Olympus PEN-EE

My Olympus PEN EE. It's so simple and fun to use, I rate it as my joint favourite camera with the Olympus PEN E-PM1.
My Olympus PEN EE is the later model, with a basket-weave, rather than leather-like exterior. It’s so simple and fun to use, I rate it as my joint favourite camera with the Olympus PEN E-PM1.

It’s strange how a camera that cost me nothing (it was gifted to me) and has precious little in the way of controls became my joint favourite camera. The Olympus PEN-EE, like it’s spiritual successor the PEN E-PM1, is a simple and capable little thing that never fails to make you smile. Besides the fun factor, common to both are a compact, lightweight, solidly built body and a half-35mm frame size. In the PEN EE, this gives a cute wee unit that can pack up to 72 frames on a 36 shot film. Whilst that pales in comparison to the latest digital cameras, I think its astonishing for a mechanical device, especially considering the first PEN camera was launched in 1959. This is testimony to the skill of Yoshihisa Maitani, who developed the PEN film-camera series, and OM-series SLR cameras, amongst others.

The Mediterranean Garden at the Dunedin Botanical Gardens. Olympus PEN-EE, Kodak Ektar 100.
The Mediterranean Garden peeking around a macrocarpa at the Dunedin Botanical Gardens. Olympus PEN-EE, Kodak Ektar 100.

Two generations of PEN-EE were made, before derivatives such as the EE2 and EE3 came along. The earlier PEN-EE has a leather-like finish, whilst the later ones (such as mine) have a basket-weave finish. The camera automatically adjusts the lens aperture, according to the lighting conditions seen by the selenium-based meter surrounding the lens. Being the later model, mine has a fixed shutter speed of 1/250s if you set the ISO of the film you’re using, as opposed to 1/60s of the original model. To use flash, the ISO ring has an aperture setting available, which changes the shutter speed to 1/30s (the original remained at 1/60s). This aperture setting also functions without flash for those times when you want manual control. The meter, like all selenium meters, is likely to have degraded over time. This hasn’t been the case with mine, I’m pleased to say.

White fountain with bluey water, white cloud with bluey sky. Mediterranean Garden, Dunedin Botanical Gardens. Olympus PEN-ee on Kodak Ektar 100.
White fountain with bluey water, white cloud with bluey sky. Mediterranean Garden, Dunedin Botanical Gardens. Olympus PEN-EE on Kodak Ektar 100.

The four element D.Zuiko 28mm f/3.5 lens of the PEN-EE is focus-free in a similar vein to the Olympus 15mm f/8 body cap lens available for Micro Four Thirds cameras. This is achieved by setting the lens at the hyper-focal distance, where the maximal amount of the image is in focus. The variable aperture in the PEN-EE is a slight hindrance, as the ensuing depth of field variations can make it difficult under lower light to get everything you want in focus. However, in critical applications, you can cheat by using the manual aperture setting.

A rainy Dunedin day, looking down Moray Place from First Church.
A rainy Dunedin day, looking down Moray Place from First Church. The slight shakiness is likely from the cold, and the amount of rain running down the inside of my jacket. Olympus PEN-EE, Kodak Ektar 100.

Composing shots is interesting, as the frame in the camera is vertical (i.e. you take portraits when the camera is horizontal, and landscapes when the camera is vertical). The viewfinder is very simple, with a bright rectangle in the window showing the rough framing of the shot. There is no readout of any description, so you’re forced to focus on the composition. Personally, I like this in a camera I’m going to be walking around with, as it prioritises taking photos, rather than missing photos for the sake of changing a few settings.

Gnarled trees framing the back of an old grave. Northern Cemetery, Dunedin. Olympus PEN-EE, Kodak Ektar 100.
Gnarled trees framing the back of an old grave. This caught my eye because of the limited range of tones, divided across the frame by the bold shape of the trees. Northern Cemetery, Dunedin. Olympus PEN-EE, Kodak Ektar 100.

The only modification I have made to my PEN-EE is the installation of black felt and black wool, as I find these are more robust and effective than the perishable foam ones normally fitted. Other than that, the camera is as it was gifted to me, paint chips, minor dents and all. It even wears an unmarked original Olympus UV filter on the lens, in the impossibly small 22.5mm diameter.

Another grave in the Northern Cemetery, Dunedin. Olympus PEN-EE, Kodak Ektar 100.
Another grave in the Northern Cemetery, Dunedin. The limited tonal range and strong lines had something to do with taking this one as well… Olympus PEN-EE, Kodak Ektar 100.

The Olympus PEN-EE is a fun camera, whose elegant lines and rugged simplicity have borne the past fifty or so years with aplomb. It’s a camera I relish taking off the shelf and running a roll of my favourite film through, and one which will always have a home in my collection.

Taieri Mouth, a little outside the Dunedin city boundary. I'm posting this in the hope the weather returns to this state soon! Olympus PEN-EE, Kodak Ektar 100.
Taieri Mouth, a little outside the Dunedin city boundary. I’m posting this in the hope the weather returns to this state soon! Olympus PEN-EE, Kodak Ektar 100.
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