First Impressions: Olympus Pen F

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Olympus Pen F product images (9 of 9)ISO 4001-160 sec

Years ago, Olympus brought out the Olympus OMD series of cameras which were aesthetically and ergonomically perfect at the start. The OMD series grew and the Pen series continued to evolve alongside it. But today, Olympus is announcing yet another Pen camera–but this a camera designed to live alongside the other Pen cameras. It’s called the Olympus Pen F. The nomenclature is a direct callback to the the company’s history of creating half-frame cameras back in the film days. But instead of this camera being targeted at the families and the everyday consumer that the original Pen was, the Pen F is being targeted at the street photographer, the artist, and the photographer who appreciates fine aesthetics.

As a lover of rangefinder style camera bodies, Olympus has sold me already–yet as of my writing this posting I’ve only spent a couple of hours with the camera here in Austin, Texas where they’ve flown in many prominent journalists in the photo industry.

So what’s important about this camera? There is no weather sealing, but it sports a new 20MP Four Thirds sensor, new specific creative modes meant to emulate the look of Kodak Tri-X (though sometimes it’s more like Ilford Delta), new additions to focus peaking, the ability to register new lens profiles for lenses without electronic contacts, a new autofocusing system, the optical viewfinder simulation from the OMD EM10 Mk II, and a slew of other features from the other cameras that Olympus has created.

In man ways, this is the camera that I’ve been asking for since the original digital Pen came out in all it’s gorgeous beauty.

Tech Specs

  • 20.3MP Live MOS sensor
  • 5 axis image stabilization
  • 2.35MP dot OLED EVF
  • Exposure compensation dial for three stops each direction
  • 81 AF points
  • Multiple custom Function buttons
  • 80MP high res shot option in RAW, but 50MP in JPEG
  • Wifi
  • Can shoot up to 10 fps
  • Low ISO setting of 80
  • Mechanical shutter of 1/8000th
  • 1/320th shutter speed flash sync
  • Electronic shutter with shooting abilities to 1/16,000
  • Monochrome profile control
  • The PEN-F will be available in Early March for an estimated street price of $1,199.99 (U.S.) and $1,499.99 (Canada)..

Ergonomics

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Olympus Pen F product images (8 of 9)ISO 4001-160 sec

When looking at the new Olympus Pen F, it’s easy to see just how many cues it takes from the old Pen half-frame 35mm cameras. It clearly states Olympus Pen on the front–but you’ll also find the color profile dial, the AF assist lamp, lens release, and depth of field preview button.

Ergonomically, this all just makes sense on top of the leatherette wrapping all around the body.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Olympus Pen F product images (3 of 9)ISO 3201-40 sec

The top of the Olympus Pen F is laden with dials and a few buttons. You’ll notice a threaded shutter release with the shutter button on top of a mode dial that is now very much more straightforward with its camera modes, the hot shoe, the EVF, on/off switch, an exposure compensation dial, and a video record button.

This very much feels like and looks like a grown up Pen camera.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Olympus Pen F product images (4 of 9)ISO 3201-50 sec

The back of the camera features a flip-out style LCD screen on top of buttons, the EVF, and dials. They all do different things and they’re all very useful in their own ways.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Olympus Pen F product images (5 of 9)ISO 3201-125 sec

What Olympus is really touting is the fact that there are no external screws for this camera–even on the bottom. It’s very much like LEGO pieces in its creation–which will probably mean that it’s tough to repair too.

Build Quality

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Olympus Pen F product images (1 of 1)ISO 4001-40 sec

While I honestly would really appreciate weather sealing with the camera, I can’t really argue about the ergonomics except for the finish. The finish feels very smooth and almost plasticky even though the entire body is a magnesium alloy. A truly vintage aesthetic would allow the camera to feel like a real metal camera–like one without a meter built in and just made of steel. Obviously, this camera isn’t made of steel, but that’s just my nitpicking about my romanticized notion of a camera.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Olympus Pen F product images (7 of 9)ISO 3201-125 sec

The build quality overall though is quite solid. Of any of the rangefinder style cameras, this and the Fujifilm X Pro 2 feel the absolute best. Everything from the dials, the buttons, the way the screen clicks, the EVF, etc. It’s all really elegant, beautiful and at the same time designed for the street photographer that wants to do serious work.

