Olympus PEN-F Conclusion

Olympus PEN-F Review -- Gallery Image
12-40mm f/2.8 Zuiko Pro Lens: 40mm, f/2.8, 1/250s, ISO 200, Color Profile 3

The Olympus PEN-F is a unique direction for Olympus and its PEN line of Micro Four Thirds cameras, one that puts a focus on premium features, build quality and styling. In years past, the PEN has run the gamut from ultra affordable PEN Lite models to the rather expensive E-P5 (US$999 at launch), but the new Olympus PEN-F goes a step beyond in both price and build quality -- plus in sheer technological goodies.

Classic styling & modern features, but lacking a notable perk

Starting with its design, it's clear the Olympus PEN-F is meant to appeal to the stylish and design-conscious photographer, but who still wants a lot of technological features and physical controls. Sporting a cool, classic design that is strikingly reminiscent of the 1960s-era PEN-F, the new "digital" PEN-F of 2016 features a generous array of physical controls and dials similar to those on OM-D cameras, as well as nice amenities like a built-in EVF and an articulating touchscreen.

Olympus PEN-F Review -- Product Image

Despite its boxier shape, the Olympus PEN-F is rather comfortable to hold with a nice thumb grip and a decent amount of tactile grip around the front of the camera. And although we are really pleased overall with the design and solid magnesium alloy build quality of the PEN-F, we're a little disappointed that Olympus did not add weather sealing on such a high-end camera -- especially considering the E-M5 Mark II is $300 cheaper and features a rugged dust- and splash-proof construction.

20MP sensor captures excellent images at low & high ISOs

Under the hood, the Olympus PEN-F features the latest and greatest Olympus tech, including a 20-megapixel Four-Thirds sensor -- the highest-resolution sensor for an Olympus camera to date. The image quality capabilities of the PEN-F are excellent, with lots of sharp fine detail and very good high ISO performance for its class.

The Olympus PEN-F also features the cool High-Res Shot mode like the earlier E-M5 Mark II, which results in some stunningly high-resolutions images: 50MP JPEGS and whopping 80MP RAW files! Of course, like with the E-M5 II, the High-Res mode on the PEN-F comes with some limitations, such as necessitating a tripod and very still subjects, but overall, when done correctly, it can make for some fantastic images.

Olympus PEN-F Review -- Gallery Image
12-40mm f/2.8 Zuiko Pro Lens: 20mm, f/4, 1/160s, ISO 200, -0.7EV

Impressive performance for a rather portable little camera

Overall, the Olympus PEN-F offers quite impressive performance. Autofocus was quick and accurate, and in fact, AF tested faster than average for a mirrorless camera and right up there against prosumer-level DSLRs. It doesn't have on-sensor phase-detect AF -- that's still an E-M1 exclusive -- but AF was nevertheless quick, snappy and accurate in most conditions, though the PEN-F can struggle somewhat with continuous AF.

Burst capabilities are also very good, with a maximum rate of just over 10 frames per second using the mechanical shutter, though this speed is without continuous AF. Still, the PEN-F is able to chew through frames at a consistent 10fps rate no matter the file type. And if you need some more speed, the PEN-F offers a new 20fps "H+" e-shutter burst mode -- the fastest burst rate with full-res images on a Micro Four Thirds camera to date. And like the 10fps burst mode, the PEN-F passes with flying colors with a tested 20.6fps burst rate regardless of file type.

With all these fast continuous shooting modes, we're glad the PEN-F has equally useful buffer depths. For 10fps shooting, the PEN-F is capable of 43 frames for Large/Super-Fine JPEGs and 29 frames for RAW-only in our tests. For the H+ burst mode, the buffer isn't too bad, at 22-25 frames, but at 20fps, that's only about a second or so of shooting time, so keep that in mind. Buffer clearing times were also quite good, at only five seconds for a full 43-frame JPEG buffer when using faster UHS-II memory cards.

An array of advanced video features courtesy of the E-M5 Mark II

Video features are also quite plentiful and much more advanced than on earlier PEN models. In fact, the Olympus PEN-F shares basically the same video featureset as the E-M5 Mark II. And though there's no 4K video recording unfortunately (apart from a special Timelapse Mode), the PEN-F still offers a lot of advanced video features that's sure to please both beginners and more advanced videographers. For starters, there's a high quality 1080/30p option using ALL-I compression and a bit rate of approximately 77Mbps. The PEN-F also includes 1080p at up to 60fps with 52Mbps IPB compression, as well as a number of other goodies like 5-axis I.S. support, clean HDMI out, timecode support and focus peaking. The one main drawback for filmmakers is the glaring omission of jacks for both headphones and an external microphone, which could be a dealbreaker for some.

