Guest post written by Gordon Lewis
When I discovered a few days ago that Olympus was introducing a digital version of its landmark PEN-F camera, I admit I was excited. It has the look of the mechanical cameras that photographers of my generation know and loved so well. (I can’t speak to the feel though, since I have yet to hold one.) There are the de rigeur tiny buttons here and there for various digital functions, but mainly there are knurled metal dials: one on the front and four on top. Plus, it’s not just any type of mechanical camera; it’s in the rangefinder style, with the eyepiece in the upper-left corner and no DSLR hump in the middle. The viewfinder is electronic rather than optical. That may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s still an attractive alternative to similar designs that require you to use the rear display for viewing or tie up the hot shoe with a bulky accessory viewfinder. For those of you who actually like framing with the rear display, Olympus made it the type you can flip out to the side and swivel upward or downward.
The new Olympus PEN-F
Without lens the PEN-F is not much bigger than a bar of soap and would be easy to slip into a purse, messenger-style bag, or coat pocket. Add one or two of Olympus’s petite yet fast primes (the 17mm ƒ/1.8 and 45mm ƒ/1.8 m.Zuikos come to mind) and you have a compact, lightweight, yet highly capable kit.
As if these weren’t enough clues to what type of photographer Olympus is targeting, consider this: The PEN-F also has a built-in feature that lets users tweak JPEGs to simulate black-and-white films, including grain simulations and adjustable color contrast filtration. It can also adjust color reproduction and saturation globally (entire image) and locally (by specific colors). If you want to be able to get that classic street or film photography look in-camera, here is where you can find it. You can do all this and more by shooting raw of course, but this will require specialized software and a level of skill you may not have. Also keep in mind that because the PEN-F is not yet available for sale, it will be a few months before you find third-party raw converters that support it. You could also use Olympus’ raw converter, if you don’t mind getting up to speed with what’s likely to be a new and unfamiliar workflow.
There’s a long list of other great features too; for example, a new 20-MP sensor, high-resolution image mode (new to the PEN-F form factor), 5-axis IBIS (in-body image stabilization), electronic shutter, and super-short shutter lag.
So is the new Olympus PEN-F the street and travel photography camera you’ve been waiting for? Do you need it NOW? It will take a few months of use and reviews by real users before there’s any market consensus. In the meantime, if you’re GAS-ing hard, here are three observations to help relieve the pressure:
- The initial street price, body only, is set at $1,199. There are a lot of equally good or even arguably better cameras you could buy for that or less, including cameras that are roughly the same size, form factor and weight. (The Sony A6000 at $550 comes to mind.) The street price is sure to drop after the PEN-F has been on the market for a while, so if you’re the type who hates to find out your camera is selling for a third less than you paid for it, be patient; the price will fall.
- The PEN-F is accompanied by a long list of “premium leather” accessories such as straps, camera bags, and even wrapping cloths. What’s next? Gloves and a houndstooth sport coat with leather elbow patches? Unless you’re into this sort of thing—and I don’t look down of those who are—you may want something where the emphasis is less on style and more on function.
- Remember that you probably felt the same way about whatever other cameras you own now before you bought them. The lust you feel today will eventually subside, only to be replaced by another. In the meantime, the camera you own now is infinitely more useful to you than the camera of your dreams.
Make no mistake: I still find the PEN-F exciting and definitely plan to rent one for a few days, once it’s available and the weather is more to my liking. I’m just under no illusion that a particular style or brand of camera will make me a better street and travel photographer than I already am. Only hard work and more travel will do that. This is not to say you have to feel the same way. If the PEN-F is exactly what you’ve been waiting for and you plan to buy one as soon as it’s available, I’d love to hear why.
Contributing Editor and friend o' TOP Gordon Lewis is a writer who lives with his family in Philadelphia. One of his claims to fame is that he used to write television sitcoms. Most recently he is the author of Street Photography: The Art of Capturing the Candid Moment, published by Rocky Nook.
[Note: For more about the original Pen-F, see Ken Tanaka's article here. And here's more from the famous Olympus Camera designer Yoshihisa Maitani about the original Pen. Thanks to Kevin Purcell for the latter link. —Ed.]
©2016 by Gordon Lewis, all rights reserved
Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Stephen Scharf: "I have to admit I was seized by GAS pangs when I first saw this little puppy. It does look really cool, and I love all the analog dials and wheels for controlling functions. And the retro silver color. From Kevin Raber's first impressions review, it's also really well-made. Then I realized these GAS pangs were driven more by the joy and feel of operating a camera rather than being driven what its really supposed to do, which is capture and produce images. The same GAS pangs drove me to buy the original OM-D E-M5 and subsequently, the E-M1. All absolutely terrific cameras with excellent image and build quality and a fine suite of lenses available. That I never actually used. Because as good as they were, and they are really good, they could never match the magic I see in Fuji X-cam files (not to mention the X-system's unerringly accurate auto white balance).
"I still really want the new little Pen F, but this time, I'm not going to cave...."
marlof: "Yes, I'll get one as soon as they're released. Why? I like using Olympus cameras. I also like using the relatively small Olympus prime lenses (12mm, 17mm and 75mm). Not so much because of their optical quality, but because of their feel in my hand. With those lenses, especially the 12mm and 17mm, I've always preferred the PEN body size over the OM-D body size (which suits the bigger zooms better). The reason for that is simple: the OM-D 'prism' hump and slightly larger size doesn't help the camera in sliding in and out of my jacket pocket (with the other lens in the other jacket pocket). That's also one of the reasons I never liked the add-on viewfinder. I passed on the E-P5 because of this. In using the E-P1 I found that I prefer shooting with a viewfinder, but in using the E-P3 I learned that add-on viewfinders don't work for me. Now they have added an integrated viewfinder to my favorite type of camera. For me, that's a no-brainer; this is a camera I've been waiting for.
"Will it make me a better photographer? No way. But that's not the only reason to buy a new camera...."
Peter Wright: "As a Micro 4/3 user since 2008 with the introduction of the G1 (which I still have), and as an owner of an E-M5 since its introduction in 2012, I am very interested in the Pen F. However I am temporarily immune to GAS: For most of 2015 I did the 'Leica as Teacher' program using my Leica MP, Delta 400, and a Zeiss 35mm lens. (That probably prevented me from upgrading to the E-M5 Mark II last spring.)
"At Christmas when the program was over, I broke out my old E-M5 for the family pictures. However, one of the many things I learned during the year, was that I really enjoyed pure B&W photography, and I missed being in that pure B&W mode, although digital has some definite advantages. Therefore I decided for this year, to embark on a OC/OL/OY program using a newly purchased M-Monochrom and a 50mm lens I already had. Consequently I don't feel the need for the Pen F right now. That gives the Pen F time to drop in price and get a useful firmware upgrade or two before I finally get around to 'needing' one. See how TOP saves you money—I think?"