Olympus PEN-F Image Quality


Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Typical saturation levels with very good hue accuracy.

ISO Sensitivity
In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located toward the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center. Mouse over the links to compare ISOs and click for a larger version.

Saturation. The Olympus PEN-F pushes darker reds by a fair amount and a few other colors by relatively small amounts, but most colors are pretty close to accurate in terms of saturation. Default mean saturation at base ISO of 200 is 109.2% (9.2% oversaturated), which is about average these days. Mean saturation remains fairly stable across the ISO range, except at ISO 25,600 where it falls off moderately to 104.2% respectively (likely in an attempt to help control chroma noise). Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than what's found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.

Skin tones. The Olympus PEN-F did very well here when white balance was matched to the lighting, producing pleasant, realistic-looking Caucasian skin tones, just slightly on the warm side. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.

Hue. The Olympus PEN-F exhibits very good overall hue accuracy, with a better-than-average Delta-C color error after correction for saturation of only 3.71 at base ISO (the average is about five among cameras we've tested, and lower scores are better). And hue accuracy is quite good across the ISO sensitivity range. Hue is "what color" the color is.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images


Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Default Auto white balance was too warm, but good color balance with Incandescent and Manual white balance settings. Average exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance
+0.3 EV
Incandescent White Balance
+0.3 EV
Manual White Balance
+0.3 EV

Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, color balance was much too warm and orange with the default Auto white balance setting. The PEN-F has a "Keep Warm Color" option for Auto white balance which is On by default. (When turned Off, the results are usually cool with a cyan tint, but we didn't test that option for the PEN-F.) Results with the Incandescent setting were not bad, though, just slightly warm and yellow. The Manual setting was quite good, just a touch cool. The Olympus PEN-F required an average amount of positive exposure compensation here, at +0.3 EV. (Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.)

Outdoors, daylight
Very good color and dynamic range, with good exposure.

Manual White Balance,
+0.7 EV
Auto White Balance,
Auto Exposure

Outdoors, the Olympus PEN-F performed well, with nice colors and good exposure. Skin tones are good but slightly warm and yellow with the Auto white balance setting in our "Sunlit" Portrait shot, so we preferred Manual white balance for its slightly pinker rendering. The Olympus PEN-F required an average amount of positive exposure compensation (+0.7 EV) to keep the mannequin's face relatively bright. Default contrast is a bit high as it is on most cameras, but despite the bright appearance in some areas there are very few blown highlights in the mannequin's shirt and flowers, which is much better than average. There are few lost shadows as well, but noise in all but the deepest shadows is quite low for a 4/3" sensor. The Far-field shot has very good exposure at default settings and almost no blown highlights or lost shadows. Noise in the shadows is low, though there are signs fairly aggressive noise reduction is applied in darker regions. (Note that these shots were taken at ISO 200 as ISO 80 is an extended setting with inferior dynamic range.)

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Native Resolution
~2,750 lines of strong detail in native resolution JPEG and RAW files.

Strong detail to
~2,750 lines horizontal
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
~2,750 lines vertical
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
~2,750 lines horizontal
ACR processed ORF
Strong detail to
~2,750 lines vertical
ACR processed ORF

In-camera JPEGs of our laboratory resolution chart reveals sharp, distinct line patterns up to about 2,750 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and to about 2,750 lines in the vertical direction, although some fairly strong aliasing is visible well before those limits. Complete extinction of the pattern doesn't occur until about 3,700 lines. Adobe Camera Raw wasn't really able to extract more resolution here but generated far less luminance aliasing, though false colors and color moiré are much more apparent past the limits of resolution. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Sharp images though moderate edge-enhancement artifacts on high-contrast subjects are visible. Mild noise suppression visible in the shadows.

Good definition of high-contrast
elements but with some visible
sharpening artifacts.
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast.

