Olympus Pen FT 35mm Half-Frame SLR Camera

Film Camera Review:

Olympus Pen FT 35mm Half-Frame SLR Camera

'A quick look review at the Olympus Pen FT, from the Olympus Pen F series camera system, the only half-frame SLR camera system ever produced'

Introduction and Overview

Olympus Pen FT, The Half-Frame SLR, Front Cut
The ultimate in my choice of 35mm half-frame cameras is, undoubtfully, the 35mm half-frame Olympus Pen F system camera (Pen F, Pen FT, and Pen FV) which was first introduced in 1963.

The Olympus Pen F series was the only half-frame SLR film camera ever produced. It was also the smallest full system SLR ever.

As part of the Olympus Pen series cameras, these cameras are unique among SLR system camera designs. The Pen F was without the characteristic SLR bump which normally houses the pentaprism as found on other SLR cameras.

The Pen F was designed using a system of mirrors, including a primary unit that moves vertically out of the light path when the shutter was released.

This gives the rise to a very elegant camera design that comes with almost a flat and horizontal top plane, a design cue that Olympus adopted for the Pen series of MFT (Micro Four Thirds) mirrorless digital ILCs (Interchangeable Lens Cameras).

Oly35mm Review - Olympus Pen FT

The second of the Pen half frame SLR cameras, the Pen FT was introduced in 1966. A TTL light meter and self timer were additions to the functionality of the already popular Pen F.
Instead of the two-curtain focal-plane shutter commonly used in other SLRs, the 35mm half-frame Pen F uses a rotary focal-plane shutter which opens the one-piece shutter fully before it starts to close. One of the benefits of the design is that the Pen F cameras can be synchronized for electronic flash shooting at all shutter speeds.

The Pen F Series

The Pen F 35mm half-frame SLR film cameras series started off with the launch of the Pen F (1963-1966), Pen FT (1966-1972), and Pen FV (1967-19700.

The original Pen F was a fully manual camera and came with a double-stroke film advance and a distinctive logo rendered in a gothic font. The Pen FT had a single-stroke film advance and comes with an integrated light meter open aperture TTL (through the lens) exposure metering system.

The metering system uses a semi-silvered mirror which splits a portion of the incoming light to the metering cell, and the rest to the viewfinder. Exposure values were set to a system of numbers instead of the usual f-stops, and the lens opening can be set by corresponding numbers engraved on the aperture rings of later Pen F lenses.

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.

Olympus Pen FT

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, Front

Olympus Pen FT, Top
Olympus Pen FT, Top

Olympus Pen FT, Back
Olympus Pen FT, Back

Olympus Pen FT, Bottom
Olympus Pen FT, Bottom

Olympus Pen FT, Film box
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 ISO Speed

The Pen FT is designed to accept film SIO speed settings from 25 to 400. The dial selector is integrated with the shutter speed selector dial. Pull the cap of the dial slightly outward to adjust.

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 that 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 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.

Lens Crop-Factor

The crop-factor for Olympus Pen F system lenses is 1.4 (1.43 to be exact). The 38mm f1.8 lens will give you the equivalent of a slighter longer 50mm of a full-frame camera.

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

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 Shots

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

To get 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

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.

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.

The Final Choice

Ultimately, of course, the Olympus Pen F, and its siblings the Pen FT or Pen FV, the only one of a kind of 35mm half-frame SLR film cameras, is the best of what half-frame film photography is all about, and you can do no wrong with its 18x24mm image format size is as close as you can get off an APS-C sensors found on digital cameras ...

Film Camera Sale, Malaysia:

35mm Half-Frame Cameras, SLR and Lenses

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  1. Greetings!
    Nice article!
    One question:
    Is it ok to change the shutter speed from frame to frame or is it best to keep the same shutter speed for the entire roll with this camera?

    Thanks for your attention!

    1. Shutter speed and lens aperture are meant to be changed based on the lighting condition and the depth of field you are after. In film photography, the only thing you should not change for the whole film roll is the film ISO speed setting. Thanks.

  2. Ok, so just to make sure - the Olympus Pen F front dial is for shutter speed and not ISO - correct?

    1. It's for both actually, the main dial is for shutter speed. Pull the top up a bit and turn to adjust the ISO speed which is displayed on a small window between the 1 sec. and B shutter speed setting. Thanks.

    2. You can find the instruction manual for the Olympus Pen FT at Buktus - https://www.butkus.org/chinon/olympus/olympus_pen_ft/olympus_pen_ft.htm

  3. I recently purchased the FV model & that one does not have the iso/shutter speed in one feature.
    I'm new to film photography so i'm just trying to figure the FV out.
    Since the FV does not have a light meter, i suppose that the dial - is for shutter speed only?
    But even if it is, would it still be ok to change the shutter speed frame by frame?
    Is there something that i am not considering that would make changing the speed throughout the same roll not a good idea?

    1. It is a normal practice to set the shutter speed or lens aperture opening for each and every image you take, I do that all the time with my manual film cameras.

      Getting the desired exposure for each image means adjusting the aperture opening on the lens and the shutter speed on the camera each for each and every shot. Not changing the shutter speed means you will need to play about with the lens aperture opening, while not changing the aperture opening means that you will need to adjust the shutter speed for every change in the lighting situation. Have you been exposed to the Sunny 16 Rule, that's about the best reference you should start with. Thanks.

  4. Thank you so much for your help!
    I appreciate it greatly!
    Once again, thank you and be well!


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