Olympus Pen F Review

Olympus Pen F Review

Olympus Pen-F as new top retro pen model

Both the Olympus Pen and OM-D models have always followed the retro trend, but the new Pen-F is the crowning glory. Designed with great attention to detail, the Pen-F also features all kinds of cutting-edge technologies. For example, Olympus breaks with the tradition that a digital pen does not have a viewfinder. In addition to the excellent 5-axis image stabilizer of the OM-D E-M5 Mark II, a brand new 20-megapixel sensor built to Olympus specifications is also used. We were already able to try out the Pen-F and describe not only the facts but also our impressions of the mirrorless system camera.

Short evaluation

Pros

  • High-quality, well-designed housing
  • Built-in electronic viewfinder despite compact housing
  • Rotatable and tiltable touch screen, touch AF also with viewfinder
  • Highly effective image stabilizer

Cons

  • Not easy to hold due to missing handle
  • Camera overloaded due to many setting options
  • Missing microphone connection
  • In the price range, splash water and dust protection would have been good

The new Olympus Pen-F is not only nostalgically designed, but also technically the new Pen top model. With its 20-megapixel sensor, it even outperforms the OM-D series for the time being. Thanks to the built-in viewfinder, the pen could also become a real alternative for some OM-D photographers. Actually, Olympus is mainly aimed at photographers who like to adjust everything on the camera, including various filter effects that have been given their own adjustment wheel. In an extensive test, the Pen-F had to show what it is capable of and what image quality the new 20-megapixel sensor delivers even before its official market launch.

We already know a micro four thirds sensor (17.3 x 13 mm) with a resolution of 20 megapixels from the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8, but Olympus wants to have developed its own 20 megapixel sensor, which is built by Sony according to the specifications of Olympus (among other things without a low-pass filter). The new CMOS sensor should have the same noise behavior and dynamic range as the previous 16 megapixel sensor, but offer 25 percent more resolution. The True Pic VII image processor continues to support the sensor.

The Olympus Pen-F is a tribute to the half-format SLR Pen F, which appeared in 1963. It is the first Olympus system camera without a mirror to feature a 20-megapixel CMOS sensor. [Photo: Olympus]

As usual with Olympus, the sensor is movably mounted to stabilize the image. And this works just as effectively in the Pen-F as in the OM-D E-M5 Mark II, up to 5 EV longer exposure times are possible (according to CIPA standard) compared to a shot without image stabilizer (e.g. 1/3 second exposure time instead of 1/100 or 1/16 instead of 1/500 second). Not only the tilting of the camera to the left/right and up/down (axes one and two) is compensated, but also the parallel shifting to the top/down and left/right (axes three and four), which plays a role especially in close-up shots, as well as the rotation of the camera around the sensor axis as the fifth axis. Especially the latter cannot be compensated by an optical image stabilizer, because it cannot rotate the image. In addition, the sensor vibrates at a frequency of 50,000 Hz (ultrasound) each time it is switched on to shake off dust particles and dirt.

Olympus wants to have further improved the already very fast 81-point autofocus. In addition, the Pen-F should offer the shortest trigger delay of its class. Autofocus can even automatically focus on the eyes of a face to be photographed. For manual focusing, in addition to a magnifying glass function, focus peaking is also available for marking the sharp contrast edges. In continuous shooting, the AF-C operates at up to five frames per second. Ten frames per second are possible without autofocus. The buffer almost up to 16 raw recordings in one piece. The video function records up to 60 frames per second in Full HD resolution. The 5-axis image stabilizer ensures a particularly smooth image, almost as if you were using a steady cam. However, the videographer unfortunately has to do without an external microphone connection and 4K resolution.

By the way, the increased sensor resolution means that the high-res shot now enables 50 megapixels in JPEG from the camera or even 80 megapixels for raw shots. The High-Res-Shot only works from a tripod. With the help of the image stabilizer, eight images are captured displaced by 0.5 pixels each and combined to form a high-resolution image. The Pen-F uses the electronic shutter, which allows fast exposure times of up to 1/16,000 second. The mechanical shutter is also very fast with a shortest exposure time of 1/8,000 second.

Bulb exposures, including a live view of the current exposure status, allow shutter speeds of up to 30 minutes. The live composite function is also on board. An adjustable basic exposure time is always repeated and only the brightly exposed parts of the subsequent exposures are added to the first image. Thus, for example, star trails are created in a sky photograph without overexposing the foreground. With one battery charge, the Live Composite function works up to three hours at a time. Focus bracketing, HDR exposure series and interval shooting (including 4K time-lapse videos) are also mastered by the Pen-F.

The Olympus Pen-F is the first digital pen to feature a rotatable and tiltable display and a built-in electronic viewfinder. The Olympus Pen-F is the first pen model to feature a built-in electronic viewfinder. It’s a pity that it can’t be folded up like the Panasonic GX7/GX8. [Photo: Olympus]

The creative wheel on the front of the Olympus Pen-F allows access to a variety of creative filters that can be customized. Mathematically, this results in over 18.5 million different filters. [Photo: Olympus]

With many buttons, five wheels and a wheel-like rocker, the Olympus Pen-F allows a very “analogue” operation. [Photo: Olympus]

This year, the Japanese company, founded in 1919, celebrates 80 years of photography, with the Semi-Olympus I, the first Olympus camera, coming onto the market in 1936. The anniversary is to be celebrated this year with many new products, starting with the Pen-F. Both the pen and the special designation Pen-F go back to historic cameras from Olympus. Olympus founded the Pen series in 1959 with the Pen, a half-format viewfinder camera. In 1963 the Pen F followed as the first reflex pen. The new Pen-F (with hyphen) is a tribute to the Pen F from 1963, by the way not the first of its kind. The Pen E-P5, introduced in May 2013 as the previous top model of the digital pen series, was already a tribute to the Pen F. The Pen-F has been designed with a corresponding love of detail and consistent reference to the historical model. The name Pen-F, by the way, has a meaning according to Olympus. The “Pen” stands for a camera that is as easy to use as a pen, the “F” stands for photography according to Olympus.

