It may not be big, but it’s pretty damn good…

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?)

Olympus PEN EES-2, Fuji Superia 400
Olympus PEN EES-2, Fuji Superia 400

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?

Olympus PEN EES-2, Fuji Superia 400
Olympus PEN EES-2, Fuji Superia 400

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!

Olympus PEN EES-2, Fuji Superia 400
Olympus PEN EES-2, Fuji Superia 400

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….

Olympus PEN EES-2, Fuji Superia 400
Olympus PEN EES-2, Fuji Superia 400

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.

Olympus PEN EES-2, Fuji Superia 400
Olympus PEN EES-2, Fuji Superia 400

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…

Meet the Camera: Yashica Samurai Z

This is a surprise new entry in the line-up. I was recently handed this camera by my father, who purchased it new on a trip to Asia way back when. It needed a new battery, but other than that everything seems to work just fine. The test roll is in there now, so I’ll find out soon enough what kind of pictures it takes. It may take a little longer than usual, however, as this is a half-frame camera. Seems a little silly that such a large camera takes such tiny photos, but it does.

The first thing you have no doubt noticed (you’re an observant one, aren’t you?) is that it looks more like a 90s-era camcorder than a film camera. Once you get past the oddball look of the thing, however, it’s a pretty standard 35mm camera underneath. It’s an autofocus SLR with a fixed 25-75mm (that’s a 35-105mm 35mm equivalent) f/4.0-5.6 zoom lens that takes standard 43mm filters. Operation feels rather agricultural compared with modern digital cameras; the zoom is loud, the autofocus is loud, the shutter is loud, and you can feel their actuation through the whole camera (though to be fair this may be due in part to the way it fits in the hand). It can be easily operated with one hand.

Controls for the zoom and shutter are placed as they would be on a camcorder. Film loading is on the bottom, with the film feeding upward. The on-off mechanism is a bit peculiar: the pop-up flash acts as the power switch – up for on, down for off. The user can control the flash actuation on the back panel LCD, along with a host of other functions. Some of these are truly unique and offer lots of possibilities for taking unique photographs. Frames can be exposed multiple times, including an automated mode that takes five shots in a quarter-second on a single frame. Time exposures can be automated up to 24 hours. The high-speed motor drive allows continuous shooting at 4.5 frames per second. Several flash modes are available, as is exposure compensation. This is an extraordinary feature set for a camera built in the late 1980s.

It’s a funky camera. Very non-traditional, simple to use but full-featured. I’m more of a manual control sort of a guy (OK, fine, control freak), but this is a very good camera to just screw around with. Blast away – it’s half-frame, so you’re able to get lots of pictures on a single roll of film. Want to play around with unusual effects (I’m looking at you, Lomography…)? The camera does all the work for you. Really, what’s not to like?