Sharpness. The Olympus PEN-F captures sharp images, though as is usually the case for most manufacturers, edge enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as sharpening halos around the lines and lettering in the crop above left when default settings are used. The halos are a little bright, but at least they are not very thick. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.

Detail. The crop above right shows fairly mild noise suppression artifacts in the darkest areas of the model's hair as base ISO, smudging individual strands together when contrast between them is low, though quite a few individual strands remain visible. Overall detail is very good for a 20-megapixel Micro Four Thirds model, and chroma noise is very low. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.

Native Res RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above, the Olympus PEN-F does a great job at capturing lots of fine detail in its JPEGs, but more detail can often be obtained by carefully processing RAW files, while at the same time reducing sharpening artifacts. Take a look below, to see what we mean:

Base ISO (200)
Camera JPEG, defaults
RAW via Adobe Camera Raw

In the table above, we compare an in-camera JPEG taken at base ISO using default noise reduction and sharpening (on the left) to the matching RAW file converted with Adobe Camera Raw 9.1 via DNG Converter 9.5 using default noise reduction with some strong but tight unsharp mask applied in Photoshop (350%, radius of 0.3 pixels, and a threshold of 0).

The Adobe Camera Raw conversion contains fine detail superior to the camera's Super Fine JPEG at default settings as can be seen in the mosaic crop and especially in the red-leaf swatch where much of the thread pattern is resolved, though it does leave behind a lot more noise at default noise reduction settings. In-camera JPEGs also have more "pop" though, with higher default contrast, sharpening and saturation. Overall, the PEN-F's JPEG engine does a very good job balancing the detail offered by its 20-megapixel sensor with keeping noise in check, at least at low ISOs (and its expanded low ISO 80 setting does even better, but at the cost of lower dynamic range), however as is usually the case, additional detail can be extracted when working with RAW files.

High Res mode RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
The Olympus PEN-F's multi-shot High Res mode produces in-camera 49.9-megpixel JPEGs, but High-Res .ORF files are converted to 80.1-megapixel images! Below, we compare the two at base ISO:

High Res Mode, Base ISO (200)
Camera JPEG, defaults
RAW via Adobe Camera Raw

Adobe Camera Raw 9.5 supports the PEN-F's High-Res RAW files natively, so we decided to compare a conversion with an in-camera High Res JPEG here at base ISO. But to make the comparison easier, we've downsampled the 80-megapixel converted RAW file to the same resolution as the 50-megapixel JPEG using Photoshop's Bicubic Sharper resampling. You can view the full 80.1-megapixel ACR converted RAW image here. Olympus offers a free Photoshop High-Res Raw File plug-in which also produces 80.1-megapixels files, but with processing similar to the camera's. You can view the same file converted with the plugin using default settings here. And if you don't use Photoshop, Olympus Viewer 3 can now also convert them. You can access an Olympus Viewer conversion here.

As you can see, the High Res in-camera JPEG and RAW files both offer a lot more detail than the native resolution files in the previous comparison, but the converted High Res RAW file only offers a modest increase in detail over the in-camera High Res JPEG. It also shows slightly higher aliasing artifacts in some areas, as well as slightly higher noise, however we just used ACR's default noise reduction. The converted High-Res RAW file was pretty soft, though, so we had to apply strong sharpening to bring it close to the sharpness in the JPEG (we used USM 500% with a radius of 0.5), which exacerbates the appearance of noise. Still, shooting High Res images in RAW mode still offers the same advantages as native resolution RAW images over JPEGs, which is much greater control over sharpening, contrast, color, noise reduction, etc.

See our Astounding resolution from High Res Shot Mode page for more on the PEN-F's new high-res capture mode.

ISO & Noise Performance
Very good high ISO performance for its class.

