in Cameras, Photography

So I got an Olympus Pen F(V) finally

I bought an Olympus Pen FV and I’ve been shooting with it. I finished one roll of Poundland Plus over the weekend (aka Agfa Vista Plus 200, 24 frames, sold for £1—ideal for half frame cameras as 48 shots is plenty) and am now about halfway through a roll of Kentmere 400.

I’ve wanted one of these for ages. I wasn’t particularly focused on the FV, but one appeared on eBay for a reasonable price at the same time as I got some money unexpectedly. There was an FT (which has a light meter) for the same price but, apart from needing mercury batteries which don’t exist any more, it sounded from research as if the meter is just a pain in the arse, being uncoupled from the aperture and speed, and reduces the brightness of the finder too.


I won’t go into the exact details of what the F(V) is and does—you can google that and be just as informed as I was when I bought it. Basically it’s a compact half frame (i.e. each shot is half the size of a normal 35mm frame) film SLR. It was sold on its size and portability as a whole system compared to contemporary full frame cameras.

Half frame never really took off though; I’m not quite sure why. It might not be a great format if you want huge detailed prints but there’s plenty of detail there—commercial movies were shot in half frame, after all, and blown up to the size of a projection screen. The sort of 4×6″ prints that most people took didn’t need large negatives at all. Perhaps one issue for the consumer market was that it takes forever to use up a roll of film.

Half frame also has effects on depth of field, in that it is larger for the same effective focal length; this is good for street photography, letting you shoot faster or in lower light and get more of the scene in focus, but less good for portraits and other styles where you want to isolate a subject by having other elements out of focus. Swings and roundabouts really.


Some observations:

  • It is a small camera but not much smaller than my Pentax MX, which is to be fair about as small as full frame SLRs get. It’s small enough to fit into the pocket of a big jacket, anyway, making it handy for street photography. Longer lenses will also be smaller.

  • It is also heavier than it looks (solid metal construction). It’s maybe slightly lighter than the MX and a lot heavier than a compact. That’s still not very heavy though.

  • Ergonomics are good. It feels comfortable to hold and shoot. I suppose I will find out how stable it really is when I get the film developed.

  • It’s not as loud as most SLRs, but it’s not silent either. In practice, if you hold a camera to your eye and point it at things, you will draw attention from anyone looking in your direction anyway. I don’t think it is loud enough to draw extra attention after you’ve taken a shot in any moderately busy place.

  • It doesn’t have a meter but I’m finding that I’m familiar enough with manual settings for city environments that I don’t need one any more. I’ve shot with the MX (manual, has meter but no auto exposure) for long enough that I’ve pretty much memorised them. Your eyes are the best meter if you can train them properly, anyway—no meter can extrapolate incident light at a distant point or know what it is you want to expose for. In weird light, though, it could be an issue.

  • While it has no shutter lock I don’t think I’ve triggered it accidentally in my pocket yet.

  • The shutter speed dial is on the front and this is a really good position for it; it’s on the same plane as the aperture dial but far enough away that it’s easy to operate on its own.

  • There’s no film box end holder on the back or any way of marking, or telling, what film if any is loaded. I suppose one just has to remember.

  • Loading film is easy, but you have to close the back before it will wind properly—without the backplate, the teeth don’t advance it.

  • Focussing is pretty easy even though you don’t get a lot of light through a half frame finder. (A fast 50 on a full frame is easier.) It doesn’t have a split-image focussing screen though, which would be nice.

  • The “kit lens” is a 38mm f1.8 prime, which is about 55mm equivalent on full frame. This is noticeably tighter than 50mm, but with half frame you do need to concentrate on filling that half frame, and a longer lens encourages that IMO. It would make a great street portrait camera, particularly given that the default orientation is portrait.

At the moment my thoughts are that I didn’t really need this and it will not make much difference to my photography, but that it’s cute enough that I don’t really mind.