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Film Camera Review, Olympus Pen FT 35mm Half-Frame SLR Film Camera

Film Camera Review: Olympus Pen FT
The only 35mm half-frame SLR film camera ever produced, the icon of the half-frame camera genre.

The Olympus Pen FT, the icon of the half-frame camera genre, was the second iteration of the Olympus Pen F-series produced by Olympus from 1963 to 1970. The 35mm half-frame SLR film cameras, which include the Pen F (1963-1966), Pen FT (1966-1972), and Pen FV (1967-1970), were a unique design with features not seen on other SLR film cameras. Smooth, sleek, and minimalist, the Pen F-system was one of a kind and the smallest system camera 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-system cameras use a system of mirrors, including a primary unit that moves vertically out of the light path when the shutter is released. The shutter itself, a one-piece rotary focal plane unit, enables the camera to be synchronized for flash shooting at all speeds.

Olympus Pen FT, Chrome and Black

The Olympus Pen FT has a shutter speed range from 1 to 1/500 second, plus Bulb, an all shutter speed synchronization with 'M' & 'X' contacts, accepts film speed ratings from ISO 24 to 400 (similar to the others), and comes with an 11-seconds self-timer. Metering is open-aperture TTL via an uncoupled built-in light meter with the exposure number manually transferred to the lens aperture setting before taking the shot.

    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.

A cold-shoe flash adapter, fixed by inserting its claw legs into the supporting slots on the viewfinder eyepiece, is the option of using a flash on the Pen F-series cameras.

Design and Built

While the three iterations of the series share a similar external built form, their technicalities are slightly different, and progressive. The initial Pen F has a double-stroke film advance and a distinctive logo rendered in a gothic font, and the FT has a single-stroke film advance, a self-timer, and an uncoupled integrated light meter. The Pen FV was a remake of the FT with the light meter omitted in favor of the original brighter viewfinder.

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

The addition of the self-timer with a keyhole-shaped self-timer switch and lever located in the upper right corner of the FT replaces the large Gothic 'F' logo as seen on the original Pen F. The integration of the light meter to the FT does make for a slightly dimmed viewfinder which does affect framing and focusing, especially in low-light situations. The integrated light meter was omitted on the FV.

Basic Camera Features

The Pen FT is available in both chrome and black.

Olympus Pen FT, Front

On the front, the elegance of design, with the right portion front of the top plate extended halfway down to the middle to the lens mount. The lens mounts, located axially off-centered to the right of the front panel do not carry any mechanical linkages between the body and lens and are almost flush with the body.

Towards the top right corner of the front panel is the self-time lever, and to the left of the lens mount, halfway down, is the shutter and film ISO speed selector dial. Shutter speed selection is done by rotating the dial to match the desired speed to the red dot on the apex of the dial base, and film ISO speed selection is done by lifting and rotating the crown of the dial to display the desired ISO speed selection.

Setting the film ISO speed is best done by first rotating the shutter speed setting to the 1-second mark as the film ISO speed display window is located in between the 1-second and B shutter speed positions.

Olympus Pen FT, Top

On the top plane, to the left of the top plate is the recessed film rewind crank which is also the pull-up film back latch release, and next to it, the Pen FT nameplate (hidden in the image by the cold-shoe attachment). The mini-cluster to the right of the top plate includes the shutter release button with a cable release socket, film frame counter, and a small light window (only on the FT) for illuminating the photometer display in the viewfinder.

Fitting the cold shoe, as on my review unit, is a very very tight fit, requiring a proper alignment of the claw legs of the adapter to the slots on the viewfinder eyepiece, and a steady and balanced pressure to slot it all the way in. Removing it, if you have to, requires the deft upward pressure of both of your thumbs to slide it up and out. Could this be the reason that more than a few of these cameras are often seen (on the sales site) with a viewfinder eyepiece that is broken or has their corners chipped?

