The Problem

I have been trying to build a camera collection over the last few months for a particular purpose. I can’t really afford to go chasing the iconic cameras of the 20th Century as my funds are finite. However, developing my personal practice is worth some investment, and given that I now have the means to develop the prints, experimentation is not as costly as it once was.

The net result is a collection of cameras where each embodies an aspect with which I would like to experiment. It was with this in mind that began the hunt for an affordable 1/2 frame camera. For the uninitiated 1/2 frame cameras take two portrait images on each standard frame. The advantage to the photographer is a compact body size and the return of twice the number of images for each roll of film as compared to a standard 35mm camera.

The Choice

I settled on an Olympus ‘Pen EE’, (purchased via eBay), that uses Selenium light meter much like my Trip 35. The plan was to further granulate the look of a high-grain emulsion by shooting on a half-frame camera. (Relative grain size would be doubled by the 1/2 frame nature of the prints.

The day the camera arrived was a bright sunny day. In order to test the lens, and to make use of the best day’s light we had had in a while, it seemed sensible to firstly shoot a basis for comparison. I loaded the camera with the the finest grain film I had at my disposal, Ilford Pan F (ISO 50) and immediately began to shoot.

The Results

I was not completely convinced that the meter was working at the outset but one way to find out was to test it. Mooching around trying to take (but not to waste) 72 frames was more challenging than I had expected. In the back of my mind I was aware that the Pan F+ is not a cheap roll of film, and so I wanted to make the most of it even as I was trying to ratchet my way through the roll. As the title of this post would suggest this was not altogether a fruitful exercise. The exposure meter was indeed unresponsive and although on a couple of occasions circumstances conspired to produce a near decent exposure, nothing of particular value was recoverable.

In terms of lessons learned during the exercise I have come to one conclusion in particular. The frame is rotated in a half-frame camera, resulting a portrait orientation when holding the camera ‘normally’. When viewing the negatives of my day’s adventure, it seemed as though many more were framed in a portrait orientation than the ratio I have come to expect.

I imagine that when I’m composing a picture, I do so on the basis of the strength of the composition, rather than as a default based on an orientation set within the camera. Still, I could have a predisposition to shoot landscape, based on the fact that when the camera reaches my eye, the image in the viewfinder is landscape already. My excuse in this case is that I was experimenting with the camera, and pushing to use the film in order to check the exposure measurement system, but I’m still nagged by the idea that I have a ‘landscape bias’.

Here are some of the better exposures