Camera Review: Olympus Pen EED

Olympus Pen EED
Olympus Pen EED

Camera Specs

  • type: half-frame; viewfinder
  • film format: 35mm
  • shutter speed: 1/15 to 1/500 sec. (auto); 1/15 sec. (manual)
  • aperture: f/1.7 – f/16 (auto)
  • exposure meter: CdS auto-exposure; EV 5.5 – 17
  • ISO: 12 – 400
  • weight: 430g
  • dimensions: 115mm (W) x 68mm (H) x 49.5mm (D)
  • battery: PX625 equivalent (eg: LR44)

Lens Specs

  • 32mm F. Zuiko (46mm full-frame equivalent)
  • 6 elements in 4 groups
  • scale & zone focus
  • 0.8m (2.6 ft) to infinity; click stops at 0.8m (2.6 ft), 1.2m (4 ft), & 3m (10 ft)
  • 43mm screw-in filter size; 45mm slip-on


Inspired by Katie’s Half-Frame Diary, I decided that I needed a half-frame camera myself. I love the look of two half-frames scanned together. The two images form a diptych and the juxtaposition offers a unique opportunity for photographic storytelling. It’s something that I’m eager to experiment with.

I already own a Diana Mini, and while I enjoy shooting half-frame with that camera, I wanted something with a little more of a classic look and feel, not to mention a glass lens and more camera controls. I decided that what I needed was an Olympus half-frame camera.

After some research online, I short-listed two potential cameras: the Olympus Pen F and the Olympus Pen EED. They are very different cameras. The Pen F is an SLR with interchangeable lenses and the Pen EED is mostly automatic. Unfortunately, the Pen F was out of my price range and so I bought the Olympus Pen EED instead.

The Problems Begin

I bought an Olympus Pen EED last year on eBay from a seller in Japan who claimed that the camera “works properly”. As I would learn a few months later, my Pen EED did nothing of the kind.

My problems began when I was loading the camera with film. For some reason, it was really hard to get the take-up spool to grab and hold the film leader. It took many attempts before I managed to get it to work. Finally, with a roll of 24-exposure Kodak UltraMax 400 loaded, I began to snap photos every chance I got.

Sadly, I made two rookie mistakes at this point.

First, it is good practice to test a half-frame camera with a short roll of film, preferably by hand-rolling your own from a bulk roll of fresh film so you can control the exposure count. It didn’t occur to me right away that the 24-exposure roll I loaded would give me 48 half-frame photos. (I know. It should be obvious, right?) That can take a while to shoot and I only had a short window of time to test and evaluate the camera before the seller would no longer be willing to give me a refund if I happened to discover the camera was defective. And so time went by and the refund window closed. It took a few months before I finished the roll and discovered that something was seriously wrong.

Pen EED Film Advance Indicator
A rookie mistake.
The second mistake I made was this: When you load a camera that has a manual film advance, but does not have a built-in film advance indicator, you need to keep an eye on the film rewind knob. As you advance the film to the next frame, the rewind knob should spin counter-clockwise to indicate that film is being pulled out of the canister. Unfortunately, I forgot to keep an eye on this and I didn’t notice that the film was not advancing. My first clue that something was wrong came after I had shot 50+ photos. Surely, I can’t be getting this many extra exposures on a roll, can I?

Nope. I wasn’t.

It turned out that the film advance was broken. And I missed my opportunity for a refund.

Repairs

Did You Know?

Designed by the legendary Maitani Yoshihisa, the original Olympus Pen was Japan’s first half-frame camera. Introduced in 1959, its name refers to the idea that it was as portable as a pen. Many models soon followed. The Pen EED was produced from 1967 to 1972 and featured a CdS meter, auto exposure, and a fast lens.

Disappointed, I shelved the Pen EED until summer and then started to do some research on how to repair the problem. I discovered an awesome six-part series of YouTube videos by mikeno62 where he completely disassembles the Olympus Pen EED and shows you how to repair many common issues. I started watching the videos and then when I was feeling confident, I took apart my Pen EED.

I took the top and bottom plates off the camera and I soon discovered the issue with the film advance. There was a little bit of vertical play or wiggle room in the winding mechanism so that whenever pressure was applied, instead of advancing the film, the gears would slip off of each other and no actual film winding took place.

