Olympus PEN F review

I went ahead and got myself Olympus's latest camera, so here's my Olympus PEN F (mostly street photography) review.

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Introduction

 

Ever since the whole retro craze hit the camera world, it's been a race to make your camera as retrolicious as possible. The Olympus PEN F is an amazing camera that combines what everyone has always wanted: A digital camera in a retro film body. It's like someone pried an old Olympus PEN and put in a digital sensor in it. It's the best of both worlds.

 

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Olympus PEN F Review

 

Simply stated, this is the most beautiful camera I have ever seen or owned. And I had many in my lifetime, everything from Nex to Leica.

 

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The whole camera looks like…..the PEN F of yesteryear, and that's a great thing. The top plate is extremely nice and metallic, every dial seems to have their own personality. There is no top shutter speed dial like the X100s but a mode dial. If you ask me it's better that way when you use the EVF, it's a more natural way to work.

 

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The screen articulates and reverses, this is a great way to protect your screen and get it out-of-the-way. It also makes it look like a vintage camera even more. As a screen protector you can still get one if it's thin and doesn't get in the way of the screen closing.

 

A lot of people complain about the front dial and their fingers changing it, but I think it's too hard to turn by accident, and the middle finger doesn't really touch it. I don't know what these other reviewers are talking about when they have issues with the front dial.

 

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The camera can be gripped nicely, there is no large frontal grip so that means it's easy to go from portrait orientation to landscape orientation. You might want to think twice if you want to add a grip to the PEN F, there might be an issue accessing the front dial. I don't think anything extra is necessary, not even a thumbgrip.

 

The button layout is excellent and to make a long story short, all the buttons and dials feel real good. The first OMD with it's mushy buttons are but a distant dream. There is a screw for a soft release but I found that I like the camera without one.

 

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Sometimes I just turn the dials just for kicks because they have such nice feedback to them. The EV dial is solid, and will not move accidentally, something that happens often with other cameras, same thing with the power button.

 

It looks a film rewing knob but it's to turn on the power. Many cameras I had simply turn on when I put them in my bag, but I can tell you that this has no chances of turning on by itself. Plus it's all the way to the left, so there is also no chance of you turning it off while using it.

 

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The lock on the mode dial is absolutely great. I was afraid at first because I remember my Xpro when I had to press the button to get it off the Auto shutter speed, this is different. This is a tiny button you press to lock or unlock the mode dial.

 

So the mode dial cannot be moved if it's on the locked position. I cannot tell you how many ruined images I have because somehow the mode changed while the camera was on me or in my bag.

 

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All the things stated above might seem trivial, but trust me after 50 years in the streets, I can see how Olympus really focused on the details.

 

Everything you need to operate the camera is on the top dial, you don't need to operate the menu unless you want to. I use the screen rotated and I feel like I'm using my good old film cameras.

 

I was only planning to use a wide angle and a telephoto on the PEN F and use my Fuji x100s for the 35mm focal length. I made the mistake of putting the 17mm f1.8 on it and I ended up separating myself from my beloved X100s.

 

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The whole camera is sexy, I can't even see a screw. Nothing can beat a camera that turns you on because you want to use it. And the more you use it, the more images you are going to create.

 

 

That Black and White mode

 

First the bad news and then the worst news. First, you can't process raw files in Lightroom yet. The worst news is you don't want to do it in Olympus viewer!

 

So I've been shooting JPGs and that's where the front dial shines. You can select your processing on the fly with it and if you are a BW shooter like me, you will never remove it from the Monochrome mode. It is a beautiful mode! Here's an out of camera JPG:

 

 

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It just resonates with me, it's like I don't need to process anything, the camera gives me the BW I want. You can also change a few settings and get things right in camera. You can save some of your own presets but I have yet to do so as I am so struck with the monochrome mode.

 

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Of course it's a JPG but haven't missed raw yet because it hits home pretty much every time. As a street shooter all I had to do was to just punch up the grit a bit in Lightroom, but no crazy edits over the JPG the camera outputs. Most of the time I just use the JPGs I get, and I'm a RAW shooter!

 

Image Quality

 

The Image Quality is great. It's dependent on the lens but those 20 megapixel files are superb. Mu43 is smaller than APSC but since Olympus and Panasonic are locked into the format, they spend so much money in research and development that they maximize the space they have to work with. Here's some low light shots, and you can see why I am impressed (click for bigger size):

 

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This is a mu43 camera people! If you have a shred of light available, you are probably fine. Here's the maxed out ISO in darkness (click for full size):

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

It might be hard to see in the image below but here is an Olympus PEN F at 6400 on top and the X100s on the bottom. The X100s file is slightly more grainy and the PEN F is much darker and less grainy in darkness.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

PEN F Street Photography

 

The camera responds very well and intuitively in the streets. Let's get the bad things first, only 2 things bother me. The first doesn't have a flip up screen, but if you think about it, when you articulate the screen out, you kinda doubled the size of the camera making it weird to an unlooker, kills the discretion a bit. I prefer the flip-up of the EP5. But you can't have everything can ya?

 

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Second problem, I can't set the function buttons to change metering modes. Many other options are available like to switch to manual focus and all but I cannot change my reading mode. Might not be an issue for you but it is for me, and it's an easy firmware fix. Please hear me Olympus!!