If you take the Pen-F in your hand, you could almost think it’s a showcase model because of its loving design. But she’s far too good for that. The camera is quite compact with 125 x 72 x 37 millimeters (about the size of an OM-D E-M10) and has a comfortable weight of about 425 grams. By the way, it does not have a special splash water or dust protection.

If you like manual control wheels and many buttons, the Pen-F will be a real pleasure for you. A total of five wheels and a wheel-like rocker are used in addition to numerous buttons and the touch screen for operation. The program selector wheel has a practical wheel lock that can be locked and unlocked. A complicated simultaneous pressing of a button for unlocking while turning the wheel is not necessary. Furthermore, the Pen-F has a fixed exposure correction wheel. An inadvertent adjustment should actually be excluded. In addition, there are high-quality locking wheels around the shutter release and on the rear, with which aperture, exposure time, ISO sensitivity, etc. can be adjusted.

A special feature is the wheel with five locking positions on the front of the camera. This is the creative wheel. A plague for every raw photographer and effect filter hater, the paradise for every fan of customizable effect and color filters. If you turn this knob, you get a total of four different effect modes, which can not only be individualized with the two previously mentioned wheels, but three different sets can be preset and recalled later.

Two of the modes are already known from previous Pen and OM-D models: Here you can find the art filters. Unlike before, the filters are not demonstrated using a given image, but using the live image from the camera. The sample art filter images only appear in a bar at the bottom of the viewfinder image when you switch through the art filters. So you can immediately see how the filter affects the subject. Of course, the Art filters can be parameterized even further in many respects. Also the Color-Creator is still on board. This allows the color to be tinted in different shades, and the saturation can also be adjusted. With just a few clicks on the swivel wheels, an individual look is created.

The trigger of the Olympus Pen-F has a thread for the connection of a cable trigger. But even a cable remote release can still be connected via the USB socket. [Photo: Olympus]

From the end of February 2016, the Olympus Pen-F will be available for just under 1,200 euros. [Photo: Olympus]

In the set with the 14-42 mm Pancake, the Olympus Pen-F will cost just under 1,400 euros. Olympus also wants to sell a set with the 17 mm 1.8. 1.It’s supposed to cost 500 euros. As you can see here, the camera is not only available in silver, but also in black. [Photo: Olympus]

The color profile control is completely new. Unlike the Color Creator, saturation is adjusted in eleven steps for each of twelve color tones. This results in very individual colour profiles, which can of course be saved and called up. The fourth mode is a highly customizable monochrome profile control. It offers film grain control, shadow adjustment, and black-and-white filter effects with three presets. Contrast and sharpness can also be adjusted. The monochrome profile control thus allows individual black-and-white modes with just a few clicks on the wheels. The tonal value curve can also be adjusted. This functions differently than before not only in the depths and lights, but also for the mid tones.

Olympus emphasizes the uniqueness of the new Creative Wheel, thus avoiding the need for time-consuming editing in Photoshop & Co and allowing you to define your own creative style directly on the basis of the motif. The new wheel also makes it much easier than before to combine creative styles and art filters with semi-automatic or manual exposure. So you are by no means tied to a motif program or even the intelligent auto mode. Olympus has calculated that the new creative wheel allows over 18.5 million different image alienations. All this is adjustable via four control wheels on the camera. So for fans of such filters this is really paradise.

But of course the Pen-F has even more to offer than the effect modes. The case, especially the silver model, is designed in a high quality nostalgic way. The release even has a thread for connecting a classic cable release. The base and top plate are made of metal, while the wide “belt” in the middle is covered with a high-quality grained rubber coating reminiscent of leather. Even the button for unlocking the lens is provided with this grained rubber coating in the middle. The Pen-F does not have a handle, by the way, not even to some extent like the previous Pen models. Form Follows Function is thus virtually reversed. The camera can be held reasonably well, after all the rubber coating is pleasantly non-slip.

Fortunately, Olympus offers a screw-on handle as an accessory, which, however, has to be tightened with the supplied Allen key. So you should stow it somewhere in the photo bag. Speaking of screws: You can’t see any on the Pen-F, Olympus attached great importance to this when designing it. Like the housing, the screw-on handle has a tripod thread in the optical axis and a recess allows access to the battery and memory card compartment. Thanks to the Arca Swiss mount, the camera with handle can even be mounted on corresponding tripod heads without a tripod exchange plate. The grip makes it easier to hold the camera, but it could have reached a bit further up. Olympus also offers a leather body as an accessory. Unfortunately, we were not able to try out whether this would provide better ergonomics instead of the handle.

The unique FL-LM3 movable flash (guide number 9) is included with the Olympus Pen-F. [Photo: Olympus]

Display and viewfinder

As the first pen, the Pen-F has a swivelling and rotating display. This is a 7.6 centimeter touch screen with a resolution of 1,040,000 pixels. The display can be tilted 180 degrees sideways and rotated 270 degrees in total. This allows shots from all possible perspectives up to the Selfie. The touch function now not only allows focusing on a subject detail using a fingertip, but the exposure can also be linked to the focus point if desired. Such a screen may seem out of place on a nostalgia camera, but Olympus cleverly exploits the characteristics of the rotating and panning display. It can be folded upside down against the camera and has the same grained rubber coating on the back as the housing. Now the Pen-F really looks like an old analog camera.

