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Featured Pen-F Safari Edition

Discussion in 'Olympus Cameras' started by heedpantsnow, Mar 31, 2018.

  1. heedpantsnow

    heedpantsnow Mu-43 Veteran

    Jul 24, 2011

    Ever since owning an olive Voigtlander Bessa R2, I have loved the idea of an olive green camera. Not just for the aestethics of it, but also because many of the people I photograph react differently to a nondescript green camera than they do a shiny silver camera or a (intimidating?) black camera.

    I've hoped and waited and watched for Olympus to release an olive version of the Pen-F ever since it came out, but to no avail. I even had google alerts set up for any rumors of one or a limited edition, but there was never anything.

    About a month ago a Pen-F came up in slightly-less-than-excellent condition for a more reasonable price, so I jumped on it and started researching how (and if) I could paint it and obtain a durable and professional looking finish.

    After a lot of research, I found a special epoxy spray paint made for firearms and hunting equipment, called Aluma-hyde II. It is a similar paint to what you might find in the hardware store as "epoxy appliance paint" but comes in colors other than gloss black or cream.

    While disassembling, stripping, and reassembling would have been the most thorough option, I could find nowhere and noone that had successfully disassembled and reassembled a digital Pen-F. So, I set out figuring out if I could mask, prep, paint, and cure without disassembly.
    I wiped the entire camera down thoroughly with alcohol wipes, cleaning in every nook and cranny and crack. From then on I only handled the camera with nitrile gloves. I also found a 4" 1/4-20 bolt, applied some masking tape around the threads to seal it into the tripod mount and to prevent it from unscrewing accidentally. I tried to even limit touching the camera with gloves, and instead handle it by the bolt.

    I used a chopstick covered with a small strip of sandpaper to rough up as much of the body as I could. It's important to give a little bit of rough surface for the paint to adhere better. I then cleaned everything again thoroughly with denatured alcohol, and then a tack rag.

    Masking the camera was a slow but straightforward process. Starting off, I put the camera in on a tripod so I could get at the top dials easily with both hands. I used some wide blue tape for the grip and the rear LCD (which I folded out and covered completely, and later used as a "stand" to hold the camera up when painting and curing). For most of the dials I fed the masking tape while turning the dial until it was totally covered. For the areas around the grip and mount I applied the tape and then trimmed it with an x-acto knife. I taped inside the battery compartment, then shut the door so it would stick to the tape. I check over the entire surface several times, paying extra careful attention to make sure all the edges were fully smoothed down.

    Last edited: Apr 2, 2018
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  2. heedpantsnow

    heedpantsnow Mu-43 Veteran

    Jul 24, 2011
    After I finished the masking, I (again) cleaned all the surface to be painted with denatured alcohol and a tack rag. I preheated my oven to 200F, and I put the can of Alumahyde in a bowl of warm water. I placed the camera in the open door of the oven on a piece of foil to gently warm it without too much heat from the oven. It wasn't a cold day anyway, but I've found that paint adheres best when the part is at about 90-100F surface temp.


    The Alumahyde is epoxy paint, not like enamels that most of us are used to. If you get it on something it is VERY difficult, if not impossible, to remove. I knew I would hold the camera by the bolt while painting it, so my hand would not be in the spray, but I decided to tape a piece of scrap cloth over my arm, then put on the nitrile glove.

    Before spraying I prepared the spot where the part would cure undisturbed. I made a coat hanger...uh...hanger with a loop for the bolt to slide in, and hung it from a ladder in my garage. I positioned a halogen work light close by to keep warmth on the camera as it cured. Once this was done, it was time to spray.

    The instructions for the epoxy dictate a starting light coat, followed by a fill coat, then successive fill coats before the first coat cures. In all I did about 4 coats, roughly 10 mins apart. I didn't want to build up the epoxy too thick, but of course did want finish that was thick enough to cover well and be durable.

    After I finished spraying, I hung the camera in the spot I had prepared for it. I wanted it to cure for 24 hours and off gas as much as possible in a well ventilated area before I baked it. After 24 hours in front of the halogen it was time to bake it.

    I pulled off one of the pieces of masking tape to make sure the adhesive wasn't gummy from the halogen, and to make sure the tape would not pull the epoxy off, and all was well. The color was a bit lighter than I wanted initially, but it actually deepened to the correct color later after it fully cured.


