Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Film Mania: Olympus PEN-F and Mju-1 on the starting grid

Film Mania: Olympus PEN-F and Mju-1 on the starting grid

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 The Olympus Pen-F (this is the later, 1966 FT version with TTL exposure) was the first commercially successful half-frame camera, grabbing 72 shots on a standard roll of film. Bargains such as this often come with an interesting lens. In this case I struck lucky and got the desirable f/1.4 40mm G.Zuiko.
The Olympus Pen-F (this is the later, 1966 FT version with TTL exposure) was the first commercially successful half-frame camera, grabbing 72 shots on a standard roll of film. Bargains such as this often come with an interesting lens. In this case I struck lucky and got the desirable f/1.4 40mm G.Zuiko.

My collection of film cameras seems to grow like Topsy. Films are currently installed in the Leica M-P and M4, awaiting attention, and I am still considering which lens to use. I need to find time to get out and shoot a roll of FP-4, no doubt about it.

But I’ve been sidetracked. At Biévres at the beginning of the month I was seduced by two inexpensive non-Leica film cameras, both bearing the Olympus logo. Both have a certain reputation for being great tools for street photography. One is a cheap-as-chips point and shoot, the Mju-1, which I always had a hankering to own but never got round to. It came my way a very reasonable €20.

 Why did I not buy a Mju-1 when they were all the rage. For some reason the Olympus compact passed me by; but at €20 it is a steal. Fully working, film loaded and ready to go. 
Why did I not buy a Mju-1 when they were all the rage. For some reason the Olympus compact passed me by; but at €20 it is a steal. Fully working, film loaded and ready to go. 

The other, the PEN-FT, is an altogether more grown-up piece of half-format kit with a lens that, if it had a different mount, would be highly prized. To get a working camera and superb 40mm f/1.4 G.Zuiko lens for little more than £100 is a bargain by any standards. I’m looking forward to getting out with the PEN-FT with its peculiar tall and thin portrait viewfinder. Definitely an unusual experience, but the thought of 72 shots from a standard 36-exposure film has a certain attraction.

The Olympus, however, is currently on hold as I talk to the Small Battery Company about the correct battery and adapter for the camera. This camera, like William Fagan’s Leica M5, needs a battery that is currently politically incorrect. It has been banished along with coal power.

 The Mju is a fully automatic point-and-shoot film camera that is easy to set up, easy to load and easy to use. I
The Mju is a fully automatic point-and-shoot film camera that is easy to set up, easy to load and easy to use. I’ve had reports that it makes a wonderful street camera.

On the other hand, the Mji-1 is a doddle to set up. I found a suitable CR123 battery on Amazon and bought a job lot (in order to save money, you see) which should keep the Olympus running for the next fifty years. Perhaps I should have bought just one to see how I get on.

Nonetheless, this rather fat and short version of an AA cell slotted easily into the Mju’s battery compartment and I soon had date and time correctly adjusted. I rushed into installing an Ilford FP4 without reading the instructions and, surprisingly, came out smelling of roses. It was all so easy and intuitive. It is the very antithesis of a screw-mount Leica when it comes to loading film. The Mju is now ready to rock and I cannot imagine why I never owned one of these little beauties when they were new. It is fully automatic, pocket sized, with its 35mm lens, just right for casual shooting.

A cheap point-and-shoot film camera is the ideal device to keep in the glove locker of your car. It’s ever ready if you need to grab a record of an incident. No battery to keep charged. Just open up, snap snap and then get the film developed.

From what I’ve read on the internet, the Mju makes a wonderful camera for street work and I shall be putting it through its paces. Thirty-six shots later and I hope to have the PEN-FT up and running. This time, with 72 shots at my disposal, the film will take ages to complete.

 The compact Pen F (this is the FT, 1966 vintage) was a perfect little travel companion in its day. With excellent lenses to choose from, small size and easy to operate, the PEN was blessed by some excellent optics such as this fast f/1.4 35mm prime. It is the direct ancestor of today
The compact Pen F (this is the FT, 1966 vintage) was a perfect little travel companion in its day. With excellent lenses to choose from, small size and easy to operate, the PEN was blessed by some excellent optics such as this fast f/1.4 35mm prime. It is the direct ancestor of today’s micro four thirds digitals, epitomised by the new PEN-F

This is a curious phenomenon. With film, as opposed to digital, I am much more selective and it can take ages to fill a roll. With digital, on the other hand, I pop away like the best of them. Perhaps the PEN-F will be a mid-way camera. Could it be that with 72 shots on tap I could actually fill the roll quicker than with only 36 to play with?

Interesting times ahead. But what’s all this Olympus retro stuff about? Well, it does have a purpose because I am currently working on a review of the latest PEN, the lovely PEN-F of 2016. To further my research I’ll be looking at its near-enough film equivalent, the PEN-FT, and the first modern digital PEN, the E-P1. Lest we run away with the idea that only Leica does heritage, this should be an opportunity to explore the long history of Olympus.

As an aside, though, the plentiful availability of cheap but excellent film cameras means that anyone can get in on the act. Can’t afford a Leica? Pick up a Mju or a PEN-F or, even, an OM-10 or Pentax for £25. Most film cameras other than Leica are roaring bargains these days and, often, the lenses that come with them are superb. 

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15 COMMENTS

  1. "…needs a battery that is currently politically incorrect. It has been banished along with coal power."

    Not long now Mike… In the meantime, the EU has a solution…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?annotation_id=annotation_2485197813&feature=iv&src_vid=AS74oAmjpxU&v=4k9ciuIAo8I

    Attach this little beauty to the top of your Pen F, and holding the wrist strap, swing the complete assembly around above your head to generate enough power to take the next shot.

