Michael Rammell

Initial Thoughts on the Olympus PEN-F

Michael Rammell5 Comments

There are in-depth reviews of the new and wonderfully retro Olympus PEN-F Micro Four Thirds Mirrorless camera all over the internet by now. After all it's been out since February, but one question that has been burning for me is; 'Who is this camera for?'

Here's the new PEN-F from all the angles you'll need:

Who Is this camera for?

Looking at the camera, it's controls and it's form factor the PEN-F is clearly designed more for the Street Photographer or perhaps someone looking for a decent camera but not one that looks too serious. The PEN-F is a stylish, fashionable looking camera. You could even say that it's quite 'Cool'. As such then, when we consider the needs of a Wildlife, Sports or Wedding Photographer - they're not quite as concerned about how hipster their camera makes them look. The PEN-F therefore in my mind isn't exactly launched with those buyers in its' sites.

Now, let's face it if you're reading this it's because either:

  1. You already really love the camera and are considering getting one
  2. You already have the camera and are just scanning the internet for PEN-F related articles
  3. Or, because like me you're trying to figure out where this camera sits in Olympus' lineup and who would use it (over an OM-D for example)

If you belong to the 1st or 2nd group on that list you may already be reading this and disagreeing with what I'm saying, but please do read on - this is not a PEN-F bashing post.

What needs to be remembered is that this is an Olympus PEN camera, and doesn't sit in the top-of-the-line OM-D range, but at the same time it does include many of those top-end features. So let's not think that this is a lesser camera in any way, but let's rather see the PEN-F as a camera that has different intentions and with that, quite possibly a different target market to those who choose to own an OM-D (like me!)

My initial thought is that this is a camera produced for the more artsy photographer, rather than someone perhaps using it for a more 'sturdy' requirement (as mentioned above; Sports, Wildlife & Weddings for example). That's not at all because the camera isn't sturdy, please don't get me wrong, but more because the PEN-F, unlike the OM-D E-M1 and the E-M5ii, seems to favour form over function. For example the lack of weather sealing and the quick-access creative filter dial located on the front. The 'cool' factor of this camera are as much a part of the lure as the specs.

The retro styling make this camera look more like a camera an enthusiast photographer would wield and this means that if you're carrying this out on the street it lends itself very neatly to making you appear non-threatening and more stealthy. The specs and the image quality though are not those of an enthusiast camera: underneath that retro shell is another successfully capable Olympus Micro Four Thirds Camera.

Continuing on with the subject of looks for just a moment - this would also give the camera more appeal to those people possibly looking to buy their first interchangeable lens camera but not necessarily wanting a 'Big Ol' DSLR'. Combining it's look and on-paper spec this seems to sit somewhere between pro and enthusiast. Although at £999, the PEN-F is competing with offerings from Canon and Nikon as well. To someone just getting into photography and possibly not knowing what it is they're going to be shooting, the argument to pick up a Canon 80D or even a Full Frame Nikon D610 is quite a good one.

Now, as much as I've said that this camera isn't necessarily designed with Wildlife, Sports or Wedding Photographers in mind I'm sure we'll see over time that many Olympus Photographers will in fact use this camera to great effect in those disciplines and that's fine. But I would still maintain that The E-M1 or the E-M5ii with their larger dials and controls would make them better suited to those areas of photography.

What does the PEN-F have that the OM-D's do not?

Naturally, as an owner of one of the existing PEN or OM-D range of cameras from Olympus you're going to ask 'What can the PEN-F do for me?'. As Olympus users we're all interested in the new tech that they bring out but we need to decide whether the PEN-F give any benefits over your E-M1, E-M5ii or E-M10ii?

Let's start with the spec highlights

Megapixels

Olympus have given the PEN-F a megapixel boost over the other cameras in the PEN and OM-D range with the PEN-F sporting 20 megapixels. To date the sensors in the PEN and OM-D range have all been capped at 16 megapixels, so I'm sure to some the extra 4 megapixels are a welcome addition. This is quite possibly the biggest improvement and one that many Micro Four Thirds owners will be very, very happy to see. I know I am. Whilst I have previously used OnOne Perfect Resize to enlarge images for print, the extra 4 megapixels will make for even better quality prints at larger sizes.

EVF

The resolution of the EVF remains the same with 2.36 million dots. That's the same number as the EVF found inside the E-M1 and E-M5ii. Although, the EVF is now an OLED viewfinder, meaning it should be brighter than before. As I understand it the EVF is the same as you would find in the OM-D E-M10ii. So for those eagerly awaiting the E-M1 mark 2 upgrade and hanging on in there, the EVF has been improved. But those of you who already own the E-M10ii, you'll be pleased to know the EVF is at least as good.

Form Factor & Size

With the EVF sitting flush in the corner of the camera - rangefinder style - the camera is of course instantly more pocketable. Although, this would depend on the lens you're using. The size of the camera is most similar to the OM-D EM10ii, but smaller still. What this means for it's comfort when held in your hand is something you'll have to decide for yourself by picking up a display model in a camera shop. (don't rely purely on what you read and see online to assess its size.) Thankfully us Micro Four Thirds shooters (Olympus in particular) have extra small lenses, so pair up the PEN-F with something like the Olympus 17mm f/1.8 and it will look the part whilst remaining neat and tidy in size too.

