Olympus PEN-F Review Part 1

Important Notes:
1. I am an Olympus Malaysia employee. 
2. This is a user experience based review, based on my personal opinion which can be subjective.
3. All images were shot in RAW and converted directly to JPEG (High Quality) via Olympus Viewer 3 Version 2 (unreleased at this moment)
4. General camera settings, Noise Filter = OFF, Contrast/Saturation/sharpness = 0, White Balance = Auto (with an option maintain warm color = OFF), Gradation = Normal
5. Minimal post-processing applied to the images, with slight brightness/contrast balance tweak. All images were almost as good as straight out of camera, with minimal cropping for better presentation.

Olympus releases the latest PEN series camera today, the Olympus PEN-F. This new PEN-F is not a successor to the previous PEN E-P5, and is a unique PEN in it's own category. The classic design of the camera styling was inspired by the original Olympus PEN F 35mm Film camera of 1963. Despite the retro and nostalgic camera appearance, the new Olympus PEN-F houses a new 20MP image sensor, 5-Axis Image Stabilization, and all the latest imaging technology Olympus Micro Four Thirds system has to offer. 

Immediately after shooting and reviewing the M.Zuiko 300mm F4 IS PRO lens last weekend, I started shooting with the Olympus PEN-F for the remaining weekend, torturing the camera in real life shooting conditions. Based on that shooting experience and tonnes of images I have collected and scrutinized, this is my user experience review of the new Olympus PEN-F. 


I was glad to hear the new name convention for the Olympus PEN series being a simple, and straightforward PEN-F. Honestly I think the naming and numbering conventions of the cameras are rather bad, we do not need a mouthful of words and numbers to name a camera. For example, why did we not just call it Olympus OMD 1, instead of Olympus OM-D E-M1? Olympus PEN-F makes so much sense, it is short, sweet and hits the message home: the camera's DNA is similar to the original PEN F from 1963 bearing striking resemblance in camera looks and concepts. 

The following are the key highlights of the new PEN:

1) New 20MP Live Mos Image Sensor
This is the first camera from Olympus to feature a new 20MP image sensor to replace the older 16MP image sensor which was used since OM-D E-M5 in 2012. My main focus of this review is to test and find out the performance of the new 20MP image sensor output. 

2) 5-Axis Image Stabilization
Olympus claims to have the most advanced and powerful image stabilization system for consumer camera market. Having used the OM-D series with built in 5-Axis IS over the years, I am expecting the PEN-F to deliver similar image stabilization performance. 

3) First Olympus PEN to have a built in Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). 
After all the complains on not having an integrated, built in EVF, finally, the new PEN-F has one built right at the top-left corner of the camera. This is also the first time the position of the EVF is not in line with the center of the lens, as per the requests from popular crowd feedback. The EVF panel  is OLED and has 2.36 Million Dot rated at 0.62x magnification.  

4) Monochrome and Colour Profile Control
There is a knob placed directly in front of the camera, next to the lens that allows quick access and control to Monochrome and Colour Profiles. This feature is NOT explored in this part of review, and will be tested and blogged in my coming PEN-F Review Extension. 

5) Other Notable PEN-F Features:

Fully articulated variangle LCD screen

50MP High Resolution Shot - same sensor shift method to create multiple shots, merged to produce super high resolution 50MP image, an improvement from the 40MP found in E-M5 Mark II

First Electronic Curtain and Silent Shutter - to mitigate shutter shock, and allow for silent camera operation

ISO Low is now at equivalent ISO 80, instead of ISO100

Highlight and Shadow control now has a new "midtone" control. 

AF Target Spot Metering - AF target area is now linked with metering area. Previously Spot Metering were always fixed at the center of the frame. Now, you can choose to have the spot metering to follow the AF area selected. 

There is no built in flash, but the bundled add on flash is the same flash for E-M5 Mark II, the new FL-LM3 which has bounce capabilities. 

Full compatibility with 5-Axis Sync IS when M.Zuiko 300mm F4 IS PRO lens is used. Therefore, both in camera 5-Axis IS and Lens IS can be fully optimized. 

Live View Boost 2, first introduced in E-M5 Mark II to aid in boosting the live view to be visible in almost no light situation, is also available in PEN-F. 

Lens information for lenses without electronic contacts can be registered and recorded in Exif info of recorded images (i.e. information such as lens name, focal length, and aperture value)


For full specifications, kindly refer to the official Olympus product page (here). 





CAMERA DESIGN - WHAT WORKS AND WHAT DO NOT


The overall appearance is closely resembling the PEN F of 1963, which has been beautifully crafted. Those who love retro looking cameras will instantly fall in love with the new PEN-F. Personally, I do think the PEN-F design is simply elegant and strikingly attractive. It is the kind of camera that once taken out from the bag, attention will be driven to it. To me, this is the best looking PEN camera from Olympus up to date. 

