I love retro cameras. All that steel and leather. Yes, it might sound kinky, but I’m not the only one.
The past couple of years have seen a definite retro trend in cameras. Olympus started it with its new Pen series, followed recently by the Fujifilm Finepix X100. And even though they don’t look remotely retro, Sony’s current A33 and A55 cameras use pellicle mirror technology that’s 45 years old.
So with this in mind, I thought now might be a good time to start looking at all the classics that changed the way we shoot today. I intend to look at one a month until I run out. Which might be a while…
I thought I’d start with one we are now all familiar with, thanks to Olympus’s marketing – the Pen.
Now, of course, anyone with any knowledge of camera history will jump up and say there wasn’t just one Pen, there were several. And they’d be right. Between 1959 and 1983, you could buy a Pen, Pen S, Pen D, Pen EE and Pen EM. And a Pen F. Oh, and various, less than successful, Pen Rapids that took a different type of film.
So there were a lot, then.
All Pens were notable in that they shot half-frame. As in, they used normal 35mm film, but exposed only half a frame (18x24mm, in a portrait format) at a time. This not only gave you more exposures, but the smaller components needed to expose half a frame as opposed to full meant Pens were among the smallest 35mm cameras of their day.
This extended to the camera I want to look at specifically today – the Pen F. The Pen F, like its smaller cousins, used a half frame system. But uniquely, it did it in a 35mm SLR body – all other Pens were fixed lens.
This meant it was the smallest 35mm SLR around, at only 127x69.5x62.5mm and around 600g in weight.
When it was released in 1963, photographers around the world went nuts. Here was an SLR that fitted, with two lenses, in a shoe. (Olympus proved this in one famous ad). W. Eugene Smith, one of the most famous photojournalists of all time, picked one up.
And it wasn’t just its size. Unlike Micro Four Thirds cameras today, you could get a full gamut of lenses and flashguns. 800mm f/8, anyone? Silly though it must have looked, carrying a 2.4kg lens on such a tiny body…
Olympus even made adapters for Nikon, Canon, Exacta and Pentax screw thread lenses.
There was little the Pen F could do wrong. Its only two misses were its pentamirror (as opposed to a bulky pentaprism) that meant the viewfinder was even darker than others at the time. And the later Pen FT’s light meter, which was designed so you had to transfer settings manually to the lens (and made the finder a half stop darker again), but that was about it.
And, of course, like many classics, the Pen F also looked gorgeous.
The Pen was a revolution. And changed how people perceived an SLR’s capabilities. Small, yet capable. And its legacy lives on today. Want a small, yet capable, interchangeable lens camera? Willing to put up with a crop factor and viewfinder issues? That’d be a Pen (or other hybrid).
Does anyone here remember the Pen F or its cousins? Still got one? Let us know in the comments section below.
[Main article image "Olympus Pen F", by Jim Stewart]