Olympus PEN-F Review
|Full model name:||Olympus PEN-F|
(17.4mm x 13.0mm)
|Viewfinder:||EVF / LCD|
|Native ISO:||200 - 25,600|
|Extended ISO:||80 - 25,600|
|Shutter:||1/16000 - 60 seconds|
4.9 x 2.8 x 1.5 in.
(125 x 72 x 37 mm)
|Full specs:||Olympus PEN-F specifications|
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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, fast autofocus, and stylish build quality. In a decidedly retro-inspired camera, there are tons of modern amenities, too, including a crisp EVF and a raft of in-camera image processing features. There's not a lot to dislike about the Olympus PEN-F, to be honest. There's no 4K video, no mic or headphone jacks, High-Res Shot mode is still rather tricky to use, and the battery life isn't all that spectacular. The price is also certainly a bit steep. However, in our opinion, the pros definitely outweigh the cons.Pros
Highest resolution Olympus 4/3" camera yet; Excellent image quality for its class; Very good dynamic range; Fast autofocus; Fast burst speeds; Lots of fun creative filter options; Built-in EVF, Wi-Fi.Cons
Expensive; No weather sealing; Mediocre battery life; No 4K video; No mic or headphone jacks.Price and availability
The Olympus PEN-F began shipping in March in a body-only configuration for US$1,199.99 (CAD $1,499.99) in black or two-tone silver and black, and the FL-LM3 flash unit is included. Optional accessories include a leather half-case and a nifty external grip attachment with built-in Arca-Swiss-compatible flanges.Imaging Resource rating
4.5 out of 5.0
$999.00 (20% less)
16.1 MP (26% less)
Also has viewfinder
$549.00 (118% less)
16.1 MP (26% less)
Also has viewfinder
$1362.00 (12% more)
16.3 MP (25% less)
$1699.00 (29% more)
16.3 MP (25% less)
Also has viewfinder
$1831.98 (35% more)
24.3 MP (16% more)
Also has viewfinder
Olympus PEN-F Review
01/27/2016: In-depth with High-Res Shot Mode by Mike Tomkins
02/16/2016: Field Test by William Brawley added
03/23/2016: Optics, Image Quality and Performance added
03/24/2016: Image Quality Comparison added
03/28/2016: Print Quality Analysis added
03/31/2016: Review Conclusion added
A new modern classic
Boy, oh boy, has Olympus released one beautiful camera! Marking the 80th anniversary of the first Olympus camera, the 'Semi-Olympus 1' from 1936, the new Olympus PEN-F is named, not surprisingly, after its film-based predecessor from the 1960s. Olympus seems to have a knack for launching new cameras on major milestone points in the company's history, with the original digital PEN camera, the EP-1, launching 50 years after the first PEN film camera. The "2016 Olympus PEN-F" is an all-new premium Micro Four Thirds camera that strikes us as one of the most interesting blends of new technology and classical film camera styling we've yet seen.
The new PEN-F is all about premium style and design
A well-defined step above the earlier E-P5, which is also quite reminiscent of the original PEN-F, the new PEN-F puts a clear focus on premium design and build quality, but with an additional big serving of functionality and high-end technical features. Given this new camera's focus on sophisticated design, the Olympus PEN-F is clearly targeted toward the stylish and design-conscious street shooter, though to us, it certainly feels like a camera that would be welcomed in the camera bag of any seasoned enthusiast photographer.
It's clear that the design of the Olympus PEN-F is one of its hallmark characteristics. The magnesium alloy construction feels extremely solid in the hand. Unlike the beefier E-M1 and E-M5 Mark II of the OM-D family, the PEN-F is not weather-sealed, however, so if you need a camera that can withstand mother nature, the PEN-F is not the right choice for that task. Nevertheless, the PEN-F feels very well built. The camera certainly has a nice heft to it, and while it's a bit more angular and boxy than cameras with nice curvy contoured grips, the rather deep thumb grip area is positioned perfectly and the faux-leather body coating provides a nice grip. It's not overly grippy, however the camera can certainly be held and operated one-handed, though it feels better to use two.
The small details also stand out as well. Not only are there niceties like engraved lettering and diamond knurling on all of the metal dials, but there was also a conscious effort by the designers not to have visible screws or barely any seams in the body's construction. The PEN-F is as solidly built as it is cool looking.
The first PEN camera with a built-in EVF
Unlike the earlier E-P5 and other digital PEN models, the new PEN-F is the first with a built-in EVF. Rather than the center-mounted EVFs that adorn the OM-D cameras, the new PEN-F takes more of a rangefinder-style approach with an EVF in the top-left corner of the camera. One might infer that the new Olympus PEN-F is aiming to take on Fujifilm, one of the long-heralded kings of the über-stylish, retro-inspired digital camera.
