20.3 MP sensor, ISO 80-25,600, 5 fps burst rate, contrast detection; $ 1,199, street, body only Olympus

Over 50 years ago we reviewed a new Olympus, the Pen-F. It was the world’s first 35mm half-frame body, capturing images roughly half the width of a 35mm horizontal frame and thus producing vertical photos without having to rotate the camera. So when we first saw that Olympus relaunched the Pen-F moniker for its latest Interchangeable Lens Digital Compact (ILC), we wondered if the size four 20.3 MP Live MOS sensor third would be rotated vertically.

Nope. But the digital Pen-F has its own tricks, including a high-resolution mode that moves the sensor to combine eight images into a single 80MP RAW image. And the main idea behind both generations is the same: to create a camera that’s easy and fun to use, and small enough to go with you wherever you go. Additionally, the public price of the new Pen-F, at $ 1,199 (body only), is not much more than the inflation-adjusted price of the original $ 120 in 1963.

It also marks a renewal of Olympus’ slim and sleek digital pen line-up after a few years of only entering its more performance-oriented OM-D series. With a retro style reminiscent of its mid-century predecessor, the new model is the first digital Pen camera to sport a built-in viewfinder. After a few days of filming with a preview model on an Olympus-sponsored press trip to Austin, TX, we were eager to place a final production unit in the popular photography test lab for a full test drive. under controlled conditions.

In the test lab

Just the second Micro Four Thirds body to push its pixel count beyond 16MP (Panasonic’s Lumix GX8 was the first), the Pen-F marks real progress for Olympus. The camera scored extremely high for overall image quality from its lowest sensitivity of ISO 80 down to ISO 800.

The only reason it didn’t get an overall Excellent rating is because its color isn’t accurate enough for that. The camera achieved an average Delta E of 8.7, well above our threshold of 8 for this test in which the lower scores are better. The irony is that the Pen-F’s different color modes, which like all of these modes end up making color less accurate, have proven to be one of its most attractive features.

The resolution easily reached an excellent rating, capturing 2,675 lines per frame height at ISO 80. It’s pretty much the same as the Panasonic 2660 at its lowest ISO 100 sensitivity. At ISO 800, the Pen-F dropped to 2,600 lines, while the GX8 slipped down to 2,550, both are still enough for excellent grades. ISO 1600 saw the Pen-F at 2550 lines, while the GX8 fell to 2340. Note, however, that Panasonic seems to be more aggressive than Olympus in its noise reduction, which affects resolution. At ISO 6400, the Pen-F’s resolution drops to 2225, then faster to 1825 to 12,800 ISO, then to 1,600 at the camera’s maximum sensitivity of 25,600 ISO.

In our noise test, the Pen-F performed very well but did not deliver images as crisp as the GX8. The Olympus scored extremely low at its two lowest ISOs with scores of 0.9 and 1.0, respectively. The Panasonic kept noise below 0.9 up to ISO 800, but at the expense of resolving power.

However, the Pen-F kept noise low or higher up to ISO 800, and only reached Unacceptable until ISO 12,800. Since this camera is squarely aimed at street shooters, we think it’s the swell. Even at the camera’s two highest sensitivities, noise doesn’t reach very high levels, and if you shoot (or convert your images) to black and white, it can appear as a generally nice grain.

To test the Pen-F’s five-axis sensor shift image stabilization, we mounted an M.Zuiko ED 40-150mm f / 2.8 Pro lens and mounted it to 150mm, a full frame equivalent of 300mm on the camera’s Four Thirds sensor. . Our shooters obtained an average of 4 stops of compensation for the freehand shooting. So if you normally shoot at 1/320 s to get a sharp image at 300mm, you may be able to take pictures with a shutter speed as slow as 1/20 s and still get acceptable results.

In the field

The Pen-F has a classic look which we find very attractive. The on / off switch is a round button on the left side of the top, like a smaller version of the film rewinder on very old Leicas. In fact, most of its orders are round. One of the reasons, according to Olympus, is that when the original Pen-F was manufactured, it was cheaper to mill round parts than square parts.

In homage to this story, the new Pen-F even has a round eyecup for the electronic viewfinder, the first in a digital pen. We’re not sure if it’s just some quirk of the first samples or the shape of the rubber on the eyecup, but a few times (before you start changing it manually) the sensor that recognizes you hold on to your eye failed to turn on the EVF. The OLED itself looks great, however. It shows a lot of detail and the lag time seems short: the picture doesn’t get too choppy or jerky as you move around.

We mainly shot with prime lenses in the field. These focused quite quickly, as did the zoom lenses that we only used briefly. While older zooms with large glass elements to move tended to slow AF, most Olympus Micro Four Thirds lenses use smaller focus groups to keep AF pleasantly dynamic. The tracking was found to be generally reliable and did a good job of keeping up with the camera’s burst speed.