The video quality itself is very good with lots of detail and nice dynamic range. The PEN-F lacks an optical low-pass filter on the sensor, so while that does increase fine detail, there's a greater risk for moiré and aliasing artifacts. So be cautious of what or how you shoot.

Olympus PEN-F Review -- Gallery Image
25mm f/1.8 Zuiko Lens: 25mm, f/1.8, 1/250s, ISO 4000, Mono Profile 2

Get your creative juices flowing with tons of image customization

One of the Olympus PEN-F's more unique aspects is its range of creative filters, art filters and image effect customization. Offering tons of tweaks to colors, tones and filters, you can adjust and tailor the look of your photos all in-camera and on the fly, and then easily share them thanks to the built-in Wi-Fi. For the travel or street photographer on the go, for example, the vast range of in-camera image customization and wireless connectivity is a very compelling combination. Some of the color profiles, effects and add-on grain for monochrome can be a bit too strong for our taste if you're not careful, but overall, the creative capabilities of the PEN-F offer an extra dimension of fun while shooting.

Olympus PEN-F Review -- Gallery Image
45mm f/1.8 Zuiko Lens: 45mm, f/1.8, 1/4000s, ISO 200, Color Profile 3

Summary: A pricey but rather impressive and stylish camera

Overall, the Olympus PEN-F checks-off a lot of boxes on our list for what makes a fantastic camera. It offers excellent image quality, great performance with quick burst rates and a healthy buffer, fast autofocus, and a stylish yet well-built construction. In a decidedly retro-inspired camera, there are tons of modern amenities, too, including a crisp EVF and handy articulated touchscreen, plus built-in Wi-Fi and a raft of in-camera image processing features.

There's not much to dislike about the PEN-F, to be honest. However, there's no 4K video, no mic or headphone jacks, High-Res Shot mode (while capable of very impressive images) is rather tricky to use, and the battery life isn't all that spectacular. The price is also certainly a bit steep, especially for a camera without any weather sealing. However, in our opinion, the pros far outweigh the cons, and the Olympus PEN-F certainly gets the nod for a Dave's Pick in our book.

 

Pros & Cons

  • New 20-megapixel 4/3" sensor offers more resolution than 16-megapixel predecessors and siblings
  • Generally excellent image quality for its class
  • High Res Shot mode offers the most resolution of any Micro Four Thirds camera (50-megapixel JPEGs, 80-megapixel RAWs!)
  • High Res Shot mode also reduces noise and color artifacts
  • Very good dynamic range in JPEGs
  • Very good hue accuracy when using manual white balance
  • Fast autofocus
  • Autofocuses in very low light
  • Swift 10fps burst mode with mechanical shutter
  • Good buffer depths
  • Quick buffer clearing with fast UHS-II card
  • 20fps burst mode is fastest full-res offered by a Micro Four Thirds model
  • 5-axis image stabilization system for still & video
  • Built-in high-res EVF is crisp and easy to read
  • Vast customization of controls and shooting modes, with 4 custom modes on PASM dial
  • Accurate coverage from EVF and LCD monitor
  • Responsive touchscreen with fully articulated design
  • Deep thumb grip offers nice grip; accessory grip can be added, too
  • Lots of user-customizable image filters and art effects
  • Good quality video with lots of advanced features
  • 1080/30p with ALL-I (77Mbps)
  • 1080/60p video
  • 4K Timelapse movies
  • Mediocre battery life
  • No built-in flash (but is bundled with small external flash)
  • No weather sealing
  • Contrast-detect AF can struggle with fast-moving subjects
  • High Res Shot mode limited to ISO 100-1600
  • High Res Shot mode tricky to use; requires tripod & very static subjects
  • 20fps H+ burst mode only offers about one second of shooting before filling buffer
  • Lack of a low-pass filter increases risk of moiré and aliasing artifacts
  • No 4K video mode
  • No external microphone or headphone jacks
  • Dedicated Creative Dial may be just a gimmick to some, and it can't be re-purposed
  • Pricey


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