What does the Pen F tell us of Olympus's direction?

Discussion in 'Olympus Cameras' started by pdk42, Jan 28, 2016.

  1. pdk42

    pdk42 One of the "Eh?" team

    Jan 11, 2013
    Leamington Spa, UK
    Well, the first reviews are out and some of us have been able to handle the camera and listen to the Olympus marketing messages at launch events. The question I'm asking myself now is whether we can discern any strategy/direction from it all. It seems to me that the following are true (to some degree):
    • The camera's features and its marketing are directed mainly at jpeg shooters and people for whom the camera's build, feel and aesthetics are more important than its IQ.
    • Despite its new sensor Olympus are making no noises whatsoever about improved DR, ISO or noise claims. In fact, they're hardly mentioning it all.
    • Video seems unimportant.
    • The prime target market seems to be 30-40 years olds who see themselves as hip, creative and like to shoot over-saturated or grainy monochrome images that they can post quickly to Instagram and other social media sites.
    Now I'll admit that I'm following an agenda here, but bear with me. I'm sure the camera is a very fine piece of kit and quite capable of shooting raw images at least as good as the existing 16Mp cameras - but here's my concern.... The E-M5 launched on a ticket of compactness but with excellent IQ. The E-M1 continued that trend. Are we now seeing a change of tack? Are Olympus giving up on the IQ race and moving into a "lifestyle" camera?

    If so, I can see the sense. Mirrorless FF is racing ahead in the IQ stakes so trying to compete (or even keep in a good second place) on that alone is rather futile. Maybe the Olympus strategists judge today's IQ as more than enough for such a lifestyle camera. If so, what does this mean for the forthcoming E-M1ii? On a personal level I'll be very disappointed if the E-M1ii doesn't raise the bar in noise, ISO performance and DR - but if the Pen F is a preview of its technology then I might be heading for just that disappointment!

    Now maybe the Pen F means nothing in a wider perspective, maybe it's just a sensibly thought out marketing strategy to build a camera for a demographic that I'm not part of. Maybe the E-M1ii will be built more for people like me, people for whom IQ is an important part of the size and features trade off. I really hope that's the case since I'm not a 30-40 year old who likes shooting jpeg!

    Finally, there is I guess the possibility that we're hitting the limits of IQ in u43-sized sensors. The BSI sensors in the RX 100iii and the Samsung NX1 would indicate that to be untrue, but in which case, will the E-M1 get another new sensor?
  2. So Thankful

    So Thankful Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 9, 2015
    I am betting the E-M1 II will have the same sensor as the Pen F. I think where it will probably have the most improvements will be AF tracking. I don't see low light performance getting much better with the sensor size.
  3. bikerhiker

    bikerhiker Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 24, 2013
    Olympus did say that the PEN-F is not a replacement for the E-P5, but rather serves as a specific line of genre style of shooting. We don't have a lot of clues as to what the new Sony 20MP could do, but we already know it wouldn't give you significant gains like the E-M5 Mark 1 did. That was a jump from the E-5's 12MP sensor which is still pretty good today. I still shoot with the E-5 btw.

    The point is simple. Micro 4/3 is a crop sensor and it will always lag behind the latest full frame. Yes, BSI on the RX100 III and NX1 are good, but you know, the wallet is the true vote. Samsung's now out and the RX100 III while good is still, I considered, slightly lagging behind the best Micro 4/3 sensors. I know; you all going to pull a DXO or DPreview test charts on me. But you see; I've tested them in real life while I was still working in the industry. Real life counts; lab results are just that. Lab results.. Would BSI benefit m4/3? Perhaps, but by how much? We all seemed to have this unrealistic expectation that with BSI, we should get those insane DR and noise increase like what we got the last time around with the E-M5 Mark 1. Well.. Those days are gone. Welcome to incremental upgrades where prices are lofty and gains are miniscule. Take a look at even the best Nikon D810 and Sony A7RII and while they are good cameras, both of them didn't get any more sales like the iPhone 6s did. That little puny phone continually outsold the best full frame cameras by many folds period.

    I think moving forward, you'll see a flagship E-M1 Mark II with all the best technology Olympus could put into. E-M5 Mk II and E-M10 Mk II as the mid and low tier OMD bodies. The E-P5 being an odd duck and the PEN-F being a cool hipster JPEG on steroids instagram camera. What's not to like?

