The return of the Olympus Pen EES-2

Self-Portrait at the mirror on NE Glisan. 8 Nov 2022. Olympus Pen EES-2/Kodak Portra 160

If you are the type to actually pay attention to what cameras I’ve been using, you may have noticed a lack of photos from my Olympus Pen EES-2 half-frame camera over this year. It’s not because I no longer like it, no, it’s because it’s been inoperable for most of the year. I noticed in January that the aperture was not working correctly, so I sent it back to the shop that did the CLA in 2021.

What I got from this shop (not my usual, Advance Camera, nor Blue Moon) was the run-around for a couple months. They couldn’t give me an estimate of when it would be done. So I had to call them on a weekly basis for a status update, and each week the answer is “It’s on the bench.” This line makes it seem like my camera is next in line and will be worked on soon, but when it’s the thing you hear week after week, you realize that you’re getting a line. 1 I envisioned this bench growing in length every week to accommodate all the cameras not being worked on. And it wasn’t just me, I heard later that my friend Brian dealt with the same thing when he was getting a camera serviced there.

Finally I picked up my camera. They said that they did “the best they could do” without charging me, and if I wanted anything more, I’d have to pay for an overhaul. Apparently the best that they could do was basically nothing, because the issue was not fixed. I was flummoxed. I thought about bringing it back, but it was obvious that they were incompetent. I was frustrated, because I really like the Pen, and want it to work. So I brought it to my regular shop, Advance, for them to overhaul it. Yeah, it’s $150, but I wanted it done, and done right.

I got the Pen EES-2 back in mid-September, right before the trip. And since I was so excited about having it back, I broke one of my camera rules: Don’t take a just CLA’d or fixed camera on a trip without testing it out first. I didn’t, and loaded it up with some Ilford XP2 and brought it with me to Boise. I got the photos back, and the focus on every shot was off. Everything was fuzzy, out of focus. Argh. So off to the shop again to get the lens adjusted. 2

I finally got it back a few weeks later and put a test roll through it. Everything seemed fine, if a little grainy, as I was using Ultramax 400, which probably isn’t the best stock for a half-frame camera. The next roll I tried some Portra 160. 3 This stock has become one of my preferred films for half-frame cameras due to its low grain. On this roll most of the shots were in focus, though there were a few that were not. It seems like the camera is now a bit more sensitive to proper focus, before I could leave it in the “group” focus zone (about 10 feet) and get back good photos pretty much all the time.

I’ll be shooting with the Olympus Pen EES-2 a bit over the coming months. It’s nice to have it back, I missed having a half-frame camera. There was a hot second that I thought about getting the new Reto/Kodak Ektar half-frame unit, but did not. While the idea of getting something like the Pen F (half-frame SLR!) or a Pen D (zone focus with manual exposure control) sounds cool, I think that one half-frame camera is enough for me. I like the fact that the Pen EES-2 is basically a point and shoot. That makes it a fun camera to use. And if anything, half-frame cameras should be fun!

Trunk texture. 25 Jan 2021
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1 This was similar to a shoe shop I brought my Doc Martens in for repair back in 2003–the cobbler would give you an estimate of “next week”, and then when you’d come back at the promised time, he’d go “I’m just about to get to it!” And repeat.

2 When I brought the camera in, I also brought my old Pen EES-2 that no longer worked, plus a parts camera I bought at some point. It’s possible that they swapped lenses, and the focus on another lens was not calibrated properly.

3 Side-rant here: I’m not as enamored by Kodak’s professional Portra stocks as the rest of the film camera internet seems to be. It’s not that I think they are bad films, just overhyped and expensive. But out of all the Portra stocks, I gravitate to 160 the most. 160 is the underdog stock. Everyone wants 400 due to its “versatility”. I get weird looks when I ask for it in the shop: “But we also have 400 in stock!” I get it. But there’s something about 160 that I like, and it can handle under- and over-exposure well. And for a half-frame camera, having the least amount of grain possible is where I want to be. Portra is still expensive, but with a half-frame camera I can stretch that dollar!

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