Olympus PEN-F Review
Full Review posted 03/03/2016 by Josh Fate
|The Olympus PEN-F is a stylish and powerful mirrorless ILC that puts creative shooting at the top of the list. Excellent image quality and great performance has this camera ready for any situation. Read more in our Full Conclusion.|
Olympus launched the original PEN F in 1963. Much like modern gadgetry, the idea was to build a more compact and elegant camera. The result was a "half-frame" format that captured imagines on half of a 35mm film frame and doubled the amount of pictures one could take per roll. It also, oddly enough, meant that holding your camera horizontally translated into vertically oriented pictures. Half a million of these badass little cameras sold between 1963 and 1970.
Here we are 53 years later with a brand new PEN-F in hand.
A classic fusion of retro styling and all the whiz-bang gadgetry of 21st Century interchangeable lens camera systems, it feels like Olympus took Dad's old film camera body and stuffed it with high-performance components from the OM-D series.
The heart of the PEN-F is a newly designed 20-megapixel Live MOS image sensor. The first Olympus Micro Four Thirds model to offer more than 16. Powered by the True Pic VII image processor, this jump in pixel count also helps out Olympus High Res Shot mode. For those unfamiliar, High Res Shot shifts the image sensor to merge eight photos into one stunning 50MP JPEG and/or 80MP RAW image file (jaw... dropped). You can't really use it for moving subjects, due to the time it takes to shift the sensor, but High Res Shot is perfect for landscapes and portraits.
All these new pixels would be useless without more power and performance. ISO LOW now drops to 80, while high speed continuous shooting can be had at a whopping 20FPS when using H+ Mode. This engages the 1/16000th of a second electronic shutter and operates in total silence. The mechanical shutter is no slouch at 1/8000th of a second, producing 5FPS with Continuous AF engaged, or 10FPS without. Eat your heart out, DSLRs.
Next, let's talk image stabilization. The PEN-F has inherited the fantastic 5-axis image stabilization system from the OM-D EM-5 Mark II. If you're shooting stills, that means an impressive 5 EV boost (when compared to shooting without I.S.) in low light. If you're recording HD Video, the system acts almost like a Steadicam during handheld shots. This will allow you to shoot more fluid shots as well as with a longer zoom. It is, without a doubt, one of the best O.I.S. systems available today.
Speaking of video, the PEN-F can record Full 1080p HD video at multiple frame rates, from the cinematic 24p to the ultra smooth 60p (which can also be used as slow motion when dropped into a project with a lesser frame rate). Pros will also enjoy the Live View HDMI out which, when INFO is held down, will output YCbCr 4:2:2 with no GUI overlay.
In terms of design, the PEN-F boasts a magnesium alloy body --- it feels solid in hand, and you won't see any visible screws -- but not the same ergonomics and weather sealing from the OM-D line. Not to say there aren't some nice ergonomic touches, of course, but this is a more flat body. The other design element you'll notice are all the circles. Be it Function Buttons, an On/Off switch, the dedicated video record button, or various mode dials, everything here is circular and independently textured so you can learn to operate the camera by feel alone. New for this year, we have four Custom slots on the Mode Dial, a dedicated Exposure Compensation Dial (+/- 3 EV) on the right, as well as a Creative Dial on the body's front.
Creative Dial has five modes --- Monochrome, Color, Off, Art Filters, and Color Creator. Art Filters and Color Creator have been here before; they're fantastic tools for capturing engaging images with various processed looks. From my personal experience, Dramatic Tone I & II are the rockstars of this bunch, but there's a lot to explore so you'll be able to find the ones you prefer (see the full list below). The fun part about any of these Creative Dial modes is that they only affect JPEGs; if you shoot RAW + JPEG, you'll also end up with a tonally neutral, clean RAW file. Saving the best new creative features for last, Monochrome and Color are so good at what they do, it's worth considering buying the PEN-F just for these two modes (and hopefully they'll also be available soon on other Olympus cameras via a firmware update, hint-Olympus-hint).
Monochrome, for black & white photography, offers three differential tonal modes along with three levels of adaptive digital film grain. Level One is the most neutral, while Level Two offers the most contrast and, crazy enough, Level Three almost looks a bit like Infrared Film. In all three tonal levels, shooters have the option to apply color filters as well as vignetting. If you get a chance to try it, Monochrome 2 with the Cyan filter applied creates otherworldly imagery with the right lifting.
Color Mode, on the Creative Dial, is the colorized kissing cousin to Monochrome. It's all about recreating the look and feel of old film stocks, or simply shooting images with dramatic pop. It too offers three different levels, while allowing each user to increase or decrease saturation of individual colors or all colors simultaneously. Color 1 is the most neutral, while Color 2 emulates the look of old slides, and Color 3 is akin to an ultra vivid chrome film stock.