    Henry Ford used to coin the word -- You can have any color you like as long as it's black! Well, you can have any Olympus design bodies you like as long as it's on a m4/3 sensor!

    Keep in mind that a D810 and a Sony A7RII are much more expensive and lenses are also much more expensive. It's all relative. Know what you want and know what you want to achieve. Cameras are just tools. If you feel the tools aren't sufficient for your needs, then why suffer? Go get the best tools.

    In my experience shooting with a number of larger and 35mm formats close to 3 decades professionally, the m4/3 provides the best balance in terms of image IQ and weight. Some other professionals I know don't agree with me, but that's ok. They are allowed to have a difference in opinion. But I think Olympus has merit since people still want to buy their gear, so their gear is still valid in this competitive imaging world.
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2016
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  4. piggsy

    piggsy Mu-43 All-Pro

    Direction? Same technology as 3 years ago, but don't forget its secret advantage - you can now pay more for it too.
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  5. exakta

    exakta Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 2, 2015
    The video spent a lot of time talking about street shooting and prime lenses. So I guess that's the direction, at least for the Pen F.
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  6. dixeyk

    dixeyk Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 9, 2010
    You're overthinking it. It makes sense that Olympus would look for new ways to expand to new customers.

    It's similar to the advertising that Apple does for the iPhone, they rarely talk about their hardware, instead they sell the lifestyle. Olympus is trying a variation on that theme. Considering that Apple has managed to steamroll over their competition doing just that I can see why Olympus would see that as a viable strategy. Personally I like that they are not talking IQ, sensors, DR and all of the other photo geekery that adds up to so much distraction.
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  7. piggsy

    piggsy Mu-43 All-Pro

    Yeah, it's definitely as creepy as the apple cult. When you get people raving excitedly about how the company is milking its customer base for more money - and that's them, as a customer, not as a stockholder - you know things have gotten a bit freaky.
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  8. barry13

    barry13 Super Moderator; Photon Wrangler Subscribing Member

    Mar 7, 2014
    Southern California

    1. trends: Olympus has been doing "Lifestyle" Marketing/Advertising for at least 1.5 years (I saw a lot of it in S. Korea in 2014).
    This seems to be a continuation of that marketing, but they have added 1 new physical feature (the art filter dial) for that 'market'.

    There have been several statements that this is designed for street photographers. A quick way to toggle between color/b&w is useful when I'm shooting street, but I think a dedicated dial is overkill -- if it can be customized (i.e. to change AF modes) that would be useful.

    2. sensors: Olympus doesn't make mu-43 sized sensors, so they much choose (or custom order) from contemporary designs. There haven't been much improvements in sensor tech in the last few years. I've read that BSI will not make much difference in larger (than cell phone) sensors, but I do not know enough about it myself.

    Unless this sensor has secret PDAF cells, the E-M1 II will NOT use this sensor, but I'm guessing it won't be very different (other than adding PDAF).

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  9. coffeecat

    coffeecat Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Aug 4, 2012
    SW England
    Yep - seems like standard business school stuff. Businesses nearly always try to grow constantly. The whole camera industry is unfortunately doing the opposite. So they're all trying to move from being Honda to being Mercedes Benz (to borrow an analogy I read earlier, probably on here somewhere). We all "benefit" by having to buy "upscale" cameras that basically produce similar IQ (or only sport evolutionary improvements from generation to generation), but cost more. As evidenced in previous years by the fact that Oly killed off the E-PM2, which was a very cheap way to get EM5 IQ, but minus the IBIS, weather sealing etc.
  10. barry13

    barry13 Super Moderator; Photon Wrangler Subscribing Member

    Mar 7, 2014
    Southern California
    BTW, the E-P5 was initially about as expensive with the add-on viewfinder.