Thanks to the new electronic viewfinder, which is used for the first time in a digital pen, the Pen-F can also be used with the screen folded upside down to take pictures and view pictures. Thanks to the sensor, the viewfinder only activates when you take the camera to your eye. The electronic viewfinder offers 0.62x 35mm equivalent magnification (equivalent to an APS-C DSLR with 0.93x viewfinder magnification) and its OLED display resolves a fine 2.36 million pixels. Like so many other OLED viewfinders, however, the image flickers a little, especially in very bright areas. But you only do that when you’re sensitive to flicker. For spectacle wearers, the 20mm exit pupil of the viewfinder will be slightly too small. You just can’t get close enough to the viewfinder with glasses to see it in its entirety, the corners disappear. After all, the Pen-F also offers a diopter correction of -4 to +2 diopters. When looking through the viewfinder, the touchscreen can still be used to position the focus field. Another practical feature is the proximity sensor, which only activates the viewfinder when you hold it up to your eye. This saves energy. Speaking of energy: the BLN-1 lithium-ion battery from the two large OM-D models and the E-P5 pen are used. The battery life is 330 images according to the CIPA standard. This includes, for example, the flash ignition at every second frame.

Although the Pen-F does not have a built-in flash, it does have a flash shoe. The scope of delivery includes the small FL-LM3 attachable flash, the only mini attachable flash with rotating and swivelling reflector. It is already known from the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II, so unlike the Pen-F, the flash is even splash-proof and dustproof. The guide number is only about 9, but it can be used to flash indirectly. The plug-in flash is also suitable for wireless TTL flash control on four channels. A total of four groups (three external plus the clip-on flash) can be controlled.

Speaking of steering: The Pen-F has a built-in WLAN. With the help of the app for smartphones and tablets with Android or iOS smartphones, not only images can be transferred from the camera to the smart device, but remote control including live image transmission is also possible. Even the live composite function can be controlled via WLAN. In addition, the smart device can also be used as a pure radio remote trigger, in which case all settings are made on the camera as usual.

The optional additional handle ECG-4 for the Olympus Pen-F not only provides better grip, but also has an Arca Swiss mount. [Photo: Olympus]

The leather carrying strap CSS-S120L suitable for the Olympus Pen-F can be purchased as an accessory. But also the original black belt is trimmed for retro and makes a good impression. [Photo: Olympus]

The new CS-48 leather wrap cloth, which fits the Olymus Pen-F, is very elegant and can be purchased as an accessory. [Photo: Olympus]

Olympus has also added the CBG-11 leather case to its range of accessories, which matches the Olympus Pen-F. [Photo: Olympus]

From the end of February 2016, the Olympus Pen-F will be available in silver and black at a price of just under 1,200 euros. The set with the M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42 mm 1:3.5-5.6 EZ Pancake (28-84 mm according to 35mm) is 1,400 Euro. Also with the M.Zuiko Digital 17 mm 1:1.8 (34 mm according to 35mm) there is supposed to be a set which is about 1,500 Euro. In addition to the ECG-4 handle and the CS-47B leather body bag, Olympus also offers the CSS-S120L genuine leather carrying strap, the CS-48PR genuine leather wrap cloth and the CBG-11PR genuine leather camera bag as accessories.

Ergonomics and workmanship

The housing of the Olympus Pen-F looks extremely high-quality and is partially made of a magnesium alloy. The weight of a good 420 grams contributes to the perceived high quality in relation to the compact dimensions. In fact, the lid and base plates are made of metal, while in the middle segment plastic is used at least on the back. In front of the front, this cannot be said with certainty, because it is completely covered with a grained rubber with a good grip. This application is even located in the lens release button. The Pen-F is sold in a particularly nostalgic silver-black as well as in a more discreet completely black case. If the rear screen is folded upside down against the camera, it also shows its grained rubberized back, so that the Pen-F could actually be a classic SLR camera at first glance. With her appearance, especially in the silver version, she arouses sympathies with the photographed counterpart, in contrast to a giant DSLR. That’s exactly where the Pen-F is at home: in sympathetic photography, where it’s not important to look particularly professional, but rather to be inconspicuous and sympathetic.

The case of the Olympus Pen-F is designed with great attention to detail, completely trimmed to retro. It consists partly of a magnesium alloy and has a very high quality finish. [Photo: Olympus]

The Pen-F fulfills professional demands in terms of setting options and operating possibilities when it comes to setting as many functions as possible directly on the camera with knobs and wheels. Without a really pronounced handle, the Pen-F certainly doesn’t lie as firmly in the hand as a pronounced DSLR, so you have to like that. The optional and not exactly inexpensive additional handle is also rather a matter of taste. Neither does it offer much better support, nor does it fit in well with the retro design. Whether the optional leather bag body brings an ergonomic improvement, we could unfortunately not try. With the good thumb rest and the rubber grip the handling is at least not a catastrophe, but at best a bit getting used to.

