Lomo LC-A

So what’s all the fuss about?

Obviously, it’s the camera that started the whole Lomography thing. It’s a Russian copy of the Cosina CX-1, made at the Lomo factory in (what is now) St Petersburg from 1984. The camera was discovered by some people in Vienna in 1991 and led to the formation of Lomography International in 1992. In 1996 the factory intended to cease production, but were persuaded by Lomography to keep going. Mine has a serial number started with 96, so is likely to be one of the crossover ones.

Everyone raves about the look of the lens – sharp, fairly wide angle, contrasty and vignetting in the corners. But, being groovy, the cameras are expensive new. I never thought much about them as I had them tagged as too expensive for a casual experiment. But then a cheap one turned up on fleabay. Needed batteries and new light seals and it had a ding on the front cover. So I slid in a low bid and won it.

I already had batteries and light seal material, so it was a quick clean-up and refurb and ready for action. I had loaded some film in my Olympus XA but not shot it, so I stole it for the LC-A. It also made me think: I am very familiar with my XA, so perhaps I should compare them? Consider in this that my XA dates from around 1982 so is about 14 years older than my LC-A.

Size – not much in it. The LC-A is a touch taller and thicker than the XA but feels bigger.

Weight – about 280g for the LC-A and 240 for the XA, both loaded.

Lens – the LC-A has a 32mm f2.8 and the XA a 35mm F2.8. But there’s more to it than that. The Olympus has a telephoto design with internal focusing and is a clever thing. Reviewers say the LC-A lens is sharp in the middle and fuzzy at the edges.

Exposure – the LC-A uses program mode – the camera decides what combination of speed and aperture you get and it doesn’t tell you. You can use the flash setting though to shoot in manual mode with a choice of apertures at a fixed speed of 1/60. The XA is aperture priority and shows you what the shutter speed will be in the viewfinder. There is no manual control, but there is a little lever on the bottom of the camera that gives you +1.5 stops for a backlit subject. One reviewer said that the LC-A has the equivalent of rear-curtain sync for flash: it triggers the flash when the shutter closes, not when it opens. This might be worth a play.

Range – the only real difference is that the meter on the LC-A tops out at 400ISO while the XA goes to 800. The XA offers speeds from 10s to 1/500 while the LC-A shutter will stay open for up to 2 minutes. The LC-A will stop down to f16 while the XA goes to f22.

Handling – the viewfinder on the LC-A is very small and I find it difficult to align, making it hard to see the frame lines. The XA viewfinder is much bigger and clearer. The difference is that the LC-A viewfinder is about 8 by 7 mm, while the XA is 13 by 7 – which is 60% bigger in area. This is why the Lomo crowd shoot from the hip.
Both of them will zone focus, although the XA also includes a rangefinder so it’s easier to focus accurately in the dark or close up. The LC-A has a normal shutter button, while the XA has the notorious red patch. This either fires when you look at it, or you find yourself moving your finger around to find the sensitive spot.
The XA comes with a little dedicated flashgun, while the LC-A has a hotshoe. If you move the aperture lever on the LC-A away from the Auto position to use a flash, you will need to know the guide number. The shutter fixes at 1/60 and you have to set the aperture to suit the distance. Or use an automatic flash.

Pictures – this is supposed to be why people use these cameras. The XA is known for having a sharp lens; the LC-A for having a contrasty lens with vignetting. The XA is supposed to show a little bit of barrel distortion, the LC-A a lot of pincushion.

Fort
This was a straight and flat wall

The first issue though was that it seemed to drain the batteries. A half-press on the shutter button should illuminate an LED in the top right corner of the viewfinder. It did when I first put batteries in, and then it didn’t. A quick check with a voltmeter said that the batteries were ok. A quick check with the Google said that they often don’t fit very well and lose contact. The cure is to pack them with a bit of folded foil behind the positive end of the end-most battery. Simples. It works, too.

I noticed too, when I was playing with the battery compartment, that the camera has fittings for a power-winder. What an odd idea for a snapshot camera. The Lomography website says the LC-A models had this but the winder was never produced (or at least, never sold in the West).