Fully Articulating Touch Screen LCD

Another feature that I'm really happy to see! I make use of the flip screen on my OM-D E-M1 for shooting high and shooting low when I'm photographing weddings. Coupled with the touch screen it's a fantastic tool to have. To then have the screen flipping out to the side and being able to articulate even further can only be a good thing. Another bonus of this is that you can also rotate the screen and fold it away so you're not able to see the LCD. (Huh!?) Hear me out: if you're out on the street shooting you can prevent yourself from chimping by physically preventing yourself from seeing the LCD. That's a great way to exercise your camera skills and train yourself. Secondly, it's also great because you can store the camera away in your pocket or bag that way too safe in the knowledge the screen is protected.  

50Mp Hi-Res shot

The Hi-res mode introduced in the OM-D E-M5ii finds it's way in to the PEN-F. Another very welcome addition indeed. However, the E-M5ii's 40 megapixel mode is now trumped by the 50 megapixel mode on offer from the PEN-F. In terms of the resolution that equates to a RAW file 10,368 x 7,776 in size (compared to the 40 megapixel mode giving a RAW resolution of 9,126 x 6,912). That's a pretty generously sized file!

I've recently asked a friend of mine to supply me with some RAW's from a Sony A7ii for comparison. I'll hopefully have them up on the blog soon too.

In-Built Image Stabilisation

The stabilisation system is the same that can be found in the OM-D E-M5 mark 2, which is said to offer 5 stops of stabilisation. This is one additional stop over the somewhat older (but still imperious) OM-D E-M1.

What does the PEN-F lack?

There are a few things that Olympus have omitted from the PEN-F, for example it doesn't feature a Mic input slot, it isn't weather-sealed (like the E-M1 and the E-M5ii before it) and a big negative for me is the omission of the must-have directional buttons on the back of the camera that would sit underneath your right thumb allowing you to more easily navigate menus without having to take the camera away from your eye. Or, as I prefer to use the directional buttons to swiftly move my focus point as I tend to shoot single focus point rather than zonal focussing or full auto focussing. This isn't something I do because I shoot Olympus, it's something I've always done, even back when I shot Canon DSLRs.

This to me suggests that this is a camera more suited to being used in a program mode such as aperture or shutter priority, rather than in full manual.

Retro - Form over function?

One thing that was said by many when the OM-D E-M1 was released was that it took something of a step away from the retro styling that had attracted so many to the OM-D range in the first place (with the release of the original OM-D E-M5). In my opinion though what the E-M1 lost in retro styling it more than made up for with masses of practical changes to dials and buttons that made the camera easier to use and more suited to the professional realms of photography. Operating dials and buttons in thick gloves was made possible the hefty grip was a welcome addition to those using it for Sports, Wildlife and similar applications too. It did all of this whilst maintaining that newly recognizable OM-D feel.

The PEN-F though very much looks to it's, well, looks as 'feature' to create desire for it. I'll admit whilst I am fond of the PEN-F, I can't see myself paying £999 for it (even with all of my existing lenses). I'd rather use my original E-M5 which also looks super retro if you ask me.

If you don't agree with me that the PEN-F is as much about the look of the camera as it's performance, you only really have to watch the promo videos for it to see the honus they have placed on it's appearance. Check out Olympus' own Launch video for the PEN-F right here:

Conclusion

A new Olympus camera that seems more evolutionary than revolutionary, whilst at the same time looking to dip into a new market. Whilst other manufacturers can easily (and undeniably) be accused of refining the same model every 12 months with minor iterations of the previous camera, at least the PEN-F is one step to the side as well as one step forward. The extra megapixels, the improved EVF, the boosted high-res mode and an array of options that will allow us as photographers to more-easily explore our creativity.

I'm hoping that all of these features, and more, will find their way into the long-awaited Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark 2.

Well done to Olympus on another great camera and well done for recognising that the retro look, whilst not essential for the operation of the camera, will definitely add a touch of nostalgia to those who flocked back to Olympus when the OM-D range was re-launched. I foresee waves of street photographers, fashion photographers and enthusiasts picking up a PEN-F, whilst current owners of an OM-D now have another, even smaller option to have as their 'throw in the bag' backup camera.

Will I be getting one? Unfortunately not. But I'm an oddball Olympus shooter who sits in the camp that photographs Sports, Wildlife and Weddings.

That said, if you or Olympus want to send me one, i won't say no.

What do you think?

Do you own the PEN-F? Let us know your thoughts on the camera below. If you've written a blog post about it please do be sure to link to it - I would like to read your thoughts too.

Everyone is welcome to comment. Do you agree with me that the PEN-F is as much about it's looks as it's performance, or have I completely missed the point of this new MFT offering from Olympus?



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