Olympus Pen-F(un) : a Pen with a Fun Factor !
My first mirrorless camera was a Micro Four Third back in April 2011. It was a Panasonic Lumix GF2 . Back then , the GF2 was a very good camera … and it did perform quite well … You can check my GF2 Flickr Album taken between 2011 and 2012 HERE…
With the launching of the Fujifilm X-Pro1 in June 2012, I sold my M43 system and shifted to Fujifilm … and after that to Sony …
Since then, I was watching the M43 system closely but never went back … I was always tempted by what Olympus was producing since the OMD-EM5 … those excellent tiny lenses, the wonderful IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization) , the extra features that only Olympus make: like the Live Bulb, Live Composite, Live Time Mode, etc … Many times I placed an order for an Olympus set and cancelled it few hours later … Until, they launched the PEN-F.
One might ask Why I chose to go “back” to M43 , now that I shoot with APS-C and FF mirrorless … Well the answer is very simple : Size and Weight and Tech. The Pen-F can be the perfect system camera for Travel and Street photography.
I ordered the Pen-F in silver with f1.8 primes, 12mm f2.0, 60mm f2.8 Macro, 14-150mm f3.5-5.6 II, Panasonic 7-14mm f4 and 14-24mm f3.5-5.6 EZ and I chose an ultra fast prime : the Mitakon 25mm f0.95.
All these lenses can fit in a shoulder bag like a Think Tank Retrospective 6 bag or the Tenba Cooper 13 Slim, and it doesn’t feel heavy, but you will rarely need to carry them all. If you compare the size and weight of this system with the Sony or the Fujifilm, you will see what I mean … The Sony A6500 body might be as compact and lightweight as the PEN-F, but when you add a lens to the Sony and the equivalent lens to the Pen-F you will feel the difference … By the way I decided not to go with the PRO lenses as I consider this system my lightweight system. I will be still using the Fujifilm for the excellent f2.8 zooms and the Sony as the most Versatile and fast photo and video camera.
The M43 system has today the most set of lenses … from Olympus, Panasonic and third party manufacturers. In a Previous article I posted a Complete list of M43, X and E mount lenses
Now it’s been more than 2 months that I am using the Pen-F, and I am really enjoying it a lot. The Fun Factor of this cam is absolutely great.
Here is a sample photo shot at 2s handheld, with Pen-F and M.Zuiko 17/1.8, with 100% crop.
The advantage of Weight and Size doesn’t compromise a lot on the Image Quality … When I decided to go to M43, I was ready to accept the lesser DR and ISO performance of the Pen-F. But when I used it, i was surprised that the difference with the larger APSC sensors is not as hyped as it is… Yes … the APSC might give you a half stop or maybe one stop better ISO performance … It might give you a 1.2 EVs better DR. The Question is : How many times you shoot at higher than ISO 6400 or 3200 ? and How large do you print (for those who do) ?
The main advantage for me using a camera like the PEN-F is the connection between me and the Camera … the controls are the best I’ve seen on a camera yet . Holding the camera feels just great … All the controls are just in the right places … I like a lot how you can use the front control wheel to change ISO in A and S mode for example. Fujifilm added this feature now in the GFX and X100F: they still have the ISO dial a la X-T2 and added an option to change the ISO with the front control wheel: Personally I don’t like this duality, although I can understand that some photographers prefer the physical dial on the X-T2 and some prefer the direct control of the Control Wheel .. I personally find control layout on the PEN-F ideal … Maybe I wished that the front color dial was customizable to set another feature to it … but this is not a big deal for me.
PROS and CONS
What I like :
- Fun factor: it’s a real joy to use and feel the wonderful controls of this cam. The weight and size of the system is an ideal carry-everywhere solution.
- Compact size of camera and especially the lenses; Olympus have a full line up of excellent quality fast and tiny primes. And You can add the PRO lenses if you care to have the shallower depth of field you might miss from larger sensors.
- Single Point AF: the Autofocus in Single AF mode is absolutely very snappy.
- Swivel Touch screen : I didn’t expect to like the swivel screen that much … Yes it comes away of the lens axis and make it a bit awkward shooting off axis … But when you get used to it, you will love the infinite shooting angle possibilities the swivel screen can give. from landscape and portrait selfies to any other angle you can imagine … And the Touch Screen is very responsive and helpful to change the AF point… It works much better than the Sony A6500 Touch Screen.