Then I had a crisis of confidence. The viewfinder, tiny as it is, has a couple of red LEDs hanging down in the top corners. One was the confirmation that the battery was ok, the other a warning that the shutter speed will be slower than 1/30. But the slow-speed warning on mine stayed on while the battery confirmation would light then go out. I was sure I had a bad connection somewhere. Luckily I had the sense to download the manual (and I was grateful enough to pay for it). I had the meaning of the LEDs the wrong way round. Eejit! And I had already rewound the film to avoid wasting it as I played with the LEDs. So how do you load a part-used film into an automatic exposure camera? You put in a darkbag, put the aperture control on f16 for flash (which puts the shutter onto 1/60), wind on and count. This makes it easier than the later LCA+ model that doesn’t have a manual setting.

So, back in business (and to my shame as an IT person, I had to RTFM). The other compelling reason for it actually working and not malfunctioning was that the shutter speed was obviously changing with the amount of light.

With the camera reloaded, off we went for a walk. Then, film shot, I developed it. The first good sign was that there were visible frames on the film when it came out of the tank. The frame spacing on the film is a bit irregular, but the camera has probably not been used for a while so this may improve with use. It also showed one of the camera’s difficulties, which is the tiny and fiddly ISO setting. This is a minute toothed wheel protruding from the front of the camera. It can be knocked off setting by careless handling of the camera and the visible setting is so small as to almost need a magnifying glass (for these old eyes). So there were a few overexposed frames from when I nudged the ISO dial with my fat fingers. This camera needs fairly careful handling – you need to check that you haven’t bumped the ISO setting, or knocked the aperture lever off the A position, or knocked the focus lever away from where you want it. Those aside, it’s quick to shoot with if not easy to frame. It makes it tempting to go all Lomo with it and shoot at arm’s length though and rely on the wide lens to get some of your subject in. The metering, crude though it might be, did a reasonable job. The zone focusing was good enough. But did the pictures show that LC-A magic?

Scenes

Probably not in the same way as they get displayed on t’interweb. I shot mono so that I could develop it quickly myself, so I didn’t get the high colour contrast you typically see. But there is some vignetting in the corners and some definite pincushion distortion. You probably wouldn’t know this was the famous LC-A though. I don’t think I got that so-called LC-A look, probably because I’m not shooting cross-processed colour. And you know what? If I want vignetting and contrast, I can dial them back in later.

Berwick upon Tweed

So does it have a place in my bag? It is small and quick to use and makes me look like a groovy hipster. I think the XA is a better camera all round and easier to use though, and my Espio has a wider lens. The LC-A is, or should be, a cheap snapshot camera that introduces a bit of chance into the results, not a cult. It’s a one-trick pony though. So I may be selling this one.

Walking on the beaches

All lined-up for the first sea dive of the year, thanks to Covid, and then along comes a storm. The forecast is for an onshore wind and 5m waves. Not good when the shore is cliffs and the boat would be going up and down too much to get back on it.

But the accommodation is booked and I’ve got the weekend free. So off to the seaside it is.

So, what to take? Easy for a couple of things as I’m writing posts about them. Should be easier than the last time I weighed the virtues of a camera against clean socks.

The list is therefore:

  • Canon G9 as I don’t use it enough and need to learn it better.
  • Lomo LCA as it’s new and on the blog list.
  • An IR converted digital, for kicks.
  • The Balda, as it’s tiny.
  • Ricoh with 15mm lens, as it too is on the blog list

And a spare pair of socks. And because I’m in a car, there’s a strong temptation to add some sand-proof cameras just in case. (Aside – it’s not just Mike Gutterman who has to put his family on the roofrack when he goes to the beach).

This looks more like a blogging weekend than a photography one. Still, high tide is 12:55 on Saturday and with a strong onshore wind ought to be interesting, even if I don’t really like landscape photography.