In fact, the Pen-F is more of a two-handed than a one-handed camera. Not so much as far as the controls are concerned, because they can be operated predominantly with the right hand, but rather because on the one hand the somewhat playful rotary switch on button can practically only be operated with the left as well as the folding screen. For the first time in a pen, the folding rotary mechanism is used. This allows virtually any degree of freedom and will please everyone who likes to photograph in portrait format. The flap, however, is somewhat fiddly, as the display is not easy to grasp and snaps into place quite firmly in the folded position. To quickly take a landscape picture near the ground or on an arm stretched upwards for a higher perspective is much easier with a camera with a pure folding monitor. The display has a fine resolution of 1.04 million pixels and, with its 3:2 aspect ratio, also gives away some space on the sides when shooting in the native 4:3 sensor format. But the 3:2 aspect ratio is a good compromise, after all the camera can also be switched to 3:2 and 16:9, with a corresponding loss of image angle and resolution of course. If you want, you can even switch the Pen-F to the 1:1 format or to the classic 3:4 portrait format, which seems somewhat superfluous. The analog Pen F (without hyphen) actually photographed in 3:4 portrait format, because it took exactly half the 35mm format, which not only made the lenses more compact, but also doubled the number of shots on a 36mm film. The Pen-F, however, should rather be turned into portrait format instead of giving away the high resolution. Thanks to the touch function, the display is easy to use, even for inconspicuous photography with a touch trigger. The touch function can also be switched off completely or used solely for focusing on a tapped subject detail.

The latter even works when using the electronic viewfinder. The Pen-F is the first pen to have one of these. This is the OLED viewfinder from the OM-D E-M10 Mark II, which magnifies 0.62 times in 35mm equivalent and has a resolution of 2.36 million pixels. The viewfinder resolves very finely and offers a smooth image. However, very bright areas can show a slight flicker, which is typical for the current generation of OLED viewfinders. However, this should be noticeable above all to flicker-sensitive people, not all of our test subjects were able to perceive it at all. However, eyeglass wearers should disturb the somewhat small exit pupil, whereby the corners vignette slightly. After all, the viewfinder with -4 to +2 dpt. offers a quite large range for diopter correction. It’s just a pity that the viewfinder doesn’t fold up like the Panasonic GX7 and GX8. Like the screen, the viewfinder shows all recording information including live histogram, exposure and white balance preview, electronic spirit level and fade-in grid. If desired, the viewfinder can be switched to a mode that offers an even better dynamic display with more depth drawing. This mode is intended to come even closer to an optical viewfinder, but no longer offers an exposure preview. Those who use flashguns will prefer this mode anyway, as an exposure preview is not possible here.

In addition to the two setting wheels for aperture/time and ISO/white balance, there is a separate wheel for exposure correction. Practically, this also works in manual mode when using the ISO automatic. This possibility of exposure correction in M was previously missing with Olympus. Wheels and function keys can be assigned individually by menu, and the program selector wheel also provides four memory locations for preferred setting sets. You can assign the photo story to program C3 in the depths of the menus and the scene programs to program C4. Speaking of menus: This requires some training time. You can configure a lot on the Olympus, up to the adjustment of the battery indicator, the exposure or the white balance. However, once you have made your preferred settings, you can usually make an arc around the large gear menu. Unfortunately something hidden in the depths of the menus (gear menu G) is the setting for the best JPEG quality “SF” (Superfine). But you should definitely do that, because with “F” (Fine) there are light artefacts. Important recording settings that no longer fit the one-touch keys can be called up via the quick menu.

The Olympus Pen-F is the first digital pen to feature a rotatable and tiltable display and a built-in electronic viewfinder. The Olympus Pen-F is the first pen model to feature a built-in electronic viewfinder. It’s a pity that it can’t be folded up like the Panasonic GX7/GX8. [Photo: Olympus]

The battery for 330 shots and the memory card (SDHC-, SDXC- and UHS-II-compatible) are located in a common compartment on the underside of the Olympus Pen-F camera. [Photo: Olympus]

For the first time on an Olympus, the Pen-F offers an exposure correction wheel that allows exposure correction even in M with auto ISO. A wire remote release can actually be screwed into the release.

Behind the interface flap on the handle side there is only a manufacturer-specific USB port and a Micro-HDMI interface. Unfortunately, one looks for a microphone connection in vain. An optional remote cable release can also be plugged into the USB interface. If you like, you can even screw a wire remote release into the thread of the release, nostalgia is with the Olympus Pen-F program. The SD memory card and battery are removed from the compartment on the bottom of the camera. It is the same battery as in the Pen E-P5, OM-D E-M5 and E-M1: BLN-1. The Pen-F has enough power for 330 shots. The SD card slot also swallows SDHC and SDXC memory cards and is even compatible with the fast UHS II standard. The tripod thread is located in the optical axis, albeit a little far forward. The Balance does this well, however, and smaller tripod exchange plates don’t even block the battery and memory card compartment.

Equipment

Although the Pen-F is aimed more at photographers who want to make a lot of adjustments to the camera, photographers who don’t want to deal with technology also get their money’s worth. If you set the Pen-F to iAuto, it will automatically make all settings, including scene recognition. Neither the exposure-compensation wheel nor the creative wheel will have any effect. This is also practical if you want to take a quick snapshot with normal settings. Automatic photographers can also enjoy the creative wheel in the automatic program mode. The camera automatically adjusts the exposure, but the exposure-compensation wheel will work. It snaps very firmly, so that it fortunately does not disguise itself so easily. The Creative Filters allow you to create over 18.5 million different filter effects in the P, A, S and M recording programs. That’s more than they photograph in camera life. The advantage over subsequent editing on the PC is on the one hand the authenticity, on the other hand you can see the effects directly on the motif and can therefore optimally match creative filter and shooting mode.

