Olympus Pen-D Half Frame 35mm film camera 1962

Olympus Pen D Half Frame
The Olympus-Pen D Half Frame is a handsome small compact camera that is well made and robust. This one is still going well after 53 years.

Olympus Pen-D

This was one of my great thrift shops finds. They turn up every once in a while. The camera was in excellent condition just sitting there on the shelf alongside crockery, ornaments and old paperbacks. Whenever I spot such a find the first thing I do is check the lens for scratches, dust, mould or fogginess. Open up the back and peering through the lens with the shutter in the locked open B (bulb) position, I could see the glass was like new. You have to be on the lookout for mould. This is usually the result of a camera having been stored in a damp garage or shed. Fortunately, it was nice and clean.

You also have to check there has been no over vigorous lens cleaning. The worst thing is a dirty handkerchief used to grind grit into the soft surface coating – usually on the outside only. But the lovely 1.9f Zuiko was unmarked. On old Olympus film cameras of this era, the ring around the front of the lens is marked with a letter of the alphabet which coincides with the number of lens elements. Hence F stands for 6 lens elements. Which is definitely a sign of a good camera lens and indicates no scrimping in the lens design.

The next thing to check is the shutter speeds. Are they all working correctly without any sticking? Again everything was Ok. After a quick look through the viewfinder, I could see it too was clear of dust and the frame lines easy to make out.

Olympus Pen-D Half Frame selenium meter
Olympus Pen-D Half Frame selenium meter

The meter appeared to be functioning as it should. I wasn’t that bothered about the old selenium meter working accurately because the camera could be used by setting the aperture and shutter speeds manually. This process being quite independent of the uncoupled light meter. Unlike the old auto-exposure cameras of the 60s and 70s an old manually set exposure system is more robust and not reliant on batteries to make the camera choose the correct speed or aperture. You can always use a separate light meter. Shutter speeds range between 1/8-1/500sec.

The selenium meter has proven to be amazingly accurate despite being over 50 years old. It gave results close enough to my modern digital Nikon. The needle on the exposure meter indicates an exposure value from 7 to 17.

Setting the Correct Exposure

Begin by pointing the camera at the scene you wish to photograph. Then read the number the orange needle in the light meter on the top plate is pointing to. Now transfer this number to the little window between the shutter and aperture rings. The beauty of this system is that various combinations of shutter speeds and aperture settings can be made to get the same correct number as indicated by the light meter. Note, that how high you can set the EV number will be to some extent be limited by the ASA film speed setting, which is adjusted on the bottom of the lens. For example, 1/500th of a second at F16 when using 400 ASA film will only permit an EV of 15.

For an exposure midway within the light meter’s range, a different combination of shutter speed and aperture can be used by gripping and turning both rings at the same time while the number in the cut-out remains the same. It works really well.

The Olympus-Pen D Half Frame is a handsome small compact camera that is well made and robust. This one is still going well after 53 years.

There is also a B (bulb) setting to allow for much longer exposures in low light. The shutter release is threaded so you can use a cable release and tripod combination for sharper shots during long exposures.

There is no self-timer function.

The film is wound on by means of a wheel on the back instead of the usual lever. I think this is probably an economy measure used on the Pens. In practice, it works well and has a good positive feel to it when winding the film on. Before rewinding the film, with the conventional swing-out lever on top of the camera, a little button on the bottom plate must be pressed to release the mechanism.

Film speeds range from ASA 10 to 400 set by moving a tiny knob against the ASA markings on the bottom of the lens.

Overall the little Olympus Pen-D half frame was in very good condition having been stored, probably all its life, in a little black vinyl, red cloth lined, zip up bag. It even has Olympus Pen stamped into the vinyl. I purchased the camera for just $NZ20 a bargain for sure as I had seen them go for at least three times that amount on the TradeMe.co.nz auction website. This little Olympus Pen-D film camera would be my first half frame so I was keen to try it out.

The view finder is in a vertical format making it ideal for portraits. You have to turn the camera on its side to take a landscape shot. It means that on a 36 shot roll of film you get 72 exposures – albeit that the final overall resolution will be half that of a standard 35mm film frame at 18x24mm. By my figuring provided you don’t need big blow-ups, and you get reasonably close to the subject before releasing the shutter, the smaller frame size wouldn’t be a big drawback! I’ll have to wait and see. I always get my negative and positive films developed as film strips which I then scan myself.