In addition to style points, there are ergonomic benefits to a "left-shifted" EVF. If you're a right eye-dominant photographer, shooting with the PEN-F is quite comfortable, as your face and other eye are less obstructed. Furthermore, this configuration makes it easier to control the camera with your right hand without taking the camera down from your eye, as your face doesn't cover any of the camera's controls and buttons.
For left-eye dominant shooters, however, the PEN-F's ergonomics are more or less business as usual. Using the EVF on the PEN-F with your left eye keeps the cameras squarely in front of your face, as it would on other cameras with center-mounted viewfinders. However, the ease of access to controls and dials is still clear and comfortable.
As for the technical details of the PEN-F's EVF, the camera shares the same specs as the Olympus E-M10 Mark II. The screen of the electronic viewfinder is a 2.36M-dot OLED that offers very clear, crisp readability and very little lag time. The EVF features the same simulated optical viewfinder mode, or "S-OVF" mode, which simulates the view one would see with an optical viewfinder -- thereby eliminating various color adjustments, white balance settings and exposure compensation changes.
While the original Olympus PEN-F from the film days was rather devoid of buttons and dials, the realities of today's digital era necessitates a handful of them. Today's PEN-F feels like a pleasing blend of the earlier E-P5, in terms of the rear control layout, and the top deck of an OM-D camera, more or less.
Buttons and dials put controls at your fingertips
In addition to the redesigned locking PASM dial with spots for up to four custom shooting mode presents, the PEN-F features dual control dials as well as a dedicated exposure compensation dial -- something totally different from an OM-D camera. On the rear of the camera, the control cluster is more or less identical to the E-P5, though the video record button has moved to the top deck of the camera and the thumb rest protrusion is more pronounced and gains a customizable Fn1 function button (there's also another Fn2 button on the back of the camera under the hotshoe). Also, gone is the dual-mode toggle lever that surrounded the movie record button on the E-P5.
Classic PEN-F front dial opens world of creative customization
A big call-back to the original PEN-F is its characteristic front-mounted dial. While on the original model this front dial served as the shutter speed adjustment, the new camera uses it for quick access to a variety of color effect and art filter modes. Olympus moved away from their standard PASM dial, which included spots for modes like Art Filters and Scene mode, to make way for four custom settings presets. In doing so, they move similar modes down to this front-facing dial.
But... this dial is more than just a shortcut to fun and funky filters. In fact, the Olympus PEN-F offers a unique and highly intuitive color and tonal adjustment system. The front offers a choice between monochrome, color profiles, art filters and a color creator mode, which offers various tone, hue and saturation adjustments.
There's more to it than just a dial and some preset modes, though. In each creative function mode, you can then control and adjust the strength of the filters, the color saturation, the tint as well as adjust the tone curve for highlights, shadows and now for the first time, midtones, too. The user interface for these adjustments is all very intuitive, even though it involves a combination of multiple buttons and dials.
Upon switching any of the creative function modes, the adjustment parameters will display on the screen. You then use the front control dial around the shutter release button to toggle through individual color channels (for both color and monochrome modes), and then use the rear control dial to adjust the strength.
Additionally, in the monochrome mode, you also have an adjustable-strength (and optional), realistic film grain simulation effect. The film grain simulation is more than a simply grain effect that applied evenly across the entire image, but rather, according to Olympus, it's more intelligently applied based on the tonal information for a more realistic film grain look.
To access this UI again after shooting, you simply use the two-way toggle switch located at the base of the PASM dial. Flick to the right to access the "color wheel" interface (or scrollable menu of Art Filters, if you're in that mode), or you can flick the toggle switch to the left to access the adjust tone curve settings. The Olympus PEN-F offers a ton of creative options and image customization to get just the style or type of shot your looking for.
Brains behind the beauty: new sensor, High-Res mode and more!
Of course, there's way more to the Olympus PEN-F than good looks and cool customizations, the camera packs in a ton of the latest Olympus technology. For starters, the PEN-F utilizes an all-new 20-megapixel Live MOS Four Thirds sensor, making it currently the highest-resolution Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera on the market, and rivaling the Panasonic GX8. Combined with the snappy TruePic VII image processor, the PEN-F is a high-resolution, high-performance piece of kit. Like the E-M5 Mark II before it, the PEN-F offers an interesting and impressive multi-shot High-Res mode that's able to provide a whopping JPEG resolution of 50 megapixels in High Res Shot Mode. With RAW, the High-Res Shot mode is able to capture a whopping 80 megapixels of resolution!