As much as I do agree and admire the beauty of a stylish classic camera design, which the PEN-F flawlessly delivers, I prioritize function-ability more than just mere looks of the camera.

The stand-out characteristic of the camera at a glance, is the abundant use and placements of manual dials and knobs all over the camera. At the top plate of the camera, there are five separate dials, the usual Camera Function Dial (switching around P, A, S, M and Custom shooting modes), the twin control dials for quick adjustments of exposure parameters (usually aperture and shutter speed), a new dedicated Exposure Compensation dial at the far extreme right of the camera and strangely, even the camera On-Off switch is made into a rotary dial. Going to the front of the camera, there is the sixth and final dial to quickly access Art Filters, Colour Creator and the new feature for PEN-F: Monochrome and Color Profile. 

My goodness, I would think 6 dials in a camera is an overkill. 

I Prefer On-Off Switch, Not Dial
I do not like the On and Off button being a round dial, I would have preferred it t be a "switch" like previously in E-M1, or E-M5. It just makes no sense to have a dial which is difficult for the fingers to "feel" the position for quick turning on and off of the camera without having to look at the dial. 

Exposure Compensation Dial Too Stiff
The Exposure Compensation dial was unnecessary to me. For previous cameras I am used to using the twin control dials, one of them dedicated for direct control of the exposure compensation. Furthermore, that exposure compensation dial on PEN-F was uncomfortably stiff, perhaps purposefully made that way to prevent accidental rotating motion due to unwanted bumps or movement in camera bags. However, that stiffness gets in the way of the overall shooting experience, as I do adjust my exposure compensation a lot while composing my shots. It was so stiff that at times I needed to use TWO fingers instead of one just to turn the exposure compensation dial.  In the end, I decided to customize the dial functions to disable the exposure compensation dial, so that I can adjust the exposure compensation from the front control dial. 

Poor Positioning of Front Knob
Lastly, that front dial next to the lens to control monochrome, color profile, Art filters and Colour creator may be a brilliant idea and can be genuinely useful, but the positioning is quite poor. The knob has rather harsh edge around the outer dial texture, and that harsh edge brushes against the side of my finger as I was gripping the camera. This problem was first highlighted to me by fellow photographer/blogger Ming Thein, and I fully agree with him after a full day of extensive shooting with the PEN-F. This particular problem can be easily understood after viewing subsequent photographs shown below. The position of the knob was placed too close to the hand-gripping area, and the fingers need more room to breathe. 


The harsh texture around the front knob brushes the finger, which can be quite uncomfortable. 

I have slender fingers. I can imagine this problem could be worse for those with larger fingers. 


I think this is my first time writing so lengthily about camera design. While the camera does look sexy, I do think the amount of dials can be lesser by a few and overall function-ability will benefit from better thought-out dials positioning.


SHOOTING WITH THE OLYMPUS PEN-F

I have about two days to shoot with the PEN-F and gather sufficient photographs to compose this blog entry. I have spent the entire two days out shooting, and as much as I tried my best I could, I did not manage to cover all the items I wanted to do. 

In this blog entry (Part 1), I shall be exploring:
1) How does the new 20MP Live Mos Image Sensor perform? In terms of both image sharpness and high ISO performance.
2) Camera ergonomics and handling, with and without the ECG-4 additional grip.
3) General comments on the camera performance: Autofocus, battery life, EVF, etc. 

Items which are NOT covered in this blog entry, but to be included in my subsequent extension review (Part 2):
1) 50MP High Resolution Shot
2) Monochrome & Colour Profile - NEW Feature for PEN-F

I have armed myself with a plethora of M.Zuiko lenses - 12mm F2, 25mm F1.8, 45mm F1.8, 60mm F2.8 Macro. and 75mm F1.8. I have brought the PEN-F to shoot on Kuala Lumpur streets, did some insect macro shots and covered a live gig on a dimly lit stage.


I strongly believe that most people who are interested in this new PEN-F have one burning question to ask - how much better is the new 20MP image sensor in comparison to the older 16MP version? Is the 4MP increase of resolution making a difference in final image output? We shall explore the high ISO performance extensively at the later part of this blog entry.

I think it is fair to assume that loyal Olympus users, who stay faithful to the system do expect a new image sensor to replace the older 16MP version which has been used in all the incarnations of Olympus OM-D and PEN cameras since the original E-M5 back in 2012. The 16MP image sensor in E-M5 was a huge step up from its predecessor and was a game-changer, matching and even surpassing some of the best APS-C image sensor DSLR cameras available at that time. That 16MP, though aged now, was a revolution and successfully changed the crowd perception toward Micro Four Thirds that small image sensor can be a good thing. Not much has changed ever since, and after 3 years, finally a new image sensor is introduced in PEN-F, the first camera from Olympus to feature the 20MP Live Mos sensor. 


