The Olympus Pen D and its successors were the most advanced and versatile
models of the non-reflex Olympus Pen range of half-frame cameras that was one of the sensations of the 1960s.
Compact, pocketable, beautifully engineered and capable of delivering 72 high-quality 18x24mm images per cassette of 35mm film, the Pen D series had wide-aperture lenses that remain among the best Olympus has produced. Unlike the autoexposure cameras of the Pen range, the Pen D models are reliable and likely to be in good working order if you find a cared-for example today.
History of the Olympus pen
In October 1963, Pullin Optical Co Ltd, then the UK distributor for Olympus cameras, was advertising the Olympus Pen range in AP.
The Pen, the original camera of the range with 28mm f/3.5 focusing D-Zuiko four-element lens and four-speed Copal shutter, was priced at £16 16s (£16.80).
Alongside it was the Pen-S with 30mm f/2.8 focusing four-element lens and six-speed shutter at £19 19s (£19.95).
The ‘new’ camera was the Pen D, described as the ‘deluxe addition to the range’, with a six-element f/1.9 lens and shutter speeds from 1/8-1/500sec, plus a built-in exposure meter with a read-out window on the top of the camera.
In an age when most photographers worked in black & white, processing their own films, or with colour transparency stock, this was a pocket camera that provided almost everything an experienced photographer needed. Depth of field with the 3.2cm (32mm) lens was so great that, in most circumstances, a rangefinder was unnecessary. Estimating the focusing distance and setting it on the focus scale from 0.8m to infinity was no great hardship. The shutter was almost silent, making candid photography easy.
The Pen D, which was in production from 1962 until late 1966, became a popular model and, while not common, is a camera that can be found at camera fairs or by staying in touch with classic camera dealers who advertise in AP.
It was followed by the Pen D-2, which is much less common and had a battery-powered CdS (cadmium sulphide) exposure meter. Launched in 1964, the model lasted only until the end of 1965 and is much sought-after by half-frame collectors. A decent but not mint Pen D-2 in today’s market might cost £60 or more.
Finally, in the D series came the Pen D-3 with a slightly wider-aperture lens (32mm f/1.7). This was available from 1965-1969 and is not difficult to find with a little determination and persistence.
Performance of the Olympus Pen range
I have, and sometimes use, both the Pen D illustrated here and a Pen F, the diminutive half-frame SLR with interchangeable lenses that startled the photographic world in 1963/64.
The lenses in both cases deliver remarkably high contrast and colour definition, which makes for bright and vigorous colour transparencies.
I use mainly b&w film, and here the contrast of the lenses can be an issue. Because the frame is roughly half that of a normal 35mm negative, fine grain is essential for first-class b&w enlargements.
Historically, fine-grain films tended also to be high-contrast, and negatives shot with a Pen D on, for example, Ilford Pan F tend to be of higher contrast than is comfortable.
The advent of Ilford Delta 100 changed all that, and eliminated the problem. If you decide to try a Pen D, shoot on Delta 100 and you will be amazed.
Incidentally, I use a 1960s 28mm f/3.5 Nikkor as an enlarging lens for half-frame, just standing it on the inside of the lens panel of my enlarger. There’s no light leakage, no problems and brilliant 12x16in prints.
Half-frame with an Olympus Pen is the best reason yet for re-discovering the pleasures of darkroom work. Give it a try.
Checking and using an Olympus Pen D
The Olympus Pen D was a popular camera that can still be found at camera fairs.
Checking and using an Olympus Pen D
Using an Olympus Pen D is easy and inspires confidence.
The back is removed with a single key on the base of the camera, and loading is straightforward.
With the back replaced, wind on a couple of frames to get new film in the gate, then set the exposure counter on the top of the camera to 72 (assuming that you have loaded a 36-exposure cassette). The counter works from 72 down to zero, showing the number of exposures left rather than the number taken. You set the ISO/ASA rating of the film on the scale underneath the lens mount.
The needle of the exposure meter indicates an exposure value from 8 to 13, and you must select an aperture (f/1.8 to f/16) and a shutter speed (1/8 to 1/500) such that the exposure value shown by the exposure meter appears in the window between the aperture and shutter speed rings.
Once you have set the correct exposure, the shutter speed and aperture setting rings can be revolved together to get the best combination of shutter speed and aperture (all yielding the same exposure value) for the photograph you plan to take.
Focus is set with the D-shaped finger grip on the left-hand side of the lens mount.
The viewfinder is bright and has a bright-line frame so you just frame and shoot. With 72 exposures to play with, you can have a lot of fun.
Check the exposure meter
Aim the camera towards a normal daylight scene, check that the needle in the window on the top of the camera moves in a lively way, and read off the exposure value indicated.
Turn either the aperture ring or the shutter speed ring to set that value in the small window between the two.
Compare the exposure you have set with the exposure indicated by another exposure meter that you trust (such as in your SLR).
Selenium meters do tend to become less sensitive with time, and it is common to have to set, for example, the ASA setting to 50 ASA when a 100 ASA film is in the camera, for the exposure reading to be correct.
Check the shutter
With the back still off, set the shutter to ‘8’ (1/8sec), wind the camera and press the shutter button while watching the back of the lens.
Ensure that the shutter operates, with an exposure that you can relate to 1/8sec.
Set each of the speeds in turn to 1/500 and be sure it operates correctly.
Check the lens and diaphragm condition
Check the front element for damage to the glass or coating.
Remove the back of the camera (lift and twist key on the base), set the shutter to ‘B’, wind with the thumbwheel and press the shutter button, holding it down while you look through the lens obliquely from the back of the camera.
Look for dirt, oil, scratches or the white tendrils of fungus. With such a small film format, lens condition is vital.
Again, with the shutter open at ‘B’, operate the diaphragm ring at the rear of the lens mount and move it from 1.9 to 16 while watching the diaphragm through the lens. Make sure it closes to a circle without hesitation or roughness.