• Go in-depth with the PEN-F's High-Res Shot mode •
Editor Mike Tomkins offers a detailed look at the image quality performance and how it stacks up to other competing high-res offerings, such as the E-M5 Mark II, Pentax K-3 II, and Canon 5DS R.
Like the current crop of OM-D cameras, the new PEN-F features their 5-axis image stabilization system, and while it allows for excellent handheld shooting capabilities at slower shutter speeds, the really impressive feature is that it also includes a cool High Resolution Mode (High-Res Shot Mode).
Like the E-M5 Mark II, the Olympus PEN-F sports an articulated touchscreen LCD with 1037k-dot resolution.
Good looks paired with latest & greatest Olympus technology
As for the other specs of the new Olympus PEN-F, they more or less fit in-line with the latest and greatest from the OM-D family of cameras. However, there are a few more improvements and difference here and there.
The camera's mechanical shutter allows for speeds up to 1/8000s, but opting for Silent Mode with an all-electronic shutter can bump up the speed to 1/16,000s. The PEN-F offers a variety of continuous burst shooting options and speeds. When using the mechanical shutter, burst shooting achieves rates up to 10fps with single-shot AF, though with C-AF the speed drops to 5fps. Also, with Anti-Shock mode, the max sequential shooting rate is pegged at 5fps.
Now, if you use the electronic shutter, there's an all-new burst mode called "H+" that offers a whopping 20fps burst rate at full resolution, which uses the electronic shutter but you must be using shutter speeds between 1/25s and 1/16,000s.
According to Olympus, the PEN-F's buffer capacity is around 39 frames for RAW or 45 frames for JPEG when using 10fps High-Speed continuous mode with a fast UHS-II card, and that's pretty close to what we measured in the lab. However, that increases to 250 RAW files and unlimited JPEGs in the slower 5fps Low-Speed continuous mode. No spec was given for buffer capacity for the 20fps H+ mode, though our lab results have determined it's about 25 frames. Head on over to our Performance page for details.
The ISO range is changed slightly compared to earlier OM-D cameras. The top-end of the scale is the same as the E-M5 Mark II, for instance, with a native, non-expandable ISO 25,600, and the native base ISO is still at 200. However, expanded low ISO options are now offered at both ISO 100 and an even lower ISO 80.
Despite its clear focus as a still camera, no camera in 2016 would be complete without video recording functionality. Olympus has added most of the video recording features of the E-M5 II into this camera, which is to say, an impressive set of specs, though there are no external microphone or headphone jacks.
Video resolutions are offered up to 1080/60p, though 30p and 24p options are also available, as is lower resolution 720p HD video. The camera offers various bitrate options, including 'Fine' and 'SuperFine' quality settings using the IPB compression scheme, as well as the even higher quality "All-I" intra-frame compression. According to Olympus' specs, the SuperFine bitrate is approximately 52Mbps and Fine is pegged at around 30Mbps, while All-I tops out at a very nice 77Mbps. For even more image quality control, the PEN-F offers clean HDMI out with timecode support.
Unfortunately there is no real 4K video support, however the PEN-F does include the E-M10 II's Timelapse Movie feature at up to 5fps at 4K UHD resolution.
The PEN-F draws power from a BLN-1 lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack and a dedicated battery charger is included in the bundle. Battery life rated to CIPA testing standards is 330 shots on a charge, though Olympus doesn't mention if that's with the EVF or LCD.
Wired connections on the Olympus PEN-F include USB 2.0 High Speed data, NTSC / PAL standard-definition video output (which shares the same connector as USB), Type-D Micro HDMI high-definition video output, and a flash hot shoe. As mentioned previously, there's no external mic or headphone jack.
The USB terminal is compatible with the RM-UC1 remote release cable, and also allows tethered shooting via a Windows / Mac OS-compatible application called Olympus Capture.
Like most current Olympus cameras, the PEN-F also sports built-in Wi-Fi wireless connectivity for pairing to a smartphone. You can transfer and share images and video as well as fully remotely control the camera for your Android or iOS device.
The Olympus PEN-F stores images and movies on a single SD memory card slot, compatible with higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC cards, as well as higher-speed UHS-I and UHS-II cards. It's also Eye-Fi card compatible, although with in-camera support for Wi-Fi wireless networking, there would seem to be little reason to use an Eye-Fi card.