Now that I had identified the issue, I just had to fix it. Surely, the mechanism just needs to be tightened or something? As I looked closer, I realized that I would need to remove the lens and disassemble every other part of the camera piece by piece to really get at the winding mechanism in order to fix it. And that was assuming that the mechanism only needed tightening. Such a task was way beyond my beginner skills and comfort level.

So, I reassembled the camera and shelved it again.

The (nearly finished) shim I made to repair the Olympus Pen EED.
The (nearly finished) shim.
Then, a week or two later, I had an idea. What if I made and inserted a shim into the winding mechanism to tighten it up and remove the wiggle room? I quickly removed the Pen EED’s top and bottom plates and began to test my idea. Using some card stock and scissors, I cut a small shim and slid it under the sprocket shaft. It worked… for a moment. Now that I knew my idea could work, I spent the next few hours making various shims, playing with thickness and shape before I finally arrived at a workable design. My final shim was made by cutting a piece of aluminum from a pop can and folding it over to double its thickness. Then I used a hole punch and scissors to create a ‘C’ shape and inserted it under the sprocket shaft until it was wedged firmly in place and did not come loose when winding. I also made sure it would not come in contact with the film and scratch it. And with that done, I had successfully fixed the winding mechanism!

Then I broke the hot shoe.

It was a simple mistake. When you remove the Pen EED’s top plate, you have to be careful because it is still connected to the camera body by a wire running to the hot shoe. I accidentally pulled this wire off. And so I can no longer use an external flash with my Pen EED. But it’s not really a big deal. The hot shoe can be repaired by soldering the wire back in place. And one day when I get around to buying a soldering iron, I will fix it. Until then, no flash.

The shim I used to repair the Olympus Pen EED
The repair shim inserted under the sprocket shaft.

First Photos

Now that I had the Olympus Pen EED working, I loaded it up with some bulk-roll Kodak Tri-X 400 (I had learned my lesson) and was ready to shoot! I packed a few cameras and film into my bag and headed to Ralph Klein Park for a photo walk.

As I wandered around the park, the Pen EED was behaving erratically. At first I thought there was something wrong with the automatic exposure. Sometimes I was able to snap a photo and sometimes a red flag popped up in the viewfinder and the shutter was locked. It took a while to realize that it was the battery. Again, I made a rookie mistake. I had left the camera sitting for so long that the fresh battery I put in it when I first got the camera was now dying. I finished the roll as best as I could and headed home — but not before slipping and falling. I landed hard on my wrists and knees trying my best to protect my cameras. I was sore and bruised, but the Pen EED survived unscathed.

I eventually developed that roll of Tri-X and I’m sad to say that only a few of the photos turned out. A few months later, I put a fresh battery and an expired roll of 8-exposure Kodak SO-554[1]I bought 3 rolls of this mysterious film and haven’t yet been able to learn anything about it. There is simply no record of it online. into the Olympus Pen EED and went on a photo walk. This time I had success… sort of.

#1754. Kodak SO-554 200, Olympus Pen EED. Unicolor C-41 Powder, 3:30 min @ 39 °C.
As you can tell from the photos, the Pen EED has some serious light leaks. Most of the light seals have eroded away and will need to be replaced. Aki-Asahi sells light seal kits for the Pen EED at a reasonable price and I will order one from their website. But that is a repair for another day…


#1755. Kodak SO-554 200, Olympus Pen EED. Unicolor C-41 Powder, 3:30 min @ 39 °C.

#1756. Kodak SO-554 200, Olympus Pen EED. Unicolor C-41 Powder, 3:30 min @ 39 °C.

#1757. Kodak SO-554 200, Olympus Pen EED. Unicolor C-41 Powder, 3:30 min @ 39 °C.

…it relieves the photographer with a Pen EED of all exposure worries.

First Impressions & Some Advice

I really like the look and feel of the Olympus Pen EED. The camera is easy to use and takes decent photos. It’s a little too big and heavy to carry in my jacket pocket, but it feels comfortable in my hands. Despite the issues I’ve had to deal with, I’m still happy I bought it. That being said, there are some things to be aware of should you choose to buy one yourself.

