A half-frame camera is exactly what it sounds like - a camera body that shoots half a frame instead of a full one on 35mm film. This means that you get twice the amount of shots out of the same roll of film.
A very brief history
The format became popular in the 1960s because it allowed camera manufacturers to create much smaller cameras that offered better value for money on film costs. These were produced in huge quantities and are pretty easy to find secondhand nowadays.
Eventually, these half-frame cameras were usurped by incredible compact cameras like the Olympus XA and Trip 35.
On a side note, for those of you interested in camera development and the history of camera design, this article on how Olympus camera designer Yoshihisa Maitani revolutionised the industry is fascinating.
Shooting a half-frame camera
I borrowed this Olympus Pen EES-2 from a work colleague because I’d wanted to try one out since reading about them. I’m thrifty at heart, so the idea of getting double the amount of shots from a roll appealed to me.
In reality, this selling point can become a bit of an albatross around your neck - about halfway through my 24 exposure roll (48 exposures on the half-frame camera), I felt like I may never finish it. In the end it took me several months, so I can only imagine how long it would take me to shoot through a 36/72 exposure roll.
The other reason it took me so long to shoot the roll is probably the main reason I wouldn’t shoot another. In order to fit two frames into one, the viewfinder on the Olympus EES-2 (and all other half-frame cameras, as far as I’m aware) is in portrait orientation. This just isn’t what I like to shoot.
The Olympus EES-2 uses a zone focusing system just like the Olympus Trip 35 - you select a zone using one of four pictures based on how close you want to focus. This sounds very simple, but in reality it means you miss focus quite a bit unless you only shoot things you know to be at infinity, or you’re used to the system. It took me about 3 rolls to dial this in on my Olympus Trip, so be aware it takes practice if you are looking at buying one of these cameras.
I shot all of these on Kodak Colorplus 200.
I can only talk about the half-frame camera I’ve used, and I’m sure if you shot something like an Olympus Pen F then the results would be different, but I found the Olympus EES-2 very hit and miss. Above you can see an example of it working pretty well. Nice contrasty images with a decent level of detail in them.
And here’s where it didn’t work too well. I liked the pose of the man in the left frame, but I’m not sure what happened to the frame on the right. The following few frames also had the same blue smeary effect, so I’m not sure if I moved from cold to hot too quickly, or whether that’s even a thing.
Towards the end of the roll I started trying to associate each side of the frame so that they were related images. Not sure what I was going for above, maybe the only link was takeaways?
Back to having no link here, just two frames I liked at the time.
I really like the image on the left, despite it being a little out of focus. What I might do for posting on Instagram is cut a few of the frames up so that I can combine some of the good shots. I wanted to show the reality of what I got back on this blog, though, so you’re stuck looking at drab photos like the one on the right I’m afraid!
All in all, it was a fun experiment, but not one I’ll be repeating. I don’t much like the zone focusing system or the portrait orientation of this camera, and I probably got about 12 good shots out of a possible 48, so my hit rate wasn’t too great. I’m sure this would improve with practice, but I’d rather shoot a proper rangefinder than a half-frame half-rangefinder.