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Olympus PEN-F Review

We review the new Olympus PEN-F - a 20 megapixel Micro Four Thirds camera with built in EVF and 50 megapixel high resolution mode.

| Olympus PEN-F in Mirrorless Cameras

Olympus PEN-F Review : Olympus PEN F Black (1)

1960's Britain, Olympus was winning the hearts of photography fans with their own icon – the Olympus PEN. With its stand-out style and eye-catching design, it soon became an object of desire and to this day, it's a style that's never really gone out of fashion.

With so many photographers still wanting this timeless design to encase modern technology, Olympus has taken a little bit of camera history and combined it with modern, technical innovation to bring rangefinder fans the new Olympus PEN-F Micro Four Thirds camera, the most retro inspired Olympus PEN yet, particularly when you look at the silver and black version.


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The Olympus PEN-F features a 20 megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor, which is the highest resolution of any Micro Four Thirds camera from Olympus, matching the Panasonic Lumix GX8. Another first for the Olympus PEN series is the built in electronic viewfinder (EVF), which has a high resolution of 2.36million dots, and a vari-angle touch-screen.

Olympus PEN-F Features

Olympus PEN-F Review : Olympus PEN F Black (3)

Beyond the stylish design, and rangefinder position of the EVF, the Olympus PEN-F features the same premium camera technology as the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II, with a 5-axis image stabilisation system which moves the sensor to compensate for camera shake. Also on offer is 10fps continuous shooting, full manual controls and raw shooting, as well as a clever high resolution shooting mode that creates a 50 megapixel image from the 20 megapixel sensor. 

The new 20 megapixel Live MOS image sensor does not feature a low pass AA filter, which should deliver sharp detailed images, as well as longer exposure times with lower ISO settings being possible. Olympus says the new sensor provides 25% better resolution while maintaining low-noise and dynamic-range performance. 

On the front, you'll find a creative dial constructed from metal that gives the user easy access to various artistic filters, a Colour Creator and 2 new options: Colour Profile Control and Monochrome Profile Control. This is the main design difference you'll notice when you first pick up the PEN-F and as well as giving a subtle nod to cameras from times gone by, it's actually a really nice feature.

The Monochrome Profile Control means users can capture B&W imagery in-camera with much more control over the look and feel of the tones thanks to gradation curve adjustments, film-grain options and shading adjustments being to hand while the Colour Profile Control makes colour popping and other creative techniques much easier in-camera. It can also be used to adjust the saturation of 12 colours to 11 different levels.

The addition of the new dial also means you don't have to mess around with menus or switch the mode dial when you want to capture a black & white shot, which makes it easier and quicker to capture images, as well as keep camera settings the same, including shooting in raw so that you can go back to the original image if you want. There's also a lever mounted at the back of the camera which switches between different modes, and makes it easier to change settings.

New Olympus PEN-F Features at a glance:

  • 50 megapixel multi-shot mode
  • Exposure compensation dial
  • Front creative dial
  • Colour profile control
  • Monochrome profile control
  • Locking mode dial
  • Spot exposure control - using the touchscreen
  • AF Targeting Pad - using the touchscreen

Like the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II, the PEN F features a high resolution multi shot mode, and with a new 20 megapixel sensor, the resolution of the high resolution images has been increased from 40 megapixels to 50 megapixels. This works by moving the sensor at a sub-pixel level, and combining 8 shots, so that not only does the camera capture additional colour information, but also additional resolution. This can be best explained visually, with Olympus' video, or by having a look at the example images taken with the camera using the normal 20 megapixel mode, and 50 megapixel mode later in the review. 

Olympus PEN-F Review :

To the rear of the Olympus PEN-F there's a vari-angle high-resolution LCD touch-screen as well as a built-in electronic viewfinder (2.36 million-dot OLED) that offers a real-time preview of any adjustments you have made (this includes those made with the Creative Dial). There's also focus assistance with focus peaking and the EVF has an image magnification of 0.62x.

"The PEN-F gives a subtle nod to cameras from times gone by while including all of the modern tools you'd expect to find on a new Olympus camera." 