    Now, everybody who restores old film cameras bake their freshly painted parts, but they all disassemble them beforehand so it's just the metal body/frame that's being baked. I didn't have that luxury, so I needed to be careful not to damage the camera from the heat.

    I considered what would be the hottest temperature that a camera might reasonably be designed to withstand. A bit of research said that parked cars in the sun can get up to 170-180F. I actually thought it would be hotter, but I decided that I didn't want to bake it higher than 180F.

    I arranged the coat hanger in the oven on the top rack, with the rack as high as possible. I put a piece of aluminum foil on the top rack to protect the camera from direct heat from the top element. I removed the middle rack and put the bottom rack all the way down, again with a piece of aluminum foil to block the direct heat. I preheated the oven to 200F, monitoring the internal temp with a thermocouple. At 200F I turned the oven off and put the camera in place, again hanging the camera by the bolt from the coat hanger. It was hard to leave it alone and not open the oven to check on it! About every 2 hours I pulled the camera out, reheated the oven to 200F, turned the oven off, put the camera back in. I did this while I was working at home, over two days, for a total of about 10 times.

    At this point the finish was durable enough to touch. I didn't want to scratch it or take a chance on causing any blemishes, so I just very carefully removed all the tape, still holding the camera by the bolt. I put in a battery and memory card, and held my breath as I tested all the functions of the camera. Everything worked great!

    I read that the finish can take up to two weeks to fully cure. I still have my E-M5, so I used that over the next two weeks to give the finish all the time it needed. I wasn't sure if it needed the whole two weeks, but I didn't want to ruin it with my impatience.

    After two weeks I used a white lacquer stick (Lacquer Stik brand from Amazon) to try to fill the inlays for "Olympus", "Pen-F", etc. This was almost a disaster and I can't recommend it. You are supposed to be able to rub the lacquer stick into the inlay, let it dry for a few minutes, and then wipe off the excess. Easy, right? I think it works well on more smooth finishes, like anodized aluminum, or gloss expoxy maybe. It got into the bumps of the texture of my flat epoxy and it took a lot of trial and error to get it off. Eventually I got it off with mineral oil, but that also pulled some of the paint out of the inlay and made streaks, which I then had to clean up with a q-tip. The white lettering does look good, but I probably would just leave it green if I had to do it all over again.


    All in all, I'm really happy with the way it came out. The texture and color are exactly what I wanted. The durability remains to be seen, but so far it hasn't even scratched from regular use over the last month, including one trip to the south Pacific and another to California.

    Feel free to ask any questions you have!
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  3. heedpantsnow

    heedpantsnow Mu-43 Veteran

    Jul 24, 2011

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  4. agentlossing

    agentlossing Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Jun 26, 2013
    Andrew Lossing
    Very cool!
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  5. Jock Elliott

    Jock Elliott Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 13, 2015
    Troy, NY
    Jock Elliott
    Excellent and detailed report . . . and very cool looking bit of gear. Distress the edges just a bit, and you will have achieved that perfect "get my film to Saigon" look.

    Well done!

    Cheers, Jock
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  6. Steveee

    Steveee Mu-43 Regular

    Aug 30, 2017
    Sheffield, England
    I must confess, looking at the date of the first post, I really thought this was an April fool, especially when it went quiet after the first post!

    Having seen the finished product, though, I have to say what an awesome looking piece of kit! Fabulous job, get Olympus on the case, I want one!

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  7. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Oct 1, 2010
    So make one!

    Not picking on you particularly but it constantly amazes me when people think "I can't do that." about some fairly simple sort of DIY project. The rationale seems to be that it's better to remain powerless than it is to take a small risk, try something, and learn from it even if the first try isn't perfect. From @heedpantsnow@heedpantsnow's narrative I'm guessing this is not the first paint project he has tried, the result being he's become damned good at it! I agree: Bravo!

    A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
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  8. Steveee

    Steveee Mu-43 Regular

    Aug 30, 2017
    Sheffield, England
    (Steveee looks slyly at his EM10ii and wonders........)
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  9. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Oct 1, 2010
    So do it!

