Review Pen-F 10 months in

nstelemark

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The Pen-F has been out for just a bit over a year and a half, and I’ve had mine for about 10 months. The Pen-F has certainly been a polarizing body. There are two camps: the fan boys, and the practical folk. For the fan boys the style and retro feel is paramount and for the rest the performance is just not there for the price.

I was firmly in the practical camp when the Pen-F came out. I thought the body looked great but the E-M5mk2 was simply a better choice. 10 months in and I am seriously considering paring down to the Pen-F as my only full sized body (I also have an Air-01 as a super light travel “body”). So how did I get here?

I had the opportunity to buy a used Pen-F at a good price figuring it would be a decent second body as a spare, and I would get to play with a 20MP body and hi-res mode. That was pretty much my complete expectation.

20MP
One thing that I have noticed is the improvement from the extra 4MP. Most of the reviews have really minimized the difference but I certainly notice the extra resolution when shooting landscapes.

That mono mode and who shoots JPG anyway?
So I won’t even try to deny it, the mono mode (mode2) is absolutely awesome. I shot a lot of Tri-X in 120 format (135 "full frame" - ha!) and I love the look. Yes you can achieve this look in post, but to be able to simply get it straight out of camera is fantastic. By shooting RAW and jpeg you get the best of both, fantastic mono straight out of camera and a RAW file if you want to post process.

Body size and controls
I am using the JB wood grip on the Pen-F and it seems to suit the body quite well and is very very light. The strap is an Artisan and Artist silk braided strap.

View attachment 584355

Body size is pretty subtle because the Pen-F with a grip is pretty much the same size and weight as the OM-D line. The squarer body with no protruding EVF hump makes the body easier to carry and easier to get in and out of bags.

The controls are fantastic, smooth with just the right amount of resistance. I know a lot of reviewers complained about the “fixed” art dial but the extra dedicated EC dial frees up the rear dial for another function and this allows ISO to be directly accessible on this body. I find this super convenient.

Shooting experience
This is highly subjective of course but there is something about the Pen-F that really inspires me to get out and “make” some images. The shutter has just the right sound, the oiled grip has a unique odour, and the grip and control layout work well. Several folk have commented on the difficulty in removing the SD card with the grip installed. This is very difficult if you try to grasp the card by the sides, but if you use the flat of your finger to pull up on the friction grip on the front of the card removing the card is simple and fast.

I’ve used my Pen-F out hiking, for street shooting and even in a small bag mounted on the handlebars of my bike. The only place the E-M1mk2 still comes out is for sporting events, and in all honesty I could likely shoot the Pen-F with close to the same result.*

My Pen-F kit
Pen-F with JB wood grip and Artisan and Artist silk strap.

Panasonic 12-35X f2.8 mk1
Panasonic 45-175X f4-5.6
Olympus 17mm f1.8
Olympus 75mm f1.8

w/o grip
View attachment 584358


* As several reviewers have noted the Pen-F C-AF is not great. The problem is none of the Olympus bodies C-AF is that great. So even with the E-M1mk2 I have gone back to shooting S-AF and short bursts. Since the S-AF performance of Olympus bodies is generally great the only defining feature of the OM-Ds is the weather sealing and the better burst pipeline.
Edit - this review was pre the CAF firmware update for the E-M1mk2. The CAF is much much improved with the later firmware versions.
 

WT21

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When I used Olympus, I always thought their mono mode was spectacular. Better than Sony or Panasonics that I have used. Nice review, and beautiful camera.
 

Gromit

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Thanks for the review, Larry - and I can most definitely concur with your musings. Don't get me wrong, I really like using my E-M1.2 but there's a certain something about the Pen F which is inspirational. Subjective? Absolutely - and I make no apologies for being so. It has a similar vibe to the Fuji X100* but in many ways even nicer.

I also agree re the MP hike vs the 16MP sensor, as coming from an E-M1.1 I found there was a noticeable increase in IQ vs the older camera.
 

pdk42

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I've become a Pen F fan too after initially being lukewarm to it. The "creative dial" does nothing for me since I always shoot raw, but the overall handling of the body is where it wins me over. I just prefer its looks and its feel to the E-M1ii which I also have.

It's also evolved from a small primes body (12, 17, 25, 45) to a primarily zoom body (12-40) with the 17mm in tow for use in low light or for a light causal camera. Those two lenses make for a very competent, flexible and relatively compact kit.
 
Last edited:

Magua

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Nov 16, 2018
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Natchez Trace
Thanks for the review...This will definitely be my next camera. Hopefully the Pen f 2 will be out soon and the price on the original will finally drop. I'm practically foaming at the mouth. (love the silver btw)
 

retiredfromlife

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A nice review. I just purchased an EM10 in the recent sales, nearly got the PenF as I really like the camera.
It also seems to be one of their most reliable cameras, with most complaints I have seen are firmware related.