The Pen EED is an automatic camera. It has a 32mm[2]32mm on a half-frame camera is equivalent to 46mm on a full-frame camera. F. Zuiko lens (6 elements in 4 groups) with apertures ranging from f/1.7 to f/16 and shutter speeds from 1/15 sec. to 1/500 sec. only when the camera is in Auto mode. In Auto, the Pen EED will automatically choose the aperture and shutter speed based on readings from the built-in CdS exposure meter. As the manual says, “…it relieves the photographer with a Pen EED of all exposure worries”. Using the Pen EED in Manual mode will default the shutter speed to 1/15 sec. — much too slow for all but the steadiest of hand-held shots (it’s best to use a tripod). And while Manual mode will allow you to use apertures from f/1.7 to f/22, they are only meant to be used with flash.

Setting the film speed on the Pen EED is done manually and the film ISO dial can be set from ISO 12 to 400. So while you can’t use faster films like Kodak’s Portra 800, there is still a variety of great film to choose from that will work in the Pen EED.

The exposure meter is powered by an obsolete PX625 mercury battery, but you can use an equivalent battery as a substitute without any issues. I use an LR44 alkaline battery. The voltage is a little higher, but it works just fine. The exposure meter does a pretty good job in most lighting situations, but when you have a bright background, you will want to adjust the film ISO dial to compensate. You simply decrease the ISO 1 or 2 stops with a bright background or shooting into the sun and increase the ISO when trying to shoot something bright while standing in a darker spot (eg: trying to photograph something outside a window when standing inside). This next shot would have turned out better had I decreased the ISO (thereby lengthening the exposure time) to compensate for the CdS meter which automatically measured the exposure based on the bright sky and not the darker buildings.

#1758. Kodak SO-554 200, Olympus Pen EED. Unicolor C-41 Powder, 3:30 min @ 39 °C.

Pros

  • half the frame, twice the fun!
  • “worry free” auto exposure
  • sturdy build
  • detailed repair videos on YouTube (just in case 😉)

Cons

  • don’t forget to focus!
  • occasionally need to compensate for auto exposure
  • only works in auto mode (manual mode is for flash only)
  • shutter defaults to 1/15 sec. in manual
  • useless without a battery
  • leaks like a sieve when the light seals are gone
  • a little too big for pockets

When using the Pen EED, I recommend you carry a spare battery for moments when your battery dies and needs replacing. To quote the manual, “When the battery runs out, its performance fails sharply and the light meter ceases to function”. Fails sharply indeed! The Pen EED does not work without power. There is no manual mode on this camera.

That being said, focussing the Pen EED is all done manually. Distances go from 0.8m (2.6 ft) to infinity with click stops at 0.8m (2.6 ft), 1.2m (4 ft), and 3m (10 ft), so while the lens is marked for scale focus, the Pen EED can easily be used as a zone focus camera (aka flower, 1 person, 3 people, and mountain). Personally, I have always struggled with the combination of auto exposure and manual focus. Not having to worry about exposure also means that I forget to think about focus. As a result, I have had more than my fair share of blurry photos.

Be sure to check the light seals before buying an Olympus Pen EED. While some cameras will remain light tight even after the light seals have rotted away, this is not the case with the Pen EED. When the light seals are gone, be prepared for light leaks! As mentioned earlier, Aki-Asahi sells light seal kits for the Pen EED at a reasonable price.

With all the headaches this “new” camera has given me, I still love the Olympus Pen EED. It has classic charm, a solid build,[3]It’s managed to survive my tinkering. That has to be worth something. and the shutter makes a characteristic hissing sound at 1/15 sec. that is simultaneously both annoying and endearing. The Olympus Pen EED may not have the manual controls I was hoping for, but it’s still a great little half-frame shooter and I have enjoyed carrying it around town on my photo walks.





Finding the Date of Manufacture

If you gently pry the film pressure plate off the Pen EED you will discover a three character code that identifies the location and date of manufacture. The first Japanese character identifies the assembly plant that made the camera.[4]Unfortunately, I do not know which Olympus factory is designated by the first character. The second number represents the last digit in the year of assembly. Olympus made the Pen EED from 1967 to 1972, so the ‘9’ on my Pen EED means it was made in 1969. And the third number represents the month of assembly. Numbers 1 – 9 stand for January – September, and X, Y, Z for October, November, December. Put it all together and it means my Pen EED was made in May 1969.


Footnotes[+]

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