- Controls & Ergonomics: This is the thing I like most about the cam. All the controls feel right positioned and easily accessible.
- EVF: The Pen-F is the first Pen with an EVF. and it’s not any EVFl it has a 2,360,000 pixels. I am glad that they positioned it on the side and not on the center like the OMD-EM series.
- Monochrome Color profile : Fujifilm has the lovely Acros … Olympus has the lovely easily customizable Monochrome profile.
- High Res Shooting Mode: The Pen-F can produce a 50MP jpeg or an 80MP RAW file in High Res Mode. To achieve this you should mount the camera on a tripod and shoot static subjects.
- IBIS: This is the best thing Olympus did in the digital imaging technology in the last years , and gave it to Sony later… I think every camera today should have this feature. The IBIS of the PEN-F is really amazing: I was able to shoot at 2 seconds handheld with no efforts… I bet i can shoot at slower shutter speed too …
- the Advantage of the smaller sensor : IBIS works better , depth of field is larger, AF is fast , really fast.
- ISO performance: SURPRISE: M43 sensors improved a lot since my older G-F2. It won’t perform as good as an APS-C camera, but it’s not that far. Check the samples below to see a 20,000 ISO samples and 10,000 ISO comparison between Pen-F, A6500 and X-T2, and judge yourself. Actually I posted this comparison on GAG Facebook group and very few guessed which is which !
- Image Quality: here also, M43 made lots of improvements. the new 20MP sensor performs really well. Paired with the wonderful fast primes, it can deliver an image quality almost on par with most of the other mirrorless cams on the market today.
- Easy Workflow: with the Pen-F, you get a 9MB jpg file and a 17 to 20MB RAW file. This require less space on your SD cards and on your HDDs. The small files results in having a smooth, fast and easy workflow while post processing.
- Quality of finish: I never used a mirrorless camera so well finished as the PEN-F. It feels very solid. For your info, this cam doesn’t have any screw on it !!!
What I don’t like :
- Tripod socket: This is unacceptable for a well thought camera like this. The tripod socket is on the center edge of the bottom plate, and it would be impossible to attach any larger lens and a tripod plate to the camera while using a tripod. I don’t know why Olympus chose this location for the tripod socket … You can order an external grip or a leather half case like the Gariz case, that will relocate the socket to a better place.
- Tracking Focus Mode: Well, the tracking Focus of the Pen-F is not as good as that in Fujifilm X-T2 or Sony A6500. But in most conditions it works well.
- Menu : The Menu is a bit complicated compared to Fujifilm or Sony. But it is not as complicated as I thought it would be. Olympus needs to simplify its Menu Interface in future cams.
- The placement of the strap lug on the left side : comes in the way of the swivel screen. I use the PeakDesign connections and straps: I frequently disconnect the strap when I’m using the swivel screen in some angles to clear the way for the Swivel screen.
- No Weather Sealing: That’s not a big deal for me, but for a $1200 price tag, one would expect it to be.
Here are some sample photos shot with the Pen-F. You can check my Album HERE
Crop Details : original and 100% crop with 14-150mm II
I want you to judge the ISO performance of the Pen-F from these samples.
PEN-F vs A6500 vs X-Pro2 ISO 10,000
I wanted to see how the smaller sensor PEN-F stands against the APS-C A6500 and X-Pro2
Check the following pictures and judge yourself : Pictures taken with Pen-F plus 17/1.8 at f1.8 1/100s – A6500 plus 24/1.8 at f1.8 1/160s – XPro2 plus 23/1.4 at f1.8 1/160s All shot at ISO 10,000 Handheld, SOOC jpg
If you care to have a compact system, and I mean really compact, the Pen-F is the way to go. The image quality and performance differences between a Micro Four third and an APS-C cameras are not as it used to be before. The larger the sensor, the larger and heavier the lenses are. The Image Quality of larger sensors is for sure better, the Question is : How much better it is? . The sensor of the Pen-F is good enough in most situations, especially with the Olympus PRO lenses. It’s mainly your needs that will determine if an M43 system is enough or not for you.
If one already have a FF system, and care to have a compact system, the M43 Pen-F is an excellent companion. If You don’t have a FF system, an APS-C system is a better compromise.