The LC-A got the most use, mostly because it fit in the pocket of my coat and was quick to use. There wasn’t really enough blue sky between the clouds to make the most of the IR effect. The G9 was as competent as you would expect, with the added joy of being able to change the ISO to suit the conditions – 80 for shooting the sun reflecting off the sea, 400 for being battered by the wind on the clifftop path. I’m afraid the Ricoh and its heavy lens just came for the ride. The scenery just didn’t suit an ultra wide angle. The Balda? Just one shot. So this was my Deerhunter camera on the day.

Berwick upon Tweed

Interestingly, a charity shop in the town had an old Tokina 400/6.3 manual preset lens in M42 mount. They wanted £350 for it, and I thought they had misplaced the decimal point. I queried it and the chap told me they fetch £1,000 on eBay. I politely declined. Not least because I find myself using long lenses less and less. And because I’ve already got a Vivitar 400/5.6. Seriously though – £1,000? Mind you, there was another punter in the shop as I was leaving trying to bargain them down to £100. That’s more like the price they offer for on eBay so I do hope the shop can find a realistic price that still makes them money.

Berwick upon Tweed

How did it feel taking a bunch of cameras for a walk? Pretty good, actually. I’ve been locked-down at home for long enough to appreciate being out and away from other people. At the time of writing I’ve been working at home for 22 weeks, and I find it combines all of the work and none of the pleasure. The simple joy of my entire time being my own to control was a welcome break. And I got some pictures. What’s not to like?

Infrared conversions

I have Peggy to thank for this.

I’ve been fascinated for a long time with the look of infrared photography. I even got to shoot a roll of the famous Kodak HIE before it dodo’ed.

I went so far as to convert an old Agfa Super Silette to IR-only by fitting (gluing) a piece of infrared filter behind the lens. That didn’t work too well at first because I misjudged the exposure. What I really wanted though was an IR-converted digital camera so I could see the results as I was taking the pictures. This involves removing the infrared absorbing filter that sits in front of the sensor. I didn’t have a spare dSLR and my various other digital cameras were too difficult or too expensive, so it went on the wish list.

Agfa IR

That’s a bit of Lee polyester IR filter (730nm cut-off) behind the lens.

And then came Peggy’s article about Panasonic Lumix compacts. It seems that the sensor, and hence the filter, are ‘easily’ accessible through the back of the camera. What could possibly go wrong?

The first thing was to find a suitable camera. There are loads on fleabay, but the prices vary quite a lot. There are even some that have already had the filter removed – it seems that people attach them to rifles as a night sight. Eventually one turned up that was the right type but suitably undesirable, so cheap.

The screwdrivers were the next issue. I have several sets of jeweller’s screwdrivers that I have accumulated, but the camera used particularly tiny screws. Eventually a specs repair kit yielded a suitably tiny screwdriver. And then as soon as I got the back off the camera I went looking for a magnet – I didn’t want to be turning the camera over to shake out any screws I dropped. A few swipes over the magnetic clasp of a camera bag made the screws stick to the screwdriver and we were away. It really was fairly simple to lift away the sensor and remove the IR filter. I then cut a tiny piece from my Lee IR filter (8 by 10mm) to go in its place. This makes the camera permanently IR only, but means that I don’t need to mount a fragile bit of filter gel on the front of the lens. Besides, I can always go back in and remove it now I know how.

Challenge two is to charge the battery. The camera came without a charger, hence it was cheap. I have a USB cable that fits the camera, but this doesn’t charge the battery. I tried hot-wiring the battery + and – terminals to a USB cable (which delivers 5v) and to a 4.5v mains adapter. No joy. It looks like the battery also needs the ground terminal connected, which is why proper chargers have three pins and not two. So a charger is on its way to me from China. <interlude with hold music> The charger arrived and did its chargey thing and then we were charged.

And it only darned well worked! The first shot out into the garden looked like it had been snowing. I immediately took the dog for a walk and photographed everything.

IR 1

So it works very well indeed. But… Now I know why nobody fits the IR cut-off filter inside the camera. It restricts you to mono-only pictures without the option of the weird false colour effect you can get without the filter. So how to fit a filter to a camera with a pop-out lens?