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  11. tkbslc

    tkbslc Mu-43 Legend

    Bunch of whiny Kindergartners, geez!! :boohoo:

    Pen F too expensive? Buy an E-M5 II or E-M10 II.
    Don't like the JPEG features? Shoot RAW
    Don't like the design? Buy something else or nothing at all.
    Don't think the sensor is good enough? There are a half dozen other alternatives out there with larger sensors. You knew that when you bought a 2x crop camera.
    Don't think there is enough improvement? Be happy with the longer life your current camera gets to enjoy.
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  12. budeny

    budeny Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 4, 2014
    Boulder, CO
    Wrong, EM5 was a sidekick to more traditional OM SLR look with weather sealing - intended to be a real workhorse, not so much compact or lightweight. Olympus didn't expect its success.
    EM1 is positioned as Pro level camera - all EM5 plus PDAF to use 4/3 pro glass.
    Pen F is another attempt to revive Pen series. It's all about having inconspicuous camera in right moment and producing ready to share jpeg's - some people just choose not to spend their time by pulling every bit of DR, noise and detail from RAW files.
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2016
  13. piggsy

    piggsy Mu-43 All-Pro

    This seems like a very bad line to get into considering how much other cameras from the E-P5's era (or later) have dropped in price and what they do in comparison to the PEN-F.

    I guess the main salty thing is that I had somehow assumed they would keep it around the level of the E-M5 if they could - like - obviously it will never directly challenge the same generation larger sensor cameras, but it will definitely get up there with the last one, and for a bit less money. But they really don't seem to think they need to compete with the A6000, NX500/NX1, D7200 etc, at all, which is a problem considering how much money they seem to want for the new ones.
  14. nstelemark

    nstelemark Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    May 28, 2013
    Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada
    Ming Thein wrote:

    Thirdly, and most importantly, there’s a sort of ‘confidence of getting the shot’ which I have not had from the higher resolution beasts I normally use – Sony A7RII included – if focus looks good, it almost certainly is, and you’re probably not going to see camera shake unless shutter speeds are very, very marginal. If you couple this with the shadow/highlight indicator in live view, then you’re fairly certain of a usable image afterwards. This confidence is quite liberating, and means you don’t get distracted with chimping. I suppose it helped with battery life, too – I saw upwards of 600 shots on one charge, shooting singles.

    I think this is often overlooked and applies across the latest m43 bodies. So while I agree this is a lifestyle camera, it should be a competent lifestyle camera.

    As an aside I often shoot JPEG only at events, not really the target market for this camera but JPEG only certainly works.
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  15. drd1135

    drd1135 Zen Snapshooter

    Mar 17, 2011
    Southwest Virginia
    As pointed out, Olympus doesn't make sensors. Panasonic hasn't lept ahead either and they do make sensors. Aside from resolution, what major advances have come for aps-c or FF sensors in the last few years?
  16. dixeyk

    dixeyk Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 9, 2010
    Agreed, of course this is pretty common in consumer electronics (the OUTRAGE that their favorite company is IGNORING THEIR NEEDS!!!). I look at the Pen-F and I see an interesting product that really doesn't offer me anything that I want or need at the present time. I can appreciate that it might be the cats pajamas for some folks and that's great but for me, not so much. I don't take it personally either. Olympus is just trying to sell cameras and they came up with a new model. Maybe because I had zero investment in the notion of the Pen-F so I had nothing to be disappointed in.

    Now, if I were to speculate further on what the Pen-F means for future Olympus cameras I would say if the Pen-F is successful we'll see more models like it much like the success of the original OMD E-M5 brought about the E-M10, E-M1 and of course all the subsequent updates to these models.
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  17. bassman

    bassman Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Apr 22, 2013
    New Jersey
    The Bassman
    I think Olympus is taking a page from Nikon's playbook - the Nikon Df is the role model for the Pen F. No really new technology (the 20mp sensor already is in the GX8 and will almost certainly be in the E-M1-II), strong styling cues from old film cameras from the company, appeals to the hipster/street shooter in the advertising, decontenting compared to existing top-of-the-line products (no video on the Df, E-M10 sensor in the Pen F), high build quality with lots of retro knobs and dials.

    And key: use the letter "F" in the name.

    Looks like a niche play to me, by exploiting all of the technology they already have to try and capture a market segment they may be missing. Probably a smart business move.

    What worries me is that Olympus may be trying to seriously move up the price scale, and the E-M1-II might be $1500 body-only. That would be a bummer.
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  18. piggsy

    piggsy Mu-43 All-Pro

    Faster readout for better fps and video, lower noise, more phase detect points ... ? I guess it depends on what you mean by 'resolution' (and 'major advances').