Those who are fans of OM-D camera family members will no doubt recognise the design and placement of various other milled aluminium dials and buttons positioned to the rear as well as on top of the camera body, plus the PEN-F also inherits the 5-axis Image Stabilisation system found on OM-D cameras. Unlike the OM-D cameras, however, the PEN-F isn't weather or dustproof. The PEN-F can create 4k timelapse videos, but video recording is limited to FullHD.

Here we have a look at the nearest competitors, including the previous PEN model, the E-P5

  Olympus E-P5 Olympus E-M5 II Olympus PEN-F Panasonic Lumix GX8
Sensor 16mp 16mp 20mp 20mp
EVF Optional 2.36m 2.36m 2.36m
Magnification 0.74x 0.615x 0.77x
Screen 3inch tilting touch (1037K) 3inch vari-angle touch (1037K) 3inch  vari-angle touch (1037K) 3inch vari-angle touch (1040K)
IS System 5-axis, 4/5-stops* 5-axis, 5-stops (CIPA) 5-axis, 5 stops (CIPA) 4-axis in camera (uses 2-axis from IS lens)
Continuous Shooting 9fps 10-11fps** 10-11fps** 8fps
Battery life 400 shots 310-750*** 330 shots 340 shots
Weight (body, inc SD and battery) 420g 469g 427g  487g
Weather-sealed No Yes No Yes

* 5-stops according to Olympus, before they used CIPA testing standards. ** 11fps possible with electronic shutter and IS switched off. *** With battery save enabled.


Other features include 10 fps sequential shooting (shown above), a True Pic VII processor, 1/8000 second shutter and a low ISO level of 80. Olympus has linked AF spot metering to AF point to help with exposure accuracy and a Supersonic Wave Filter automatically cleans the camera's sensor without the need for an extra cleaning program.

When we spoke to Olympus, they told us that the overall design of the new PEN was 'all about the feel' of it and in the hand, it certainly does feel great. It's a good size, not too heavy and the 'classic' design makes it a very eye-catching camera. As well as using hatched aluminium dials in the design, the metal casing features a leather-look camera surround and you won't find a single visible screw on the body. The camera body is not the only thing that's pleasant to look at either as the view you see through the EVF is clear and bright, with a real-time preview when you make adjustments.

"We're certain that PEN users will feel very familiar with the PEN-F while fans of the E-M5 will no-doubt appreciate its design."

With its black & white capabilities and screen flexibility (popular with videographers), the camera will probably be a big hit with street photography fans, plus anyone who just loves the Rangefinder camera design. 

Olympus PEN-F Review :

Key Features

  • 20 megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor
  • 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilisation
  • 3inch vari-angle touch-screen, 1037k dots
  • 2.36 million dot EVF, with dioptre adjustment
  • FullHD video with stereo sound, 60, 50, 30, 25, 24fps, 
  • 120fps high speed video at 640x480
  • ISO200-ISO25600, ISO80 (Low) available
  • 10-11fps continuous shooting
  • HDR in camera
  • Wi-Fi and O.I.Share compatible
  • Available in black or black and silver

Olympus PEN-F Handling

Olympus PEN-F Review : Olympus PEN F Black (4)

The Olympus PEN-F has a solid metal body, with no screws visible externally, it also doesn't feature any raised dots (feet) on the bottom, which is a departure from the norm and could leave the bottom text and serial number vulnerable to being scratched off. The bottom of the camera is made out of metal, which is painted black in the case of the review sample we have, and gives the camera a re-assuring feel. 

The more you use the camera, the more you grow to like it's solid metal feel, which makes a refreshing change from the black plastic construction of most interchangeable lens cameras. The size has grown slightly since the E-P5, but with a good sized rubber grip on the back of the camera feels good in the hand. The only slight complaint would be that the rough texture of the on/off, exposure compensation and front creative control dials can rub your fingers and hands a little like sandpaper. 