    @heedpantsnow@heedpantsnow has given you a beyond-excellent how-to, including a clear message about the attention to detail required to do a beautiful job. The only thing I wonder is whether some kind of primer coat might improve adhesion. Maybe he will pop back here and tell us.

    Post a picture here when you're done.
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  10. Steveee

    Steveee Mu-43 Regular

    Aug 30, 2017
    Sheffield, England
    Ahh, if only I had the time/desire/basic DIY skills. Or maybe I don’t want one badly enough to risk my relatively new camera.

    It’s a mixture of them all tbh, though it does look beautiful!
  11. heedpantsnow

    heedpantsnow Mu-43 Veteran

    Jul 24, 2011
    Thanks everyone!

    Jock - that might be my new tagline...searching for that "get my film to Saigon" look!

    Steveee - I actually thought twice about posting given the proximity to 4/1, lol. I too wish Olympus would do this. The Pen-F is the ideal camera for it IMHO.

    Oldracer - This was my first time using an epoxy coating, and my first time painting a camera with anything. I have a bit of experience restoring/painting espresso machines, and an old Weber grill. I've been told many times be more experienced individuals, and it's held true, that 95% of the work is prep...and I would say 95% of the quality of the finish is from the prep. Usually I would have used a primer, but with the epoxy paint it isn't necessary.

    All told, I watched a ton of Youtube videos, and read some old worklogs from folks who restored cameras. I'm by no means an expert, and I wouldn't even consider myself a patient person. I think anyone can do this with proper prep and patience. My original plan was to buy an old cheap E-P1,2, or 3 and try that first. But when I got a good deal on the Pen-F, I just decided to go for it, even though I could find no evidence of anyone doing this before. I would love to answer any questions anyone has, and help others any way I can if they want to do something similar.
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2018
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  12. pdk42

    pdk42 One of the "Eh?" team

    Jan 11, 2013
    Leamington Spa, UK
    Very cool. I bought my first Pen-F in silver but came to dislike the painted chrome finish. However, I managed to find a mint black one for a good price and did a switch. I much prefer the Pen-F in black. Green looks pretty darn good too. Excellent project and write up. You executed the job to perfection.
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  13. heedpantsnow

    heedpantsnow Mu-43 Veteran

    Jul 24, 2011
    Thank you sir! And I totally agree about the painted silver finish of the Pen-F. I don't understand why they cover up the metal (magnesium if I remember correctly) with the plasticky-feeling painted silver. Surely there is some sort of anodizing or finishing that would have looked more authentic.
  14. DennyVanNostrand

    DennyVanNostrand Mu-43 Regular

    Jan 3, 2018
    From freezing temps to dropped in rivers to 200 degree ovens. Olympus makes a tough camera.

    Beautiful camera BTW. Really nice job.
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  15. Mike Wingate

    Mike Wingate Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 21, 2017
    Mike Wingate
    A really nice description.
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  16. drd1135

    drd1135 Zen Snapshooter

    Mar 17, 2011
    Southwest Virginia
    It’s funny that you picked a camera that was specifically advertised as having no visible screws. I bet disassembly would have been extra tricky.
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2018
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  17. WT21

    WT21 Mu-43 Legend Subscribing Member

    Feb 19, 2010
    A) I would never do that, and
    B) Freakin AWESOME!

    Nominating this for a feature thread.

    That is one cool looking camera.
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  18. heedpantsnow

    heedpantsnow Mu-43 Veteran

    Jul 24, 2011
    Thanks! It is a very solid-feeling camera. Hopefully the dials won't have the same issues that my E-M5's has.

    Thanks, I hope that it helps others if they want to do the same thing.

    Yes, I pored over photos of the parts and design of the camera. I imagine removing the "leather" grip would have shed some light on it. I may be a little crazy, but I'm not so crazy to think I could pull it apart, paint it, and get the camera back together and working properly!

  19. turbodieselvw

    turbodieselvw Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 29, 2010
    Nice job! Looks great!
  20. DeeJayK

    DeeJayK Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Feb 8, 2011
    Pacific Northwest, USA
    This is a fantastic write-up and an even better result.:2thumbs:

    I wonder if there would be a way to fill the lettering inlays with clay or something similar that would be removable after the paint has cured? The white is a bit too vibrant for my taste, but I feel like the original black would look great.
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