IMAGE QUALITY: SHARPNESS

How much more image details can we squeeze out of a 25% increase in pixel quantity? Practically, I am not expecting the 4MP increase of resolution to dramatically improve the overall image output. Nonetheless, I acknowledge the advantage of having more pixels, even slight increase in pixel count can add more headroom for cropping and straightening adjustments (keystone/perspective corrections). 

I generally find the image output from the PEN-F to be excellent in overall sharpness, exhibiting good tonal clarity, contrast and high amount of fine details. 

All images from this point onward were taken with Olympus PEN-F


F1.8, 1/200sec, ISO200, 25mm F1.8 lens
First shots with the PEN-F were portraits of a friend, Carmen. 

F1.8, 1/1250sec, ISO200, 45mm F1.8 lens

F5.6, 1/1250sec, ISO200, 12mm F2 lens

F7.1, 1/3200sec, ISO200, 12mm F2

Crop from previous image

F1.8, 1/640sec, ISO200, 45mm F1.8 lens

F2.2, 1/125sec, ISO200, 45mm F1.8 lens

Crop from previous image

F2.5, 1/250sec, ISO200, 45mm F1.8 lens

Crop from previous image

F1.8, 1/125sec, ISO200, 45mm F1.8 lens

F3.2, 1/50sec, ISO200, 45mm F1.8 lens

F1.8, 1/2000sec, ISO200 45mm F1.8 lens

F5, 1/320sec, ISO200, 45mm F1.8 lens

F2.5, 1/250sec, ISO200, 45mm F1.8 lens

F1.8, 1/2500sec, ISO200, 45mm F1.8 lens


As shown in many sample images above, and observing the close up crops of the samples, I am very pleased with the sharpness of the image output from the Olympus PEN-F. 

I do not see a great jump in terms of image clarity or sharpness from the older OM-D or PEN cameras. I may not have side by side comparisons to show, but I have sufficient shooting experience to conclude that the image output from the new PEN-F is in fact, rather similar to what you can expect to obtain from OM-D E-M5 Mark II/E-M10 Mark II/E-M1, with perhaps minor improvements. Considering the fact that the image processing engine is still the same, Truepic 7, the image characteristics are quite similar. 

One rather obvious improvement scrutinizing at the extreme crops of human eye, is that the new image sensor has less "JPEG Sharpening Artifacts" and the fine details do not look exaggerated. One common trait of the 16MP Image Sensor (in older E-M10 Mark II, E-M1, etc) is the over-sharpened look straight out of camera, and it is no secret that Olympus JPEG engine does apply aggressive sharpening. While I do believe the level of sharpening in the PEN-F is quite high as well, the final outcome of the images looked more natural and less "strained". This can be clearly seen in the eyelashes and eye brows of the few close up portraits above. I believe that the additional pixels do help in creating the overall more natural and cleaner looking output, but I want to think that the new 20MP image sensor fares better in producing natural looking sharp images. 

I know that some of you may ask me how the dynamic range is with the new 20MP, I shall not comment much here and patiently wait for better qualified technical review sites to churn out meaningful tests/data/charts. From my shooting experience under hot Malaysian sun, the PEN-F handled the high contrast scenes very well, and is less likely to have highlight clipping than the older 16MP image sensor. Honestly the improvement is not marginally huge, but the difference is still  noticeable. 


CAMERA ERGONOMICS AND HANDLING

To test the camera handling, as usual, the best way possible I could think of, is to do Insect Macro Shooting. 

For those of you who are not familiar with my insect macro shooting techniques, kindly read here

Basically, to perform my insect macro shooting, I am hand-holding the PEN-F with the M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 macro lens attached single-handedly with my right hand, and the external flash on my left. The flash is fired wirelessly off camera. The insect macro shooting session lasted about 2 hours. 

F3.5, 1/30sec, ISO640, 60mm F2.8 Macro Lens, No Flash used

F8, 1/200sec, ISO200, 60mm F2.8 Macro Lens, Wireless Flash Used

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F3.5, 1/160sec, ISO250, 60mm F2.8 Macro Lens, No Flash Used

F10, 1/200sec, ISO200, 60mm F2.8 Macro Lens, Wireless Flash Used

Crop from previous image

F10, 1/200sec, ISO200, 60mm F2.8 Macro Lens, Wireless Flash Used
This is the best case to illustrate the versatility and necessity of using wireless flash off camera for insect macro shooting. No other flash system mounted on camera can illuminate the spider between two leaves. 