An all round good stylish camera. that wooden handle looks great as well.
 

WT21

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I had the EPL7, which is the last Oly camera I had. I had shutter shock issues, which drove me to try the GX85. After trying the GX85, the sharpness of no-AA filter was clear to me, and I stopped considering Oly.

Does the Pen-F have an AA filter? Anyone ever compare the Pen-F to a GX85? A 20MP, non-AA filter, compact body would be nice.

edit: Found this: Panasonic GX85 / GX80 vs. Olympus Pen F – The complete comparison
 

JohnJeffrey

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Sep 17, 2018
Messages
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The Pen-F has been out for just a bit over a year and a half, and I’ve had mine for about 10 months. The Pen-F has certainly been a polarizing body. There are two camps: the fan boys, and the practical folk. For the fan boys the style and retro feel is paramount and for the rest the performance is just not there for the price.

I was firmly in the practical camp when the Pen-F came out. I thought the body looked great but the E-M5mk2 was simply a better choice. 10 months in and I am seriously considering paring down to the Pen-F as my only full sized body (I also have an Air-01 as a super light travel “body”). So how did I get here?

I had the opportunity to buy a used Pen-F at a good price figuring it would be a decent second body as a spare, and I would get to play with a 20MP body and hi-res mode. That was pretty much my complete expectation.

20MP
One thing that I have noticed is the improvement from the extra 4MP. Most of the reviews have really minimized the difference but I certainly notice the extra resolution when shooting landscapes.

That mono mode and who shoots JPG anyway?
So I won’t even try to deny it, the mono mode (mode2) is absolutely awesome. I shot a lot of Tri-X in 120 format (135 "full frame" - ha!) and I love the look. Yes you can achieve this look in post, but to be able to simply get it straight out of camera is fantastic. By shooting RAW and jpeg you get the best of both, fantastic mono straight out of camera and a RAW file if you want to post process.

Body size and controls
I am using the JB wood grip on the Pen-F and it seems to suit the body quite well and is very very light. The strap is an Artisan and Artist silk braided strap.

View attachment 584355

Body size is pretty subtle because the Pen-F with a grip is pretty much the same size and weight as the OM-D line. The squarer body with no protruding EVF hump makes the body easier to carry and easier to get in and out of bags.

The controls are fantastic, smooth with just the right amount of resistance. I know a lot of reviewers complained about the “fixed” art dial but the extra dedicated EC dial frees up the rear dial for another function and this allows ISO to be directly accessible on this body. I find this super convenient.

Shooting experience
This is highly subjective of course but there is something about the Pen-F that really inspires me to get out and “make” some images. The shutter has just the right sound, the oiled grip has a unique odour, and the grip and control layout work well. Several folk have commented on the difficulty in removing the SD card with the grip installed. This is very difficult if you try to grasp the card by the sides, but if you use the flat of your finger to pull up on the friction grip on the front of the card removing the card is simple and fast.

I’ve used my Pen-F out hiking, for street shooting and even in a small bag mounted on the handlebars of my bike. The only place the E-M1mk2 still comes out is for sporting events, and in all honesty I could likely shoot the Pen-F with close to the same result.*

My Pen-F kit
Pen-F with JB wood grip and Artisan and Artist silk strap.

Panasonic 12-35X f2.8 mk1
Panasonic 45-175X f4-5.6
Olympus 17mm f1.8
Olympus 75mm f1.8

w/o grip
View attachment 584358


* As several reviewers have noted the Pen-F C-AF is not great. The problem is none of the Olympus bodies C-AF is that great. So even with the E-M1mk2 I have gone back to shooting S-AF and short bursts. Since the S-AF performance of Olympus bodies is generally great the only defining feature of the OM-Ds is the weather sealing and the better burst pipeline.
Edit - this review was pre the CAF firmware update for the E-M1mk2. The CAF is much much improved with the later firmware versions.
Ditto! Retro look; awesome mono in jpg/raw = I was/am hooked! I am a filter in a digital world and now my first DSLR kit sits while my Pen-f travels! I love it!
 

pellicle

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Hi

...The Pen-F has certainly been a polarizing body. There are two camps: the fan boys, and the practical folk. For the fan boys the style and retro feel is paramount and for the rest the performance is just not there for the price.
what I see later in your post is that you've discovered that for you the image quality / performance is actually good enough for you when balanced with the features including physical features such as size.

