In the 1960s, color film had just begun to hit the consumer market, becoming accessible to a large audience of amateur photographers who were eager to capture memories in color. Apparently color film was really expensive at the time, so camera companies created a new class of “half-frame” cameras, which would allow the user to get twice the exposures out of a roll of film as a regular full-frame 35mm camera by halving the standard 36x24mm frame. Over the years color film became cheaper, and the popularity of half frames declined. Except that may not be the end of the story. The film market seems to be more volatile than ever, with Fuji raising film prices this year on popular stocks like Provia, Velvia, and even Superia. Maybe half-frames will make a come back after all?
Fuji Superia 400
The curiously named Pen EES-2 is really fun to use. It’s a straightforward camera that affords the user just enough manual control without bogging them down in the more tedious aspects of manual photography. It also produces consistently pleasing pictures with the perfect amount of variability (maybe lomo-esque) I’ve come to love about shooting film. Lastly, and probably the coolest thing about this camera, is that you have two pictures in every 36x24mm frame. Also known as a diptych, I find they add an extra layer of artistic expression to pictures. Whereas a single 36x24mm frame recounts an event, a diptych tells as story.
Aesthetics and feel. The Pen EES-2 is an attractive camera, and like many Olympus creations it is extremely small, thoughtfully designed, and very well built. It’s heavy, especially compared to another zone focus camera like the XA2, but still very compact due to the fact that the lens does not protrude very much. The viewfinder is very bright with clear frame lines as well.
Reliability. There are two common issues with these cameras. First, the exposure meter is powered by a selenium cell around the lens. I have read that with prolonged exposure to light the selenium will no longer take accurate light readings. Thankfully, my camera’s meter functions perfectly. Another issue, which my camera did have, were frozen aperture blades. This was a relatively easy fix, as it turned out the lubricant had hardened over several decades of sitting without use. There are a couple tutorials online. So if your camera appears to have a broken light meter, it might actually be frozen aperture blades.
Image character. I’m consistently amazed with the sharpness of the images this camera produces. The fact that it’s half the resolution of a full frame 35mm is even more impressive. The lens is top notch, one of the best I’ve ever used and certainly better than I would expect to find on a half frame. After all, these were not professional grade cameras (except for maybe the Pen F series).
Operation. Very easy to use once you get the hang of zone focusing. I actually prefer it over other focusing systems for several reasons. First, you don’t have to look through the viewfinder to focus; all you have to do is estimate the distance of your subject and set the focus ring to the corresponding setting. As for exposure, set the aperture ring to “A” and forget about it. Setting the aperture manually will lock the shutter speed to 1/40th of a second, and I believe it is meant to be used when a flash is attached.
Lastly, the Pen EES-2 has a shutter lock that engages when the light meter doesn’t pick up enough light. This is a blessing and a curse because the ISO setting only goes up to 400. So if you already have 400 ISO film loaded, you can’t override the shutter lock by setting the ISO higher. With that said, the Pen is best suited for use outdoors and in bright weather.
Conclusion. The Pen EES-2 is my go to camera when I want to have fun taking pictures. Put a roll of Portra 400 and you’re good for 72+ exposures. People sometimes complain that rolls take forever to get through – and they’re right. When I use the Pen, my “I should take a picture of this” threshold is much lower than on a full frame camera. In other words, I don’t conserve film, because many of the pictures I didn’t think would be good, actually turned out pretty cool as a diptych.