When the original Olympus PEN-F came out in 1963, it garnered quite a lot of attention from photographers at the time. Being the world’s first 35mm half-frame SLR and with such a compact size and light weight, it was a bit of a game changer back in the day. Fast forward just over 50 years and the PEN-F is back, and just as exciting and impressive as the original.
The new, digital PEN-F takes a few design notes from the original, sporting a stunning body that’s hard to fault in terms of looks. The camera is constructed from machined aluminium with magnesium components and a black leather-look wrap around it. It’s available in either all black or silver and black. While in our past reviews of Olympus’ OM-D cameras, we’ve mentioned how they all sport quite a retro aesthetic, the PEN-F really takes it up a notch – especially the silver and black version. Everything from the fonts to the left-side positioning of the electronic viewfinder lends it a nostalgic look.
The PEN-F is a great camera for day-to-day use and would be ideal for street photographers. It weighs just under 430 grams without a lens attached. I’ve found that it’s perfectly matched to the Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm F2.8 lens; together they’re balanced and easy to carry every day. It does tend to get a bit front-heavy with larger zoom lenses, though if you’re using it primarily for street photography you won’t necessarily have to worry about that. The PEN-F feels nice to hold in your hand, and although it doesn’t have a grip on the front, we didn’t find that to be much of a problem. You can also attach an external one if needed.
Like the OM-D E-M5 Mark II, the PEN-F features a fully articulating LCD screen. This is super handy to have, especially if you’re taking shots higher or lower than your eye level since you can angle the screen to still frame the shot perfectly. Being able to flip it out and have it forward-facing is great for selfies as well as for vlogging; there’s nothing worse than watching your video back and realising only half your face was in frame.
Though the PEN-F is part of Olympus’ Pen range, it bears a lot of similarities to the OM-D cameras, especially the E-M5 Mark II. Like the OM-D cameras, the PEN-F features a Micro Four Thirds sensor, however it’s an impressive 20 megapixels compared to the E-M5’s 16 megapixels. Until the E-M1 Mark II came along, this was actually the highest resolution of all of Olympus’ mirrorless cameras.
The PEN-F also features the really cool high-res mode that some of the other cameras have. This is where the sensor shifts slightly, taking a total of eight shots of the same scene, and stitching them together to create a higher res image. The results are beautiful, but the only caveats are that your subject must be totally still and it’s best taken with a tripod. Otherwise, you’ll be left with blurry shots. Since the camera’s base resolution is already 20, in high-res mode it goes up to 50.
Image stabilisation in the PEN-F is outstanding. It features the same 5-axis stabilisation that the OM-D Mark II line up has, which accounts for natural shaking and movements. This results in super crisp shots, even when taking them really quickly. The stabilisation is also a great feature when it comes to vlogging. We’ve all seen the shaky, hand-held videos people take of themselves. Video footage from the PEN-F is always smooth thanks to the stellar stabilisation. This is a huge advantage of having a stabilisation system in the camera body itself, instead of just relying on the lens. It gives you confidence that no matter which lens you use, you’re going to get a nice result.
A feature that’s totally unique to the PEN-F is the handy little Creative Dial. Found on the front of the camera, the dial allows you to play around with different visual and colour effects. I use this most when I want to shoot something in monochrome. It’s easy to just be able to flick the dial to the exact setting and shoot. You can also adjust specific shades and colours within each visual effect to achieve the exact image you want too. If you like applying effects to your photos, using the Creative Dial is an easy and quick way to do it.
Most important of all, the images that the Olympus PEN-F produces are simply beautiful. You’ll get the best results during the day, in well-lit conditions. The camera’s autofocus is super swift and has helped me capture some truly sharp and clear shots. I’m always impressed by the depth and accuracy of colours in shots I’ve taken with the PEN-F. Moreover, its white balance is always quite accurate too.
The Wrap-Up – Olympus PEN-F Review
The Olympus PEN-F is a great option for a high-quality, day-to-day camera. Not only does it look beautiful, but the quality of shots it produces is super impressive. Furthermore, it’s lightweight and compact, which certainly adds to its appeal. If you’re a street photographer looking to get your hands on something different, the PEN-F is entirely worth considering.