Shootout Pen-F vs Sony A7RII - A Week in Cuba With Both

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I just got back from a week in Cuba and took far too many photos and videos using the Oly Pen-F as well as a Sony A7RII. I brought three small primes for the Pen-F: Oly 17mm f1.8, Oly 12mm f2, Oly 45mm f1.8. For the Sony, I brought only two lenses: Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 and a manual focus Rokinon 14mm f2.8. Everything fit nicely in a smallish shoulder bag. I’d break up the kits as required for a day’s shooting. It was my first “real” outing with the Sony which I bought used a few months ago. What follows are some observations about using both systems. Hopefully you will find some of this information useful, especially if you are considering ditching m4/3 for full frame or using both systems.

The quick takeaway is this experience renewed my appreciation of the benefits of m4/3 when using a small body and basic primes. Shooting is more spontaneous, fun and inspired. Suffice it to say, the Pen-F was used far more often than the Sony. Most of my photos and videos were taken on the streets and markets of Varadero and the Pen-F excels in that domain. The Sony was used for a day trip to Havana, sunsets at the beach, low light situations as well as starscapes and it comported itself very well for those purposes.

Sony A7RII Advantages:
  • Outstanding resolution, dynamic range, great colors in RAW and high ISO performance. No surprise there.
  • Confidence to get good shots in all lighting conditions, even night time.
  • Very good 4K video.
  • S-Log profile for video grading.
  • Microphone input.
  • Weather sealing.
  • Good AF tracking.
  • Focuses reasonably fast in low light.
  • Well balanced when used with a medium size zoom or larger prime lens.
  • Shallow depth of field for flattering portraits or subject isolation.
  • Decent IBIS system.
  • Can be powered or charged via USB.
Sony A7RII Disadvantages:
  • Battery life is awful! I drained three batteries in just one day of shooting video and photos in Havana. The fourth battery was already below 50% once the day was over.
  • Be prepared to invest in at least 4 extra batteries.
  • Heavier kit - a bag is required for the camera and just two lenses with some filters.
  • When shooting in the streets, the Sony with an f2.8 zoom lens is conspicuous. People notice it and even another Sony FF user complimented me on the camera purchase. Fanboys are everywhere :)
  • 4K video is best in crop mode, which uses an APS-C size portion of the sensor. Full frame 4K is not very sharp or detailed.
  • 1080P video in full frame mode is good, but not as good as 4K crop mode.
  • Continuous AF in video defaults to CDAF unless using subject tracking which uses PDAF. CDAF is slower and pumps the focus at times.
  • No touch screen, which I like using for setting the focus point and taking the shot.
  • IMHO, the control layout and buttons are not the best.
  • Complex menu system.
Olympus Pen-F Advantages:
  • Much smaller and lighter kit, especially with Oly’s smaller primes.
  • No need for a camera bag. The two primes, an extra battery and a 46mm filter could be stowed in a small belt pouch.
  • It’s stealthy, nobody really notices it, even other Olympus users.
  • The camera dangles off a wrist strap which leaves both hands free to enjoy the day.
  • Decent battery life. I can shoot over a hundred photos and dozens of videos on just one battery with power to spare.
  • Excellent IBIS for handheld video. Much better than the Sony.
  • Better controls and button layout. It’s easy to use the camera with one hand.
  • Articulated touch screen - which is great for street photography.
  • Super Control Panel - which gives you fast access to the most needed features.
  • Very fast daylight AF.
  • Great images in daylight and those nice Olympus colors.
  • The front mode dial encourages creative exploration.
Olympus Pen-F Disadvantages:
  • No 4K video.
  • No mic input.
  • 1080P video is good, but not outstanding. Serious videographers should look elsewhere.
  • Complex and cumbersome menu system when not using the Super Control Panel.
  • Low light performance over 2000 ISO (but this is nothing new).
  • CDAF in video mode is quirky. Best to use AF-S or manual focus.
  • Low light AF is slow, good luck if you want to seize the moment in a split second.
  • Feels unbalanced when using larger Pro series zooms and primes.
  • No weather sealing.
I know the Pen-F is a divisive camera among some people, but I love it. Those who malign it, probably never used it. It excels for street shooting and is a very good travel camera. The controls are well thought out for the stills photographer and video is there when you need it. Although the video is not class leading, it’s certainly more than good enough for vacation memories or capturing moments in one’s life.

