Since the demise of the Merv Griffin Show there has been a gaping hole in the serious interview segment (no disrespect intended toward Arsenio Hall…wow, I couldn’t even type that with a straight face). Your humble Filmosaur seeks to fill a tiny bit of this void with our new “Meet the Camera” feature. It’s a chance to meet the inanimate objects that make this whole photographic exercise possible. So join us now as we don the wide-lapeled burgundy sport coat and welcome our first guest, the Olympus PEN EES-2. [APPLAUSE]
The little PEN is a half-frame point-and-shoot camera with zone focus. It’s nice and small, but heavy in a good way; the way new digital P&S cameras aren’t. No matter how well-built they actually are, most new cameras feel flimsy and cheap. I’m happy to carry a little extra weight if it means that the first thought that comes to mind when I pick up the camera isn’t “Gee, I wonder when this thing is going to fall apart?” The Olympus feels solid. I like solid.
The camera relies heavily on its selenium meter to determine exposure; if it doesn’t work, you’re left with a far less functional camera. If everything is working properly, you get two shutter speeds: 1/200 and 1/40, along with apertures ranging from 2.8 to 22. In Auto mode, the camera selects both shutter speed and aperture; there is no external meter reading. If you turn the aperture ring off of Auto, you are left with only 1/40 shutter speed, which limits what you can do considerably. The ISO ring (25-400) simply moves a shutter that exposes part of the selenium meter to light; higher ISO, more meter exposed. If the meter doesn’t work, you’re probably better off with slower film; ISO 100 would allow you to shoot roughly EV 8 to 15.
The zone focus is pretty easy to use. Rather than a proper distance scale, there are four icons on the focus ring: portrait, group portrait, group and landscape. Pick the one closest to the distance of your subject and shoot. There’s no indication in the viewfinder of where this is set, so be sure to check it before composing your shot. This is annoying. Thankfully, the lens is pretty forgiving in this regard. It’s also a good reason to shoot 400-speed film; smaller apertures, longer depth-of-field, smaller chance of focusing errors. Of course, if your meter doesn’t work, you have to make a choice; ISO 400 is going to be less useful for brightly-lit outdoor subjects when you’re stuck at 1/40, and being a half-frame camera it’s going to be a while before you’re ready to change film.
All in all, it’s a fine camera as long as you accept its limitations. There isn’t as much manual control as some might like (myself included), and the necessity of relying on a 50-year old selenium meter that you know is just waiting to keel over means you need to check this really carefully before buying one. To preserve it as much as possible, make sure you keep the camera stored in a dark place as well, or use a lens cap. Checking the meter is easy; press the shutter button halfway and look at the aperture. Try this with the camera pointed at several different light levels; the aperture should vary depending on the light. The problem with checking the meter this way is that many of these suffer from stuck apertures. Bit of a Catch-22 when checking out a camera that hasn’t seen much use in a while.
It’s small enough to carry easily. You won’t be changing film constantly (this is a mixed blessing when you’ve got pictures you want to see). It’s easy to use. There were tons of them made, so they are cheap and available (at least the EE variants). If you want a go-anywhere film camera, it’s a good choice.
Oh, and I hear we have a shot from its latest work in collaboration with Kodak Ektar 100. Let’s take a look…