F8, 1/125sec, ISO200, 60mm F2.8 Macro lens, Wireless Flash Used

F3.5, 1/60sec, ISO200, 60mm F2.8 Macro Lens, No Flash Used. 

Let me just cut right into the chase, if you want to get the Olympus PEN-F, you MUST get the External Grip ECG-4 as well. There is just no other way around it. 

The PEN-F does not have a proper hand-gripping area, which makes handling of larger lenses a little odd (eg 75mm F1.8). In fact, there is very little good thing to write about camera handling without the use of the ECG-4 grip. Unlike previous PEN cameras that have some sort of beefier hand-gripping area to aid in better hand-holding, this PEN-F is perfectly flat at the gripping side. 

The good news is, the handling improved significantly with the addition of the ECG-4 grip, and the problem is immediately solved. I was shooting at the park, hunting for insects for more than two hours, holding the camera and lens combination with just one hand. The camera was small and light enough that it did not strain my wrist or arm. The camera and lens were balanced (I have not tested anything larger than 75mm F1.8 at this point) and shooting experience was comfortable. 

The bad news is the need to use an Allen Key to attach the grip to the camera, which can be inconvenient. This is especially true for photographers who use multiple camera bags, you might tend to forget small things like the Allen Key. Nevertheless once the grip is attached, it does not get in the way of changing battery or memory card. Why can't the usual screw on method (as implemented in all previous Olympus camera grips) be used instead?


IMAGE QUALITY: HIGH ISO

Here comes the next big question, how does the new PEN-F fare in low light shooting conditions?

Since we now have a new image sensor in PEN-F, I think it is only fair to expect improvements. Now, it depends on how much improvement was being anticipated, and many of us, myself included, have been hoping for a miracle to happen with a new image sensor for Micro Four Thirds system. Perhaps having the high ISO performance to match a full frame system is too far a stretch, but hey, we surely want to be able to bridge that gap. 

I went to several dimly lit locations to test out the high ISO performance. 


F9, 1/100sec, ISO3200, 25mm F1.8 lens

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F1.8, 1/320sec, ISO3200, 75mm F1.8 lens

F1.8, 1/320sec, ISO3200, 75mm F1.8 lens

F9, 1/60sec, ISO6400, 25mm F1.8 lens

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F2.8, 1/8sec, ISO6400, 25mm F1.8 lens

Crop from previous image

F8, 1/80sec, ISO6400, 25mm F1.8

Crop from previous image

F2.2, 1/60sec, ISO640, 12mm F2 lens

F1.8, 1/200sec, ISO800, 45mm F1.8 lens

F1.8, 1/250sec, ISO2000, 75mm F1.8 lens

No, unfortunately, no miracles here. 

The high ISO noise control of Olympus PEN-F is very good, but there is nothing extra-ordinary observed from my shooting experience. 

In fact, just by crude observation, the images do look slightly better than what can be produced with older cameras, such as E-M1 or E-M5 Mark II.  High ISO noise is well controlled, there is little to no trace of chromatic noise (color dots), and at very high ISO the luminance noise (grains) can be intrusive, but not destructive to the image, and not a problem at all unless viewed at 100%. The most important point to take note is that good amount of details are well preserved, even shooting at ISO3200 and 6400. In addition, the color integrity is not compromised and on the whole the I would not recommend the use of ISO beyond 6400, unless absolutely necessary. 

Looking from another perspective, having very usable high ISO at 3200 and 6400 (the luminance noise can be further processed to be filtered off, and no trace of Chroma Noise straight out of camera), in combination of use of bright aperture prime lenses (M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8, 45mm F1.8) with the capabilities of the amazing 5-Axis Image Stabilization system, the Micro Four Thirds system is sufficient in handling most commonly encountered low light shooting situations. I fully understand that sometimes we do have "a black cat in a dark alley at night" sort of condition, which is rare, and I fully understand why more expensive full frame cameras are needed. For 99% of other commonly shot scenes, the Micro Four Thirds is more than sufficient to get the job well done. 

OTHER PEN-F OBSERVATIONS

Camera Autofocus was super fast, and extremely accurate. Focusing was also fairly quick in less than favorable lighting conditions. Olympus has optimized the Single-AF performance and I dare claim that for single point focusing, Olympus cameras take the top spot, rivaling even the most expensive of cameras in the market. I did not test the Continuous AF capability of the camera, because of two reasons: I do not use C-AF in my shooting much, and Olympus did not claim to have improved C-AF in PEN-F. 

5-Axis Image Stabilization works just as well as OM-D E-M5 Mark II. I shall explore the 5-Axis IS performance in my review extension. 

Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) looks exactly the same as the one used in Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II. I have been shooting E-M10 Mark II side by side with the PEN-F, hence I made comparisons. 

Battery life was decent, as expected from E-M5 Mark II or E-M1, lasting about 400 shots per charge. 

I particularly liked the 4 distinctive Custom Function modes placed directly on the Camera Mode Dial, next to P, A, S and M. Since I was shooting insect macro I have customized one for my macro settings, and I can imagine how useful that must be, as I assign one for night landscape/milky way, one for flash photography and one for street! No more excuses of not being able to set up the camera in time. 

I am also supplying direct side by side, crop comparisons between the new Olympus PEN-F and Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II. 

HIGH ISO COMPARISON PEN-F VS E-M10 MARK II



The original framing 

NOTE: Images on the left were from PEN-F and on the right, E-M10 Mark II

ISO 200


ISO 800


ISO 1600


ISO 3200


ISO 6400


ISO 12800


ISO 25600


Based on the Green Arrow Lego comparison done above, the high ISO performance between the Olympus PEN-F and OM-D E-M10 Mark II is very close. In fact, in just a quick glance, they appear almost identical, and it takes further inspection to see any difference. The PEN-F does perform slightly better than the E-M10 Mark II, but the margin of difference is rather small. The high ISO grain pattern is the same for both cameras, but the new PEN-F has finer grain. 

I shall leave the conclusion open for your interpretations. I have also included ALL the green arrow original uncropped, full resolution images in the download session if anyone is interested to do their own comparisons. I shot these images in RAW and did NO further adjustments converting them to JPEG via Olympus Viewer 3. 

There is no point of me supplying the RAW files for you, at this moment you have no way to open the RAW files yet as it is from a new camera. I am currently using an unreleased Olympus Viewer 3 (version 2) to handle the RAW files from PEN-F. 

I have selected a total of 35 images from this blog for full resolution download:




PART 1 REVIEW SUMMARY  

I am a little torn on what to write in the closing of Part 1 of my Olympus PEN-F review. 

On one hand, as an Olympus fanboy, I have high expectations in the new PEN-F, hoping that there would be a huge leap in the image quality from the new 20MP image sensor. I am sure I am not alone in this, and many Olympus loyal supporters are echoing my sentiments. Finding out that the image quality produced by the PEN-F is only slightly better than E-M10 Mark II on the whole basically toned down the level of excitement I was in when I was reviewing the camera. 

On the other hand, as a practical photographer, the performance and output of the Olympus PEN-F is more than adequate for the photography work that I do, and it was difficult to find fault with the camera (except for some strange, questionable design choices). Image quality straight out of the camera was rich in detail and pleasingly sharp, yet looking natural and clean at the same time. High ISO performance was not exactly stellar by today's standards, but sufficient for most photography work considering the availability of wide aperture prime lenses and the incredible 5-Axis Image Stabilization. The PEN-F has done so many things right such as the super fast AF and built in large and sharp EVF. This is the kind of camera that is made to lust for: beautiful design blended with great functions and shooting capabilities. 





COMING NEXT IN PART 2

I think I do want to test out more of the PEN-F's features before making a final conclusion on the camera in my review. I shall be shooting with PEN-F in this coming long weekend (for Kuala Lumpur), testing the 50MP high resolution shot, using longer and larger lenses, perhaps do some city landscape, and maybe a bit of slow shutter action to torture the 5-Axis IS. One important feature not to be missed out is the Monochrome and Colour Profile control. There was only so much I could cover in the span of less than 2 days, and I shall be looking into all these items that I have missed soon and blog about them in my Part 2 PEN-F review.

Until then, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask. At the time this blog entry is published, I shall be busy with the product launch event in Malaysia, and will not be able to reply to your comments and emails immediately. If you do have requests do keep them coming, I will do what I can to fulfill them in the weekend shooting sessions with the PEN-F for my Part 2 review.

UPDATE: Part 2 Review is now live (click). 


Olympus PEN-F is available from B&H (click here). 
Please help support this site by liking my Facebook Page (click here). 

263 comments:

  1. Nice review Robin. Online waiting for Part 2. :p

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    1. Robin, when you add the optional grip is the pen f still smaller then the Panasonic GX8

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    2. I have not seen GX8 in real life. Perhaps some comparison with dimensions will help?

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  2. Thanks for you VERY honest review, Robin...and of course, you great photos, (especially of the camera!). I have to say that I think the design of the camera is quite beautiful...but I have never shot a jpeg in my life..(RAW only)..so...although I was entralled with the rumors of this camera...it is just not the proper tool for this serious photographer. Alas...it could have been. It isn't often that Olympus disappoints me...but they have this time. :-(

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    1. I don't think the RAW can be disappointing as the adobe ACR is not supported yet. We shall wait and see how the image quality truly performs by then.