Pricing & Availability
All said and done, the Olympus PEN-F looks and feels like an amazing camera that's right up the alley for someone looking for a compact yet very well-built model that packs a big punch in the style department. The Olympus PEN-F began shipping in March in a body-only configuration for US$1,199.99 (CAD $1,499.99) in black or two-tone silver and black, and the FL-LM3 flash unit (shown above) is included. Optional accessories include a leather half-case and a nifty external grip attachment with built-in Arca-Swiss-compatible flanges.
Olympus PEN-F Field Test
Premium & pricey, but oh so fun
Form meets function: classic design with modern goodies
The new Olympus PEN-F is all about style and function. Sporting a cool, classic design that hearkens back to the original PEN-F of the 1960s, the new digital PEN-F is nevertheless packed with lots of new technologies and modern amenities. The PEN-F borrows lots of goodies from its neighboring OM-D family members, namely the E-M5 Mark II, including 5-axis image stabilization, dual control dials, and a fully articulated LCD touchscreen, as well as tons of user-customizable functions. As the new flagship PEN-series camera, the PEN-F also features a number of "firsts," including the first Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera with a 20-megapixel sensor. This subsequently helps bump up the resolving power for the camera's High-Res Shot mode -- another feature borrowed from the E-M5 Mark II -- to astonishing numbers: 50MP JPEGs and 80MP RAW files!
Olympus PEN-F High-Res Shot Mode
A mega amount of megapixels thanks to new sensor
In early 2015, Olympus debuted a brand-new feature in its enthusiast-grade E-M5 Mark II. Dubbed High Res Shot Mode, this was the cause of much excitement because it allowed a pretty impressive step forward in resolution, a significant reduction in noise levels, and an impressive resistance to moiré artifacts. All of this was achieved thanks to a technique known as oversampling.
In effect, what the E-M5 II did was to capture eight images in quick succession using an electronic shutter to avoid resolution-robbing vibrations. Between each frame's capture, the camera made very subtle adjustments to the positioning of its sensor-shift image stabilization system. These sub-pixel sized adjustments let the sensor gather more information about its subject, resulting in the advantages mentioned above.
Olympus PEN-F Image Quality Comparison
Compare native resolution images to a variety of other mirrorless cameras
Here we present crops from our laboratory Still Life target comparing Olympus PEN-F image quality to its OM-D E-M5 II sibling, as well as against several premium mirrorless models at similar price points or in similar categories: the Fuji X-Pro2, Panasonic GX8 and Sony A7. We've also decided to include the Nikon J5 here which may seem a little odd, but we wanted to include an interchangeable lens camera with a smaller sensor for comparison purposes, and the J5 uses the latest generation 1"-type sensor we've tested in an ILC thus far.
NOTE: These images are from best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction and using the camera's actual base ISO (not extended ISO settings). All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses. Clicking any crop will take you to a carrier page where you can click once again to access the full resolution image as delivered straight from the camera.
Olympus PEN-F Print Quality
See our maximum print size recommendations
Print quality and image quality are similar but not identical, because what you see on a print isn't always the same as what you see on the screen. Our print quality analysis answers the important question: "Just how big can I print my photos at higher ISOs?"
Sporting the highest resolution Four-Thirds sensor yet for an Olympus camera, the PEN-F's new 20-megapixel chip allows it to perform rather nicely in the printing department. We see very large, highly detailed prints at the expanded low ISO of 80, with up to 30 x 40 inch prints. There is a hint of pixelation at this print size, so we're pushing the resolving power of the sensor, but from a normal viewing distance for such a large print, it's all rather impressive. We observed a fairly steady decrease in maximum print size as ISO sensitivity increases, but overall the Olympus PEN-F does very well. At ISO 1600, for example, the Olympus PEN-F is capable of a nice 13 x 19 inch print, a pleasing 8 x 10 at ISO 6400, and it even manages a usable 5 x 7 inch print all the way up to ISO 12,800. The camera's maximum ISO of 25,600, however, is best avoided for prints.
Olympus PEN-F Conclusion
Blending modern Micro Four Thirds features with premium style
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.
In the Box
The Olympus PEN-F retail package contains the following items:
- Olympus PEN-F body (in silver or black)
- BLN-1 rechargeable Li-ion battery
- BCN- battery charger
- FL-LM3 flash
- USB cable
- Shoulder strap
- Software CD-ROM
- Warranty card
- Large capacity SDHC/SDXC memory card. 32GB Class 10 should be a minimum, and we highly recommend a UHS-II card for shooting in continuous burst mode.
- Spare BLN-1 battery for extended shooting sessions
- M.Zuiko lenses, especially the M.Zuiko Pro 12-40mm f/2.8
- RM-UC1 remote cable release
- ECG-4 grip
- Medium camera bag
- Micro HDMI cable
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