Olympus Pen D | Camera Review
The Olympus Pen D served as the answer to a number of my prayers. I wanted a mechanical half-frame camera with no automation that would allow me to enjoy the happenstance that often occurs in photography. I didn’t need a system of multiple lenses. I didn’t need something with integrated metering. I just needed something simple which is what the Olympus Pen D does well.
The Olympus Pen D is a simple mechanical camera with no automation and a non-coupled viewfinder so zone focusing is the only option. Half-frame cameras have a distinct advantage with regard to depth-of-field and so more often than not the zone scale will allow you to get a photograph which is reasonably sharp.
Shutter speeds on the Pen D range from Bulb to 1/500th of a second and are set by rotating the dial on the lens. Similarly the aperture is set on the lens as well and the range is from a bright f/1.9 to f/16. The lens on the Pen D is a 32mm focal length; on a conventional camera this is equal to a 45mm lens.
The camera is quite compact and weighs in at less than a pound. It can in fact fit in your pocket if you haven’t been blessed with a figure that allows the usage of skinny jeans. For the rest of us I’d recommend you use a small coat pocket. In size it’s considerably smaller than the already trim Pen F which I so dearly loved, but sacrifices little in terms of ergonomics.
In your hand the camera is not too big, nor too small, it just is. I hesitate to say it’s the “right size” because that will depend largely on how you’re accustomed to holding your camera and how large or small your hands are. The shape of the camera is without much form and there aren’t any really sexy curves or design cues on this camera that are noteworthy. It’s handsome without being over the top and in your face, and all the while functional. The thumbwheel to advance the film is located on the back of the camera near where you would rest your thumb. The shutter button is a familiar wedge shaped unit located next to the selenium meter on the front of the camera. The selenium meter on my particular copy works, and is close enough to accurate that I would consider using it, but I generally default to an external meter that is always in my camera bag.
This camera is so simple that there’s not a lot I can say about it other than that I love it. When my Pen F died this is the camera that replaced it, and it did so for $26, instantly becoming one of my favorite cameras. The most affordable replacement lens that I could have bought for my Pen F retailed for $100 and was also in questionable shape which made the move to the Pen D practical.
I have no test charts to show you, but in my opinion the lens on the Pen D, as with those available for the Pen F, is that they are superb. We take for granted the fact that these lenses were designed by actual people, long before computers were available. The lens on the Pen D is fast at f/1.9 and beyond sharp enough for practical usage. Pixel peepers may be disappointed, but that would more likely be attributed to the format itself rather than the lens. In part one of this review I mentioned some of the constraints of half-frame photography and your personal perception of sharpness may be challenged because there’s less information.
For the type of shooting I do on a personal level the Olympus Pen D checks 90% of the boxes I need to be satisfied. It’s mechanical which I like, has a fast enough lens for what I need to do, and it is discrete. This camera is almost always in my camera bag, especially when traveling.
Are, Bure, Boke. Okay?
If you love that dark style of Japanese photography known as “are, bure, boke” then I think the Pen D is your camera. If you don’t know, “are, bure, boke,” is translated as grainy, blurry, and out of focus. In a lot of instances these images take on a graphic quality where emphasis is on shape or texture rather than content itself. This style of photography can be seen in a number of contemporary and historical Japanese photographers. Daido Moriyama comes to mind, and I think another great example is Yamasakiko-ji. The Pen D has the ability to make the grainiest of photos and the zone focusing typically approximates focus rather than nailing it.
Check in next week for the third and final installation of The Holy Trinity of Half-frames.