The layout of the controls is both comfortable and intuitive. Olympus integrated the shutter release button into the front command dial to save space and put in a socket for an inexpensive screw-wire trigger. Whether it’s another nod to street shooters or the original Pen-F, it’s an easy way to trigger longer exposures as well as High Res Shot mode.

It takes eight images while the image stabilization mechanism moves the sensor and combines them into a single image to increase resolution in the resulting file. This allows you to create 80MP images from RAW files, but you need to use a tripod and shoot a still subject. If you want a JPG in high resolution mode, you will get a 50MP file.

A small exposure compensation dial on the right side of the top of the camera allows you to adjust up to +/– 3 EV or you can use one of the control dials to reach up to +/– 5 EV. If you stick with the exposure compensation dial, you have the option of assigning something else to the control dial, such as highlight and shadow detail in custom color and monochrome modes.

You select them using the dial on the front of the body, which is reminiscent of the shutter speed dial on the original Pen-F. Choose from artistic filters, color creator, color profile control, and monochrome profile control. Each of them has three different options. For example, infrared simulation, under monochrome profiles, does a good job of giving the IR look, with greens getting brighter and clear skies darker, like with real IR capture.

While these modes may seem tacky at first, in practice they are quite nice and offer enough customization to suit your tastes and incorporate them into your shot whenever you want. Since the dial is very accessible, we found ourselves going through them a lot and having a lot of fun. If you shoot in RAW + JPG, you can always go back and question yourself if you think you made the wrong decision in the moment.

If you enjoy mounting vintage glass (via adapters) or fully manual lenses that don’t communicate with the body, you’ll appreciate that the Pen-F lets you grab a list of lenses the camera can’t identify. It’s a bit of a laborious task to enter their names, but once you’ve done that, you can select the lens you’ve mounted from the list on the camera body and the name of the camera. lens will appear in the EXIF ​​data of your images – useful for tracking later.

The Pen-F video is very pretty, with a lot of detail and nice colors. You won’t find 4K capture here, but for most people these days, that’s overkill. Either way, the Pen-F looks more like a camera to a photographer.

Final result

The main competitor of the Pen-F is without a doubt the Panasonic GX8. Both emulate a rangefinder-like design, using EVFs for framing, 20MP Four Thirds sport sensors, and can accept the same lenses. Both performed very well in our lab tests and were a pleasure to use in the field.

While it’s true that the Olympus doesn’t live up to color accuracy, we’d be surprised if the average shooter would be turned off by the colors in images captured with the Pen-F. This is because we would expect photographers who like to experiment with the different color modes of the camera to not be bothered at all by the color accuracy measured in lab tests. Overall, the Pen-F has proven to be a very comfortable camera to use. If you love street photography or just want a powerful little camera, this is worth your attention.


IMAGING: The effective 20.3 megapixel 4/3 size Live MOS sensor captures images at 5184 × 3888 pixels with 12 bit / color in RAW mode


BURST RATE: Full size JPEG (fine mode), up to card capacity at 5 frames per second; RAW (12-bit), up to 250 shots at 5 fps

AF SYSTEM: TTL contrast detection with touch selectable focus; Single, continuous AF with face detection and subject tracking

SHUTTER SPEEDS: Mechanical: 1/8000 to 60 s, plus B (1/3 EV increments). Electronic: 1 / 16,000 to 60 sec.

MEASURE: 324-area TTL metering, multi-pattern (evaluative), center-weighted, spot (spot size not specified); EV -2 to 20 (ISO 100)

ISO RANGE: Standard: ISO 200 to 25,600 (in 1/3 EV increments). Extended: ISO 80-25,600.

EVF: OLED with 2,360,000 dots resolution, 1.23X magnification

VIDEO: Records up to 1920x1080p60 in MPEG-4AVC / H.264 MOV format; built-in stereo microphone; no microphone input. Maximum clip length approximately 29 minutes.

RADIANCE: No built-in flash; comes with an FL-LM3 accessory flash (GN 30, ISO 100, feet)

TO WATCH: 3-inch articulating LCD capacitive touchscreen with 1,037,000 dots resolution; 15-step adjustments for brightness and color temperature

GO OUT: USB 2.0, Micro HDMI video, composite video

DRUMS: Rechargeable BLN-1 Li-ion, CIPA Rating 330 shots

SIZE WEIGHT: 4.9 × 2.8 × 1.5 inch; 0.9 lbs with card and battery

STREET PRICE: $ 1,199, body only

INFO: olympusamerica.com

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