Both the Sony A7RII and the Pen-F have their respective strengths and weaknesses. There is no such thing as a perfect camera, every system is a set of trade offs. For street shooting and portability, I much prefer the Pen-F or any small bodied m4/3 camera. The Sony A7RII is a superb example of technology and outstanding image quality. When paired with sharp lenses the image quality, whether in print or on screen, is beyond reproach. It is a very competent video platform thanks to headphone and mic jacks as well as high quality video output. When it comes to video, I think direct m4/3 competitors would be the GH5, GH5S, GH4, G9 and EM1 MKII. Bear in mind that getting into the Sony A7 series requires you to lug around a heavier kit and in time is likely to represent a higher cost of entry and system building than m4/3 if buying new.
 
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Great post. Very fair on both sides. Makes me want to get a Pen-F as a second body to compliment my EM1.
Thanks and I can never understand why there are so many toxic words exchanged on other forums about cameras. At the end of the day, they are just tools for taking images or making videos.
 
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Yves

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I know the Pen-F is a divisive camera among some people, but I love it. Those who malign it, probably never used it. It excels for street shooting and is a very good travel camera. The controls are well thought out for the stills photographer and video is there when you need it. Although the video is not class leading, it’s certainly more than good enough for vacation memories or capturing moments in one’s life.
You said the essential. PEN-F is small, old fashioned so people are not afraid by a huge camera. The old look attracts people. I like this camera very much. The colours are pleasant and the B&W gorgeous. And there are fantastic primes.
 
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You said the essential. PEN-F is small, old fashioned so people are not afraid by a huge camera. The old look attracts people. I like this camera very much. The colours are pleasant and the B&W gorgeous. And there are fantastic primes.
Agreed and like yourself, I really like the OOC B&W JPGs. Normally I shoot RAW only, but with the Pen-F, I always enable JPGs.
 

Jonathan F/2

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There are Sony E mount lenses that are small and cheap. For example the Samyang 24 and 35mm 2.8 lenses are quite compact. The Samyang 14mm 2.8 AF is also fairly small for an AF wide angle. There's also the 28mm f2, 50mm 1.8 and 85mm 1.8 FE Sony native lenses.

I actually prefer primes on FF and zooms on M43, since M43 zooms are quite smaller and much cheaper. Sony FF primes in some cases are very close to the M43 counterparts in size.
 
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There are Sony E mount lenses that are small and cheap. For example the Samyang 24 and 35mm 2.8 lenses are quite compact. The Samyang 14mm 2.8 AF is also fairly small for an AF wide angle. There's also the 28mm f2, 50mm 1.8 and 85mm 1.8 FE Sony native lenses.

I actually prefer primes on FF and zooms on M43, since M43 zooms are quite smaller and much cheaper. Sony FF primes in some cases are very close to the M43 counterparts in size.
True. I've looked at some of the smaller and affordable primes for the Sony. Since I'm already well equipped with small m4/3 primes, I don't have much incentive to pull the trigger on the E mount lenses.

That said, the lenses you mentioned are good choices for someone looking into Sony FF.
 

Jonathan F/2

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True. I've looked at some of the smaller and affordable primes for the Sony. Since I'm already well equipped with small m4/3 primes, I don't have much incentive to pull the trigger on the E mount lenses.

That said, the lenses you mentioned are good choices for someone looking into Sony FF.
With that said and done, you should post photos in this shootout thread! ;)
 
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With that said and done, you should post photos in this shootout thread! ;)
I plan to. Right now I'm editing and cutting hours of video footage to show my stepdaughters vignettes of Cuba. Then I'll move on to the stills from both cameras and will post them here. I went a bit snap happy and took hundreds of photos :) I'll be busy this week.
 
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I am slowly working my way through all the photos from Cuba. Here are a few samples. First two are from the Pen-F and the rest are from the Sony A7 RII. More are available on my blog:

March 18, 2019 – Arrival in Varadero, Cuba

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Erich Keser

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I've been quite pleasantly surprised by how good the Pen F's video can be.

