PEN-F

PEN-F

Steve's Conclusion

By

Steve's SnapShot
Thumbnail image for PEN-F-SLV_right_M14-42mmEZ_BLK.jpg
  • 20-Megapixel Live MOS Imaging Sensor
  • TruePic VII image processor
  • 5-Axis image stabilization
  • 2.36-Million dot EVF w/ Optical Viewfinder mode
  • 3.0-Inch, 1,037K dot Vari-Angle Touch LCD Screen
  • Micro Four Thirds Mount
  • Rangefinder look, feel and control
  • Dedicated Video Record Button
  • iAuto mode
  • Easy and complete color control
  • Full 1080p HD video recording
  • Rechargeable Li-Ion battery
  • Detachable Flash Unit
  • SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card compatible
Pros
  • iAuto and Program shooting modes are accurate and easy in all situations
  • Dedicated Video Capture Button is always ready to record
  • Overall image quality is excellent
  • Color adjustments are easy and fun
  • Burst shooting performance lives up to the huge 10fps claims
  • 5-Axis image stabilization allows you to shoot stills and video while on the move with sharp, smooth results
  • LCD and EVF allow you to shoot comfortably and accurately in all conditions
  • Good Battery Life
  • Competitively priced for a top-of-the-line mirrorless ILC
Cons
  • Camera with lens can be difficult to hold onto with one hand. An additional grip is needed for comfort and stability
  • Lens mount is almost flush with the bottom of the camera, which causes issues with larger tripod mounts and parts of the lens sitting lower than the bottom of the camera
  • No audio input to use an external mic
  • Lack of a 4K video recording mode is a bit surprising
  • Unlike the OM-D models, this camera is not weather-sealed
Timing Test Results
  • Power up to first image captured = 1.1 seconds
  • Shutter lag when prefocused  = less than 1/10 of a second
  • Shutter lag with autofocus = approx. 1/10 to 3/10 of a second
  • Shot to shot delay wo/flash = 0.4 seconds
  • Shot to shot delay w/flash = 1.8 seconds
  • High Speed Burst = 10fps
  • All of our tests were completed using a Panasonic UHS-3 16GB SDHC memory card, Program mode, ISO Auto, Flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults.
Bottom Line
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. 
Pick This Up If...
You are looking for a powerful camera with great performance and control. It is a great addition if you already have a collection of Micro Four Thirds lenses.
The latest big release from Olympus comes in the form of a PEN series camera with the PEN-F. This new Micro Four Thirds mount mirrorless ILC comes to you with the styling of an old rangefinder camera, offering a ton of image control right on the body. Sporting a 20-Megapixel Live MOS imaging sensor, TruePic VII processor, 5-axis image stabilization, 10fps burst shooting, WiFi, Full 1080p HD video capture and two great options for composing your images; the PEN-F has the power and capabilities for just about any shooting situation you may find yourself in.

What really makes the camera stand out while shooting are the on-camera color controls. These controls allow you to quickly change the color modes and adjust color profiles with the command dials on the LCD screen. This keeps you out of deep, complicated menus in the camera and can also save you a lot of time editing your images later. The Olympus PEN models do not come weather-sealed like the OM-D line, which is a bit disappointing with this camera.

Slightly bigger than we anticipated, the PEN-F has a solid and hefty feel, with plenty of body to hold onto. Even with plenty to hold onto, the small thumb grip on the back and nothing on the flat front leaves you looking for a little something more to grip onto with your right hand. Particularly when you are supporting the weight of one of Olympus's Pro lenses. The multiple dials on the camera allow for easy and fast adjustments of the shooting settings, with the locking mode dial being a bonus (a lock would also be great for the exposure compensation dial being on the edge of the camera). Another area of concern is the mount being flush with the bottom of camera. When attaching a lens with a larger diameter than the mount, it can cause issues with larger tripod mounts. We encountered this issue while shooting with a Manfrotto QD tripod and a Joby Gorilla Pod using the 12-40mm Pro lens. While on the tripod we were not able to turn the zoom ring due to interference with the quick-release tripod mount. 

