Meet the camera: Olympus PEN EES-2

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…


8 thoughts on “Meet the camera: Olympus PEN EES-2

  1. Hello,

    I just got an Olympus Pen EE-3 from a 2nd hand store and I opened it for cleaning.

    I found that the shutter / light meter and aperture are working well.

    But one thing that making me confuse is the aperture still under controlled by the light meter even operating in manual mode (A mode).

    Lets make some examples:
    1. set the aperture to f3.5
    2. cover the lens and half-press the shutter
    3. the aperture is fully open

    1. set the aperture to f3.5
    2. pointing the camera to a light source and half-press the shutter
    3. the aperture is not fully open (may be half open, it depends on how strong the light source is)

    1. set the aperture to f3.5
    2. cover the lens and half press the shutter
    3. the aperture is fully open
    4. change the aperture ring to f11
    5. the aperture inside the lens is changing too

    After I studied how the mechanism working between the light meter and aperture control. Here is my finding:
    In auto mode, the needle in the light meter is moving around.

    If the light condition is good:
    – the position of the needle will determine the aperture value and the shutter speed. The shutter can be fired.

    If the light condition is bad:
    – the needle is located at most right side. the red flag will raise up and it makes the shutter cannot be fired.
    In manual mode (A mode), the needle in the light meter is moving around too.

    If the light condition is good:
    – It works exactly same as auto mode. Aperture will be controlled (I think the shutter speed too) by the needle.

    If the light condition is bad:
    – the needle is located at most right side and the red flag cannot be raised up (forced by a litter lever). The shutter can be fired with the selected aperture value.
    As a result, I cannot figure out how to avoid the needle controlling the aperture during the manual mode…….

    It would be nice, if you can give me some feedback~~

    Thanks a lot~~

    1. My understanding is that the PEN EE-series cameras were never intended to have a “manual” mode, but to be essentially point-and-shoot. The aperture control ring is intended to be left in “A” (automatic) mode except when shooting with a flash; my EES-2 actually notes this on the aperture ring itself. Further, the aperture setting is not employed in the traditional manner, but simply controls the maximum aperture allowed. When you realize that the settings were only to be used with a flash, and that the camera has no automatic control over the flash settings (and thus no way to regulate the exposure automatically), it makes sense that the user was relied upon to set the largest possible aperture for a flash exposure. Shutter speed is of course fixed at 1/40 when using settings other than A, once again specifically to work with flash photography.

      Hope this helps you to make sense of how the PEN EE mechanism works. Thanks for visiting.

  2. hi i just bought a pen ee and mostly everytime I press the button the shutter does not close until i wind it up is there any way to fix this or should i go get it repaired if possible

      1. what tools are needed i got far with a glasses screwdriver but the screws around the lens wouldn’t move and there is a specific tool is needed to take the top off at the display showing the amount of pictures left on the film

        1. It is a very easy camera to disassemble; no special tools are required beyond screwdrivers and a pin spanner. Make sure, however, that you get a tight-fitting screwdriver – hollow-ground tip is best – and be very careful not to strip the heads. Some of the screws are held in with a drop of thread-locker, which must be broken in removing them; this should be replaced with a drop of clear nail polish when you reassemble.

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