Olympus Pen FT, Back

On the back, aside from the viewfinder eyepiece and the film wind lever located on the back of the top plate, the plain non-interchangeable hinged film back.

Olympus Pen FT, Bottom

On the bottom plane, the battery chamber cover, tripod socket, and film rewind release button.

Olympus Pen FT, Film box

The film box is the standard configuration as seen typically on an SLR film camera, with the film canister chamber on the left, followed by the half-frame shutter window, forward sprocket gear, and a multi-slot take-up spool on the other end.

Film Loading and Unloading

Film loading and unloading with the Olympus EL (Easy Loading) system on the Pen FT is again similar to the way it is done on other film cameras. The film tab end is inserted into one of the slots on the outer side of the film spool. The film is wound in the same direction the film forward crank is turned, with the emulsion side down.

The standard two blank shots apply to bring the unexposed part of the film to Frame 1. Film rewind is also common with the press of the film rewind release button and cranking the film rewind lever in the clockwise direction until the whole spool is completely rewound.

Viewfinder Readout

Olympus Pen FT, Viewfinder Readout

The Pen FT viewfinder is fitted with a Porro prism finder with microprism and a special Fresnel lens, while the mirror fixture is a horizontal opening shock-less quick return type.

The open aperture TTL (Through-the-Lens) metering is displayed on a vertical bar on the left of the viewfinder display by a photometer needle pointing to a 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.

Open Aperture Metering

Shooting stopped-down, but with open aperture TTL metering, is the norm when the camera is fitted with its own Olympus Pen F legacy lenses. The exposure value of the light-averaging photometer reading, the number the exposure needle points to, is used to manually adjust the lens aperture opening before the shot is taken.

These numbers are equivalent to the actual F-stops of each lens, 0 being the widest aperture setting, and 7 the smallest.

Film Camera Review, Olympus Pen FT 02

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, and you are ready to release the shutter.

Adjust the shutter speed setting to a higher value if the pointer needle of the photometer seems to be stuck in the lower zone of the exposure scale bar, and the opposite if the needle seems to be stuck above the zero (0) exposure value.

Closed Aperture Metering

The stopped-down method, or closed aperture shooting mode, is used when you are using an adapted lens, for example, a Zuiko OM lens fitted onto the Pen FT with the Olympus Pen F Mount Adapter. For this method, the exposure is optimum when the photometer needle is pushed up to a value of 0 (zero).

Film Camera Review, Olympus Pen FT 02

Again, the best approach is to first select the shutter speed you want to shoot with, before using the viewfinder to frame and focus the image. Do this 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 before releasing the shutter.

Film Camera Review, Olympus Pen FT 03

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 setting the aperture with one hand (especially with adapted Zuiko OM lenses) is continuous and can be with one fluid movement.

Image Size and Orientation

The image size of half-frame cameras, at half the size of 24x36mm full-frame images, is 18x24mm, or an image aspect ratio of 3:4. The images are orientated vertically, otherwise referred to as the portrait format.

Lens Crop-Factor

Having an image frame size that is smaller than that of a full-frame camera, the lenses for the Olympus Pen F-series can also be looked at as having a crop ratio (just like with digital camera sensors) that can be used to give the lens an equivalent focal length to full-frame lenses used on full-frame cameras.

Olympus Pen FT, Zuiko OM 35mm F2

For Olympus Pen F-system lenses, the crop ratio is 1.4 (1.43 to be exact). For example, using the standard F.Zuiko 38mm F1.8 lens on the Pen FT is the equivalent of using a slightly longer than 50mm lens (54.48mm) on a full-frame camera. Likewise, a Zuiko OM 35mm F2, when adapted to the Pen FT, will give you the equivalent of a 50mm focal length lens.

Interchangeable Lens System

Olympus Pen F System Lens Chart

The Olympus Pen F-system camera is supported by a whole range of interchangeable lenses ranging from an ultra-wide-angle 20mm G.Zuiko F3.5 lens to the 800mm Zuiko Mirror T F8.0 super-telephoto.