Olympus's 5-axis image stabilization system really adds some versatility to the PEN-F. With the IS active, all of your handheld shooting will be sharper, as the camera can adjust for minor shifts and shakes with no problems; even with most of the telephoto lenses. This becomes a much bigger deal in lower-light situations, when the shutter speed slows down. Being able to shoot at slower shutter speeds opens up the option to shoot in more situations without a flash, capturing the natural light of a scene. It also makes a huge difference while recording video on the move. This IS is powerful enough to allow you to walk with the camera and still record amazingly steady video. This adds some great creative options for the aspiring videographer, or just makes your home movies smoother and easier to watch.

Built-in WiFi with NFC connection is a second great feature that provides a new level or portability and the ability to share your images from anywhere at any time. Once a smartphone is connected to the camera via the Olympus Image Share app, it can view and copy images from the camera. This allows you to then share your images via the smartphone with social media sites or email. The smartphone also has the ability to act as a remote control for the camera, letting you change settings and capture images without being behind the camera. This adds a whole new way to shoot from difficult places and capture "selfies" or group images without running or guessing about your composition.

Composing and viewing your images is accomplished with either the interactive electronic viewfinder or the Vari-Angle Touch LCD screen. The EVF has an incredibly high resolution of approx. 2.36-Million dots, giving you a smooth and accurate 100% view of what you are shooting. All of the information that can be shown on the LCD screen can also be shown in the EVF. Olympus has even created a simulated OVF mode, which expands the dynamic range to give you a more realistic optical viewfinder feel. 

Your second option for viewing and composing your images is the 3.0-inch, 1037k-dot Vari-Angle Touch LCD screen, allowing you to shoot over and around objects and other tough situations. The ability to shoot accurately without having the camera at eye-level can be a huge advantage. It also allows you to focus and capture images with just a touch of the LCD screen. The high resolution is great for viewing your images in the field, letting you easily check the fine detail and focus in the images without the need for a computer. Multiple levels of brightness make it easy to see in just about any lighting condition.

Performance from the PEN-F is outstanding. It was able to capture its first image in 1 second after being turned on, allowing you to start shooting right away. The shutter lag is not noticeable at all when the camera is pre-focused, and allowing the AF system to work slows it down to 1/10-3/10 of a second, which is still very fast. Shot-to-shot delay in single shot mode is approx. 4/10 of a second. The small included flash uses the camera's battery to charge, so it will slow the shot-to-shot delay to approx. 1.8 seconds while the flash recharges for each shot. Even with the flash set to fill, the camera will shoot without it if it has not recharged. The PEN-F also excels with burst shooting, reaching the 10fps burst shooting that Olympus claims it is capable of. When shooting in RAW, the camera performs just as well, but the number of shots that the camera can take before filling its buffer is much more limited. All of our tests were completed using a Panasonic UHS-3 16GB SDHC memory card, Program mode, ISO Auto, Flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults.

Our outdoor sample images are sharp, vivid and full of fine detail. With some of our samples shot in iAuto, Program and Black & White; it is easy to see the outstanding image quality that you get from all of the camera's shooting modes. Aberrations and other flaws were controlled very well by the combination of the TruePic VII processor and the quality Olympus Pro lenses. Most of our samples were taken with the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens. A few of our other outdoor samples were captured using the Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro lens. Both lenses feature a solid metal build, with smooth zoom and focus rings that offer a great amount of control. 