Taking the IR-cutoff filter out was easier than fitting it in the first place, as I knew the sequence and the non-obvious screw that has to be removed. Without the IR cut-off filter in front of the sensor the autofocus hunts a bit. This is probably because visible and infrared light focus at different points. Fair enough – the camera has a setting that gives priority to infinity focus, so that’s what I went for. That didn’t work very well, but the next option was to use multi-point focus rather than a single spot. That seems to work a lot better.

Back to the bits box, and the benefit of hoarding old junk is that you can cobble some of it into gadgets. There in the box, previously unloved, was a 29mm push-on filter. The outermost segment of the lens, when it telescoped out, was 29.3mm diameter. The push on filter was thin brass. The crude and violent use of a socket and a hammer spread the mouth of the filter to be a snug fit over the lens. In the same box was a lens hood that was a reasonable fit over the filter. A trial fit showed that it was too deep and vignetted the corners. A few minutes with a hacksaw took care of that. A dab of glue and hello push fit IR cut-off filter with wide angle hood.

SHADE

And now I can play. With the hood on and the camera in mono mode, I have the traditional Wood effect of white leaves and black skies. With the hood off I get the false-colour effect of purple leaves and weirdness. Most excellent!

IR 3

Plus, pop the filter back on and I can do the high contrast black and white thing.

Monk Stray

So, many thanks to Peggy for the tip that this could be done at home.

PS
I have refitted the cutoff filter in front of the sensor. The external filter/hood gadget worked but I was in constant danger of dropping something while fiddling it on and off.

Pentax Espio 928

Of all the models of film compact that Pentax made, and they made a lot, this is the one I fancied. I even had one briefly, but it turned out to be broken (which was probably how it ended up in the charity shop). Anyway, it’s a 928 – so it has a 28-90mm zoom. The extra wideness is, to me, more useful than being longer at the top end. It’s a Pentax too, so the lens is sharp and it has useful features.

This one turned up on the usual online market as ‘unknown condition, needs batteries’. I already had a battery from the previous purchase, so away we went. It seemed that most punters were put off, so I got it for about half a pint of beer.

The only fault with it appears to be that the diopter adjustment for the eyepiece has fallen off. This has left the viewfinder a bit out of focus. It makes little difference in use – I can see the autoexposure point and the frame lines and the camera can focus itself.

The camera is smaller than my other Pentax compact, a Zoom 105. But then, most cameras are.

Pentii

It’s just small enough to be an easy one-handed carry with the strap round my wrist and the camera in my palm.

The 928 has some nice features: there is a B setting with flash; it will do multiple exposures; you can do exposure compensation; there is a ‘fake’ panoramic mode that masks the film gate and the viewfinder. There is also a snapshot mode that sets the zoom and focus point for taking pictures with no shutter lag. It was probably an expensive bit of kit in its day.

Aysgarth Falls
Aysgarth Falls

The inside of the camera was nice and clean but the front of the lense needed a wipe. Because it retracts and covers when the camera is switched off, it probably never got noticed. At least this means it probably wasn’t scrubbed with a tissue.

It really works quite well. Like a lot of compacts, it doesn’t like the sun in its eye. The front element of the lens is barely recessed at all, so its surrounding provides no shade.

Castle Bolton
Bolton Castle, at Castle Bolton

So it doesn’t really like taking pictures into the sun. There is a fill-in setting for the flash though, so providing there is no direct sun into the lens it can work.

Castle Bolton

Like most of the Espio range, you can play tunes with the flash. You get the usual on and off, plus on with slow shutter, on with B shutter. So in a dark leafy tunnel of a path I can force the flash off to avoid the nearby leaves being brighter than the background. It also does pretty good fill-in in sunny conditions.

Chubby

Overall, pretty good. I believe the one to have is the 928 rather than the 928m, so I struck lucky.

Strap-ons

What’s the best way to carry a camera? The obvious answer is a bag, but what about when you want the camera handy?

Back when we wore flares and cheesecloth the answer would have been a neck strap. I’ve still got a box full of neck straps somewhere. You end up with the camera bouncing on your chest and it looks like you are advertising it.