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

Within the range are a couple of zooms, the Zuiko Auto-Zoom F3.5 50-90mm, and Zuiko Zoom F5 100-200mm; a macro, the E.Zuiko Auto Macro F3.5 38mm; and standard primes in the likes of a 42mm H.Zuiko Auto F1.2, 40mm G.Zuiko Auto T F1.4, 38mm F.Zuiko Auto S F1.8, 38mm E.Zuiko Auto S F2.8.


The self-timer is activated by turning the self-timer lever all the way up after the film frame has been cranked forward. The delay is actuated, after the film has been cranked forward, by pressing down the button on the axis of the lever.


The Pen FT requires a 1.3-volt mercury (now banned) battery. While a voltage-reducing battery adapter is recommended when the camera is fitted with a 1.5-volt button cell, others managed the requirement by adapting the smaller-sized 1.3-volt hearing aid battery (Zinc-Air fuel cell) using a non-voltage reduction PX-625 battery adapter.

Camera Body Weight

The bodyweight of the camera is fitted with a standard F.Zuiko 38mm F1.8 lens in 600 grams.

Olympus Pen FT Instructions

Click on the link to download the PDF version of the Olympus Pen FT Instruction Manual, with many thanks, from

Using the Camera

Using the camera is truly an experience. With the rather diminutive sizes of the lenses that the Olympus Pen FT came with, cupping the camera in your left hand while taking a shot is not actually the best way to hold the camera up. Hold it with your right hand instead, with the index finger resting on the shutter release button, and use the thumb and middle fingers of your left hand to manipulate the focus ring, and your thumb and index finger to adjust the aperture opening of the lens.

Film Camera Review, Olympus Pen FT 04

While cupping the camera gets easier with longer focal length lenses, the location of the focusing ring of these lenses which are right back just off the lens mount, or one with a stiff focus ring, might get you back to where you started.

Film Camera Review, Olympus Pen FT 05

Other than that, the Pen FT is a superb camera to work with. My review unit was CLA'd before the purchase and came as a very clean and crisp unit with a very curt and sharp shutter actuation and, as designed for, a shock-less mirror flap. There is also none of that drag that you tend to feel as the shutter speed is slowed down to its lowest.

And Finally

The Olympus Pen F-series 35mm half-frame SLR film cameras are currently high on the wish list of many film camera enthusiasts and film camera collectors, and you might be in for a rather stiff asking if you are interested in acquiring one.

Film Camera Review, Olympus Pen FT 06

These cameras are true keepers. I can also rest assured say that there is nothing wrong with its 18 x 24mm image format either, as it is as close as you can get to an APS-C sensor size on current digital cameras ...

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  1. Just picked up a Pen-ft, black, with the 40mm f1.4 lens. The camera is incredible. Your article is really helpful, I'm not sure if the meter is broken on mine, or if it just needs a new battery. Either way, I'm excited to shoot with it. Great sample images!

  2. Just saw the description and commentry,its all as you describe, as I own 2 bodies with thef 1.8 andf 1.2 lenses,I found it pays to be a bit OCD about developing and picture taking aim for the fastest time for the aperture selected as camera shake is magnified due to the small size.I do use full frame lenses with an adapter as the performance via middle of lens gives best correction cor spherical and chromatic aberrations while providing best resolution.BTW Maitani did produce a prototype motor drive for the PenFT,it was sleek and sexy as per an article in the Popular photography mag.The GP Alkaline cell co producesPX625A(1.5volt) batteries which fit the pen ft.Via a Pentax/Practika adapter I am able to fit a microscope adapter also being a Medical Practitioner I am aware that there was a model of now outdated Gastroscopes that used an Oly Pen FT Body.

  3. The viewfinder is a bit dim to my taste, but yes, it’s otherwise a cute little almost-pocket camera.


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