Default High ISO Noise Reduction
ISO 80 ISO 200 ISO 400
ISO 800 ISO 1600 ISO 3200
ISO 6400 ISO 12,800 ISO 25,600

The Olympus PEN-F's images are quite clean and detailed at ISOs 80 though 400, though there's a minor increase in noise in the shadows as ISO sensitivity rises within this range. ISO 800 shows a slight drop in overall image quality, but fine detail is still quite strong. At ISO 1600, we see some moderate detail loss due to stronger noise and noise reduction efforts, as well as more visible chroma noise in the shadows, but fine detail is still pretty good. ISO 3200 shows a more noticeable drop in image quality, with much stronger blurring of fine detail. ISO 6400 is a lot grainer with more noticeable chroma noise, and image quality drops off rapidly from there, with much higher luma and chroma noise, visible noise reduction and sharpening artifacts, as well as a shift in color towards green.

Overall, high ISO noise performance is comparable to its closest competitor, the Panasonic GX8, and appears to even be a little better at the highest ISOs when looking at RAW files. As always, see the Print Quality section below for maximum recommended print sizes at each ISO.

Note that we now shoot this series at f/8 instead of f/4, for increased depth of field (at f/4, it was very difficult to focus for maximum sharpness in the crop area while maintaining consistent focus between models).

Extremes: Sunlit, dynamic range and low light tests
Very good dynamic range in JPEGs, and very good low-light performance as well.

+0.3 EV +0.7 EV +1.0 EV

The Olympus PEN-F did very well with this difficult shot, requiring an average amount of exposure compensation (+0.7 EV) to keep the mannequin's face bright in this harsh lighting. As mentioned previously, despite the bright appearance of the mannequin's shirt, dynamic range is surprisingly good, with very few highlights blown and good detail in the shadows as well, though very deep shadows do exhibit fairly strong noise reduction and blotchy coloration. Still, performance here is well above average, particularly for a Micro Four Thirds model.

Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here. In actual shooting conditions, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown here; it's better to shoot in open shade whenever possible.)

Face Detection
Off at 0 EV
Aperture priority, f/8
On at 0 EV
Aperture priority, f/8
Full Auto

Face Detection. Like most cameras these days, the Olympus PEN-F has the ability to detect faces, and adjust exposure and focus accordingly. As you can see from the examples above, face detection worked well, as the center image with it enabled is much better exposed for the face without having to use any exposure compensation. The Full Auto setting worked even better by choosing Portrait scene mode which selected a larger aperture (f/2) and selected i-Enhance Picture Mode to boost shadows and reduce contrast. An excellent performance under very difficult lighting such as this.

Outdoor Portrait Gradation Comparison



Low Key

High Key

Gradation. Similar to dynamic range optimization systems from other manufacturers, the Olympus PEN-F's Gradation setting applies local contrast adjustments in an attempt to preserve shadow detail and prevent highlight clipping with the Auto setting. Above are examples of the Normal (default), Auto, Low Key and High Key settings applied to our "Sunlit" Portrait shot with no exposure compensation. Mouse over the links to load the associated thumbnail and histogram, and click on the links to visit the full resolution image.

As you can see, the Low Key setting applies Gradation for making subjects darker (in the thumbnail and histogram above, you can see that the camera shifted levels to the left, darkening the image dramatically), while the High Key setting does the opposite to produce brighter images (shifting levels to the right so that lighter tones are blown, but darker ones are opened up). The Auto setting did a good job here, boosting shadows and midtones without blowing many highlights, for a much better overall exposure than the Normal setting.

Far-field Gradation Comparison

Above, we can see the Gradation options at work in our Far-field test shot series with similar results. Mouse over the links to load the associated thumbnail, and click on the links to visit the full resolution image.

High Dynamic Range
HDR setting:

High Dynamic Range. The PEN-F's in-camera HDR feature works by combining four shots at different exposures. Two strength settings are available: HDR1 and HDR2, with the later providing a more extreme result. ISO is fixed to 200, and slowest shutter speed is 1 second (4 seconds total).

