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Restoring an Olympus Pen EE-2

Versão em português aqui

I recently discovered that the last store in my city that sold and developed photographic films has stopped offering these services. They no longer offer services for enlarging or digitizing films. It was inevitable, I suppose. The last time I visited the store was back in 2016, if I remember correctly. At that time, it was already uncommon for anyone to need to develop a roll. Moreover, the new films available were not very varied or cheap.

The days are gone when Kodacolor could be bought for a mere R$6.00, even in bakeries. Nowadays, the pandemic has accelerated the shift towards digital photography, making it harder to find film locally. Film can now only be found online, and the prices have gone up quite a bit. Professional development services are also quite far away, sometimes requiring two shipping distances.

Furthermore, in my last text, I mentioned being interested in trying traditional photographic development methods. Developing that forgotten roll of film wasn't enough for me; I also wanted to take some pictures. So, I did some research on what's available when it comes to analog cameras since I didn't have any of my own. Unfortunately, the market for used photographic materials on the internet, which is mainly limited to Mercado Livre in Brazil, is quite poor. There is little variety in good, affordable cameras. The most common cameras available are plastic, basic models or the omnipresent Olympus Trip. Nevertheless, I came across a model that caught my attention: the Olympus Pen. These half-frame cameras are perfect for giving the impression that a roll of film is not outrageously expensive.

Comparação entre os tamanhos inteiro e meio quadro

It's worth noting that new cameras are still being sold, but they're mostly instant cameras from Fuji, which function in a similar way to Polaroid instant cameras. The 135 film cameras available are all quite simple, essentially toys. Even the Kodak Ektar H35, which takes half-frame pictures, is too expensive for my liking since it's an all-plastic camera with a plastic lens. Therefore, I decided to try an Olympus Pen instead.

The camera

The Pen EE2 is a film camera produced by the Japanese company Olympus between 1968 and 1977. It features a fixed-focus Zuiko lens (Olympus' lens brand) of 28mm and largest aperture of f/3.5, consisting of four lens elements arranged in three groups. Like other models in the Pen line from that era, its main characteristic is creating half-frame photos, which means two frames on each 24x36mm negative of regular 135 film rolls. It's like a younger sibling to the Olympus Trip 35, the most famous model of the brand in those distant times.

Foto da Olympus Pen EE-2

Like the Trip, most models in the Pen line were aimed at casual photography. These cameras were some of the first true point-and-shoot cameras. Simply aim and shoot, without complicated adjustments, thanks to a selenium light meter that automatically set the ideal aperture and shutter speed settings, according to the film's ISO, in certain lighting conditions. The "EE" in the name stands for Electric Eye. Besides ease of use, the series' big advantage was its economy, since a 36-exposure roll could take 72 photos.

Operation details

When lighting conditions are not sufficient for a good exposure, a red flag appears in the viewfinder (that little window where you put your eye and frame what will come out in the photo), and the shutter is not triggered. It can be frustrating, but it also ensures that the photo isn't wasted.

Although it's automatic, some Pen cameras, such as the EE2, have the possibility of using a flash and then allowing the choice of aperture (3.5, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, or 22). Unfortunately, in this case, the shutter speed is fixed at 1/40, which is a fortieth of a second. It's a long time, excellent for creating blurry photos if you're not steady or the subject is moving. When in automatic mode, the shutter speed can be 1/40 or 1/200. The camera uses the largest possible aperture between f/8 and f/22 if the shutter speed chosen by the Electric Eye is 1/200, or an aperture between f/3.5 and f/11 if the choice is 1/40.

It's an ingenious mechanism that came out of the mind of Yoshihisa Maitani, one of those rare geniuses, an engineer, and designer at Olympus. It's difficult to explain how this fully mechanical automatic mode works, but I can try: the selenium cell generates an electric current that moves the needle of a VU meter. This needle travels a path where it's pressed by two small metal plates that rise together when the shutter release button is pressed, preventing them from advancing from a certain point, according to the specific cutout that exists in them and the position where the needle is in its path from minimum to maximum. When the needle doesn't cross the path of the plates, meaning that the VU is receiving zero energy because there's little light, they move freely to the end of the course. That's when the shutter isn't triggered, and the red flag appears.