 

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The camera is blazing fast and also stabilized. Look, I'm not a young shooter anymore, I'm not steady and can't focus my Leicas anymore (so I don't use em') so this camera helps me in two ways: the autofocus helps me when I don't use hyperfocal and stabilization allows me to shoot as slow as 1/15th of a second….and I have serious tremors.

 

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Ergonomically, it's made for the streets. It's like you hold it and you want to hit the streets. If you like to pray and spray the fast autofocus is there to cover you.

 

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Viewfinder and others

 

The viewfinder is nice and bright, and the diopter adjustment will not move, something again, O seemed to have paid attention to. I usually use the screen of the camera but I just found myself using the viewfinder more and more.

 

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The Pen F has an external flash that is the coolest I have ever seen. It can actually bouce! I've waited so long for something like that. There is no manual control but I really like the little bounce capability.

 

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Conclusion

 

I love my Olympus PEN F, it's the most beautiful camera I have ever owned, and it has MOJO. I look at it and I want to use it. But it's not all looks, behind the retro looks packs the best that the micro43 sensor can offer. I don't see myself using anything else for a long time.

 

If you have any questions about the camera, shoot me some questions in the comments. Shooter out!

 

bhprice

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15 thoughts on “Olympus PEN F review”

  1. Great review, an interesting read. The excellent little FL-LM3 flash does offer manual control, by the way – just via the camera. Especially easy to get to using the Super Control Panel – amongst all the normal automated choices are loads of manual power ratios (as on the other current and previous Olympuses). New to the Pen F is the ability to use the flash with the all-electronic silent shutter during normal photography if you wish (at a rather low 1/20 maximum sync speed, as is typical of such shutter modes) – the previous models with silent shutter (E-M5 II and E-M10 II) do allow it with the special modes such as focus bracketing (both) and high res (E-M5 II only) modes.

    Other nice new evolutions on the Pen F include the ability to have beeps enabled with the silent shutter if required (all was silenced on the other two models, which you can still have if required), the possibility of having a control dial permanently assigned to ISO setting if required, and lots of other nice little tweaks.

  2. Hi Don!! Been a while! Hope all is well. Thanks for the Pen F review. I’m still perplexed that Oly doesn’t allow users to assign metering to its function button. It’s been like that forever since I first started using the original digital Pen. Quite annoying.

  3. Hi Don,
    Actually there is a way to toggle between 2 metering modes with a button. You can set the metering mode you want to use for AE lock separately and when you press the AE lock button (which you have to assign) the camera will switch.
    I use the camera set to matrix metering but have the preview button set to AE lock which I defined in the menus as spot metering. When I hold down the button the camera uses spot metering.
    It’s really not as complicated as it sounds, give it a try.

  4. Jean Claude Constant

    Thank you for your interesting review of this beautiful camera.

    Could you explain me how to save pre-settings in C1, C2, C3 and C4?

    Thank you in advance.

    Jean Claude

  5. Hi! I’m new to this style camera and own a Canon Mark 2 7D that I have used a handful of times. I love the Pen-F too much! What lenses do you suggest and love most when using the Pen-F?

  6. Don: I know its been a while since you have written the review and well done review it is. I shoot 100% street, been using x100(orig), & BW film on M5/M6 looking to upgrade, x100 leaning to x100f BUT the Pen-f is interesting to me in that other lens can be an option and the tilt screen for hip shooting. If you had to do it all over as of 8/23/17, would u still choose the Pen-f? Thank you in advance, Dan

    1. If I can add on my question, I am a one digital camera guy thus if yay had to choose one camera, what would it be? Thanks again in advance….

      1. Dan, I’ll ask Don for a more specific response but let me tell you. He got a Xpro 2 as a gift. So he sold the Pen F to me. When I received the Pen, I called him and he said it was the biggest mistake of his -photographic- life. He regretted selling it to me as soon as he went to the post office. So he went a got the PEN F again 🙂

    2. Dan, thanks for your interest. It’s not an easy answer. What your really addressing is the ability to change lenses vs not. Believe it or not, files from either camera are similar in IQ. So you need to address the one camera one lens issue carefully. I don’t know your discipline but for me I like one camera one lens. That being said, I have other cameras to do things as I go along the path. The ability to change focal length is a very important facet in your work.
      Look at it from my eyes for a second. I have the X-Pro2 and love it. It does everything I want and need a camera to do. It’s not my only camera but it rules over all. As good as the Fuji X100F is and it is, the ability to change focal lengths is important. The Pen-F has a way of aiding you in you photography that not many other cameras can or will do.

  7. Ha.’ve spent two months reading about plus and minus of the Fuji X100f,and the Pen F as I want to get best black and white shots straight from the camera without going to computer to edit. I see very little difference between the two cameras in monochrome mode . And as I have Olympus em5 mk ‘ll and an em1 I am not short on lenses . So I am leaning towards the Pen F .

  8. Are you still using the Olympus Pen F? Or have you moved on from it? I have been using Fuji X cameras, but was interested in this Olympus model, even though it is only micro 4/3rd, not APS-C. I am wondering if you replaced it for a new Ricoh GR or Fuji X? I know that Olympus is discontinuing it, which is why I am asking also…before they sell out. Or is it even worth it at that price these days?

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