Olympus PEN-F Review: A Future Classic

Update (11/07/2019) 

Sadly the Olympus Pen-F is no longer available brand new and has yet to have been replaced. If you're looking for a camera of similar quality and style, make sure you check out the Olympus Pen E-PL9 and keep an eye on our Used Olympus Mirrorless Cameras for high-quality pre-loved equipment.

The Olympus PEN-F with its retro styling was released by Olympus in the 2nd quarter of 2016. The new PEN-F design pays homage to the original Pen-F, which first made an appearance in 1963. The camera’s form quickly made it an object of desire and its now retro styling still inspires enthusiasm over half a century later. Though the original camera may now be a dated collector's item the newest incarnation of this model comes with all the latest technology from Olympus. 

  • The original 1963 Olympus Pen F.
  • 54 years later... the Olympus PEN-F.

The original Pen F from the 60s was a half-frame camera meaning the exposures would use half of a 35mm frame and effectively double the number of photos you can take on a roll. A 24 exposure roll would yield 48 exposures, a 36 would allow 72 and so on. The Pen F has long been a compact camera system for spontaneous and candid shooting. Half a century ago this camera would have been left at home while doing client work or capturing detail but 50 years later Olympus has compromised on very little. The PEN F continues a legacy of compact spontaneous performance and is perfect for street photography, blogging and photojournalism.

The Highest Resolution of any Mirco Four Thirds from Olympus.

The Olympus PEN F comes equipped with a 20.3 megapixel live MOS, giving it the highest resolution of any Micro Four Thirds from Olympus. The Live MOS image sensor lacks a low pass filter and provides a reported 25% improvement in resolution while maintaining low-noise and dynamic-range performance. The compact camera boasts an impressive EVF with a resolution of 2.36 million dots and a vari-angle touchscreen. It also includes the same advanced camera tech found in the well-regarded E-M5 Mark II with 5-axis image stabilization. The PEN F also has WiFi connectivity, 10 frames per second continuous shooting and full manual controls.

Serious pedigree... fun new features.

The magnesium-alloy body inspires confidence in amateurs and professionals alike and feels reassuringly solid in hand. Though it has a serious pedigree the camera has also taken on some fun new features. The dial on the front of the camera allows the user to change between the camera’s different colours and creative options, including monochrome or art filters. The monochrome profile control means users can capture black and white imagery in-camera with more control and the colour profile control means creative ideas can be realised with greater ease by adjusting the saturation of 12 different colours to 11 different levels.

The camera also has a feature dubbed High Res Shot Mode by which the camera uses 8 images from the 20MP sensor to create one 50MP image. It does this by making sub-pixel sized shifts to the position of the sensor using the image stabilization system and shooting several images in rapid succession in a technique called oversampling. Medium format quality images are not to be expected and in order to take advantage of High Res Shot Mode shooters will need a tripod and an absolutely static subject but it provides a compelling feature nonetheless.

To top it all off the PEN F has all the mod cons a photographer can expect from a digital camera in 2017. WiFi connectivity allows the camera to be connected to a tablet or mobile device via the Olympus photo-sharing app O.I.Share. The app makes it possible to control the camera settings and shutter remotely, it also includes some basic photo editing features.

...refined performance that can be drawn from the hip...

The PEN-F is intended to be as attractive on the outside as it is on the inside. This camera is an object to be appreciated for its chic design as much as for its ability to produce crisp, beautiful imagery and with a superb EVF, 81 AF points and all the features mentioned above the PEN-F doesn’t fall short of many DSLR cameras in terms of capability, it certainly surpasses the majority on the basis of design.

With this new incarnation of the PEN-F, it’s fair to say Olympus is closing the gap between the Micro 4/3 compact and the crop sensor DSLR. Photographers looking for a refined performance that can be drawn from the hip, look no further. The PEN-F represents form and function, you no longer have to choose one over the other.

Photos (excluding product shots): Hannah Beirne @xv_hannah_xv

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