First Impressions: Olympus Pen-F 20 Mp Camera

Yesterday, I got a new camera: the Olympus Pen-F, a 20 Mp micro four-thirds camera. I bought just the body, as I was upgrading from an Olympus OM-D E-M10, and have a number of lenses. (, Amazon UK)

Pen f1

I started taking pictures back in the early 1980s, using an Olympus OM-1, and when I bought the OM-D two years ago, I was, in part, seduced by the retro film SLR look. But it also fit well in my hands; I was familiar with that style of camera, and I never really cared for the big Canon and Nikon DSLRs, that are unwieldy. The micro four-thirds standard allows these cameras to be a bit smaller, lighter, and makes them less obtrusive.

The Pen-F is an improvement on the E-M10, having 20 Mp instead of 16, and having a raft of in-camera shooting features that make it a more flexible camera. Its rangefinder-type viewfinder makes the camera lower on top – the pyramidal viewfinder on the E-M10 does take up space – and the dials are laid out in a manner that seems more intuitive.

Pen f2

I can’t deny that I’m attracted to this vintage camera look, and in my hands, it feels better than the E-M10. It’s a tad wider (6mm), and lower (10mm, because of the different viewfinder), but the main part of the body is higher than the E-M10. And, while it’s 9mm thinner, it feels like it’s thicker. At 427g, compared to 396g – body only – it feels heftier, but in a good way. It feels more balanced, more evenly weighted than the E-M10.

There are a number of features that make the Pen-F an improvement on the E-M10, such as a higher-resolution viewfinder, which makes a big difference in the way I look at what I shoot. I rarely use the back-panel LCD to take pictures, and the Pen-F has an articulated LCD that you can shut, showing a faux leather back that looks more like on old film camera (and stays out of the way, and uses less battery).

One interesting feature is the front dial that lets you quickly switch among color modes: you can go from natural color to one of three monochrome modes, and you can use a number of artistic filters. I’m not a fan of the latter, but I do like shooting black and white. All the reviews I’ve seen highlight not only the quality of the monochrome renders, but suggest that you don’t even need to shoot RAW, since the camera’s JPEGs are so good.

The 5-axis image stabilization is an improvement on the E-M10’s 3-axis version, but the biggest difference I find in my first photos is the shutter. It’s softer, requires less push to actuate, and the camera moves a lot less. It’s also quieter; the E-M10’s shutter is fairly noisy.

The camera may not be the easiest to hold, as the front right of the device has no protrusion, and I might get a grip. Olympus sells one, of course, at a high price, but there are third-party grips. (Such as this wooden/aluminum grip, which is quite nice, but overpriced here in the UK. (, Amazon UK)) I’m not that worried about dropping it – I always use a strap – but it might be a bit easier to use in odd positions. There is, however, a curved thumb grip that is more prominent than that of the E-M10, which helps keep the camera stable.

Unfortunately, given the very bad weather yesterday, and Apple’s WWDC announcements – which I had to watch for my day job – I haven’t had time to shoot much more than a few indoor test photos. I did spend a lot of time setting up the camera. While I’m familiar with the hermetic menu system of Olympus cameras, the Pen-F was a bear to tweak. The manual is horribly written, and it was very hard for me to figure out, for example, why some of the information displays changed and why I couldn’t find how to change them back.

I look forward to some better weather, and the chance to try out the Pen-F in my garden, photographing flowers and cats, and getting some landscape shots in the coming days. For now, I’m quite satisfied with the Pen-F. It’s a nice upgrade from the E-M10, and it feels just about right.

Here’s a quick shot I took in natural light, with my 17mm lens at f2.8. I tweaked it a bit, because the light is especially gray today, but you can see nice detail and depth of field.


Update: Here’s an article with a number of sample photos I shot with the Pen-F.

Shooting for a bit shows just how good this camera is. The shutter is buttery smooth, it’s fairly quiet, and the viewfinder is extremely fast. It’s easy to shoot a number of photos in succession manually, and the auto-focus keeps up very well.