Ease of Use

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Olympus Pen F product images (6 of 9)ISO 3201-125 sec

If you’re an experienced Olympus user, then you should know that the menu system is still pretty much the same as it was and has been for years. It’s deep, and it’s specific, but with some patience and reading you can scroll through and get to what you need with ease. Some folks are bound to not like it while others won’t have a major qualm. I can honestly see both sides of the argument, but I think that once you set the camera the way you want it to be, you won’t have a major issue with needing to constantly dig through the menus to get to what you need. Instead, you’ll spend most of the time just straightforward shooting–and that’s wonderful.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Olympus Pen F product images (7 of 9)ISO 3201-125 sec

Though changing the ISO setting is as simple as pressing a button and scrolling with a wheel, what this camera could really use is a dedicated ISO dial. It just means that you’re going into the menu system even less in practice and you can concentrate more on just shooting.

Autofocus

Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras are fast–in fact they’re amongst the fastest to focus. The unit that I’m currently playing with is an initial production unit that is very final, and the autofocus seems about on par with all the rest of the latest generation cameras from Olympus. With that said, it’s about right up there with the Sony A7s Mk II.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Olympus Pen F product images (1 of 9)ISO 4001-40 sec

Where this gets very interesting is with focus peaking and manual focus. With my Voigtlander 17.6mm f0.95 lens, focus peaking needs to be enabled by pressing a button first and then focusing and shooting. But the camera has the option to have black focus peaking lines–which is kind of odd to me personally but I’m sure Olympus had some good reason to add it in.

Considering my astigmatism, nailing the focusing can be tough, but if you’re not pixel peeping at 100% (which you really shouldn’t be doing at this stage in the photography world, you dinosaur!) then it’s all fine.

Image Quality (JPEG)

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At the moment, all I can do is work with the JPEG files, and they haven’t been edited in any way except for resizing for this blog. But to be honest there, the JPEGs are so good that I’m considering incorporating JPEG quality into future camera reviews–especially with the immediacy put on using WiFi and sharing images straight to your favorite image sharing services.

The color is nice, and we don’t quite know who makes the sensor in this camera but it looks like something that Toshiba would output. To that end, the colors are very good–but the black and white color rendition is where it’s really at with the Olympus Pen F’s JPEGs. You have three different profiles and you can add color filters on top of them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In our meeting with Olympus, our reps told us that it was designed to mimic the look of a very famous 400 speed film. And for the most part, they’ve done an incredible job. Shooting in black and white in fact has given me renewed creative vigor, and it overall just makes me super excited.

Here are extra image samples.

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First Impressions

For years now, all I’ve really wanted Olympus to do with their sensors is find ways to make the higher ISOs better and increase the dynamic range. They’re both very good already, and their best point may indeed be the color. But I can’t quite test that feature out yet because the RAW files can’t be edited. However, I’m really liking the black and white effects so far and I’m really in love with the ergonomics despite some initial qualms. Overall though, the new Olympus Pen F is a very exciting camera; but I’ll need to save my final conclusions for the full review.

  • Andrew
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
    Disqus/1.1(2.85):2724773382

    hello, Im getting back into photography after many years and am trying to decide which camera to get. I have narrowed it down to four being the fuji X100t , sony RX1r , Leica D-lux typ 109 and now the Olympus Pen-F. I am a little confused with the Pen-F , I noticed you used some of the same images in this review as Steve’s review but the images here are not sharp at all and the same images on Steve’s review are very sharp . could you please shed some light? I was almost convinced that the Pen was for me but now Im not so sure..
    thank you

    • Chris Gampat
      Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
      Jetpack by WordPress.com

      You should check my full review instead of the first impressions

  • Peter
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
    Disqus/1.1(2.84):2516342282

    Which camera do you personally like better the Fuji xpro 2 or the Olympus pen f? Also which do you think produces more pleasing black and white jpegs? From on screen the Across xpro 2 black and whites seem to have more tonal range but curious as to what your thoughts are? Trying to find a decent black and white camera without having to go in LR for quick family shots, but not interested in spending 7k plus 4-5k for a lens on a Leica M. I know you could only use jpegs but were the Olympus jpegs still full of digital artifacts and noise in shadows and highlight areas or is the new sensor any better? thanks

  • Steve
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
    Disqus/1.1(2.84):2487432333

    Blurry pictures

  • Doudou
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
    Disqus/1.1(2.84):2484711311

    Not convinced at all. Image quality seems closer to a smartphone than from an APS-C or FF camera. Any 35mm film camera would make better pictures.

  • Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
    Disqus/1.1(2.84):2484528357

    “Years ago, Olympus brought out the Olympus OMD series of cameras which were aesthetically and ergonomically perfect at the start.”

    That’s a pretty contentious claim at best. I occasionally fiddle around with an OM-D E-M5, and that thing is far from perfect ergonomically.

    • Tripod
      Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
      Disqus/1.1(2.84):2490388554

      I caught that too. If the original OMD was “perfect”, what was the point of making any of the OMD variants that have come since?

      Kind of par for the course at this site, though. I’m often not sure if the author doesn’t understand the technology, is a poor writer, or both.

  • RodneyKilo
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
    Disqus/1.1(2.84):2483837538

    On some of those black and white portraits there appears to be a surprisingly notable lack of tonal gradation on the faces; the light tones quickly wash out. I don’t know if that’s what we would really expect from this camera, or is it just my monitor?

    • ChrisGampat
      Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
      Disqus/1.1(2.84):2483873614

      Every now and again, a comment comes which literally makes me sigh out loud. Yours was that comment and it it literally the first one of this year.

      These are JPEGs, if I overexposed in some of them then I purposely and creativity chose to overexpose. Not everything in this world needs to be an HDR. You’re being way, way too technical here for a site that isn’t and never was targeted at the technical person. DPReview does that, and this is a lifestyle site. If the light tones wash out, you simply pull the highlights back or find another way to tweak the clarity or something else. That and to that end, it’s 2016 and every single camera out there does a fantastic job.

      I’m having no problem with the highlights or the light tones. They look beautiful on both my phone and my two calibrated displays.

      • RodneyKilo
        Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
        Disqus/1.1(2.84):2484594855

        It was an observation, and it was a question. It was anything but a personal attack.
        Film is known for tonality in B&W; it’s one of the primary ways monochrome gives information. I’m always seeking digital that can deliver, or at least approach, what film does, and always seek that performance out in a new model, hence the question.

        My assumption from a first impressions article is that the photos that were selected were presented here to show what the camera can do, not what the photographer can do or what the post processor can do. I think you are now saying that you deliberately chose the wrong exposure to create that washed out effect; I probably missed that that was the intention, but I think you can understand how that led to my question.

        I’m sorry that you chose to be offended over my question about what output we might expect from this new consumer product, that certainly wasn’t my own intention. Thanks for the website and for your posting of the information.

        • Zos Xavius
          Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
          Disqus/1.1(2.84):2487005130

          The black and white mode used here looks to create high key photographs with very high contrast. In many film shots the dynamic range is very low with all shadow going straight to black. How something looks has so much to do with how it is processed and this goes for film too. This sensor can easily outperform film in terms of dynamic range if used correctly.

          • RodneyKilo
            Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
            Disqus/1.1(2.84):2487098000

            I assume any camera can do high contrast with emphasis on light or dark tones if desired. But not any camera can give a long series of middle grey tone gradations. I have a personal curiosity about any new model’s ability to deliver this, especially one with a new sensor.
            In my search I’ve found that dynamic range is not necessarily synonymous with monochrome gray tone gradations in practice. Nor does it say much about noise in the darker tones.
            I’ll continue to look for samples of this new model Oly.

            • S.Yu
              Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
              Disqus/1.1(2.84):2578691125

              Not that you know anything about contrast or tones with that puny V1 you keep cuddling.

              • ChrisGampat
                Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
                Disqus/1.1(2.84):2578695923

                No need for personal attacks on anyone on this blog.

                • S.Yu
                  Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
                  Disqus/1.1(2.84):2578701715

                  I’m trolling him, because he trolled me first and got annoying to the extreme.

  • Hector
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
    Disqus/1.1(2.84):2483210576

    Beautiful camera makes nice iamges… I’m not into the 4:3 image format and certainly not into too tiny cameras but if I was I would get this camera… although the front dial is a total waste.