Launched way back in 1962, when I was just four years old, the Olympus Pen-D has a good quality hefty overall feel to it. The camera really is compact and would have been ideal as a small travel camera to carry around in your coat or jacket pocket.

Olympus Pen-D Half Frame camera
The button on the left is pressed to release the film spool lock before rewinding the film.

You have to guess the distance to the subject and set the focus with a lever on the side of the lens. There is no rangefinder in the viewfinder. At 32mm the lens is fairly wide making for excellent depth of field. So provided you remember to set the focus the picture is sure to be sharp. Having said that the angle of view is different to that of a full frame film camera. The 32mm on the Pen is more or less equivalent to 43mm on a full-frame. Filter size is 43mm.

The camera’s back comes off by turning a flip-up key on the bottom plate. It isn’t immediately obvious how this works. The back and the bottom plate are all one piece. With a bit of practice, it comes apart easily. You have to pull outwards slightly while pulling down at the same time.

Olympus Pen-D Half Frame 35mm film camera 1962

The shot counter ticks down but is not self-setting. After you load a fresh film you have to remember to set the counter to the correct number before you start shooting.

The model Pen-D2 came out two years later in 1964 with an uncoupled CdS light meter replacing the selenium one. The newer Cds meters worked better in low light but had the drawback of requiring a battery to operate them.

I have just loaded a Fuji 400 ASA film so will have the results of my first try out soon!

Electronic flash works at all shutter speeds thanks to the Copal leaf shutter. However, there is no foot to mount a flash so you have to use one with a separate cable that plugs into the PC connection socket on the right front of the camera. Almost any small electronic flash will work provided it has the PC cable. You can get old flash units secondhand for a dollar or two.

The inside of the Olympus Pen-D. Removing the back can be a bit fiddly.
The inside of the Olympus Pen-D. Removing the back can be a bit fiddly.

6 Comments on "Olympus Pen-D Half Frame 35mm film camera 1962"


  1. Ha, good memories.. my Dad owned one which went all over the world taking thousands of slides, all half frame but photo’s were just fine! As a teen I used it all the time too 🙂 lots of slides per film made it cheap to run 🙂

    Reply

    1. Hi Rick, I remember back in my film days when I was more thoughtful about each shot mindful of the cost of film and developing. Unlike today with our digital cameras where we just keep firing the shutter without having to worry about that.

      Reply

  2. I have just returned to analogue photography after about 20 years, and just took delivery of a Pen EE-3 off TardMe. Its a lovely little work of engineering and I am looking forward to running some film through it.

    I’m interested – what are you using to scan your film?

    Reply

    1. Hi Ashton, I’m scanning my film with an old Epson Perfection 2480 flatbed scanner. The key to the scanner is the VueScan 9.5.90 software that I use to operate it. You can download it from hamrick.com I’ve owned quite a few scanners over the years, and scanned large numbers of slides and prints. The VueScan software is one of the best purchases I have ever made. Amazingly, it works far better than the software that comes bundled with most scanners. Good luck with the Olympus Pen EE-3.

      Reply

  3. Thanks for a helpful article. It’s been about ten years since my high school photography class, so I’m figuring out how to use my Pen-D from the various internet sites.

    Regarding the side lever, “You have to guess the distance to the subject and set the focus with a lever on the side of the lens.” Could you clarify a little more about this? I can’t find any explanation about the numbers on the side. .8, .9, 1.0, 1.2, 1.5, 2, 3, 5, infinity, and a letter “m.” Is this distance in meters? When looking through the viewfinder and moving the lever up and down I see no difference.

    Reply

    1. Hi Edie, the distance scale on my Olympus Pen-D is marked in feet, while yours is marked in metres. There is no parallax correction, split screen rangefinder, or exposure indication in the viewfinder. The selenium meter is not coupled to the shutter in any way. In other words, the view through the viewfinder on your Olympus Pen-D is working as it should. The important thing is to remember to set the distance scale lever each time before taking a shot.

      Reply

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