Olympus Pen FT, The Half-Frame SLR

Olympus Pen FT, The Half-Frame SLR

'Film Camera Review - A quick look at the Olympus Pen FT, the only half frame SLR camera ever available'

Introduction and Overview

Olympus Pen FT, The Half-Frame SLR, Front Cut
The Olympus Pen F half-frame film camera system (Pen F, Pen FT, and Pen FV), introduced by Olympus in 1963, was the ultimate of the half frame camera genre. A design which was a class on its own, the F series comes with a smooth, sleek, and minimalist lines and was the only half-frame SLR and the smallest full system SLR ever produced.

A salient feature of the cameras was the absence of the characteristic SLR bump, which houses the pentaprism, as found on other SLR cameras. The Pen F uses instead a system of mirrors, including a primary unit that moves vertically out of the light path when the shutter was released.

These cameras are also unique in a way that they are designed to use a rotary focal-plane shutter, instead of the two-curtain focal-plane shutter commonly used in other SLRs. With a mechanism that opens the one-piece shutter fully before it starts to close, the camera can be synchronized for electronic flash shooting at all shutter speeds.

Oly35mm Review - Olympus Pen FT
Build and Design
The Pen FT, introduced in 1966, advances the double-stroke film advance of the Pen F to a single stroke film advance and is integrated with a light meter and a built-in self-timer. The camera also introduces the open aperture TTL (through the lens) exposure metering system which uses a semi-silvered mirror to split a portion of the incoming light to the metering cell, and the rest to the viewfinder.

Olympus Pen FT, View

This advanced design feature, however, results in a viewfinder that was, unfortunately, dimmer than that of the original Pen F. This implementation was later dropped with the introduction of the Pen FV.

Basic Camera Features

Elegant and deceptively beautiful, the FT is available both in chrome and black. Built like a tank, the FT is off all-metal construction, a testament to its durability.

Olympus Pen FT, Front

Olympus Pen FT, Top

Olympus Pen FT, Back

Olympus Pen FT, Bottom

Olympus Pen FT, Film box

The Half-Frame Film Format

Olympus Pen FT, The Half-Frame SLR, Image 01
The film format for half-frame cameras is 24x18mm on a regular 135 cassette rolls, which is half the size of a normal 35mm frame of 24x36mm. On this camera, and others like it, one can shoot and capture twice as many images on a standard roll of film - 48 shots on a 24-exposure roll, and 72 shots on a 36-exposure roll.

Film framing for half-frames is in the vertical or portrait orientation, much like if you are using a mobile to shoot vertical images, rather than the horizontal landscape format, which is more often the norm for photographic imaging.

Shutter Speed

The Pen FT is fitted with an Olympus metal focal-plane shutter. Shutter speed range is from B, 1 second to 1/500th second. Speed setting is by a non-rotary shutter speed dial located on the front of the camera body, which also houses the pull-up and rotates film ISO setting dial.

Film ASA Speed

The Pen FT is designed to accept ASA film speed setting from 25 to 400.

Metering and Viewfinder Readout

Olympus Pen FT, Viewfinder Info
The open aperture TTL exposure metering reading of the Pen FT is displayed on a vertical bar on the left when looking through the viewfinder and uses a photometer needle which will move up or down the scale from 0 to 7. The needle will stay at the optimum exposure recommended for the scene.

As there is no mechanical linkage between the metering system and the shutter release mechanism of the camera, this number is then manually transferred to the aperture setting of the lens, by aligning this number it to the white dot marked on the body of the lens barrel. In other words, you are pre-setting the aperture opening of the lens which is to be used when the shutter is released.

You may find that either method is quite cumbersome on this vintage standard, or with other cameras from the same era. But that was that then, TTL metering was the technological advancement of the day.

Interchangeable Lens System

Olympus Pen F System Lens Chart

The Olympus Pen F system camera is endowed with a whole gamut of interchangeable lenses ranging from an ultrawide-angle 20mm G.Zuiko f/3.5 lens to the 800mm Zuiko Mirror T f/8.0 super telephoto.

Olympus Pen FT, E.Zuiko 38mm F1.8

Within the range is a couple of zooms, the Zuiko Auto-Zoom f/3.5 50-90mm, and Zuiko Zoom f/5 100-200mm; a macro, the E.Zuiko Auto Macro f/3.5 38mm; and standard primes in the likes of a 42mm H.Zuiko Auto f/1.2, 40mm G.Zuiko Auto T f/1.4, 38mm F.Zuiko Auto S f/1.8, 38mm E.Zuiko Auto S f/2.8.


The crop-factor for Olympus Pen F system lenses is 1.4 (1.43 to be exact).

Using the Camera

Olympus Pen FT, Using The Camera

Shooting with this camera and lens setup can be done both 'wide open' or 'stopped down' method.

Open Aperture Shooting Mode

Olympus Pen FT, The Half-Frame SLR, Image 02

Shooting wide open, or in open aperture shooting mode is the norm recommended when the camera is fitted with its own legacy lenses. To do this, first select the shutter speed you like to shoot with, then focus and frame your image, and note the exposure number as indicated by the photometer needle. Next, adjust the aperture ring on the lens barrel to match this number and you are set to go. Press the shutter release. Adjust the shutter speed setting if the photometer needle seems to be stuck in the upper or lower zone of the exposure scale reading.

Good Bokeh Shot

Olympus Pen FT, The Half-Frame SLR, Image 03

To get a good bokeh, where the foreground and background of the subject remain blurry and out of focus, you will want to shoot wide open to retain the shallow depth of field that is the norm of wide aperture openings. To do this you need to adjust the parameters of your shot so that you are shooting at the fastest shutter speed at the widest aperture setting possible, where the photometer needle pointing as near to 0 (Zero) as possible.

Depth of Field (DoF)

Olympus Pen FT, The Half-Frame SLR, Image 04

You can also see the depth-of-field distance of the exposure setup by reading it off the DoF scale setting, again, from the barrel markings of the lens you are using. The opposite of the good bokeh setting is what you want to do when you want as much of the image in focus. This means that you will be using the slowest shutter speed possible while the lens aperture setting is set to the smallest opening possible.

Closed Aperture Shooting Mode

Olympus Pen FT, The Half-Frame SLR, Image 05

The stopped down method or closed aperture shooting mode, is used in situation where you are using an adapted lens where there is no mechanical linkage between the shutter mechanism of the camera to the aperture setting actuator of the lens, as in this example, where you have a Zuiko OM lens fitted onto the Pen FT with the Olympus Pen F Mount Adapter.

Olympus Pen FT, The Half-Frame SLR, Image 06

For this method, the exposure is optimum when the photometer needle is pushed up to the numerical 0 (zero). Again, the best approach is to set the shutter speed of the camera, frame and focus the image with the lens aperture set to its widest, just so the image is at its brightest, and once you are okay with the frame and focus, start stopping down the lens aperture until the photometer needle is pushed to the optimum exposure setting. Release the shutter then.

Olympus Pen FT, The Half-Frame SLR, Image 07

You can actually do the closed aperture shooting mode, as compared to the open aperture mode, without physically moving your eyes away from the camera. Framing, focusing and pre-setting the aperture with one hand (especially with adapted Zuiko OM lenses) is now continuous and can be done in one fluid movement. Exciting thoughts ...

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