The creative wheel offers four modes. This contains the 14 species filters (ART). In contrast to earlier Olympus cameras, the cover image of the Art Filter is now only displayed in a bar below the live image, the live image directly shows the effects on the subject. The bar contains all sub-filter types and thus offers 28 filter settings, some of which can be further parameterized, such as the partial color. Also well known is the Color Creator (CRT), which offers a tint of the image in twelve tones and a saturation setting. New is the much more powerful color filter (Color), which allows the saturation setting for all twelve colors individually. This allows you to create individual looks. But the most powerful filter is the monochrome filter (Mono). Similar to the Color Creator, twelve color filters can be placed on the image, whereby the intensity can be adjusted. However, the image is not colored, but this has the effect as if a color filter had been screwed in front of the lens of a black-and-white camera. This can be used, for example, to influence whether red is rendered darker or brighter. The monochrome image itself can in turn be transformed into a sepia, blue, violet or green shade. In addition, there is a vignetting filter, whereby the vignetting can be both bright and dark and is of course also adjustable. Olympus has also thought of a film corn effect. In all filter modes, including the Art filter, Color Creator and Color filter, an adjustable tonal value curve is added, in which shadows, midtones and highlights can be adjusted. So here you can let off steam endlessly creatively.

But the Pen-F has even more to offer. It allows interval or time-lapse recordings, for example, which can optionally be combined to form a 4K video. In addition to normal exposure series, there are also HDR exposure series with extra wide exposure spread. These in turn can be automatically combined to form an HDR image, with either natural or more dramatic effects. The focus shooting series with up to 399 images also open up great possibilities. This simplifies, for example, focus stacking, which requires software on the image processing computer. Three other features are Live-Bulb, Live-Time and Live-Composite.

The small wheel on the front of the Olympus Pen-F is a real eye-catcher: individual filters can be defined here, theoretically over 18.5 million different filter effects are possible.

If you flip the Olympus Pen-F touchscreen upside down, it almost looks like an old SLR camera. [Photo: Olympus]

The Pen-F has a fast shutter, which allows up to 1/8,000 second short exposure times. The quite quiet shutter sounds very pleasant “warm” and “analog” by the way. The shutter release delay of 0.07 seconds and the focus speed of 0.12 seconds are also impressive. The continuous shooting function should enable up to ten frames per second, we have measured 8.6 continuous frames prto second for over 40 shots in raw or JPEG. Thanks to the support of the fast UHS II standard for SDHC/SDXC memory cards, the storage works quite quickly, whereby the possible write speeds are ultimately not fully exploited by the camera, otherwise it would loosely be able to fill the memory card completely at permanently ten frames per second. Practically, however, there are only about five frames per second that can be recorded permanently. A value you could only dream of a few years ago. Thanks to the electronic shutter, even shutter speeds as short as 1/16,000 can be triggered silently.

The Pen-F does not have a built-in flash, but the innovative FL-LM3 clip-on flash is included. We measured a guide number of almost ten. If the modest performance is not sufficient, larger system flashes can also be used. The FL-LM3 flash can be rotated and swivelled like a true large system flash, allowing for indirect flash or the use of small bouncers. The shortest flash sync time is 1/250 second with mechanical shutter. A new feature is the possibility to flash with an electronic shutter. However, the shortest flash sync time is only 1/60 second. Of course you can correct the flash output, flash on the second shutter curtain, set a long term synchronisation and even control the flash output manually.

The Olympus continues to record videos in maximum Full HD resolution, whereby this happens very smoothly with up to 60 frames per second. Especially impressive is the mechanical image stabilizer, which shifts the image sensor in the housing to prevent camera shake. You get the impression you’re filming with a Steadycam. By the way, the stabilizer allows up to five f-stops longer exposure times for photos without blurring than without. All exposure settings can also be made manually during video recording, even the microphone gain. However, videographers will painfully miss an external microphone input.

The image processing functions in the camera include the development of raw images including many settings such as exposure correction or white balance. JPEGs can also be edited, for example with a sepia filter or a digital red-eye correction. The built-in WLAN module allows you to connect to a smartphone or tablet to transfer images wirelessly. The Pen-F can even be remote controlled using the app available for iOS and Android. Not only is the live image displayed on the smart device, but many camera settings can also be controlled remotely. If you prefer to make the settings directly on the camera, you can also use the WLAN connection as a pure radio remote trigger.

Picture quality

The Pen-F is the first Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera to use a new 20 instead of 16 megapixel image sensor. To achieve the highest possible resolution, Olympus does not use a low-pass filter. The sensor is quite similar to that of the Panasonic GX8, but Olympus emphasizes that it is produced by Sony according to the specifications of Olympus. The Pen-F is available both without lens and as a set with either the 14-42 EZ or an F1.8 fast 17mm fixed focal length. The cheaper set with the 14-42 EZ as reference lens was used for the test, after all some camera tests (OM-D E-M10 and Mark II as well as Pen E-PL7) were recently carried out with it and the Panasonic GX8 was also measured with a 14-42mm (of course the one offered by Panasonic).

Behind the interface flap of the Olympus Pen-F there is only a USB and a Micro-HDMI port. The USB socket can also be used to connect an optional cable remote release.

Here Olympus the Pen-F could have provided a microphone connection.

The Pen-F really does get the best resolution out of the 14-42 EZ and achieves up to 54 line pairs per millimeter (lp/mm) related to 35mm at 50 percent contrast (MTF50). This is eight percent more than the maximum of 50 lp/mm achieved so far and six percent more than the Panasonic GX8 with the Panasonic 14-42mm. With a better lens even the 60 lp/mm mark should be crackable, after all the E-M5 Mark II with the very good 12-40 mm 2.8 reached almost 59 lp/mm. However, the 14-42 EZ only achieves the high resolution with short and medium focal lengths in the center of the image. The resolution already decreases slightly when dipping down to F5.6. With a long focal length, the lens reaches a maximum of 45 lp/mm anyway. The edge loss of resolution is highest in wide-angle and medium focal length with up to 37 percent, which is achieved with open apertures. In wide angle, the edge resolution increases from 34 lp/mm with open aperture to 37 lp/mm with F5.6. In medium focal length, the edge resolution starts at 36 lp/mm with F4.6 and increases to 41 lp/mm with F11. In telescopic position, the marginal drop in resolution is only slight and is a maximum of just over ten percent. With F11, 44 lp/mm are achieved both in the center and at the edge of the image.