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    2. Ah...you misunderstand. I am sure the RAW files will be just fine...but the whole purpose of the camera is geared toward the JPEG shooter. If the Art Dial (which I would never use) was not there in the way of my fingers and the camera was aimed a little more towards the serious shooter..I would have interest...but that is not the case here. As others have mentioned on the web...I would be more interested in a "PEN PRO" . Designed similar to this with Weather Sealing and no Art Dial. I would love to see THAT Olympus camera. I hope this model sells well., though.

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    3. So far I would think that this is the best pro capable PEN from Olympus yet. But hey if you are more toward serious photography OM-D is the way to go.

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    4. Yes, I own two OMD's! Thanks again for the GREAT review!

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  3. Well, no TruePIC VIII is unfortunate. The lack of a real grip isn't surprising though but it is sad about the front dial.

    I'm glad that I already got the Panasonic GX8.

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    1. Yeah I wonder why there is no new processing engine for the new image sensor! I really do wonder how the PEN-F compares with GX8

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    2. I'm exceptionally happy with the GX8, as it is 95% what I like about the GH4 but similar enough to the E-M1 that I feel comfortable using it instead of the GH4 when working with the E-M1.

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    3. Thanks Nobuyuki-san for sharing! I would love to get my hands on GX8 and try it out myself!

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  4. Thanks for a great review Robin! Quick question - is OV3 ver 2 better performance wise :-) ?

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    1. No worries. OV3 performance has not improved. Still as sluggish as ever

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  5. Seems cute and fine the Olympus Pen F =D Your review is so detail! When can I play it? haha!

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    1. Weekend free or not? Haha don't say #bojio

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  6. For Pen-F body price one could buy an E-M10mk2 + 14-42 EZ + 60 macro. I'd buy the latter!

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    1. They are both different cameras. After hand holding the PEN-F you would understand why it is priced that way. Of course E-M10 Mark II is an awesome camera by itself.

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  7. Looking at the last photo, I can see why you *E!S*$!@ like that front dial. It is indeed quite pretty and retro but I can imagine how disturbing to our fingers it is. I think I have to come to see you and the PEN-F asap.

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  8. Many thanks for the excellent early review Robin. I'm agonizing over selling my Nikon D810 and lenses to move to the Olumpus system (purely because I'm too old to lug around the Nikon gear now)
    I've been holding off anticipating the EM 1 would be upgraded to get better ISO and articulating screen. Even if the EM 1 gets this new sensor, it looks like there'll but little or no improvement in ISO.
    How sad. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

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    1. To gain some money, i would probably wait for E-M1 mark II...and buy a mark I second hand ;)
      E-M1 seen a lot of improvements by firmware updates recently.
      About sensor comparison, i'm a little disappointed. I think with 16MP, we reached M43 "maximum" pixel count. I hit diffraction at f11 on 16MP sensor. Could be f8 on 20MP. So, to me, Sony sensors should concentrate on 16MP and faster readout. And so, we could get 50MP HiRes faster.
      After all, 20MP on M43 is equivalent to a 4 time surface on FF sensor...witch mean 80MP FF sensor :D

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    2. Cheers gLOW-X I had thought of this but I am a shameless hussy when it comes to boys toys gLOW-X. I would have buyers itch if the EM 1 II was better.
      Many thanks and kind regards for your comments.

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    3. Hey John, it is still too early to tell about the E-M1 successor! I still hold hope that there will be significant improvement, since E-M1 range of product for Olympus is the flagship!

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    4. Hey john,
      Now in Malaysia the E-M1 price has dropped significantly that it is quite reasonably!

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    5. The E-M1 II will definitely *not* get this sensor, as it will support phase detection autofocus. The E-M1 is Olympus' flagship, so I'm expecting a lot. However the idea that it most certainly will have an articulating screen rather than a tilting one annoys me, because I really like shooting my E-M1 "rolleyflex style".

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    6. Yes! My Canon G5X has the flip-out screen: really quite unusable for street shooting as compared to my EM10.

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  9. THanks for a well adone and quick review. How strange is it that just one frontal knob seems the biggest downside of this really good cam he?
    I hop so that HiRes mode is much better than it was but Mingh has already shown moreless that we shouldn't expect anything here. And if so, I am strongly leaning towards the GX8. For it has done so many things right and it does have weathersealing too. DFD for action is very nice to track focus (wonder how this cam does actuallY) and well 4K video is at least very nice to have....I was hoping for a whole lot more from Oly, but if 50 MP HiRes gets things done in 1/4s instead of 1s I'd be happy.

    So eagerly awaiting part II, Robin.

    Thx!

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    1. rest assured the 50MP high resolution shot will be the tested.

