Half Frame Hero - Shooting With A Half Frame Camera

Half The Size, Twice The Fun

What is a half frame camera and why might you want one? Well, you may not want one (yet), but you've come this far, you may as well see what the fuss is about!

Molly East / Molly West, shot with Olympus Pen D3.

What is Half Frame?

Apologies for teaching you how to suck eggs if you already know this, but your common or garden 35mm camera shoots landscape frames 35x24mm in size (this is also referred to as full frame in the world of digital cameras), but today we're talking about film.

A half frame camera, unsurprisingly, shoots portrait images half that size; 24x18mm frames on the same 35mm film. This means you get portrait images instead of landscape when the camera is held in the normal orientation and you get twice as many images per roll i.e. a 24 frame roll will give 48 half frames.

You also get half the resolution per image and grain can be more prominent as it's larger in relation to the image, don't let this put you off, the fun factor outweighs these weaknesses.

My Olympus Pen D3 

Olympus was the first to release a half frame camera, back in 1959, with their PEN line aimed at frugal photographers, who wanted to make film a roll of film go further meaning a 24 / 36 exposure roll of film would make 48 / 72 half frames on a roll.

This idea eventually spawned a whole series of half frame cameras culminating with the Pen F interchangeable lens SLR. I will own a Pen F one day but for the moment I make do with the humble Pen D3, fixed lens viewfinder camera. 

The Olympus Pen D3 

The D3 is limited, in that it is scale focus only, you need to be pretty good at estimating distance and shoot fast enough film to stop down to F8 for a buffer. It took me a long time to learn this and I was constantly frustrated with trying to shoot at F1.7 and missing the focus.

Learn from my mistakes and shoot faster film at smaller apertures if you want to get close!

Kate, shot with Olympus Pen D3

Shooting Half Frame

Half frame is a great way to tell a story in a pair of frames, sometimes referred to as a diptych.

There are loads of ways to pair the frames; a close up and a wide shot, flip the camera 180 between frames, same subject / different time, different details of a structure, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination!

Skate and create, shot with Olympus Pen D3

Tay Rail Bridge, shot with Olympus Pen D3


Now, this is one of my absolute favorite ways to shoot half frame, easier with a manual camera like the D3 but also do-able with an automatic camera (like the Canon Multi Tele, another half frame hero in my collection, more about it in a while)

My first half frame panorama was shot on Fuji film in Berries Den estate, Newport-on-Tay and it took me until month afterwards to stich it into the panorama, when I finished putting them together I was so pleased with the results, I had to shoot more like this!

Berries Den Pond Panorama, shot on Olympus Pen D3

Berries Den Pond Panorama, shot on Olympus Pen D3

Dunottar Castle Panorama, shot on Canon Multi Tele

Aberdeen Beach Panorama, shot on Canon Multi Tele


One of my favorite places for photographic inspiration is Instagram, check out @halfframeclub to see a great selection of half frame work and get a feel for whats possible when you work with half frames.

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Another of my favorite half frame shooters is @2.alfs, doing some really interesting half frame video work / animation. 

Who are your favorite photographers shooting half frame? I'd love to hear about your top photographers working with half frames.


For Sale

If you want to jump in and try this fun format I am currently selling my Canon Multi Tele compact 35mm camera, I'm looking for around £60. Please get in touch if you are interested. I'm only selling so I can buy back my beloved Pen D3, I never should have sold it!

Why Shoot Film?

'Why shoot with old film cameras, when modern digital cameras are so capable?' I hear you ask.

Well I guess I shoot film because it's different, it's fun and it's challenging. It makes me slow down, think about what I want from a photo and how I'm going to achieve it, before I press the shutter release.

I don't know if the word authentic really means anything (except I'm a hipster) but I do think the colours and tones seem more 'real' on film than if I create the same effect in post processing with digital negatives. I also enjoy the delayed gratification of not seeing the shots immediately, it is a rare thing in the age of instant everything so I guess perversely, I like the fact it's a bit awkward.

Anticipation of the prints is another major reason I love film; the excitement of a pack of prints coming through the letter box is truly something special even if the initial excitement sometimes turns to disappointment when I find out I missed the focus, exposure setting or left the lens cap on (yes this has happened!)

To be totally honest, the hit rate on my first few rolls of film (shot on a £12 Ebay Minolta 35mm SLR) was pretty poor! I'd been spoilt by high ISO capability, instant focusing and image stabilisation; I didn't actually know how to take a photo, despite my eBay Minolta being a pretty advanced SLR in it's day.

All this means that when I do get a 'hit' it is all the sweeter and I'd say my hit rate has gone up considerably since those first rolls of film.

Greg at the bar

Real black and white film is another reason to shoot film, knowing you're shooting B+W rather than converting shots with blown highlights in post makes you think differently about light and texture. I shoot a lot of C41 B+W white film but love a bit of Kodak Tri-X when I can find it, which is another thing about film photography, at times film feels like ancient treasure, it almost seems a shame to open it sometimes; especially if it is out of production.

Then there is medium format, 6cm x 6cm negatives full of detail, paper thin DOF, and an awesome glow to the shots. These can be scanned to very high resolution and have a beautiful quality that is hard to describe. I've only recently acquired a medium format TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) camera and it's a fussy bit of kit to use but the results can be beautiful.

St Andrews harbour

I think often people look better on film, it hides blemishes and is just a bit more forgiving than digital can be, especially with the shallow depth of field that a fast prime lens can give on 35mm camera. Some of my favourite portraits I've taken have been on film and they are hard to recreate on my digital camera.

Then there is the colours, every film has a different look, Poundland Agfa Vista is super saturated greens and reds and and I love this for summer time shots. Then there is Portra 160 and 400, both give great skin tones and pastel colours, great for evening light. Fuji Pro 400H does amazing greens and has a cooler look, good for landscapes.

I already knew I was a becoming a film geek but writing all this down is proof to myself that I really have become obsessed with film. I should have realised this when the top shelf of the fridge was converted from food storage to a film storage area; pass the Portra!

If you want to get into the world of film photography, then check out my friends at Photoghost in Aberdeen for all your development, scanning and prints.
If you are already a film lover then head over to shootfilmco and check out their range of stickers and badges to show the world film is alive!