I find good logic in your points but wanted to throw in something of a question mark on this point here:
That mono mode and who shoots JPG anyway?
So I won’t even try to deny it, the mono mode (mode2) is absolutely awesome. I shot a lot of Tri-X in 120 format (135 "full frame" - ha!) and I love the look. Yes you can achieve this look in post, but to be able to simply get it straight out of camera is fantastic. By shooting RAW and jpeg you get the best of both, fantastic mono straight out of camera and a RAW file if you want to post process.
I'm an Australian and have spent a lot of time in the Northern Hemisphere (Japan, Korea, Canada, Finland, UK) and I can say that (having shot a lot of Tri-X 135-36, T-Max & ADOX 120 and 4x5, various Fuji emulsions...) our light here is so contrasty that you just won't get that look out of a digital "mode". In Europe (more northerly) and in Nth American continent yes, but in Australia in summer, no way in hell.

We had some Dutch guys at my Uni back in 1991 who were complaining that there was something wrong with the D-76 ... I looked, others looked, the instructor looked ... we all thought their shots were "about right". When they showed a few prior negs we went "ahhh ... you don't have contrasty light in Europe like we do here ..."

So if the mono mode is working for you, great ... but it sure aint not proper black and white film if you ask me.

BTW ... my decision to keep using my GF1 is pretty similar to yours on the Pen-F ... its about how the camera feels to use.
Myself (with the GF-1 lacking such modes) I'm comfortable enough to use RAW to get me pushing more into the "edges" of contrast than the JPG of the camera allows.

Best Wishes
 

wjiang

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When I played around with the PEN-F at an Olympus event, I really liked almost everything about it. The EVF was a little small but decent (I really can't stand the Panasonic low-end RF EVFs). What really killed it for me was the creative dial eventually started hurting the finger that it was resting on... maybe I was holding it wrong.
 
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When I played around with the PEN-F at an Olympus event, I really liked almost everything about it. The EVF was a little small but decent (I really can't stand the Panasonic low-end RF EVFs). What really killed it for me was the creative dial eventually started hurting the finger that it was resting on... maybe I was holding it wrong.
I've seen a few people complaining that the dial hurts their fingers, mostly on forum posts. Never handled one but considering buying one after Christmas. Is the dial really that sharp? Wonder if it could be persuaded off and taped over?
 

wjiang

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I've seen a few people complaining that the dial hurts their fingers, mostly on forum posts. Never handled one but considering buying one after Christmas. Is the dial really that sharp? Wonder if it could be persuaded off and taped over?
It's not sharp per se. It's just hard, with a texture that pretty much matches a file... the PEN-F has enough weight that with a decent lens on it, it presses down into my delicate finger flesh :oops:
 
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It's not sharp per se. It's just hard, with a texture that pretty much matches a file... the PEN-F has enough weight that with a decent lens on it, it presses down into my delicate finger flesh :oops:
I have not found it an issue, never notice it as I use it. People respond differently, try it youtself.
 

mpresley

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The Pen-F has been out for just a bit over a year and a half, and I’ve had mine for about 10 months. The Pen-F has certainly been a polarizing body. There are two camps: the fan boys, and the practical folk. For the fan boys the style and retro feel is paramount and for the rest the performance is just not there for the price...
I teetered on the fence between the Pen or something else. After much meditation and prayer... OK, I'm kidding, I did think about it a lot :) I finally decided to go for the performance of the G9. I have the E-M5 II as well which I really like, and I'm loving the G9 but there's still part of me that wants the Pen. Nice write up! Now I just need to convince myself that I don't need a Pen, well I didn't NEED a G9 either so I see how this will go.
 

mpresley

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When I played around with the PEN-F at an Olympus event, I really liked almost everything about it. The EVF was a little small but decent (I really can't stand the Panasonic low-end RF EVFs). What really killed it for me was the creative dial eventually started hurting the finger that it was resting on... maybe I was holding it wrong.
I have the GX7 and the GX85 and have not really been bothered by the EVF. I got an EM5 II and even then the GX85 EVF didn't really bother me. I just got the G9. Now the GX85 EVF is SO SMALL and poor quality compared to the G9. The EM5 II pales in comparison as well. I was happy until I bought the G9 :)
 

Bidkev

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The only thing that I dislike is the viewfinder cup. Too shallow and stray light penetrates. I wish those Chinese wizards would come up with a removable deep cup add on. The ridge/groove around the cup suggests that it could be a possibility. I've not used it since I had my cataract sorted so perhaps it won't be as much of a problem next time out.
 

AaronE

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I love my Pen-f. I shoot it with a wide variety of lenses. Including the Oly 12-40mm which is heavy on the Pen-f body. I bought the Olympus grip for my Pen-f and could not be happier. I can now wield the camera one handed with confidence. I have shot my Pen-f in some fairly strong rain and as yet have had no problems with it. I also have no dust spots on the sensor after a year and a half of constant use. I agree the eye cup is too shallow and I am always putting my hand up to block light on sunny days.

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