Other fun features, carrying over from previous models, we have Focus Bracketing, which allows users to stack photographs for ultra-clear macro photography. HDR mode combines multiple exposures for an extended dynamic range and increase saturation (you can also take separate images and combine them out of camera). Live Time and Live Composite Modes are great for light painting and astrophotography. And, if you're interested in time-lapse movies, there is a Interval Mode for taking an extended series of photos over a long period of time. Or, should you prefer the PEN-F to do this for you, no worries; 4K Time-Lapse Movie does just that (and at a higher-than-HD resolution).
Last, but not least, like most 2016 ILC cameras, the PEN-F offers built-in Wi-Fi. Simply download the free O.I.Share App to your Android or iOS device, connect it to the PEN-F, and you're free to transfer images to backup and/or share, or you can use your smartphone to remotely control the camera.
Olympus PEN-F Features:
- 20MP Live MOS image sensor
- True Pic VII image processor
- 5-axis image stabilization
- 3.0" Vari-angle LCD Display (1037K dots)
- OLED viewfinder (2.36M dots)
- .62x magnification
- 100% field of view
- Simulated Optical Viewfinder (S-OVF mode).
- 1/8000th mechanical shutter
- 1/16000th Electronic Shutter
- Continuous Burst Shooting
- 20fps in H+ Mode
- 5fps with continuous Auto Focus ON
- 10fps w continous AF OFF
- ISO LOW (80) - 25600
- High Res Shot
- 50MP JPEG
- 80MP RAW
- Full 1080p HD Video Recording
- 24p, 25p, 30p, 50p, 60p
- Live View HDMI Output
- RAW + JPEG
- Front-mounted Creative Dial
- Art Filters
- Pop Art I & II
- Soft Focus
- Pale & Light Color I & II
- Light Tone
- Grainy Film I & II
- Pin Hole I, II, & III
- Diorama I & II
- Cross Process I & II
- Gentle Sepia
- Dramatic Tone I & II
- Key Line I & II
- Water Color I & II
- Vantage I, II, & III
- Partial Color I, II, & III
- Color Creator
- Photo Story
- Keystone Compensation
- Silent Mode
- Live Bulb
- Live Composite
- Interval Mode
- 4K Time-Lapse Movie
- Focus Bracketing (for Macro)
- Multi Exposure
- Level Gauge
- Super Control Panel
- Exposure Compensation Dial
- 4 Custom Mode Buttons
- Built-in Wi-Fi
- Compatible with all Micro Four Thirds Lens
- Older & other brand lenses might not offer all features
We'll post a more in-depth review in the coming weeks, but after only a few hours with the PEN-F, it's safe to say this camera lives up to expectations, and then some. If you've had any experience with the OM-D series, you'll right at home here. If not, it's a pretty quick learning curve.
The PEN-F is a wonderfully retro camera stuffed to the gills with modern features that give enthusiasts the flexibility to shoot the way he or she wants, from full auto and Art Filters JPEGS to full manual and neutral RAW image files. Customization galore gives way to dozens of adjustable modes to help capture everyday life in extraordinary ways.
From a design standpoint, you can't help but love the retro visual as well as the tactile feeling of having manual controls clicking into place. The camera feels extremely durable (despite lacking the weather seals of the OM-D series). Lens options are plentiful, particularly when you take into account adapters. The dials and menu layouts are also very intuitive. The Super Control Menu --- instant access to many adjustments --- remains a fantastic feature. I also love how cleanly the Art Filters are presented underneath a live image; this is a dramatic improvement in functionality over previous iterations.
If I had any complaints (outside of feeling sorry for OM-D owners who don't have access to the new Monochrome and Color modes), I would say I miss some of the ergonomics from the OM-D EM-5 Mark II, including the Function 1 & 2 switch that was a little more reliable for quick access to ISO settings. I'm also not a huge fan of the SD card location; tucked in next to the battery makes for some fumbling. And I really wish Olympus offered 4K video, because that's the way the world is going.
Honestly, though, I'm picking at straws to come up with such complaint. This camera is fast, accurate, takes terrific pictures and strong HD video, offers tons of customization and stylization options, and the two new modes --- Monochrome and Color --- steal the show. It's about as close to having a film camera as some shutterbugs will ever get.
More testing and more thoughts on the horizon.
Pricing & Availability
The Olympus PEN-F will be available in early March (2016) with a $1199.99 MSRP.
Visitors of Steves can visit the stores below for real-time pricing and availability. You can also find hot, soon to expire online offers on a variety of cameras and accessories at our very own Camera Deals page.