Above, you can see the PEN-F's in-camera HDR mode at work with our Far-field shot. HDR1 did a pretty good job brightening shadows and toning down highlights, though it looks a bit dim and flat. You can probably do much better by using the bracketing mode and combining the images yourself in software. HDR2 mode looks overprocessed and too bright with blown-out highlights as well as soft, noisy details. Unfortunately, the camera seems to have moved during the HDR2 sequence, which caused ghosting in bright static objects like the building's pillars. (Notice that the HDR images are not cropped compared to the non-HDR image, which implies the camera can't compensate for much camera motion during a sequence. This is pretty much confirmed by the user manual which says to use a tripod for HDR shots, potentially making this mode less useful than those offered by some other manufacturers.)

Dynamic Range Analysis (RAW mode)
A key parameter in a digital camera is its Dynamic Range, the range of brightness that can be faithfully recorded. At the upper end of the tonal scale, dynamic range is dictated by the point at which the RGB data "saturates" at values of 255, 255, 255. At the lower end of the tonal scale, dynamic range is determined by the point at which there ceases to be any useful difference between adjacent tonal steps. Note the use of the qualifier "useful" in there: While it's tempting to evaluate dynamic range as the maximum number of tonal steps that can be discerned at all, that measure of dynamic range has very little relevance to real-world photography. What we care about as photographers is how much detail we can pull out of the shadows before image noise becomes too objectionable. This, of course, is a very subjective matter, and will vary with the application and even the subject matter in question. (Noise will be much more visible in subjects with large areas of flat tints and subtle shading than it would in subjects with strong, highly contrasting surface texture.)

While we once performed our own dynamic range measurements based on in-camera JPEGs as well as converted RAW images (when the camera was supported by Adobe Camera Raw), we've switched to using DxO Labs' results from their DxOMark website. As technology advanced, the dynamic range of modern high-end cameras in some cases exceeded the range of the Stouffer T4110 density scale that we used for our own measurements. DxO's approach based on RAW data before demosaicing is also more revealing, because it measures the fundamental dynamic range of the sensor, irrespective of whatever processing is applied to JPEGs, or to RAW data by off-the-shelf conversion software.

In the following, we use DxO's "Print" dynamic range results, which are scaled based on camera resolution. As the name suggests, this scaling corresponds to the situation in which you print at a given size, regardless of how many megapixels the camera might have. (In other words, if you've decided to make a 13x19 inch print, that's the size you're printing, whether the camera's resolution is 16 or 300 megapixels.) For the technically-minded, you can find a discussion of the reasoning behind this here on the DxOMark website. Also note that DxO Labs uses a signal-to-noise (SNR) threshold of 1 when defining the lower boundary of acceptable luminance noise in their dynamic range measurements, which corresponds to the "Low Quality" threshold of the Imatest software we used to use for this measurement.

Here, we compare the Olympus PEN-F (in red) to its closest, tested Micro Four Thirds competitor, the Panasonic GX8 (yellow), as well as to the Sony A6300 (orange), a class-leading APS-C mirrorless camera. You can always compare to other models on DxOMark.com.

As you can see from the above graph (click it for a larger version), the PEN-F's dynamic range is similar to the GX8's, which is not a surprise since they probably share the same or at least very similar sensors. The GX8 does a little better at low ISOs with a peak dynamic range of 12.58 EV versus 12.35 for the PEN-F, but the Olympus does a little better at higher ISOs, with up to about a half EV advantage between ISO 1600 and 6400. You'd probably have a tough time seeing the difference in real-world shots, though.

Unsurprisingly, the Olympus PEN-F lags behind the APS-C-sensored Sony A6300 across the board, with the Sony offering up to about a 1.4 stop advantage at base ISO (13.37 EV vs 12.35), as well as significantly better dynamic range at higher ISOs.

Bottom line: The Olympus PEN-F's dynamic range is excellent for a Four Thirds sensor, close to the best tested to date, though as expected, it's not as good as state-of-the-art APS-C mirrorless rivals.