      I do feel that GX8 is more suitable to be compared with the E-M5 Mark II. Camera design aside, the specifications are more similar.

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  10. You may be disappointed in the 20MP at this time, but my guess is it's like a new computer. They never feel much faster. But my guess is that in a few weeks you won't want to go back, and will really notice the difference when you 'look back'. Best of luck.

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    1. Sure, we will just have to see what happens!

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  12. Hey Robin - good to see a down to earth practical review again. It's a shame Olympus didn't add weather proofing to this camera.

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    1. Hey Shaun,
      I think their product planning somehow dedicated the OM-D cameras to weather sealing.

      Delete
  13. Thanks for your nice examples Robin. There are already many more camera reviewers who tried this camera. Quite a few of them prefer to shoot at sinister locations. Some of them are shooting such boring pictures that I wonder why someone should desire a camera at all. But in your case I cannot wait to go to the photo store to try one out.
    Looking at the suits I thought these photos were examples for High Definition, instead of High ISO.
    Being more rational: I like the looks, but the camera is larger than the other Olympus Pen models. Even slightly bigger than the OM5. The design seems more aimed at lifestyle than at functional photography. The wart at the front seems a mistake. Wrong position, and personally I am not interested to switch colors all the time.
    The swivel makes the camera bigger in use (I love to be invisible when I shoot).* I would have preferred a small built in flash as well. The overall impression is that Olympus is becoming too creative. But looking at your examples the sensor seems to be an improvement for the ones who want large images. With jpegs like this, who wants raw?

    * By the way Robin, do you know a platform where users can unite and oppose against the swivel screens that Olympus is using on the recent models. If they are continuing this policy I will switch to another brand. And reading many reactions I am sure I am not the only one.

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    1. I dislike the swivel screens. I prefer tilt screens, those with two hinges at the side or just one hinge at bottom of the screen so that the screen can be flipped inwards or up for selfie :D

      Delete
    2. Thanks Wolters for your kind words.

      I do not agree with your comment on the PEN-F being larger than the other PEN models. It is quite similar in size and weight to E-P5, even if there is size difference it is easily negligible. I am not sure what gave you the impression that the camera was huge.

      Actually the camera is aimed towards photography enthusiasts, not necessarily pro photographers, but surely for photographers who know what they are doing. You do not aim just the lifestyle people with all those manual dials and knobs. Especially not with four custom mode dials.

      The camera did not have a flash, but it has an EVF instead. I think an integrated EVF is more useful, and there is hotshoe to attach flash which frankly, not many photographers that the camera is targeting will use.

      Delete
    3. On top of Hongjian's comment, the swivel screen can do one very important thing that the tilt screen cannot, low angle portrait shots.

      Delete
    4. Count me in. As I wrote in another comment: I like to use my E-M1 "rolleiflex style", often even with focusing and shooting by tapping the screen. This will be a much less joyful experience with an articulated screen.

      Delete
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    6. On Camera Size Comparison it shows bigger than my PEN E-PL1 and my E-M5.
      EVF instead of a flash? Why? Do we have to choose? There are many cameras that have both, like the E-M10 II.
      Okay, I will wait for the PEN F II then.

      Imaging Resource already has 50 gallery photos and 90 studio samples. Have a look at the High Res. It gave me goose bumps.
      They haven’t got many reactions so maybe there are not many visitors. Small cameras aren’t big in the USA : )

      Delete
    7. What camera size comparison, E-PL1 is 115 x 72 x 42 mm, E-M5 is 122 x 89 x 43 mm, and the new PEN-F is 125 x 72 x 37 mm.

      It may be slightly longer (few mm), but definitely slimmer than E-PL1 and also shorter than E-M1. Overall, looking at the dimensions, the three cameras are ALMOST the same size!! How can this help you to conclude that the PEN-F is actually BIGGER? I have been using E-PL1, E-M5 over the years extensively, and I shot with the PEN-F last weekend for 2 full days. If the size difference is there, don't you think I would have noticed and say something about it? It was negligible and not worth a mention.

      If you want to have BOTH flash and EVF, then get the E-M10 Mark II. The problem is, many people hate the "bump" on the OM-D cameras, hence the PEN flat top has a popular demand. To make it flat, either one of the flash or EVF has to go.

      Delete
  14. great review! you prefer M5 mark II or Pen F ?

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    1. If I were to choose one, I would go for the OM-D.

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  15. I saw some website posting the olympus pen F will be selling for usd $1200!

    I think there are so many capable m43 cameras out there that offers much better value at that price tag. Add in 4k video or weather seal body might better justify the high price tag.