Each of these plates has two sectors. One manages the shutter speed (1/40 or 1/200) and has two steps; the other takes care of the aperture (f/3.5 to f/11 or f/8 to f/22) and has two groups of several tiny steps. Simple, right? All right, watch this video:

The two metal plates that rise when the shutter button is pressed. The one at the back sets the shutter speed (1/40 or 1/200), and the one at the front sets the aperture from f/3.5 to f/11 at 1/40 or from f/8 to f/22 at 1/200. Note that the hidden pointer in the upper right corner activates these two plates when the selenium cell captures light. In the case of this camera, the selenium cell no longer works, and the two plates rise freely, showing the red flag in the viewfinder and preventing a picture from being taken.

The ISO set by turning the lens ring moves a circular mask that partially covers the selenium cell, so that the higher the ISO of the chosen film, the more the cell is exposed to light, and the VU meter needle goes further in its path. Truly quite ingenious!


Many of the 1950s to 1980s cameras you find on secondhand market are not really broken, just needing some refurbishment. They are deeply dirty, have been tossed around for years when they weren't being used, so they need a thorough cleaning and maybe a drop of oil, as well as the replacement of foams and felts that insulate and prevent light leaks. Some models require their own special tools and are quite complex, but probably a precision screwdrivers set will do the trick. They were constructed in an era when metals were abundant and cheap, before plastic dominated the industry. Because of this, they ended up being very resistant to time. They were also all hand-assembled, so it's not rocket science to dismantle them if you have steady hands and not too thick fingers. The important thing is to be organized with the pieces and screws. Taking pictures or filming the disassembly also helps. This Olympus Pen is one of the easiest.

Here you can see some photos I took during the dismantling: https://www.flickr.com/photos/robertostrabelli/albums/72177720307798287

I thought I would never disassemble a camera again in my life since my vision is not what it used to be, but I bought one of these reading glasses, and for the first time in years, I could see small things in detail and felt capable of doing it again.

Although the ad said the camera was working, the Olympus Pen EE-2 I bought suffers from the most common problem of these models: the selenium cell no longer generates energy as it used to, and all you get in automatic mode is a red flag, even if you're under the midday sun.

I started to dismantle the camera to investigate and see if there was anything that could be done. As I dismantled it, I studied it. It's a very simple machine and easy to take apart. To remove the lens and reach the shutter mechanism, you first unscrew the plastic finish that protects the lens, then unscrew the front element. When you remove this finish, the first screws that hold the selenium cell assembly and the rotary ring that defines the ISO and aperture settings become accessible too.

When selenium reaches the end of its life, it usually turns all gray, but in this case, the cell was as blue as new. Still, it generates no more than 0.1 volt, and this hardly moves the VU pointer. Fixing the Electric Eye requires replacement and calibration work beyond my patience and knowledge, so I settled for using the camera only with a flash. As the diaphragm was jamming a little, I kept disassembling to do cleaning, lubrication, and a minor overhaul, repainting the box etc.

I peeled off the finish, removed the aluminum parts and the entire mechanism of the shutter and lenses, which came out whole with just four screws from the inside of the body. As simple as removing a Beetle engine!

The photo counter mechanism also came off completely with just a few screws. No tiny parts falling on the floor or small bouncing springs. I dismantled as much as I could, washed the aluminum parts, removed glue and dirt from the body and rear cover, sanded and repainted. I intended to replace the covering, but I didn't find anything similar, and the original was good, just dirty.

I made the mistake of letting oil seep into the blades of the diaphragm. Even though it was only a minimal amount, the size of a toothpick tip, it was enough to jam the movement. I had to use a lot of isopropyl alcohol to clean everything again. I used a viscosity 50 silicone oil, which is theoretically suitable for these delicate mechanisms. Some people prefer to use lighter fluid as a cleaner and lubricant, but I think it's absurd. The fact is that moving parts should be clean and only some need lubrication. Shutter blades and diaphragms don’t need it. For cleaning, isopropyl alcohol is the only safe way as it doesn't affect plastics and rubbers and doesn't leave residue when it dries. I've used benzine a few times, and although it has a more pleasant smell it's not appropriate. Another important observation is not to use cotton swabs to clean these mechanisms because tiny fibers get caught in the springs and gear teeth. I used a soft brush that I dipped in alcohol and cleaned on a napkin. On the other hand, cotton swabs are perfect for cleaning lenses, but afterward, it's necessary to reassemble the lens under bright light to identify and remove any fibers that may have gotten stuck inside.