Click here to visit the DxOMark page for the Olympus PEN-F for more of their test results and additional comparisons.

  1 fc
11 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
1/16 fc

1s, f2.8

15s, f2.8

15s, f2.8

1/15s, f2.8

1s, f2.8

1s, f2.8

1/125s, f2.8

1/8s, f2.8

1/8s, f2.8

Low Light
The Olympus PEN-F performed quite well in our low light testing, capturing bright exposures at the lowest light level we test (1/16 foot-candle), even at base ISO. Noise is low at ISO 200 and well-controlled at ISO 3200, though the top ISO ISO of 25,600 is noisy and is probably best avoided except for small prints or web images.

White balance was fairly neutral using the Auto setting, just slightly cool, and we didn't notice any significant issues with hot pixels, pattern noise or heat blooming.

The camera's autofocus system was able to focus on our subject down to below the 1/16 foot-candle light level unassisted with an f/2.8 lens, which is excellent, and in total darkness with the aid of its focus assist lamp.

How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) Thanks to their phase-detect AF systems, digital SLRs tend to do much better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects. The PEN-F uses contrast-detect autofocus as is found in most point & shoot cameras, so its low-light focusing ability is less than that of most SLRs with phase-detect systems. That said, though, the larger, more sensitive pixels of the PEN-F's sensor do better under dim lighting than do the tiny pixels of most point & shoots, (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)

Output Quality

Print Quality
High-quality prints up to 30 x 40 inches at ISO 80; Nice 8 x 10 inch prints all the way up to ISO 6400; and usable 4 x 6 inch prints at ISO 12,800.

ISO 80 prints display fantastic detail all the way up to an impressive 30 x 40 inches. At this expanded low ISO, fine detail is clean and crisp, colors are vibrant and noise is practically nonexistent. There's very subtle pixelation if you look closely, but from a normal viewing distance for a print of this size, it's not an issue.

ISO 200 images look excellent up to 24 x 36 inches. There's still a lot of detail, but we see a subtle yet noticeable increase in noise that degrades some very fine detail, particularly in a number of fabric swatches of our Still Life scene. Noise is mainly seen in the shadows, but it's quite low overall given the ISO level.

ISO 400 prints show a lot of fine detail and well-controlled shadow noise up to 20 x 30 inch prints. Shadow noise does become a bit more visible at larger print sizes, so it's more a personal taste whether or not you're okay with bumping the print size here to 24 x 36 -- we'd be okay with it for less critical applications, though.

ISO 800 images look great up to 16 x 20 inches. At this print size, noise is very well controlled and barely an issue; any larger, and its effects become apparent. Despite the slight increase in noise, we'd be okay with a 20 x 30 inch print here for less critical applications.

ISO 1600 prints show more noise than the previous ISO sensitivity, and it's starting to impact fine detail in more places now, such as in the mosaic tile pattern of our test image. Shadow noise has increased some as well, so to our eyes, a 13 x 19 inch print is the maximum size for this ISO.

ISO 3200 images top-out at 11 x 14 inches. Prints at this size look quite nice with a good amount of detail, though noise is beginning to soften things up a bit if you look closely. Colors are still bright and pleasing at this ISO level.

ISO 6400 prints show increased softening due to noise, but the PEN-F still manages a nice 8 x 10 at this ISO sensitivity. Visible noise is more apparent, which isn't surprising.

ISO 12,800 images are fairly noisy and soft at larger print sizes, but we still managed to find nice performance with a 5 x 7 inch print. Shadow noise is still visible at this print size, but not to an excessive degree.

ISO 25,600 prints, however, appear too noisy and lacking in fine detail to consider usable to our eyes. A 4 x 6 inch print might be acceptable for less critical applications, but we'd recommended avoiding this ISO for making prints if possible.

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.


The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Olympus PEN-F Photo Gallery .

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Olympus PEN-F with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

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