  • Bruce Harding
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
    Disqus/1.1(2.84):2481258879

    Don’t know… all those controls – shooting modes disc instead of shutter speeds, ‘art modes’ on the front – feels a bit cheap, soulless and marketing driven.

    • Turbofrog
      Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
      Disqus/1.1(2.84):2481588951

      There is a reason why shooting modes + modular command dials superceded dedicated shutter-speed and ISO dials, though. That reason is ergonomics, speed, and efficiency. The Canon T90 recognized that in 1986, and that’s really been the template for ergonomic control logic on all modern camera design since then.

      • Bruce Harding
        Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
        Disqus/1.1(2.84):2481622805

        Ergonomics? Are you sure?

        Photography, on its technical side, is just about setting 3 numbers: shutter speed, aperture and ISO. Do you really want to switch to ‘M’ first and only then set shutter and aperture? Or do you want just to set your shutter and aperture directly? Look at Fuji and Leica, their controls are simple and elegant and they just do the job. Shutter speed dial, aperture ring, each has ‘A’ for auto. That’s it. That’s exactly how camera controls should work.

        I will stress that out again: modes selector is the most ugly, confusing and stupid invention for the whole history of photo gear. It’s a marketing bullshit, an attempt to make a camera more friendly for people who are not able to figure out what shutter speed and aperture are.

        • Turbofrog
          Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
          Disqus/1.1(2.84):2481707282

          I don’t expect that the buyers of digital medium format cameras or $6000 professional bodies like the D5 or 1DX need something simple, and they probably know what shutter speeds and apertures are. Even Leica realizes this, their high-end SL doesn’t have dedicated dials, either.

          It’s simply faster being able to adjust the values instantly while looking through the viewfinder. On cameras with mode dials, especially ones with Custom Settings (i.e. most of them) it only takes the flick of the mode dial to go change shooting styles.

          With a single turn of a dial you can go from shooting a landscape, stopped down, in aperture priority, at base ISO, with single-autofocus to shooting the animal that runs past across that landscape, in shutter priority at high shutter speed, with auto ISO and continuous tracking autofocus. On a Fuji, you’d be taking your eye away from the camera, turning the aperture dial to A, turning the shutter speed dial to 1/1000s, turning the ISO dial to A, and then turning the focus dial to C, bringing the camera up to your eye…and then wondering where the animal went.

          I understand that dedicated dials are appealing (though the lack of 1/3 stops is frustrating) when you want to take a slow, deliberate, contemplative approach to photography. That has its place, and it’s certainly enjoyable. But as I said, there is a reason why modular command dials have taken their place on the majority of cameras. They’re easier for newbies, and faster and more powerful for experienced users and professionals.

          • DrakeWhite
            Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
            Disqus/1.1(2.84):2482126743

            While I share Mr. Harding’s perspective about camera controls, I get what Mr. Turbofrog is saying. Though, I can’t help wonder if Mr. T is really speaking from a personal point of view. This is capitalism at it’s finest folks – there are quality options for all kinds of photographers. And anyone can buy anything. As long as you’ve got the plastic to make the transaction.

          • MonkeyShaman
            Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
            Disqus/1.1(2.84):2485496402

            As the dials only go in two directions and you get as much information about your shutter and Iso settings in the viewfinder as you’d get on a dslr if not more so as you get a exposure preview I’ve never had to take my eye of the viewfinder. Though I do so whenever my GAS has gotten the better of me and I’m unfamiliar with a new system. I’ve also never had a read error shooting landscapes in manual so I don’t know what that’s about.

      • DieterDeboer
        Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
        Disqus/1.1(2.84):2481630388

        Agree with Bruce.

    • Zos Xavius
      Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
      Disqus/1.1(2.84):2486997206

      Shutter dials are useless with digital. If you like long exposures they are even more useless. Setting the shutter to a wheel is perfectly adequate and leaves the wheel free for something else in a different mode. A mode dial is pretty darn useful though.

      • Bruce Harding
        Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
        Disqus/1.1(2.84):2487006286

        “Shutter dials are useless”

        • Zos Xavius
          Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
          Disqus/1.1(2.84):2487012885

          You can argue all day and night about the merits of a dial with limited choices but twin dial systems have been adopted by all major manufacturers for good reason and are far superior. A marked shutter dial offers nothing better than fuzzy warm feelings for those that wax nostalgia. If that’s the gestalt you want you might as well pick up an old Pentax and shoot film.

