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Olympus Pen EE, EE (EL) 35mm Half-Frame Film Cameras

Film Camera Review: Olympus Pen EE
Film Camera Review: A quick look review of the Olympus Pen EE and Pen EE (EL), the first 35mm half-frame cameras produced for the mass market.

The Olympus Pen EE, introduced by Olympus in 1959, was the first fully automatic exposure 35mm half-frame camera launched for the mass market. When debuted, the very successful Pen EE was the smallest camera to use regular 135 film cassettes, or as commonly referred to, a 35mm film cassette. Images were captured on an 18mm x 24mm film frame, half the size of the regular full-frame image, orientated vertically.

The solidly built camera is fitted with a fixed-focus 4-elements in 3-groups D.Zuiko 28mm F3.5 lens with the programmed aperture opening maxing at F22, comes with a set of two shutter speeds, at 1/40 and 1/200 second, and accepts film ISO speeds from 10 to 200. Automatic exposure is set by aligning the film ISO speed dial to the index mark on the apex of the lens barrel, while flash exposure is set at the lens aperture opening value.

Olympus Pen EE

The automatic exposure system of the Pen EE is powered by a selenium cell system built around the camera's lens. In bright ambient light, the programmed shutter speed will be set to 1/200 second, and the lens's aperture opening regulated from F22 down to about F11.

When the light is lower the shutter speed will switch to the 1/40 second exposure time and the lens aperture opening regulated from F11 down to its widest F3.5. This intelligent system keeps the aperture opening from being too small to avoid diffraction.

The Pen EE models (including the Pen EE-S) are fitted with a clam-shell back, removed for loading and unloading film. The camera also comes with a manual reset film frame counter.

Olympus Pen EE Flash Barcket
For flash photography, the camera is set to a slower shutter speed and a fixed aperture opening based on the flash-to-subject distance calculation. This is done by turning the film ISO selection dial to the aperture opening dial setting with non-click numeral indicators at 3.5, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, and 22.

You might also notice that the Pen EE does not come with a flash shoe. Adding a flash unit for use on the camera is using a cold-shoe bracket that straps over the camera back while being attached to the tripod socket.

Basic Camera Features

As a mass-market product, the design and use of the point-and-shoot Pen EE were made to be simple, fun, easy to use, and convenient to carry around in your purse or pocket. The camera is normally available with a plastic hand strap and a nice faux leather pouch.

Olympus Pen EE, Front

A plain and simple front, with only the lens and lens housing mount, a flash sync socket on the lower left of the lens mount, and the viewfinder window integrated into the right of the top nameplate decal. The lens itself is surrounded by the selenium cell screen, and the film ISO speed and aperture opening selector dial are at the base of the mount.

The camera takes 22.5mm screw-in filters which are fitted over the lens.

Olympus Pen EE, Top

It is not sophisticated with the top plane either. The film rewind crank is on the left, the shutter releases button towards the front right of the top plate, and on its right, the frame counter dials with a manual knurled frame counter arrow on its axis.

The shutter release button is threaded for the shutter release cable, and the film frame counter is set manually with each load of a film roll.

Olympus Pen EE, Back

At the back of the top plane is the viewfinder window, and the film thumbwheel crank. The film back is the older clam-shell design that is removed for loading and unloading the film.

Olympus Pen EE, Bottom

The bottom plate, which is integral to the clam-shell back, carries the film back lock, tripod socket, and the rewind release button within a feature circular recess.

Olympus Pen EE, Film box

The film box is a standard configuration with the film canister chamber to the left, followed by the shutter window, the original version of the sprocket gear, and a double slit-in take-up spool.

Film Loading and Unloading

The film is loaded by first taking the film back out completely by a quarter-turn of the film back lock located on the bottom plane of the camera.

Next, insert the film tab end firmly into the inner slot of the take-up spool and pull the film canister back slowly, align the perforations on the edge of the film strip to the sprocket gear teeth, and finally, pull the canister back again so that it fits snugly into the film canister chamber.

Olympus Pen EE, Film loading 1

Turn the thumbwheel forward slightly to make sure that the film is properly aligned and tensioned before closing the back. Once the film back is secured, complete the forward wind and release the shutter button fully.

Repeat the sequence again, and again (twice) to complete the film loading sequence. The three blank shots, done with the lens set to a manual aperture setting to bypass the red-flag catch, are to forward the unexposed part of the film properly for the first exposure.

Olympus Pen EE, Film loading 2

Next, set the film ISO speed setting to the film you are using for automatic exposures, and finally, use your thumb to turn the knurled film frame counter (on the top of the camera) to 72 (if you are using 36 exposure film rolls) or to a number that is double the number of exposures indicated. Now, you are all set and ready to go!

Rewinding the film back into its canister is done by first pressing the rewind release button on the bottom plate of the camera and by pulling out and turning the fold-down rewind lever clockwise until the film roll is completely wounded back into the film canister. Open the film back again to unload the film canister.

Viewfinder Readout

Olympus Pen EE, Viewfinder readout
The viewfinder is a simple bright frame finder with a luminous image frame line. The only other display within the viewfinder is the red pop-up flag, displayed when underexposure is detected, and the shutter is locked.

Shutter Lock Trick

In the situation where the shutter is locked, you still can get away with the shot (though it will be underexposed) by setting the camera to work manually at its slower shutter speed by resetting the film ISO selector dial to the manual (flash) aperture setting.

You can also take the shot by using the shutter lock trick, first by pointing the camera to a brighter light source, one which will not trigger the red-flag pop-up, then half-press the shutter to register the reading, and finally moving back to the framed scene to want to shoot and releasing the shutter fully.

Lens Equivalent

The 28mm F3.5 28mm lens of the Pen EE is equivalent to a 40mm focal length lens on a 35mm full-frame camera. The crop ratio for lenses manufactured for Olympus half-frame cameras is 1.4.

Depth of Field

For a fixed focus camera such as the Pen EE, the tip at getting the best sharpness across the depth of field means taking the shot with the smallest aperture available. For automatic exposure cameras, this also means that you should go for the highest film ISO speed possible.


The Pen EE does not need a battery to run.

Camera Body Weight

The Pen EE weighs 355 grams.

The Pen EE (EL)

In 1966, the Pen EE was replaced by the Pen EE (EL), an upgraded version with an easier-to-load Easy-Load take-up spool. The camera came with a small label marked EL stuck to the front and came with a multi-slot take-up spool, instead of the slide-in slot on the original Pen EE, and a black plastic sprocket gear rather than the chrome metal as found on the EE.

Olympus Pen EE (EL), Film box

The clam-shell film back, however, remains the same as the rest of the camera.

Using The Camera

The point-and-shoot camera is, of course, easy and fun to work with. The all-metal and glass camera is built to last, and with a little bit of care, if you find one with a lazy shutter (a CLA will do), the camera should last you for a few more good years.

Images will be in focus across the board, Zuiko lenses are acknowledged for high-quality images, the number of images per film roll is twice what you will normally get, and the camera itself is compact enough for your shirt or pants pocket, or the small handbag.

Have fun!

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  1. Minimum focus distance? Anyone know it?

    1. You might find it interesting here, thanks


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