Ammo
20 year-old me (bless). Ignore the bad hair and look at the thin camera strap and army-surplus gadget belt. I’ve never been one to let style stand in the way of substance…

You can sling the strap over a shoulder but like many people, my shoulders slope down, not up. I once had a photographer’s jacket – one of those waistcoat jobs with lots of pockets. That was in the days before it could be mistaken for a bomb vest. One good feature (the only?) was that it had a button sewn on the point of the shoulder. This was great for keeping a camera strap from sliding off, but I’m not sewing buttons onto all my jackets.

I’ve seen events photographers using a waistbelt or a bandolier arrangement that lets them holster one or more big digital cameras. Ideal for what they do but impractical for me. I can’t see the need in normal situations to be able to quick-draw my chip-shooters.

Generally, a camera is in my bag or in my hand. When the camera has a full length strap I generally loop a turn about my wrist. This keeps the strap from flapping in front of the lens and acts as a safety stop if I drop the camera. I’ve seen some of the street photographers using wrist straps. I admit that at first I thought they were a bit too groovy, like neck-beards or man-buns (see total lack of groove in the photo above). But since I was already doing something similar with a neck strap, I tried making one. Obviously I wanted to try this idea before spending real money on it. A bit of rope left over from replacing the dog’s lead and a strong split ring and I think it works pretty well. The length is right to let me carry the camera in one hand in and secure enough that I’m not going to drop it. OK – score one to the hipsters: it works.

Strap 2

So my basic walking-around kit became the camera in a shoulder bag if I don’t need it ready, and when I do the camera is carried in one hand with the wrist strap on. I’m right handed so this leaves my left hand free to use a light meter or change lenses. I like it – it’s discrete. I have been doing the same thing with a neck strap, which is to take a couple of turns around my wrist, but I wanted to see if this was better.

Strap 1
Spot the lens. I will be writing about it in future.

But while a bit of paracord is not as cool-looking as a dedicated wrist strap, it does give me the option of slinging the camera over a shoulder if I need both hands for something.

Vic would prefer I kept hold of the rope.

But hanging the camera from one hand for general strolling about – ideal. The only thing that is easier is my digital SLR, which has a prominent grip (for the right-handed). This makes it even more secure to carry the camera hanging from one hand with a couple of turns of the strap around my wrist.

On the whole though, and having tried the wrist strap, I find myself going back to the neck strap. I can double it round my wrist to give me the discrete hand carry, but it also lets me sling it over a shoulder when I need to open a gate or un/clip the dog’s lead.

So yes, I’m glad I didn’t buy an expensive wrist strap but also glad I tried the idea out.

Shooting pets

Is harder than you would think. I know a guy who specialises in pet photography and he must be a mixture of lighting technician, sports photographer and saint.

For a start, pets are usually smaller than people. This means you need to get close, but you also need to get low to be nearer their level (and besides, dogs can’t look up). But close means shallower depth of field. And since pets are often arranged horizontally rather than vertically the fall-off in sharpness may be more noticeable.

Fur also soaks up light. I’ve got some pictures that include a black dog and it might as well be a hole in the film.

Wet dog, direct flash
Wet dog, direct flash, pushed film. Not the ideal combination.

Flash can still be useful, as the buggers won’t keep still or pose. You have to watch out for highlights in the fur though, as it can be surprisingly glossy. Think of your subject being a mixture of Vantablack and mirrors.

Horse
A touch of flash can make them look sleek

You also run the risk of startling the animal. One time I was shooting someone jumping fences on their horse. I so wanted to use flash to get a bit of light into the subject and freeze the motion, but I was advised that startling a horse mid-air while standing that close was a bad idea (still not one of the ten worst things though). Dogs and cats (and many others) have also got reflective retinas, meaning their eyes light up like a zombie apocalypse if you get the angles wrong. But if you don’t use any lighting you can lose the catch-lights in their eyes and make the animal look like it was stuffed.

The best lighting seems to be big, soft sources like a large window. It means you can see the detail in the fur and the eyes.

C
Those really are his eyelashes

This is where digital wins totally over film. You can shoot hundreds of pictures and review them instantly. You’ve got autofocus. You can judge the exposure right off the back of the camera.

