Simplicity is beautiful with the mother of all point and shoot cameras.


Olympus PEN EE

Following on from the original and legendary Olympus Pen of 1959, designer Yoshihisa Maitani introduced another landmark Pen camera 2 years later.

From the outset, Maitani had in mind two half frame cameras; a sophisticated sidekick for Leica users, and a much simpler half frame camera for the masses. The original Pen was a revelation for advanced users, but the camera for the masses, the EE, was a revolution.

Removing the control over aperture, shutter speed and focusing of the original Pen, Maitani created an unintimidating camera. Coupled with its diminutive size, he arguably created the world’s first point and shoot camera.

Manual reset exposure counter and shutter button.

The original Pen was a revelation for advanced users, but the camera for the masses, the EE, was a revolution.

I have the first version of the Pen EE, identified by the olive coloured skin leatherette and ‘Olympus’ on the nameplate. The second version had a waffle patterned leatherette and ‘Olympus Pen’ on the nameplate. The difference wasn’t just cosmetic. The updated camera was bestowed with a second shutter speed (1/40th and 1/200th second) rather than the single 1/60th second only of the first version. The selenium cell wrapped around the lens barrel measured the light and an automatic exposure system worked out the appropriate aperture.

Olympus had pioneered automatic exposure in Japan with the Olympus Auto Eye of 1959; a full frame, fixed lens rangefinder camera. The lens on the EE is fixed focus. All the photographer had to remember to do was set the ISO using a ring around the lens barrel. Apart from that, it was point and shoot.

Why is the Olympus PEN EE a Landmark Camera?

1: Arguably, the world’s first true point and shoot camera.
2: The first Olympus half frame camera with a meter.
3: The first Olympus half frame camera with automatic exposure.

The User Experience

The Look

Yoshihisa Maitani never designed an ugly camera. The EE is no exception. The somewhat unusual olive coloured leather compliments the satin chrome metal top and bottom of the body. A thin black gloss band separates the chrome from the leatherette. The lower band is slimmer than the top one. The selenium cell is decorative as well as functional; a dimpled clear glass ring surrounding the 2.8cm f/3.5 D.Zuiko lens. This would be a feature of Olympus cameras for many years.

The frame counter with manual reset and the film rewind are recessed into the top of the camera. The film advance is a black plastic dial again partially recessed into the body. On the bottom of the camera you find a film door release and a film rewind button. Yes, they are both recessed. The lens itself barely projects from the camera body (about 0.75 cm). The film speed setter is cleverly wrapped around the lens barrel (although barrel doesn’t describe the lens protrusion well enough. Disc?).

The Feel

I can comfortably carry the EE in one hand. It’s like a slightly oversized bar of soap. I can rotate it over and over in the palm of one hand. Yes, it is genuinely pocketable. In additon, it’s smaller in height and ever so slightly wider than an iPhone 4. Moreover, it’s light yet solid and compact. The leatherette has a degree of grip. The film advance wheel, ISO dial and counter reset dial all have teeth to aid grip.

The Pen EE next to an iPhone 4.

In Use

It could not be much simpler. The thumb of your right hand falls precisely where the the film advance wheel is placed. The viewfinder is in portrait format and contains a a brightline to aid composition. The viewfinder provides no information. The only other thing left to do is depress the small shutter button. Then, if the meter decides there isn’t enough light though, then you are out of luck. A red flag will appear at the bottom of the viewfinder and the shutter release is locked saving you from wasting a small portion of your film.

Base of Olympus Pen EE showing the back release catch and film rewind button.

Loading film requires the complete removal of the back and base of the camera with a twist of a dial on the baseplate. Film is easy to load. I loaded the camera with T-MAX 400 and Kodacolor 200 and set the ISO to the maximum of ISO 200. For the T-MAX, I compensated for the possibility of over exposure during processing in FX-39II.

Photographs taken with the Olympus Pen EE

I was very pleased with the results from this camera. Please see below some photographs from Upper Teesdale (monochrome) and Seaton Carew (colour).


FURTHER READING:

Half Frame Club
Sub Club
Instruction manual at Mike Butkus’ site