The shutter sound is louder than some of the more quiet mirrorless cameras, such as the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II, but is quieter than others, such as the Fujifilm X-E2s

There are a number of customisable buttons, including two function buttons (Fn1, Fn2), and you can also customise the video recording, magnify, depth of field preview, right and down, and L-Fn (Lens Function) buttons, if your lens has a lens function button. The mode dial on top can now be locked and unlocked, and the shutter release has a shutter release cable screw thread. You can also use the touch-screen to change settings and options and using the Olympus Super Control Panel is a quick way to change settings, without having to go into the menus. 

The controls and buttons are all neatly laid out so that you can reach them with one hand, and the front creative dial is stiff so that you can avoid accidentally turning it. There are 81 focus points, and these can be selected using the touch-screen. In magnified view you have the choice of 800 focus points!

The electronic viewfinder has a soft rubber surround, which makes it better for those wearing glasses. There is also dioptre correction, as well as an eye-sensor so that it will automatically switch to the EVF from the screen when the camera is held up to your eye. The electronic viewfinder looks good, and the colour matches the screen on the back, although it is a little darker in comparison. The touch-screen is very clear and bright, and the brightness level can be adjusted. 

Olympus PEN-F Review : Olympus PEN F Black (5)

The menus are the traditional Olympus menus that are long overdue an update, and this means they can be slow to navigate (for example you can't scroll from the first menu to the second without coming out of the first and then going into the second), and it can take a long time to find the option you want as well, as the main setup options are in a very long list (that is thankfully colour coded). There is built in help which will give you additional information on options. 

Selecting some of the modes can also be time consuming, with the "High-res" shot mode found in the drive mode menu, which has 18 options to scroll through. So you have to go through each one before you get to it. Why not put it on the mode dial, or the front Creative control dial.

For the more advanced photographer, or those that like to have their own custom modes setup, the camera has 4 custom modes available on the mode dial. 

With built in Wi-Fi, the PEN-F can be connected to a compatible smartphone or tablet running iOS or Android. The O.I.Share app is easy to use, with the connection quickly setup using a QR Code. There are a large number of options and settings, making it a great way to control your camera remotely, and there are also editing and sharing options built in. You can find out more about O.I.Share here.

Olympus PEN-F Review : Olympus PEN F Black (8)

Battery life - Battery life is rated at 330 shots according to Olympus / CIPA test results, which is average for a mirrorless camera - therefore we would recommend a spare battery if you plan on shooting more. Charging is performed using the provided battery charger, and is not via USB as a number of other cameras are. The camera uses an Olympus USB cable, which is also used for updating the firmware of the camera and any lenses attached.

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Photographs taken using the Olympus PEN-F

There IsVisitors Not WelcomeBoathouseSand, Sea and SkyOn the WearA New DoorNew OuseburnLittle and LargeView of Tower Bridge and The River ThamesThe ConeNot AmusedStudy in silenceThe Grist MillWallbridge Upper LockT & S C 2011

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ElSid 14 11 United Kingdom
27 Jan 2016 3:15PM
I hope the production cameras can produce better image quality than the examples shown here...

All seem to be very noisy, soft with some unpleasant bokeh around defocussed edges and lacking in fine detail - almost phone/compact camera quality...Sad
dannyr 13 46 United Kingdom
28 Jan 2016 3:52PM
Good looking camera, with good features but far too expensive and no weather sealing! I'll take the GX8 over this one, I feel its still the more rounded camera.
ChrisV 16 2.3k 26 United Kingdom
29 Jan 2016 11:19AM

Quote:Good looking camera, with good features but far too expensive and no weather sealing! I'll take the GX8 over this one, I feel its still the more rounded camera.

Yeah, it's the obvious comparison and whilst the Panny can't compete with the superb IS of the Olympus and doesn't have the multi shot hi-res facility [or the 'art filters dial which I can't help but feel is a bit of a gimmick], it beats it on just about everything else - and now it's been out a month or two, at a much lower price point. To say it's a *better* camera is perhaps meaningless as ultimately these things are a bit subjective.