Or you wait until they are asleep.

Sparky

And even though I wouldn’t want my mate’s job, at least it’s not shooting weddings.

Devil in the details

There I was: classic car show; lashings of sunshine; throngs of people. But the cars were close together and surrounded by the people. What’s a poor boy to do?

Go for details.

I can’t do justice to a red monster covered in fins and chrome, but I can find an angle free of distractions and condense the whole to a point.

75

Or a big Pontiac surrounded by gazers but alone against the sky.

104

Actually, this works rather well. It really is possible to summarise or to try to find the detail that evokes. Does this work with people? I think it does.

30

But it’s the cars I like, so indulge me and see if you know the make and model.

Ok, that one was easy.

This one?

Obviously American. As is the next:

This one comes with a matching owner.

But the next one isn’t even a car.

It’s a bit of fun.

One more? Go on then.

Very red car

Focusing on detail is useful though, when the whole is too big, too cluttered or badly arranged.

What do you think?

Does a photo have to be good to be good?

Scanning my way through a bunch of my parents old negatives I came across a couple of curious but dreadful shots. They were a pair of scuffed and fuzzy shots of a tv screen. They were taken on a 126 camera, so no choice of shutter speed or focus and the aperture probably fixed around f8. Hardly worth a second glance. Except they were of the first moon landing. My mum had taken pictures of the launch of the lander top section at the end of the mission, on its way to meet up with the command module. So the pictures are low quality snaps of low-key video on an old mono tv. And they are wonderful.

moonshots

I was young at the time, but I remember how excited my mum was by the landing and mission. So I have something that reminds me of both a momentous event and my mum’s enthusiasm. Who cares about technical perfection?

It’s the same with old family photographs: sharp, well-framed or well exposed are immaterial. There are pictures of my dad doing his national service, my granny in her nurse’s uniform, great grandparents and all the cousins of various degree. The key thing is not whether the picture is any good, but if you can name who is in it. Old prints are good if a kind relative has written on the back. Negatives are more difficult. The best thing I have found is to scan them or even photograph and invert them, then put them on your phone. Any family gathering is the chance to ask about the pictures. Why bother? Because family trees can send branches in all directions. One of ours went to America and became (a former) president. He was a cousin (probably not a first cousin) to my grandad. They actually looked alike, too. Not that I supported either of their politics.

Dan and great gran
Dan and great gran

So I think the conclusion is that I could have wasted my time and money on cameras and lenses when all I really needed was snaps of family and friends. Really? No – I have more and better pictures of the people who matter, so at least some of the investment was returned with interest. Pictures of people or special events are treasure.

I suppose I’d better print them and write names on the back for my own kids.

This is one of them.

danlips

Tell me you were looking at the tonal rendition and bokeh…

Konica Genba Kantoku Wide 28

This is one of the site foreman’s cameras built for the Japanese construction industry in the late 80s and early 90s. They made a variety of these, some with a 35mm or 40mm lens, one with a zoom and a twin-lens (switching) version. My one has a 28mm lens.

It’s a big, chunky package but not heavy. It’s not waterproof to the extent you could take it in a pool, but enough to survive rain and being dropped in the pool. More to the point, it is dust, sand and muck proof and will take a bit of a beating.

I have written about it before, but not shown what it can do. This is a look at the output.

Konica 1

What you can see on the front of the camera is, to the left and around the logo, a pair of autofocus rangefinder windows, then the viewfinder and finally the flash. The viewfinder is unusual that it follows a folded path. This lets the eyepiece site quite high on the camera body, while the viewpoint is lower down and closer to the lens.

Konica 2
There is a tripod thread if you really need one, below the battery cover.

The lens is sharp and contrasty and reminiscent of a Lomo LCA in that it shows some vignetting. The colour pictures here were shot on expired film, hence the colour cast.

Fence 2

The mono picture of the Chevy was developed using a semi-stand method, which has evened-out the corners nicely. In use the viewfinder shows a central circle which is the autofocus spot. It’s actually quite fast to use – a half-press on the shutter finds and locks focus, a quick reframe and shoot. The viewfinder also has some parallax marks for closeups, as it has a macro mode.

