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olypen32.jpg (100839 bytes) Olympus Pen F, FT, FV 

  Largest Half-frame System

It was late 1963.   JFK would  be President for a few more months.  Martin Luther King was still alive,  The  US Military was on its way out of Vietnam per JFK's order.   Olympus designer Maitani introduced his ground breaking Olympus Pen F, the world's first 35mm half frame SLR.    It was immediately recognized as a classic camera.  Glowing review after glowing review.    Photogs really loved this little camera.  Eugene Smith appeared in a Pen F ad. One ad used a shoe as a gadget bag to emphasis the camera and lenses small size.   It was the first 35 SLR to be almost identical in size to the classic Leica RF screw mounts, the "Barnack" cameras.  Leica photogs were attracted to it in droves.   The strange thing about it was the Pen F and FT  had no  competition.  There were no competing half-frame SLR systems     from other companies! 

"Half-frame" refers to the film size, 18x24mm, which is half of the standard 35 frame.  It is a bit of a misnomer, however.  It is actually the standard film size for 35 mm movie cameras.   With it you get 48 shots on a 24 roll, or 72 shots on a 36 roll.  The problem today is that corner one photo hour labs are seldom set up for it -- but you can find them if you look.

Notice there is no characteristic SLR hump on the top of the camera.  Olympus designers brilliantly used a mirror system rather than the pentaprism. to keep the size small.     The down side of this is that the mirror systems are very susceptible to haze and dirt.   No Pen F/FT/FV finder is bright, but they are made worse by this.   If you have your camera serviced, be sure to have its finder cleaned.   The shutter is a focal plane rotary titanium shutter which allows flash sync all the way up to 1/500th of a second. Rather than the typical horizontal finder in virtually all 35 SLRs, the Pen F and FT have VERTICAL finders.   It may surprise at first, but you soon get used to it.  

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The Pen F looked pretty much like the FT above, except that it said "F" instead of FT on the front, had no meter, had a double stroke advance rather than a single stroke, and had a brighter finder.  The FT introduced a rather pain in  the ass meter which was not coupled to the lens (you read the reading in the finder and then transferred it to the lens).   Due to the internal construction of the meter, the FT's finder was about 1/2 stop less bright than the meterless F.   The F was available only chrome.  The FT was available in chrome and black.   Unfortunately today, the FT uses the hard to find in the US 625 mercury batteries.  The easiest solution is to buy them outside the US.   The FV was a meterless version of the FT, and harder to find than the other two models.  It does have a slightly brighter finder than the FT because light is not split off for the meter.   Microscope models were also made with round masked finder areas. 

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One nice feature is the exceptionally clean aesthetic design.   The lines of the camera just flow.  Note the large stylish rectangular shutter release and the lollypop style self timer on the front.  Despite the camera's small  size, the advance lever, rewind lever, shutter release, and shutter dial are all large and very easy to use. It has a quality of finish beyond its original modest price.  

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Unusually, the shutter speed dial is on the FRONT of the camera, also combined with the ASA dial on the FT.  The sync terminal is out of the photog's way, and combined with the electronic flash / flash bulb sync switch.               

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One of the hardest to find Pen F lenses, and one of the most sought after, is the compact 38/2.8.  It is prized because it reduces the already small camera to its smallest size.   Introduced late in Pen FT production, the compact "pancake" 38/2.8 is very difficult to find today.

But all of this would amount to little if the Pen F and FT did not have a substantial camera system behind them.  Olympus provided accessories for practically everything that you could want at the time.  Only a motordrive was not offered, though it was apparently developed in prototype form.    The Pen F/FT/FV  offered the largest lens and accessory lineup ever offered in half frame photography:

Wide Angles:  20/3.5, 25/4, 25/2.8

Normals: 38/1.8, 40/1.4, 42/1.2  and 38/2.8 "pancake,"  38/3.5 Macro

oly60151.jpg (95296 bytes)  Portrait Lenses:   60/1.5 on the left,   70/2 below, and the 100/3.5

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     Zooms 50-90/3.5, 100-200/5

Telephotos 150/4, 250/5, 400/6.3 Mirror, 800/8 Mirror

 

Accessories included: Bellows with slide copier, extension tubes, copy stand, reverse rings, right angle finder, finder magnifier, and microscope attachment.

The most important accessories were the lens adapters The FT is thinner than any other 35 SLR.  In theory, you can use any other maker's lenses if you have the adapter.     Olympus made adapters for Nikon, Canon, Exakta, Pentax screw mount lenses. All of these could focus to infinity.  It is very much worth noting that the Pen F/FT cameras with the Nikon adapter is just about the ONLY way to get a 1/500th flash sync with Nikon lenses.   These adapters do not  offer auto-diaphragm operation, you must do it manually.   Olympus also made the very convenient OM to Pen F adapters, which allow the use of the OM's expansive and modern lens lineup.  This adapter is particularly useful since OM lenses have a stop down depth of field button on the lens barrel.  So, with OM lenses, it is very easy to focus white open, and then press the button to stop the lens down to shooting aperture.  Lastly, also made was a Leica 39mm adapter, but this was good for close-ups only.

Olympus Pen F, FT, and FT are often found pretty well worn in the US.  They are very popular with various photography services offering low cost pics to the public--whether it be kid photography, proms, theme parks, door to door sales, or whatever.   The half frame format offers a way to cut film cost in half without noticeably decreasing image quality up to 8x10.  

The Pen F, FT, and FT cameras are among the most pleasurable shooters you will find.   They are among many photog's all time favorite cameras.


But that isn't all.  The US ads run by Ponder & Best just might be the  best camera campaign of all time.  If you love these cameras, you are really missing something if you don't take the time to research these ads.  With Gene Smith on your side, who could be against you?

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Revised: November 26, 2003 Copyright   1998-2002  Stephen Gandy. All rights reserved.    This means you may NOT copy and re-use the text or the pictures in ANY other internet or printed publication of ANY kind.  Information in this document is subject to change without notice.  Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.