The edge darkening of the 14-42 is a maximum of 1.1 f-stops and a minimum of 0.4 f-stops and is therefore in the good midfield. The distortion is however quite small. While the wide-angle lens achieves about 1.3 percent barrel shape, the lens is virtually distortion-free at medium and long focal lengths. The color fringes are on average low, but especially in the wide angle towards the edge of the picture they can reach over two pixels. Overall, the 14-42 EZ is not a particularly bad set lens, but also not a particularly good one.

The signal-to-noise ratio starts at ISO 80 (ISO Low in the Pen-F) at a very good 45 dB. Up to ISO 400, it remains in the good range of over 40 dB and only at ISO 3.200 does it fall below the critical 35 dB mark. This puts it at the level of the 16-megapixel sensor and is better in low ISO ranges up to 400 than the Panasonic GX8. Color noise hardly occurs with the Pen-F, while brightness noise is easily visible from ISO 6.400. Here, too, the behavior is similar to the 16-megapixel sensor of the OM-D E-M10 Mark II. The Panasonic GX8 suppresses the noise a little more, so that brightness noise only becomes slightly visible at ISO 12.800 and above. The texture sharpness is very good with the Pen-F up to ISO 800 and good up to ISO 3,200. Only above this do the images appear increasingly less detailed, because fine details are also eliminated by noise reduction. Here, too, the Pen-F is similar to the 16-megapixel sensor. Despite the slightly lower noise, the Panasonic GX8 is no worse in this discipline.

In terms of input dynamics, the Pen-F depends on both the Panasonic GX8 and the OM-D E-M10 Mark II. At ISO 80 to 6,400 at least eleven f-stops are achieved, at ISO 200 to 800 even more than twelve, with the maximum even at 12.6 f-stops. With the exception of ISO 80, the tonal curve of the Pen-F is very steep, making the images look very crisp, but in JPEG they are not so ideal for further processing. Those who want to post-process their pictures should not only use the raw format for this reason, as it simply offers the better post-processing potential. The output tonal range is very good up to ISO 400, at ISO 80 and 200 even almost all of the 256 possible brightness gradations are used. Up to ISO 1.600 the Pen-F remains in the good range of 160 and more brightness levels. Only at ISO 6.400 does the value drop below 7 bits (128 steps).

The white balance of the Pen-F works accurately and also reproduces colors in average detail. Only with the slightly more blue cyan and the slightly more saturated red tones does the Pen-F “cheat” a bit in favour of a more beautiful colour rendering. However, the Pen-F is capable of reproducing a particularly large number of colour gradations, up to ISO 200 there are over eight million colour tones and up to ISO 800 over four million. Only above ISO 3.200 does the color depth decrease significantly and drops to around one million at the highest ISO levels.

The Olympus Pen-F’s 20-megapixel sensor offers the same noise characteristics as the previous 16-megapixel models, but has a higher resolution and higher input dynamics.

The tripod thread of the Olympus Pen-F sits in the optical axis. The fact that it is so far ahead even ensures a better balance with a lens. [Photo: Olympus]

Bottom line

Olympus rightly calls the Pen-F a masterpiece. It is the best Pen so far and puts even the smallest OM-D in the shade. The high-quality and neatly finished case, designed with attention to detail, is convincing, even if the Pen-F lacks the splash water protection that is obligatory in this price class. A slightly better handle was sacrificed to the design, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Finally, a pen offers a built-in viewfinder and the touch screen has maximum flexibility thanks to its pan and tilt mechanism. The many dials and knobs give only a hint of what this mirrorless system camera is equipped with. The Pen-F invites you to playful photography with its creative wheel and over 18.5 million possible filters. The image stabilizer works phenomenally effectively and the 20-megapixel sensor offers even higher dynamics and resolution with the same noise values as the 16-megapixel sensor. If you want to use the latter, however, you should rather use high-quality zooms or the small F1.8 fixed focal lengths of the MFT system than the 14-42 EZ.

