Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Tale of Two Cameras - 50ish Years of Technology

The PEN F with a relatively huge 100mm f3.5 lens.  This camera takes standard 35mm film but only uses half of a frame for each exposure.

Many photographers use the manual focus primes for video preferring the shallow depth of field and the wonderful analog lens controls.
Notice the lack of a bulky pentaprism.  The mirror is flipped over to the left where the image bounces to your eye through a relatively small view finder.  Ignore the texture - that's light filtered through a screen door.  Oops.
That's the shutter.  It is a unique rotary titanium design.  Pretty cool for 1963!
And here we have the mirror box for the PEN F and the sensor on the Sony NEX 3.  It is the same size as on the Canon 60D series and does pretty darned well in low light.  The Sony system is encumbered by clunky and slow zooms, but the one currently available prime and wide angle adapter are pretty svelte.
This is the NEX 3 with a PEN F 38mm f1.8 and Chinese adapter.  I was shooting with the Canon 60D, so shown here is the old 30D that gingercat uses equipped with a 50mm 1.4.  This is my favorite walk around combination.  Yes, I love primes.

This isn't an entirely fair comparison.  The Canon is a far more capable body.  I can't shoot fire jugglers in motion with the NEX 3 body (middle), but it works for most of my casual walk around use and for catch and release in thrift stores and antique malls.  Notice how much bulk a proper pentaprism adds to the body size.

The three shutters are almost the same size.  The mirror box on the Canon is quite a bit bigger than the actual sensor.

Here is the NEX 3 and PEN F combo with a quarter for scale.  Even with a lens hood the set is tiny given the capabilities of the camera.  Bonus:  it does HD video.
 That all sounds wonderful, but there have to be disadvantages, right?  The live view screen as viewfinder is the worst thing about the NEX 3.  It totally washes out in daylight.  The controls are pretty fiddly.  I can shoot in mid-winter with gloves and adjust controls on the 60D.  That is not happening with the NEX.

Sony announced the NEX 7 body that is more oriented towards advanced amateurs.  It looks like a good spec, but I'll wait for tweaks and for prices to come down.

There is good news and bad news about the PEN F system.  The good news is that these lenses will never be thrown away or repurposed for art.  The bad news is that demand is high between the desires of NEX and Panasonic/Olympus 4/3 system users.  Prices are up, but these vintage lenses are still cheaper than their current autofocus counterparts. 


  1. The PEN F looks very well preserved for its age. Can you still get films for it?

  2. Yes. The PEN F takes standard 35mm roll film. In America you would only find it by mail order. I'm not sure what distribution sources would be in Europe. Some types of film have gone extinct due to the digital revolution.

    As with typewriters, there is a healthy subculture of people who photograph using analog tools such as the PEN. They probably out number typewriter users.

    Some types of film have gone extinct only to be replaced by different sources. Polaroid film was discontinued several years ago and an Eastern European manufacturer started making it for the hard core users. I'm going to buy some to use with one of many Polaroid cameras that have turned up in garage sales. The look is distinctive.

    Kodachrome slide film died for good when the last processor in the world, Dwayne's Camera of Parsons, Kansas, shut down their equipment at the beginning of this year. The last roll contained the work of a National Geographic photographer.

    More information than you wanted, but it's what I do.

  3. I think there are still film rolls available in Switzerland in stores, but being happy with my about 4 years old Canon PowerShot, I didn't care about them.
    I knew about the film fans, and I can understand them. Must be a very other feel than on a digital camera. I also knew about Polaroid stopped production, and that "IMPOSSIBLE" restarted it, but when I did some research on it, I realized the high costs for a photo, too high for my budget.


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