Film Mania: Olympus PEN-F and Mju-1 on the starting grid
My collection of film cameras seems to grow like Topsy. Films are currently installed in the Leica M-P and M4, awaiting attention, and I am still considering which lens to use. I need to find time to get out and shoot a roll of FP-4, no doubt about it.
But I’ve been sidetracked. At Biévres at the beginning of the month I was seduced by two inexpensive non-Leica film cameras, both bearing the Olympus logo. Both have a certain reputation for being great tools for street photography. One is a cheap-as-chips point and shoot, the Mju-1, which I always had a hankering to own but never got round to. It came my way a very reasonable €20.
The other, the PEN-FT, is an altogether more grown-up piece of half-format kit with a lens that, if it had a different mount, would be highly prized. To get a working camera and superb 40mm f/1.4 G.Zuiko lens for little more than £100 is a bargain by any standards. I’m looking forward to getting out with the PEN-FT with its peculiar tall and thin portrait viewfinder. Definitely an unusual experience, but the thought of 72 shots from a standard 36-exposure film has a certain attraction.
The Olympus, however, is currently on hold as I talk to the Small Battery Company about the correct battery and adapter for the camera. This camera, like William Fagan’s Leica M5, needs a battery that is currently politically incorrect. It has been banished along with coal power.
On the other hand, the Mji-1 is a doddle to set up. I found a suitable CR123 battery on Amazon and bought a job lot (in order to save money, you see) which should keep the Olympus running for the next fifty years. Perhaps I should have bought just one to see how I get on.
Nonetheless, this rather fat and short version of an AA cell slotted easily into the Mju’s battery compartment and I soon had date and time correctly adjusted. I rushed into installing an Ilford FP4 without reading the instructions and, surprisingly, came out smelling of roses. It was all so easy and intuitive. It is the very antithesis of a screw-mount Leica when it comes to loading film. The Mju is now ready to rock and I cannot imagine why I never owned one of these little beauties when they were new. It is fully automatic, pocket sized, with its 35mm lens, just right for casual shooting.
A cheap point-and-shoot film camera is the ideal device to keep in the glove locker of your car. It's ever ready if you need to grab a record of an incident. No battery to keep charged. Just open up, snap snap and then get the film developed.
From what I’ve read on the internet, the Mju makes a wonderful camera for street work and I shall be putting it through its paces. Thirty-six shots later and I hope to have the PEN-FT up and running. This time, with 72 shots at my disposal, the film will take ages to complete.
This is a curious phenomenon. With film, as opposed to digital, I am much more selective and it can take ages to fill a roll. With digital, on the other hand, I pop away like the best of them. Perhaps the PEN-F will be a mid-way camera. Could it be that with 72 shots on tap I could actually fill the roll quicker than with only 36 to play with?
Interesting times ahead. But what’s all this Olympus retro stuff about? Well, it does have a purpose because I am currently working on a review of the latest PEN, the lovely PEN-F of 2016. To further my research I’ll be looking at its near-enough film equivalent, the PEN-FT, and the first modern digital PEN, the E-P1. Lest we run away with the idea that only Leica does heritage, this should be an opportunity to explore the long history of Olympus.
As an aside, though, the plentiful availability of cheap but excellent film cameras means that anyone can get in on the act. Can't afford a Leica? Pick up a Mju or a PEN-F or, even, an OM-10 or Pentax for £25. Most film cameras other than Leica are roaring bargains these days and, often, the lenses that come with them are superb.
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