Fact sheet

Fact sheet
Manufacturer Olympus
Model Pen-F
Sensor CMOS 4/3″ 17.3 x 13.0 mm (crop factor 2.0
)21.8 megapixels (physical)
20.3 megapixels (effective)
Pixel pitch 3,3 µm
Resolution (max.) 5.184 x 3.888 (4:3)
Video (max.) 1.920 x 1.080 60p
Lens Olympus 14-42 mm 3.5-5.6 ED EZ (EZ-M1442EZ) (zoom lens)
Video viewfinder EVF, 100 % field coverage, 2,360,000 pixels resolution, 1.23x magnification (sensor-related), 0.62x magnification (KB equivalent), diopter compensation (-4.0 to 2.0 dpt), -4.0 to 2.0 dpt)
Monitor 3.0″ (7.6 cm)
Disbandment 1.037.000 pixels
tiltable
rotatable yes
swivelling yes
Touchscreen yes
AV connector HDMI output Micro (type D), USB/AV output
Fully automatic yes
Automatic motif control yes
Shooting modes 24
Program automation yes
Program shift yes
Aperture priority yes
Aperture priority yes
Manual yes
Bulb long time exposure yes
HDR function yes
Panorama function yes, stitch panorama wizard (for external stitching)
Exposure metering Matrix/multi-field measurement (324 fields), center-weighted integral measurement, spot measurement
fastest shutter speed 1/8.000 s
Flash included attachable flash
Synchronous time 1/250 s
Flash connection Flash shoe: Olympus/Panasonic (also Leica compact camera), standard center contact
WLAN yes
NFC
GPS external, smartphone as GPS logger
Remote release yes, cable release, cable release, remote control via Smartphone/Tablet
Interval shooting yes
Storage medium
SD (SDHC, SDXC, UHS I, UHS II)
Sensitivity
automatic ISO 80-25.600
manually ISO 80-25.600
White balance
automatic yes
manual measurement yes
Kelvin input yes
Fine correction yes
Autofocus yes
Number of measuring fields 81 Contrast sensors
Speed 0.18 s to 0.19 s
AF auxiliary light yes
Dimensions (mm) 125 x 72 x 37 mm
Weight (ready for operation) 420 g (housing only
)514 g (with lens)
Tripod socket in optical axis
Zoom
Zoom adjustment Lens ring (motorized)
Battery life 330 images (according to CIPA standard)
– = “not applicable” or “not available”

Short evaluation

Pros

  • High-quality, well-designed housing
  • Built-in electronic viewfinder despite compact housing
  • Rotatable and tiltable touch screen, touch AF also with viewfinder
  • Highly effective image stabilizer

Cons

  • Not easy to hold due to missing handle
  • Camera overloaded due to many setting options
  • Missing microphone connection
  • In the price range, splash water and dust protection would have been good

Olympus Pen-F Datasheet

Electronics

Sensor CMOS sensor 4/3″ 17.3 x 13.0 mm (crop factor 2.0
)21.8 megapixels (physical) and 20.3 megapixels (effective)
Pixel pitch 3,3 µm
Photo resolution
5.184 x 3.888 pixels (4:3)
5.184 x 3.456 pixels (3:2)
5.184 x 2.920 pixels (16:9)
3.888 x 3.888 pixels (1:1)
3.216 x 2.144 pixels (3:2)
3.200 x 2.400 pixels (4:3)
2.912 x 3.888 pixels
2.560 x 1.920 pixels (4:3)
2.560 x 1.440 pixels (16:9)
2.544 x 1.696 pixels (3:2)
2.400 x 2.400 pixels (1:1)
1.920 x 1.920 pixels (1:1)
1.920 x 1.440 pixels (4:3)
1.920 x 1.280 pixels (3:2)
1.920 x 1.080 Pixel (16:9)
1.824 x 2.432 pixels
1.600 x 1.200 pixels (4:3)
1.584 x 1.056 Pixel (3:2)
1.536 x 864 pixels (16:9)
1.440 x 1.920 pixels
1.440 x 1.440 pixels (1:1)
1.296 x 864 pixels (3:2)
1.280 x 960 pixels (4:3)
1.280 x 720 pixels (16:9)
1.216 x 1.216 pixels (1:1)
1.104 x 1.472 pixels
1.024 x 768 pixels (4:3)
1.024 x 576 pixels (16:9)
1.008 x 672 pixels (3:2)
960 x 960 pixels (1:1)
864 x 1.152 pixels
768 x 768 pixels (1:1)
720 x 960 pixels
640 x 480 pixels (4:3)
640 x 360 pixels (16:9)
624 x 416 pixels (3:2)
576 x 768 pixels
480 x 480 pixels (1:1)
384 x 512 pixels
Panorama Stitch Panorama Wizard (for external stitching)
Picture formats JPG, MPO, RAW
Colour depth 24 bits (8 bits per color channel), 36 bits (12 bits per color channel)
Metadata Exif (version 2.2), DCF standard
Video resolution
1.920 x 1.080 (16:9) 60 p
1.920 x 1.080 (16:9) 50 p
1.920 x 1.080 (16:9) 30 p
1.920 x 1.080 (16:9) 25 p
1.920 x 1.080 (16:9) 24 p
1.280 x 720 (16:9) 60 p
1.280 x 720 (16:9) 50 p
1.280 x 720 (16:9) 30 p
1.280 x 720 (16:9) 25 p
1.280 x 720 (16:9) 24 p
640 x 480 (4:3) 30 p
Maximum recording time 29 min
Video format
MOV (Codec H.264)
AVI (Codec Motion JPEG)
Audio format (video) PCM

Lens

Lens mount
Micro Four Thirds

Focusing

Autofocus mode Contrast autofocus with 81 measuring fields
Autofocus Functions Single autofocus, Continuous autofocus, Tracking autofocus, Manual, AFL function, AF Assist Light, Focus Peaking, Focus Magnifier (14x)
Focus control Depth of field control, dimming button, Live View

Viewfinder and Monitor

Monitor 3.0″ (7.6 cm) TFT LCD monitor with 1,037,000 pixels, anti-reflective, brightness adjustable, color adjustable, rotatable 180°, rotatable 270°, with touch screen
Video viewfinder Video viewfinder (100 % field coverage) with 2,360,000 pixels, 1.23x magnification factor, diopter compensation (-4.0 to 2.0 dpt)