    I think if I had to pick one thing about the m43 mentality I'm not enjoying right now - it'd be, say, the thinking that took hold that you couldn't do IBIS and 4k together, and that must be why we haven't seen both on the panasonic or olympus cameras. I mean - in terms of the technical aspect of it - all it really amounted to was the same old thing of needing a chip with good enough power efficiency and thermals under load to handle doing it with a smaller heatsink. And then... Sony does it. Then as far as I remember it switched to "yeah but you'd need to charge a fortune for that to get the yields up on m43 size sensors to do it". And then ... m43 cameras come out that cost a comparative fortune. Only without anything that would really justify that on the hardware side. So uh, apparently our options are, we get to stare at tech developed in other formats for years/months, hope we'd get it, eventually get told we can't afford it, and then eat massively inflated prices for nothing new anyway, and get scolded for wanting, um, anything, apparently.

  19. drd1135

    drd1135 Zen Snapshooter

    Mar 17, 2011
    Southwest Virginia
    I think most of us don't really know what's possible and are just passing the time on an Internet forum. We know what can be done when someone releases it. I like the output of my current OMDs so I'm not as bothered that larger formats do better. If I was this mad/dissatisfied about Olympus, I'd just switch. I suppose that might be the best answer here. We speculate on forums like this about why things are the way they are because people start threads like this. If, like me,you enjoy your stuff it's hard to work up a good indignant rage about Olympus's motives.

    In the interest of self-disclosure, I admit to being a video agnostic so I really pay no attention there. I also don't see much AF difference between my EM-1 and my EM5 II so I may not challenge my cameras in ways where phase detect points matter that much. I tried Fuji for a while and despite the larger sensor I didn't care much for the rendering of fine detail. Sony makes the chips and may simply be the company with closer to state-of-the-art tech. Despite owning a few $1000+ bodies for which I paid $1500, switching to Sony would be really expensive especially with regard to lenses. I'm Ok with living a few years behind the leading edge. I can certainly understand that others don't want to do that, however.
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2016
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  20. JBoot

    JBoot Mu-43 Regular Subscribing Member

    Dec 4, 2012
    Scotch Plains, NJ
    I actually think the Pen-F is a brilliant move by Olympus (even if a bit repackaged/recycled).... It's business and they need to punch back hard at Fuji and the retro/hipster trend that driving a lot of sales these days (did you see Oly's latest sales numbers on a roll and they want more!). I don't think that they are particularly trying to aim this camera at those of us that already own E-M1/E-M5 cameras rather it's about broader market penetration and breaking into full mainstream globally.

    If you think about all the things that brought you to m4/3 in the first place .... small form factor, great range of outstanding glass at reasonable prices, IBIS, etc. and now they are catering to the trend of the day .... and making the package again even slightly smaller... seems like good business. We've understood it for sometime, though wonder what others are missing.

    Even if it's not for us, as I see it, this will help Olympus' future financial success, likely some R&D comes from this as well that will/could go into future cameras (e.g., film simulations ... maybe a future panckake needed to compliment it?, etc.) and helps the continued increase in market share of a system we love. That is a great help for us, even if we don't like this camera ourselves.

    The reason I think this camera will make a difference is that many are choosing Fuji today specifically for the film simulations and 'look' it gives via their JPGs. I do a lot of street shooting and love my E-M5II and primes .... but I always go back and consider the X100T for it's 'look' and jpg film simulations (show of hands m4/3'ers?). Sure, I could recreate these looks at home or maybe even on my tablet...I've been doing it for a long time. However, why should/would I want to if I can do this real-time in camera as I shoot, share while getting a coffee and still have the raw file for later... AND the best part of a body like this is I could get that and a backup/second mini-EM5 while staying in my current Lens-ecosystem! ... don't think I want that Fuji anymore.

    Also, while Oly buttons and menus can be a bit complex, Fuji might be a bit simple. For those not used to old style SLR/Rangefinder shooting they might actually be more comfortable with Olympus conceptually as it can match the point-and-shoot or entry DSLR cameras from where they came. So, packaging the tech in a retro look aesthetically might to the job here too.

    On top of that, Oly video bests X-Trans video and even though Oly is no Panasonic when it comes to video, for most of us, it does the job just fine and the IBIS clinches the deal, especially handheld (nice for documentary/street video shooting)... and I think video is becoming more key to selling cameras, as often discussed on this forum.

    So, did I sell myself a camera?!? haha

    I wish the little Pen-F much success!
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