          • Bruce Harding
            Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
            Disqus/1.1(2.84):2489444629

            Appreciate your deep thoughts on practicality and your passion in delivering your point of view across the internet. But I also hope you’l figure out one day that there is such thing as aesthetics out there, and use your energy to spread that knowledge too.

          • Andrew Wilson
            Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
            Disqus/1.1(2.84):2489458873

            Cool down guys.
            While I totally agree with Zos on the ergonomics of digital in general, I would still share Bruce’s opinion in the context of this particular product.

            Is Olympus Pen design to be a professional tool? No, I believe not. It’s appearance clearly communicates other values. Yes, I mean that warm feeling. This camera pretends to be a camera for hobbyists. For those appreciating the pleasure of taking pictures. It looks like a smaller replica of Fuji X-E. But the modes dial… oh, no… it just ruins the whole concept to me. It makes this camera looking like an imitation of classic. Like a cheap consumer camera in a rangefinder-styled body.

            Sorry Zos.

            • Zos Xavius
              Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
              Disqus/1.1(2.84):2489955652

              To each their own. 😉

  • Renato Valenzuela
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
    Disqus/1.1(2.84):2480835868

    The original Pen F was an SLR believe it or not. =) I like this thing. It’s the Nikon Df done right. If only it had weather-sealing to go with its vast feature set.

  • Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
    Disqus/1.1(2.84):2480681452

    I feel like there’s an opportunity missed here. The Pen-F was after all a simple, very compact, easy to use camera system that could be used by pros and amateurs alike. It offered changeable lenses if you needed it, if not it worked as a brilliant compact system. Yet this is bloated with features you’d find on any DSLR let alone a compact system.

    What’s wrong with giving people a well thought out, simple camera offering good quality images? Something that switches on, you can change lenses if desired, and have a basic set of features that allow you to just enjoy photography. Something that will suite the enthusiast photographer, but give you that little bit extra if you need it if you’re a pro? Does such a thing exist, or am I being picky?

    I think all those dials and buttons have spoilt the aesthetic of the PEN-F if I’m honest.

    • ChrisGampat
      Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
      Disqus/1.1(2.84):2481322682

      You have the original Pen series for that.

      • catdaddy
        Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
        Disqus/1.1(2.84):2484232445

        Afraid I agree with Derren. I’m a dedicated micro 43 user, and when i started (re)dabbling in film i started with a Pen F, which is a dream (until the film advance broke, lol).

        I used to look at my EP-5 (and clip on VF) and then look at my Pen F and think, ‘good Lord, if olympus could do this in 1963 why the hell can’t they manage it now?’)

        Thus as rumors of this camera started emerging i was VERY excited. But as Derren said Olympus waay over shot the mark.

        The PenF should have the ‘simplicity’ of the pen line plus an evf, and finally the Pen F aesthetic. Since Olympus only achieved 1.5/3 this to me is not a digital recreation of the Pen F and I’m disappointed. Since my EP5 broke I’ve been using a tiny little panasonic gf7 and it is serving my digital needs just fine.

  • Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
    Disqus/1.1(2.84):2480379780

    I would love to see some high res raw samples, 80 mp…. insane stuff. Beautiful looking camera with some great features.

  • carnagex2000
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
    Disqus/1.1(2.84):2480340976

    Those B&W images look great and like the other poster said it does have that Delta look to it. (im just surprised that they didnt include that flippy dial to flip between Shutter/Aperture and ISO/WB that my EM5II has). What they need to do is sell a limited version in brass…drool.

  • Gypsy Frank
    Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
    Disqus/1.1(2.84):2480319804

    That camera looks absolutely gorgeous. Seriously. I see it comes in all-black too, which is the type of body I’d usually go for, but for this, Chrome may be the way to go. That Voightlander looked massive on the Pen…..

    Anyway, Monochrome looks quite good from these sample images. I wouldn’t say Tri-X though….the blacks are way too inky…..looks more like Ilford Delta a little…..the whites look a little extra pasty. Maybe the meter is over-exposing by a 1/3rd stop or more? Anyway, very excited for this camera…..kinda pricey, but then again, the X100 is about the same price. Decisions, decisions!!!!