Exposure

Exposure metering Center-weighted integral measurement, matrix/multi-field measurement over 324 fields, spot measurement, AF-AE coupling
Exposure times 1/8,000 to 60 sec (Auto
)1/8,000 to 60 sec (Manual)
1/16,000 to 8 sec (Electronic Shutter)
Bulb with maximum 1,800 sec Exposure Time
Exposure control Fully Automatic, Program Automatic (with Program Shift), Aperture Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual
Bracketing function Exposure bracketing function with maximum 7 shots, step size from 1/3 to 1 EV, HDR function
Exposure compensation -5.0 to +5.0 EV with step size from 1/3 to 1/1 EV
Sensitivity to light ISO 80 to ISO 25.600 (automatic
)ISO 80 to ISO 25.600 (manual)
Remote access Remote release, cable release, cable release, remote control via smartphone/tablet
Shooting modes Documents, Fireworks, Candlelight, Children, Landscape, Macro, Night scene, Portrait, Beach/snow, 15 more motif programs
Picture effects Cross development, pinhole camera, miniature effect, selective color, sepia, blur, 8 more image effects
White balance Auto, Cloudy, Sun, White balance bracket, Fine-tune, Shadow, Flash, Underwater, Fluorescent lamp with 2 presets, Incandescent lamp, from 2,000 to 14,000 K, Manual 4 memory locations
Color space Adobe RGB, sRGB
Continuous shooting Continuous shooting function max. 10.0 fps at highest resolution and max. 16 stored photos
Self-timer Self-timer with intervals of 12 s, special features: or optionally 2 seconds
Timer Timer/interval recording with max. 999 recordings, start time adjustable
Shooting functions AEL function, AFL function, live histogram

Flashgun

Flash no built-in flash availableFlash shoe
: Olympus/Panasonic (also Leica compact camera), standard center contact1/20
s Flash sync time with electronic shutter; supplied FL-LM3 attachable flash can be rotated and pivoted
Flash range Flash sync time 1/250 s
Flash number Guide number 12 at 50 mm focal length (ISO 200)
(flash supplied)
Flash functions Auto, Fill-in flash, Flash on, Flash off, High speed sync, Slow sync, Flash on second shutter curtain, Manual flash output (19 levels), Red-eye reduction by pre-flash, Master function (4 channels and 4 groups), Flash exposure compensation from -3.0 EV to +3.0 EV

Equipment

Image stabilizer Sensor shift (optical)
Memory
SD (SDHC, SDXC, UHS I, UHS II)
GPS function GPS external (Smartphone as GPS-Logger)
Microphone Stereo
Power supply no power supply connection
Power supply 1 x Olympus BLN-1 (lithium ions (Li-Ion), 7.2 V, 1,220 mAh
)330 images according to CIPA standard
Playback Functions Red eye retouching, crop images, image rotation, protect image, highlight / shadow warning, playback histogram, playback magnifier with 14.0x magnification, image index, slideshow function with music and crossfades, zoom out
Voice memo Voice memo (PCM format) with max. 30 s recording time
Face recognition Face recognition
Picture parameters Sharpness, Contrast, Saturation, Noise Reduction
Special functions Electronic spirit level, grid display, pixel mapping, orientation sensor, live view, user profiles with 4 user profiles
Ports Data interfaces: USBUSB type
:USB 2.0WLAN
: available
AV connectors AV output: HDMI output Micro (type D), USB/AV output Audio input
: noAudio output
: no
Supported direct printing methods DPOF, PIM
Tripod socket 1/4″ in optical axis
Features and Miscellaneous TruPic VII Image ProcessorUltrasonic
Sensor Cleaning20
mm Exit Pupil Finder
Brightness Adjustment, Colour temperature adjustment5 axis image stabiliser
up to 5 EV levels800
focus measuring points in magnification modeTargetting pad function
(touch AF via touch screen for viewfinder use)
Focus peaking with four colours and three intensities for selectionFocus bracketing
up to 399 shotsISO
Exposure bracketingShadow brighteningHDR exposure bracketmax. 7 shots +/-2 EV multiple exposure
(2 on shot, 3 later)
Photo story functionLive composite function
max.3 hours High-Res recording
with 50 megapixels (JPG) 8,160 x 6,120, 80 megapixels (RAW) 10,368 x 7.776Anti-Shock
(1/8 to 30 s)
Silent ModeDepth and Light ControlCreative Dialwith Different Color and Monochrome Profile ControlsBlack and White FilterFilm Grain SimulationColor ToningHigh Speed Synch

1/8000 SecondTime-lapse Video
4K, 1080p, and 720pVideo Art Filters
(Crosse Development, Monochrome, Pinhole, Dramatic Sound, Delicate Sepia, and Eight More)
Wind Noise Reduction

Size and weight

Dimensions W x H x D 125 x 72 x 37 mm
Weight 420 g (ready for operation)

Other

included accessories Olympus BC-2 (Housing cover
)Olympus BCN-1 Charger for special batteriesOlympus
BLN-1 Special batteryOlympus
CB-USB6 USB cableOlympus
FL-LM3 Miscellaneous Flash device
optional accessory Olympus FC-WR (Radio Control Unit) Flash AccessoriesOlympus
FL-700WR Attachable Flash with Swivel ReflectorPanasonic
Leica DG Vario-Summilux 10-25 mm 1.7 (H-X1025) Zoom Lens

Firmware update 2.1 for the Olympus Pen-F: minor improvements

Version 2.1 for the Pen-F, on the other hand, provides a more stable camera function with the display folded upside down.

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Peter Dench
I am Peter Dench. Digital Photographer, born in London 1972, currently living in Deerfield, near Chicago. I have numerous photography expositions and also working in model photography. In this website, PhotoPoint, I usually review cameras provided by local dealers in Illinois and by the manufacturers. Sometimes I, Peter Dench, review lenses too, but only when I have a suitable camera for them. Please let me know in the comments if I can improve any of these articles.