera repair man could put it back for me (I failed miserably multiple times) for no charge. Very embarrassing. Since then it has worked very well.
Olympus produced the Pen series of cameras in 1959 through to the early 1980’s. These were all half-frame cameras, and generally fixed lens viewfinder cameras, apart from the Pen F series which were half-frame SLRs.
The current Pen family of cameras from Olympus are digital cameras utilising Micro Four Thirds sensors and if you think about it, relate back to the Pen name appropriately. The original Pens where half frame, the crop factor for the new Pens is a factor of two. I think that is a great thing, with Olympus acknowledging their history to some extent.
The cameras are based on a design by Yoshihisa Maitani and in 1959 was the first half-frame camera produced in Japan. The idea was that this would cut down in the size of the camera and make it more portable and carried more. There is a rumour that is was named the Pen, as it was easy to carry as a pen, but I cannot confirm this.
By 1966, with the introduction of the Rollei 35, size was no longer a consideration as full frame cameras were almost the same size and many considered this the death knell of the half-frame format, but it was popular for almost another two decades!
The Pen-EE series was introduced in 1961 as an amateur model. The EE stands for “Electronic Eye”. This initiated a whole spate of models through to 1981. The EE-2 specifically was introduced in 1968 and produced until 1977.
The Olympus Pen EE-2 requires no batteries to operate. The light meter is embedded around the lens allowing for metering through any filters. The meter is selenium, so has a limited life span, which makes it a good idea to keep the lens cap on when not in use.
The camera operates in programmed automatic exposure mode and with no focusing control by the photographer. There is a fixed-aperture setting for flash though, which is connected via the sync cord port on the front of the camera. The viewfinder has frame marking which is fixed as there is no focusing changes. The view finder and the frames taken with the camera are both in portrait format as this is how the camera shoots the half-frame.
The little red flag pops up and stops the camera from taking a picture when there is not enough light. The only input it requires is the ASA (ISO) setting on the lens barrel so that the camera knows what speed film you are using. No DX coding as this was introduced many years later. In some circumstances, you could use the ASA setting for compensation when you want to override the camera, but not knowing what settings it is using would probably negate this thought. The red flag, as usual, is a great feature for ensuring no pictures are taken in the camera bag or with lens cap on.
The lens is an Olympus D. Zuiko 28mm f/3.5. This equates to 40mm in full frame. Filter size is 43.5mm screw in. Apart from the film speed, mentioned above, there is no other settings on the camera.
The camera only has two shutter speeds, 1/40 and 1/200 of a second which are automatically selected. Film speed can be selected from ASA (ISO) 25 through to 400.
Loading film is easy enough, with the leader in the slot, and is advanced using a thumb wheel. The frame number is shown on a circular dial on the top right with a red pointer. I love this dial; I wish more cameras used something like this as it looks fantastic. It counts forward to 72 frames.
The camera is tiny at 335g (12oz), and dimensions of W 108 mm x H 66 mm x D 43 mm (W 4.5in x H 2.5in x D 1.5in). Great little pocket camera.
As mentioned earlier, I interviewed Alec, my 11-year old son about this camera:
Theo (T): How long have you been taking pictures?
Alec(A): Since I was about 5 years old.
T: What types of photos do you enjoy taking most of all?
A: I love to take landscapes near the beach and photos which include strange angles. I enjoy black and white more than colour as it feels like older type of photography.
T: What did you think of the Olympus Pen EE-2?
A: For me it was a very comfortable and it fit on my hand very well. I also liked how I did not have to worry about focusing on it, as some older cameras make you do this manually. Having to get close to take a picture of something, rather than zooming was also more fun as I could think about the picture a bit more. I found the shutter button a bit small though.
T: Did it take any effort to shoot on film?
A: No, not really, as I could not see the picture after taking it, so I just thought it was a good one. Winding to the next picture with the wheel on the back was different.
T: How did you find the portrait format of the camera?
A: I would not recommend it for landscapes, it was hard to use that way always having to flip it over to the side. It was very nice for people pictures though, as they fit nicely into the picture.
T: You normally use a zoom; did you enjoy having to move to frame?
A: Yes, as it makes you have to use more skill to take a great picture, rather than pressing buttons. I had to think about each picture.
T: Any last comments on the camera?
A: I would like to use it again, as it was a lot of fun.
As you can see, there is definitely an appreciation of this camera, and I really don’t mean just the younger ones, as the comments do translate over to older camera users. I showed Alec the resulting pictures from his time with the camera and he quite liked the results. What I also found interesting was the interaction of seeing the pictures for the first time after having taken them a few weeks earlier. That must be also why I appreciate film photography in any format.
The camera is a nice camera and when I used it, I enjoyed my time with it too, but horses for courses, it is not quite what I would use again, but don’t take this as any slight on the camera. Take instead, the view of an eleven-year-old, as he does have some very valid points.
All pictures in this article, taken with the Olympus Pen EE-2, are from Alec except for some of mine I added at the end of this article. I have marked where mine begin.
Here are some of my pictures taken with the Pen EE-2.