But I do feel the attention this model is getting is to some degree down to its styling and links to an old classic. Good luck to anyone who this suits - your satisfaction is no skin off my nose. But I bet the coverage is a bit frustrating for Panasonic's marketeers...
swa 11 United States
30 Jan 2016 4:11AM
I appreciate the preview article, but have a couple of questions and a suggestion.

First, I would like to know if the LCD is fully articulated so that it can close against the camera back with the screen protected. That capability can make for a better shooting experience that spares the LCD of skin oil when the camera is pressed to one's face for stability. It can also protect somewhat against the elements.

I would also like to know if ephotozine captured the included images with a pre-production Pen F received last fall, perhaps before finishing touches were put on the processing engine. The reason I ask is because in one of the sample images, there are both green and yellow leaves on a tree. Green leaves can be seen in the background in another image.

Lastly, when previewing a new camera and presenting sample images, it would be very helpful if image captions would include information about any art filters and/or post-processing correction (sharpening especially) and manipulation that were applied, or else say the images were straight out of camera. First impressions can be lasting ones, and the impression many of these images convey is of not being ready for prime time. ElSid notes excessive noise and softness. I suspect my elderly but still spry E-PL1 could do these scenes as well or better.

I find it hard to believe Olympus would debut a camera at this price level, with as much care in development and design as the Pen F appears to have had, that produces such lackluster image quality. If it's not a case of a processing engine that needs work, I suppose there's a chance the provided Pen F could be a faulty sample. Any additional information you can provide would be appreciated.
31 Jan 2016 11:11AM
You can buy a full frame, Sony RX1R with a Zeiss lens (and digital zoom if you must) on the web today for the same price. The PEN might be prettier. But, unless you prefer to exhibit your camera rather than your pictures, I think that choice is a no-brainer.
joshwa Plus
12 927 1 United Kingdom
1 Feb 2016 9:49AM
Hi swa,

In answer to your questions: Yes it's full articulated:


Images in the galleries: "ISO" and "General Article Images" were captured with a production PEN F, the others were provided by Olympus and I would think they were on pre-production models, and information on what filters or settings were used were not provided, although you could download the high res images and see if there is any information in the EXIF data.

Hope this helps. When we have a camera in the office for review, we will be able to upload additional images.

mstaffo 10 United States
8 Feb 2016 5:03AM
I don't much care about the "retro looks" or whatever that gimmick is, but I do own both Oly's and Panny's. I like the IS system on the E-M5 MK II much better than Panasonic's. I am a 46 year Pro and between my arthritic hands and drinking too much coffee, I really need Olympus's superior IS for hand held shots. I have the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II, E-M1, GH3 and the GX-8, and they are all fine cameras. Since I now shoot mostly just for myself, I have retired my 5x4's and 10x8's and my complete Canon system, and just shoot micro 4/3 equipment. If you haven't tried the MFT system, you owe it to yourself to give it a go. You can do a search for Nat Geo Photographer Ira Block's test of the GH3 in the Idaho Desert (stills only). He got some beautiful 5ft enlargements that look as good as some shots form much larger sensor cameras. I shoot NO VIDEO, so I can only comment on stills. I can easily hand hold 1/2 sec shots, even with my poor hands. Yes, the high ISO photos are noisier than those from a full frame, but since there are so many fast fixed focal lenses available, I rarely need to shoot above iSO 1600.
joshwa Plus
12 927 1 United Kingdom
25 Feb 2016 10:53AM
Full review now live
Bantu 9 7 1 India
25 Feb 2016 2:16PM
Photo quality is more important rather than style.
18 Mar 2016 2:02AM
Photos look OOF, soft, blurry and I can do all those 'art' effects in post production. I live in Japan and got to do some test shots with the Pen F at Yodobashi Camera along with several lenses. Head shot with the coveted 75mm at ISO 200, 1/250s - soft looking, not very sharp. My DP2 and DP0 Q easily blows away the 'high resolution 50mp' mode, no comparison.

The battle is heating up among these micro 4/3 mirror less compacts. Olympus can do better than this.

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