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