  2. The question just occurred to me: How does one deal with the half-frame size exposures when scanning negatives? Do the two exposures truly equal- in geography of the negative strip- the equivalent of one complete 35mm exposure? In such a case, is it just a matter of treating, in PP, each exposure as a crop of a single 35mm exposure?

    • Strange you should ask this. I have just been discussing the same problem at the London classic camera dealer Aperture. They process half frame and say that they scan two frames together and also print two frames in one. More than that I don’t know but no don’t I will find out soon!

      • Mike FYI: My scanner, Nikon CoolScan 4000ed measures the inserted film (or possibly counts sprockets?). Mine is full frame, but if I cut a bit close to the image, I am likely to get a bit of the next frame in my scan.

        Obviously this is easily rectified with the crop tool in Iridient Developer (or whatever).

        I use the last version of the Nikon software which only runs on osx Leopard (and earlier) and Windoze XP.

        Pretty crude stuff, if that is any help, but what Aperture say sounds about right.

        The Nikon scans are good though!

        • I will have to investigate this. At the moment I am going to install the (incorrect) battery which I bought from Aperture a few minutes ago. It’s slightly wrong voltage but I’m assured that if I push the ISO up one stop (to 250 for FP4) I should be ok. Experiment–but 72 frames is a lot of experiment. Watch this space.

      • Mike , many years ago I owned an Olympus Pen F and I still have a number of negatives from that era.I scan them in on my Epson V550 flatbed in strips and it selects two frames as if they were one.I save the two frames and then crop the one I want to use in LR.
        The big issue is that as the negatives are so small the grain and any dust spots and now scratches really show.
        I moved on from the PenF quite quickly as I really did not like holding the camera the "wrong" way round to take horizontal photos. It looks and feels like a little gem but the orientation issue was too much for me.Best of luck.

        • John

          I can readily understand these potential problems and, even though I haven’t taken a picture, I find the portrait format quite difficult to accept. However, I suppose it is good for one thing–portraits. Since I don’t like holding s standard camera on the side I most times take portraits in landscape format, thus reducing the image size when it is cropped.

          Still, this is just a little experiment and I am doing is as much for comparison with the new PEN-F as for any other reason.

          • Mike, I understand your insatiable desire to try new cameras, and I also understand why you like the idea of portrait format…

            How about the FujiFilm medium format range…? They usually have a 645 in the name, there are wide angle, standard, telephoto and zoom models and they are all portrait mode as standard.

          • I have looked at the Fuji medium formats but resisted. There is a persistent rumour of a new digital m/f system from Fuji but it seems unlikely they would jump over full-frame in this way. I’m not insatiable of course, but I do like experimenting and trying things out.

  3. Dear Mike

    Two lovely cameras. I nearly bought a Mju 35 years ago, but I bought a Rollei 35 instead. I found that the Rollei gave me lovely photos, but it was a bit difficult to use (training for future use of Leicas?), so the following year I switched to Nikon SLRs and remained with them until about 2009. If I had bought the Mju, I might never have switched to a system camera as it probably would have fulfilled all of my photography needs at that time. I might not be interested in Leicas today if that had happened.

    ‘Real men’ don’t use in-built meters, of course, but if you really need a battery I’m sure that Jim Sarsfield of the Small Battery Company would have something that works. As for scans, using Lightroom would make the separation of ‘double negatives’ very easy indeed. As you would just do two crops and saves for each ‘side’. Easy as falling off a log.

    I’m not sure what the EU connection is with the portable generator mentioned by Stephen. The drive for alternative renewable energy sources is going around all over the world right now. I can, however, give him another post Brexit thought; producing Leica copies. Today I acquired a Reid IIIa which is a British copy of the Leica III and much better made to boot. It is probably the best Leica copy ever made, although the one I have picked up needs a CLA which is probably overdue after over 60 years of life.

    William

    • I cannot imagine why I never owned a Mju. I remember them being popular and I liked them but, somehow, always got sidetracked. As with you, if I had bought one then my photographic life might have been different.

      As for the Pen-F, I confess I do like an exposure meter. I was in Aperture this afternoon and bought a modern Energizer EPX625G which fits the camera (so they say) but is the wrong voltage. I am reliably informed that if I raise the ISO by one stop (so for FP4 to 250) this will compensate for the voltage. I will give it a go and, if the results aren’t up to scratch I’ll get in touch with your Mr. Sarsfield.

      • Mike, if this is the same battery that is used in the Leica M5 and the Leica light meters of the same era, the correct battery is available at West End Cameras in Tottenham Court Road.

        William, yes I realise that the little YT video is not directly related to the European Union… However, the "back to the dark ages" spirit, is implicit… And it was a joke… 🙂

        Just like the EU… (if it wasn’t so serious).

        Oh… And they banned tungsten light bulbs in favour of mercury containing CFL bulbs, but confusingly banned mercury containing battery tech.

        Sir Robert Geldof is 65.

  4. Just want to congratulate you, Mike, on your "new" mju! I’ve had mine for about 25 years and still use it from time to time with excellent results, b&w or colour. It’s a delightful camera to hold and use.

    • Thanks, John. I’ve been out with the Mju today and it handles really well. I will have to see if the results live up to the expectations. I have two minor gripes. The flash is always on from startup and, while it can be switched off, it seems to be necessary to do this every time the front cover is opened. This has obvious negative connotations for street photography. In any case, I don’t much like flash. The second problem is the central position of the viewfinder. I keep expecting it to be on the left but, of course, this is simply a matter of getting used to it. It seems I got a real bargain since these cameras appear to be quite sought after.

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