My most important video is of classical chamber music. Because of the quiet! such events require I now rely on a Panasonic G85 as my A camera because of its lack of a 30 minute time limit, and also because lack of segmentation makes its 4K video easier to synch. Ideal setup: two high mounted cameras on spaced tripods, and a third camera on a monopod for close-up shots of players and playing, synched to a pro-recording in PP. (The E-M1ii', on the second tripod, can best the G85's 4K quality with very careful setup - but there's seldom time for that, and the fact that it has to be restarted <30 minutes and the arbitrarily segments all even 4K video on a 128GB card into 4GB chunks is a royal PITA.)

Time and again something has gone wrong with one or the other of the tripod-mounted cameras, and, a few times, with both. Battery exhaustion, focus, mysterious shut-off, etc. In all but one case, the Pen F's 60fps HD video proved so surprisingly good that saved the day. (The 60fps is for fast finger action, etc.).

I essentially discovered video with the M5ii. Its small size, good IBIS and decent HD quality made candid, "run and gun". Recently in Cuba, too, I found myself using the Pen F (will post shortly, if wanted.)
 
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I've been quite pleasantly surprised by how good the Pen F's video can be.

My most important video is of classical chamber music. Because of the quiet! such events require I now rely on a Panasonic G85 as my A camera because of its lack of a 30 minute time limit, and also because lack of segmentation makes its 4K video easier to synch. Ideal setup: two high mounted cameras on spaced tripods, and a third camera on a monopod for close-up shots of players and playing, synched to a pro-recording in PP. (The E-M1ii', on the second tripod, can best the G85's 4K quality with very careful setup - but there's seldom time for that, and the fact that it has to be restarted <30 minutes and the arbitrarily segments all even 4K video on a 128GB card into 4GB chunks is a royal PITA.)

Time and again something has gone wrong with one or the other of the tripod-mounted cameras, and, a few times, with both. Battery exhaustion, focus, mysterious shut-off, etc. In all but one case, the Pen F's 60fps HD video proved so surprisingly good that saved the day. (The 60fps is for fast finger action, etc.).

I essentially discovered video with the M5ii. Its small size, good IBIS and decent HD quality made candid, "run and gun". Recently in Cuba, too, I found myself using the Pen F (will post shortly, if wanted.)
Good insights and please post your Pen-F footage. I normally shoot 24 FPS, so it would be good to see footage from someone shooting 60 FPS on the Pen. Especially if it means I use ND filters less often.
 
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Taken with the Pen-F in Varadero. Raw file converted in Lightroom
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.
 

CO_yeti

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Thanks for the insights Rob. Did you find that people reacted any differently walking around with the Pen compared to the Sony?
 

AllanG

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I'm currently touring Sri Lanka at the moment and have about two more weeks here and then a week in Singapore. I really thought hard about what I wanted to take as far as camera gear. I vacillated between two bodies (Pen F and the em1.2) so that I did not have to change lenses etc. but that meant two different batteries and chargers etc and a bag big enouch to take them at the same time. In the end I wound up going for the lightest load and took the Pen F and two lenses. These were the P14-140II and the PL100-400. All was in a custom made bag that carried every thing I needed and could be split up in half to take just one lens and body.
At the onset let me say the Pen has absolutely been brilliant. It has the Olympus grip which makes the carrying of the 100-400 a lot better and its quick to use and very comfortable. There are people that would disagree with my choice but the Pen really is a comfortable camera to use. The on/off switch is criticised but the left hand comes to the switch as the camera is raised and its ready to use. Great for street and it's proved brilliant with the 100-400 for bird photos.
Rfaucher is correct about the pen's attributes and misses but I'm glad with my choices and they have worked for me and both these Panasonic lenses are really excellent for colour as well as detail.
I've also be amazed at how well the pen works for birds in flight
 
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Thanks for the insights Rob. Did you find that people reacted any differently walking around with the Pen compared to the Sony?
Yes, people spotted the Sony and on the streets it made stealth tough. Other Sony users spotted the camera as well and talked about the Tamron lens. The shoulder bag may have contributed to being noticed as well. Whereas the Pen-F seemed to attract no attention and it was easy to shoot from the hip. The Pen-F just dangled off my wrist with no camera bag on the shoulder.
 
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