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.

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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.