A moment’s lament, if you will, for the poor, discarded half-frame format. Once loved as a way to cram twice as many excruciatingly dull, poorly composed holiday photos onto a roll of film, the half-frame now lies among the other discarded film formats – 126, 127, 620, and others – as an afterthought amid the rigidly enforced conformity of full-frame 135 and 120 (plus of few of those large-format weirdos).
But wait! There’s life in half-frame yet! Even though no one has made a half-frame camera in decades, those still extant use commonly-available 35mm film, so unlike their deceased comrades, they may yet soldier on! Like our forefathers before us, we may have the pleasure of getting 72 (or more) exposures on a single roll! We too can have the experience of loading a roll of film in the dead of winter and delivering it to be developed in the heat of August! Saints be praised!
(Your Humble Filmosaur is obviously off his meds and probably shouldn’t be committing anything to writing at this point, let alone publicly, but what are you going to do?)
Half-frame is undoubtedly limiting if your intention is to create anything more than snapshot-sized prints; there just isn’t enough data in the 18x24mm frame for larger prints to come out clearly. But snapshots are exactly what it was designed for. Who needs full-frame negatives if all you’re going to do is run a set of 4x6s of your trip to Myrtle Beach to bore your inlaws with at Thanksgiving?
Besides, half-frame photography is fun. Who cares about wasting a shot or two? There’s more (plenty more) where that came from! It’s almost like digital in that regard – there’s little sense of the need to make best use of every frame. Just blast away and see what happens!
Your Humble Filmosaur happens to be the owner of not one but two half-frame cameras: an Olympus PEN EES-2 and a Yashica Samurai Z. Most half-frame cameras offered fairly little manual control, the exposure settings being primarily the responsibility of the camera, not the user; mine are no exception. All the photos in this post were shot with the Olympus on Fuji Superia 400 (with slight tweaking – mostly just straightening and cleaning up the scans), which just reminds me that I need to load up the Yashica next. The PEN is just so darn easy to carry around, though….
As long as you recognize the limits of half-frame, the results are perfectly acceptable. Even the best half-frame shot is never going to let you produce an Ansel Adams-style wall-sized print; you’ll be lucky to get any sort of sharpness over 5×7. Look at them on a big computer screen and the shortcomings are even more obvious.
But who cares? Think of half-frame as the predecessor to the digital point-and-shoot, or even the cell phone camera, and it makes a lot more sense. Hell, I forget to focus half the time (come to think of it, that’s probably a good pick-up line to use on Lomography chicks). Put aside your serious photographer pretensions and just shoot. It ain’t the equipment, it’s how you use it – or so they say.
Got a half-frame camera, or have a deep, perhaps slightly unhealthy, desire for one? Tell your old uncle Filmosaur all about it…