Hacking a fifty-year-old camera

Not knowing what to do with the broken photocell, I continued my research. I thought about adapting a small battery with a voltage regulator and providing power to the VU, so that with an external light meter I could adjust the position of the little needle, but this solution would require fine and difficult calibration, as well as visual changes to the camera. Even a small lever attached to the tip of the needle and crossing the upper front part of the box seemed impractical, as the mechanism is quite delicate, and again, it would be hard to measure the position on such a miniaturized scale.

Fortunately, I found a non-invasive modification method that allows using this camera (and probably other models in the Pen and Trip series as well) in shutter priority mode. You just must lock a kind of pulley, and the shutter is fixed at 1/200, while you have the freedom to choose the aperture of the diaphragm. With a light meter on your phone or an exposure value table in hand, you just need to find the best balance according to the film's ISO.

A bit too rigid? There are two ways to approach the unique shutter time: as a limitation or a challenge. Limitations can inspire creativity and encourage us to focus on what truly matters. In the case of these small cameras, what's important is good framing and recording moments and events around us.

Detail of the stuck pulley. I used a sponge with contact adhesive.

First Photos

Among the many Olympus Pen ads on ML, what made me choose a particular one was the accessories that came with the camera: a flash (unbelievably, I didn't have one) and a new film. Well, not new. The film expired in 2005.

Interestingly, although it is a black and white film, according to the instructions on the box, it should be developed using the C-41 process, which is the common process for color films. I don't know under what conditions the film was stored all these years, much less what it went through. Undoubtedly, this little box has seen a lot!

It is said that for every ten years past the end date, you should lower the ISO by one stop, so a 400-speed film should be exposed as if it were a 200-speed film. To make it easier for the first test with the refurbished camera and to reduce the chances of losing all the photos, I made this Exposure Value table for the shutter speed of 1/200:

EV table for Olympus Pen EE-2

Taking dozens of photos turned out to be a challenge for me, even though I'm quite economical with clicks, even with an unlimited digital camera. I took a lot of pictures! I had intended to take notes to evaluate the results later, but I ended up not doing so out of laziness.

When it came time to develop the film, it wasn't any easier to put the film on the spiral this time. Perhaps because of the age of the roll. I ended up crumpling the film in some spots while trying. That made me wish I had purchased a modern tank with a plastic reel, which would have been easier to use. This time I followed the development instructions very carefully. The negative was as dense as the last one, but the grain was huge. I didn't like it very much, but that's what a film from 2005 can offer. I think that if I had treated the film as if it were ISO 100 instead of 200, I might have gotten better results. Out of the more than 74 photos I took, about 50 were usable, being quite optimistic. Despite everything, it seemed to me that I didn't make too many exposure errors in most of the photos. The ones that didn't turn out were very dark, basically all the ones I took indoors or in large shadows. Because of the excessive grain, it was not possible to save everything. But I'm not sure, I'm not an expert! Everything shows that the camera is good, but I suspect that the speed is higher than 1/200, perhaps up to 1/250. I should have noted the aperture I used for each photo, so I would be more certain, but... Well, that's it.

A weekend photographer, an old camera, an expired film, and a beginner development technician. It's always a surprise. Let's see what the light created.

_MG_6493 _MG_6489 _MG_6488 _MG_6487 _MG_6485 _MG_6484 _MG_6482 _MG_6481 _MG_6480 _MG_6477 _MG_6499 _MG_6498

This thing called Caffenol

I'm trying to learn more about caffenol. Now I know that you can't expect much from the result when developing color film, after all it's a development process for black and white film. Another detail is that the ingredients must be measured more carefully and there are other key details that I may write about in another text.

The fact is that developing with coffee is not an improvisation or only for lomography. It's possible to achieve "professional" results with it and I would like that. Using coffee is just as valid as commercial formulas like Rodinal.


I haven't found a perfect way to scan yet, and I don't think there's much to do to improve it without spending a fortune on a macro lens. The light leaks on the edges that occur because the frame where the negative is held is slightly larger than it should be bothers me. This can be fixed.

There are many tutorials and videos talking about how to scan negatives, but I believe the best way is to attach a tube to the lens and point it at a strong light source. The focus adjustment is too tight to be trusted on a tripod with the camera pointed at a light table. Not letting light pass through the perforated edges of the negative also seems essential.