Chevy

What I was not expecting from a wide angle lens was smooth bokeh, but this has it. It’s probably difficult to see at this scale, but the books to the right of the dog are smoothly blurred with no repeating patterns.

Charlie

The controls are simple – you have an on/off button and a mode switch. The mode switch cycles through the options of auto focus with auto flash (the default); flash on; flash off; self timer; flash off with infinity focus; macro with flash on.

Flag
Nice blend from sharp to out of focus.

The only thing I have found to be careful of is the protective front glass, which can catch the sun and cause flare. This is not the camera for sunny days though: this camera is for British summers.

In case you can’t be bothered to go back to the earlier review, the technical specs are:

Fixed 28mm F3.5 lens of 8 elements in 7 groups. Minimum focusing distance of 0.5 meter. Shutter speed range from 1/4 to 1/280 second. Metering by a CdS sensor with a range of 5.5 to 16.5 EV (ISO 100). The built-in flash has a range up to 5m at ISO 100 and 10m with ISO 400 film. Film loading and advance are automatic with a motor drive. Film speed set by DX coding.

OK, so it’s not a Pentax Espio 928, but I would rather take the Konica on a windy beach.

 

 

The Olympus Pen EE

I’ve written previously about the fun you can have using a camera with very few controls. I have a camera which, despite being much more modern than my bullet-hole cameras has even fewer controls. Even better, it uses film like I spend money.

Say hello to the Olympus Pen EE, which burst upon the world in 1961. Fixed focus. Fully automatic exposure. Tiny. You get to point it and press the shutter button (which locks if it’s too dark) and the camera does everything else. At least 72 little frames of goodness on a 36-shot film. The EE branding obviously shows that this camera meets with the official approval of the Republic of Yorkshire for its parsimony.

Pen 1

Part of the joy of this wee thing is that there is nothing you can do with it but frame and shoot. And since it sips film like a maiden aunt takes sherry, there is no reason not to shoot, then try something a bit different and maybe again. A pair of shots takes up the same space as a 35mm frame, so it’s tempting to combine shots in pairs. As you hold the camera, the next frame when you wind-on comes in from the right. So if the first shot of a pair has something facing right and the second one facing left, they will be looking at each other.

The camera itself started the trend for the way the later Olympus Trip worked: there are only two shutter speeds of 1/40 and 1/200 and an automatic aperture. The camera starts out in dim light using the slow speed and then jumps to the faster one when the automatic aperture hits f8. Going from bright to dark it holds onto the faster speed until the aperture hits f4, and then it drops. The lens on mine is the f3.5 Tessar design of 28mm focal length. This gives you an angle of view of around 46 degrees across the long dimension of the frame, so about the same as a 42mm lens on full-time 35mm.

Pen pic 4

The lens is fixed focus, so is probably set for a tad less than 2m, which is the hyperfocal distance at f22. This means you can usually ignore it except when it gets dark. Then your sharpest subject will be about 2m away. Remember that and it works well. In the midst of this coronavirus, you shouldn’t get closer than that anyway.

Pen pic 3
The default portrait orientation means a lot of your snapshots will be too.

Mine is the later EE-2 model, which has a hinged back rather than removable. One less thing to drop. It needs no batteries: the light cell around the lens powers and controls the aperture. The shutter locks and shows a red flag in the viewfinder if there is insufficient light. So by keeping the lens cap on you both prevent accidental exposures and prolong the life of the light cell. Take care though – the lens cap on mine is a bit loose and is knocked off easily.

The camera is tiny: 105mm wide, 68mm tall, 46mm deep. You can carry it easily in a pocket or your hand. The leaf shutter is quiet and discrete. The best thing though is that, even though you are shooting little 24×18 negatives, the lens is sharp. It’s capable of quite surprising results, given a bit of care and reasonable light. And as you get 72 shots to a roll of film you feel free to just try things out. Being tiny and portable means you are more likely to have it with you, too.

Pen 3
We will miss you, Olympus.

This little camera is definitely a glass half-full.

A Pen EE for your thoughts? (Sorry).