Looking closely at our indoor sample images gives us a better idea of the overall image quality throughout the camera's ISO range. Our samples were taken in iAuto and Program shooting modes. In Program mode, we shot at f/8.0 to keep the majority of the image sharp while still giving us a little depth of field. At the lower ISO settings the images are incredibly sharp and clear, showing no signs of noise in the images. In fact, we do not see noise starting to show until ISO 1600, and it is very minimal. From that point there is a pretty consistent increase in noise along with the increase in the ISO. As with all cameras, the highest ISO settings are there but do not produce an acceptable image and should not be used unless there is no other option. Olympus offers a high ISO noise filter option that by default is set to "Normal". This is what you will see in the first set of M&M man images. Those are followed by the "Low", "High" and "Off" settings. The higher this setting the softer the image turns out, but at the same time there will be less noticeable noise in the image. Lower settings will show more noise with a sharper image. Assisting with your low-light images, Olympus included an attachable compact flash unit that mounts to the hot shoe. It does not feature its own power supply and will not be as powerful or fast as an external Speedlite, but can come in very handy when you need a little extra illumination.

Portrait photography with the PEN-F is easy and accurate thanks to the camera's face detection software. Whether you are shooting a single person or a group, the camera quickly detects and follows the faces within the frame. It will choose a primary face to keep the exposure and focus adjusted to, while making smaller adjustments for the rest of the detected faces. More advanced settings allow you to choose which eye the camera will detect for a more specific focus and exposure. Shooting our sample shots, the camera did very well finding faces within the frame as long as they were directly facing the camera. Glasses and goggles did slow its ability to find them initially. 

The PEN-F features one of the easiest-to-use artistic shooting modes we have seen on any camera. While most mirrorless ILCs and dSLRs have these features and adjustments, they are buried within the camera menus and not near as easy to adjust. Color modes and the Art Filters are selectable via the dial on the front of the camera, leaving them accessible at all times. Once in the color modes, the command dials offer quick and easy adjustments that can be done on the fly while shooting. This opens up a slew of quick and easy creative shooting modes that you probably would not have taken the time to look for and/or use before. During our testing, we changed color modes several times while out shooting. Examples can be seen on our samples page. There is also a small collection of the many "Art" filters that are featured on the PEN-F. Along with the artistic shooting modes, the Olympus PEN-F features a multi-shot High Resolution shooting mode. This allows you to capture a simulated 50-Megapixel image that is just loaded with detail.

With the creativity and control that is featured on the still image side of the PEN-F, the video side is just as easy. Total control over the video recording process is at your fingertips, including the full control over the color of your videos. Surprisingly Olympus has not included 4K video as a video recording option, but the camera captures an excellent Full 1080p HD video. Along with Full HD at 30fps and 60fps, there are several other options including a 120fps high speed video mode. Our sample videos play back incredibly smooth on all Medias, making it a pleasure to watch. The 5-axis image stabilization really comes in handy, allowing you to shoot on the move and still capture a very steady, smooth video. The only real drawback is the lack of an external audio input to take the place of the built-in stereo microphone. This mic captures all of the sounds closest to the camera, collecting a lot of background noises. If you are recording a subject that is too far from the camera, chances are you will not get any of the sound that you are looking for. It may be possible to find a USB microphone that will work, but if audio quality is a must, then an external audio system will be required. 

Powering the PEN-F is a 7.6V, 1220mAh rechargeable Li-Ion battery. While completing our tests, this battery was almost enough on a single charge, capturing approx. 450 images (approx. 100 in high speed burst) and several short videos on a single charge before coming up just a little short of completing our tests. This was very surprising, as it surpassed the number of images that Olympus claims it can handle. If you will be heading out for a full day of shooting, and why wouldn't you, you will want to have a spare battery, or two, charged and ready to go with you. During a full day of shooting, the battery will go quickly. While it does charge quickly with the included charger, you do not want to have to stop shooting while you wait for it to charge.

Bottom Line - The Olympus PEN-F is a creative photographer's dream camera. Sporting a 20-Megapixel Live MOS sensor and the Micro Four Thirds mount system, this is an incredibly compact and easy to carry camera. It produces excellent image quality with total creative control at your fingertips at all times. Performance is not an issue either, as the 10fps burst shooting is enough to keep up with just about anything. With a MSRP of US $1,199.99 for just the body, this is one of the pricier models you will find, and not just from Olympus. With that, you are getting an outstanding camera that offers easier and faster image control than you will find anywhere else.

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