Olympus Pen FV – some pics

Just a few random samples from the Olympus Pen FV that I wrote about previously. These are on a mix of Kentmere 400 and Agfa Vista Plus 200.

thoughts while shooting and scanning

  • The lens is pretty sharp, even at f2, though it’s best at f4 or f5.6. I was surprised at the detail on some of the shots, even on the Kentmere, which is kinda grainy.
  • The lack of a split prism and smallish finder makes it quite hard to focus in bad light, which is when you really need it. I almost never miss manual focus on 35mm cameras with a split prism, whereas here I did a few times (I’ve not posted the mis-focussed ones… they’re not awful but definitely out.) So if you are shooting in bad light, make sure that if you miss focus the shot is not going to be ruined e.g. have potential subjects at various distances.
  • Even outdoors with 400-speed film, in London you may need to shoot at f2.8 to get a 1/125 shutter speed.
  • It’s weird, but even though you’re just as obvious, shooting with a small camera draws less attention. Maybe people see me, see my silly camera, and dismiss me as just some weirdo not worth worrying about.

Now I want to go back and re-try my Olympus Pen (the first, full-manual compact one, not the Pen EE) to compare. I remember some of the shots from that being surprisingly good.

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.



Blurry Trip – the fix

I decided that there was no point not trying to fix my Trip 35 with the focussing problem, but knowing that I don’t have the best record when it comes to disassembling cameras, I also decided to use the least invasive method possible. Here, for the record, is what I did.


  • Very small jeweller’s screwdriver, flat head
  • One roll of film – in this case, some old HP5+ 400 that I had
  • A tape measure
  • Small tripod and cable release (you may not need either as long as you can keep the camera in the same place reliably)
  • A newspaper or other detailed object, to focus on

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Blurry Trip – maybe it is the focus after all

I did take a test roll with the Trip to test the focussing, and it looks like I may have been wrong about the speed and camera shake. This is good in that it means I am not a useless trembling photographer, but bad in that it means that there is probably something wrong with the camera.

I took pictures of a walkway outside my flat using the four different zones, being quite careful to hold it properly. The four settings seem in practice to correspond to:

  1. Fairly close things in focus (this should be 1m)
  2. Things further away in focus (this should be 1.5m)
  3. Everything out of focus (should be 3m – this is the recommended zone for the Trip, I expect it has the most useful depth of field)
  4. Everything even more out of focus (should be infinity). Zones 3 and 4 are actually worse for distant objects than zone 2.

This is not what the distance says, and was confirmed in other pictures, which means it looks like it needs adjustment in some way. I am quite confident in my ability to take cameras apart, but I am not very confident in my ability to put them back together again. Trips are so cheap, though, that it barely seems worth it to send it off to somebody to get it fixed – the cost would be about the same as a fully refurbished one from, say, Trip Man. Plus I really need to spend less on cameras.

Adjusting the focus seems to involve opening the front and top, jamming the shutter open and then turning the lens to focus on an object at a known distance, using a piece of tape or ground glass on the film rail. Or I’ve seen people referring to using other cameras as collimators, though that looks more confusing to me. I suppose I might as well try to do this myself, given that the alternative is a camera that looks nice but doesn’t work. Everything else about it seems to be fine.

A Blurry Trip

I’ve been looking at the results of a couple of test rolls that I put through the Olympus Trip 35. The exposures are all fine, but they are annoyingly inconsistent – some are very blurry, and some are quite nice and sharp. At first I thought that perhaps the focussing was stuck on a particular zone, but that doesn’t work because I have pretty sharp photos at a few different ranges.

Not too bad

Now these aren’t great at all

I am thinking that it may be camera shake. Blur does tend to correspond to pictures where I remember not taking much care. The Trip has a relatively simple program auto-exposure system that mostly alters the aperture for low light, but which also switches the exposure from 1/200 to 1/40 when it feels like it. I found a graph which indicates that it goes down to 1/40 at EV13, which in theory with 400 film should be relatively dark, but, you know, this is London. 1/40 is fine for digital cameras with image stabilisation but without that, you have to be quite careful. I rarely go below 1/125 with other cameras, and am sure to keep myself still when I do.

Of course, it might be something else. I should try another roll, being more careful to keep myself as still as possible, which is always good practice anyway. Some people can keep handheld cameras rock steady for up to half a second, and if you’re that good it means that with image stabilisation you could take huge long exposures with a digital.

I hope that I can make my peace with the Trip, because apart from this issue it’s really a lovely camera to use on the street – really comfortable and natural. Not too big, not too small, everything in the right place. Perhaps it’s too comfortable, and I’m half forgetting it’s there, as opposed to using something like a TLR which constantly reminds you that it is a camera and you should be paying attention to it.

Olympus XA1 samples

I have three examples from the Olympus XA(n) series – an XA, an XA1 and an XA2. The XA1 is pretty much ignored by “serious photographers” apparently – it doesn’t have the nice electronic shutter (being completely battery-free) and has absolutely no focussing controls at all, just automatic exposure.

There is something about this that makes it an excellent street photo camera. Here are some pictures from a recent roll that I took, using Fomapan 100 (I’m now very fond of Fomapan film but that’s a separate issue). Yes, it has fixed focus, but at just the distance that you would actually want to focus when taking snapshots on the street. These Olympus people weren’t stupid. Plus, do note that you can get an XA1 for about a fiver on eBay.

Quick camera purchase update

I got the Olympus XA that I bid for in the post earlier today, incidentally, for all those thousands of you who are fascinated with my eBay activity. So now I have an XA, an XA1 and an XA2. That’s probably enough to be getting on with.

They all look extremely similar, but are really quite different in operation. I took the XA out today and wandered around snapping with it for a bit; it is much more of a “compact 35mm rangefinder” than a “camera you keep in your pocket in case aliens land next to you”. It has optical focusing, an ƒ2.8 lens, aperture-based exposure and an indicator of the current shutter speed in the viewfinder (from 1/500 to 2s). These are all quite simple to use, but one will be tempted to spend more time fiddling with them to get a perfect picture I suspect, rather than just pointing and taking the picture and seeing how it comes out later.

The XA1, in contrast, has automatic exposure and basically no controls at all apart from setting the film speed and whether you want to use the flash – not even focusing. It doesn’t have a battery; the lightmeter works with a selenium photoelectric cell. I have some surprisingly good pictures from it though. The XA2 is in-between, with three focus zones and the same light-touch electronic shutter release as the XA.

I suppose the relative use of them for “street photography” depends on exactly how you think of this concept as working.