    I agree with wolter that articulating flip out screen is a pain. You flip it outwards , it extends so far out from body and if someone or you yourself bump against it with force , it will break the screen arm immediately . The tilt screen on em1 works so much better.

    Perhaps you should test out the FAST focusing as advertised on olympus website. I read thru it, the only new feature seems to be the finger focus panning and using that with EVF. I find it a strange implementation but you might be a bettet tester since i didnt try that.

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    1. I have tested the fast focusing. I did not write lengthily about it, because I think it has come to a poing that Olympus AF is so fast it is indistinguishable from the newer camera, even if it was a bit faster. Af targeting pad was already introduced in E-M10 Mark II and was not a new thing.

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  16. As always, awesome post with awesome pictures! Love the new Pen, may I know if the focus peaking implementation remains the same i.e. overlay / laggy

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    1. I have not tested that out yet, but will do so this weekend in my Part 2 review. Thanks for highlighting.

      Delete
  17. I am agree with you about the naming on OMD. Olympus should make the new model easy to pronounce. Anyway good review and I still thinking that my precious EM5 are here to stay from your poisonous review. Thank you!

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    1. Thanks Ashraf for agreeing. Yes, hope they have easier names for newer cameras from now on!

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  18. The review is great!!! I think the low light capabilities combined with luminous lenses and image stabilization can give a 100% satisfaction guarantee not in 99% of cases but in 99.99% of these situations. The only minus looks to be the price, which for a true independent artist (as I think I am) is much to much. Perhaps that the prices will drop to the older 16 MPixels cameras from the Olympus portfolio. Have a nice day!!!

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    1. I think for the build quality and overall classic design, with a new sensor and all the latest imaging tech, the price is justified. But of course I also acknowledge that this camera is not for every one.

      Delete
  19. Robin:

    Technical question: Can you control the focus point using your thumb like a mouse on the lcd screen whilst having your eye at the EVF - i.e. using the LCD screen to 'scroll' through the focus points instead of relying on the four way directional buttons? If this is possible indeed as I read elsewhere then OLY has freed up the 4 directional buttons up to use for the set purposes (ISO, etc.)


    I am glad spot metering can move with the focus point.

    I hope C-AF sees an improvement.

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    Replies
    1. Mark, are you referring to the AF targeting pad as seen in E-M10 Mark II? Yes, PEN-F has the exact same feature, you can trace your finger around the LCD screen while using the EVF to change focusing points.

      I don't think there is improvement for C-AF. It was not highlighted in the specifications and features of the camera.

      Delete
  20. Hello, thanks for the review. Regarding the HIGH ISO COMPARISON PEN-F VS E-M10 MARK II, images on the right (then taken with EM10mkII), seems to me more sharp than the images on left, at every ISO...

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    Replies
    1. Dear Danilo,
      That is not true. The image on the right taken by E-M10 Mark II appeared sharper because the figure of Green Arrow was in smaller size, in fact, if you examine the fine details, I would say the sharpness is slightly better on the PEN-F image.

      Delete
    2. Ok, thank you very much Robin. :-)

      Delete
  21. Robin why aren't you reviewing layout of knobs as part of the design process? Does Oly have actual photographers doing that job? How can they miss so much in mechanical design? Lens group does a better job.

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    1. Dear Bob,
      I don't get to do anything about the R&D process. I work in Olympus Malaysia.

      Delete
    2. Hello Robin.

      thank you for this great review part 1. I am an OMD EM-1 owner from germany. And until this review i looked very optimistic and very expectant in the future for the new OMD EM1 Mark II. But now i was a little bit disappointed about the new 20 MP sensor. I thought and i hoped for even a more pronounced increase in performance in high ISO. But it seems there is no significant higher performance……Pity!
      Now the hopes of a higher improvement have dropped significantly. Remains to be seen how Olympus with the EM-1 successor else so scores.
      Thanks for your review Robin, great work!

      Delete
    3. Hey Limo,
      I think it is still too early to judge what will come for the successor of E-M1, so let's not lose hope too soon.

      Delete
  22. I saw some website posting the olympus pen F will be selling for usd $1200!

    I think there are so many capable m43 cameras out there that offers much better value at that price tag. Add in 4k video or weather seal body might better justify the high price tag.

    I agree with wolter that articulating flip out screen is a pain. You flip it outwards , it extends so far out from body and if someone or you yourself bump against it with force , it will break the screen arm immediately . The tilt screen on em1 works so much better.

    Perhaps you should test out the FAST focusing as advertised on olympus website. I read thru it, the only new feature seems to be the finger focus panning and using that with EVF. I find it a strange implementation but you might be a bettet tester since i didnt try that.

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  23. I know, I'm the tiny minority here. But I was dreading the introduction of a viewfinder in the PEN line. Haven't really seen any detailed pictures of the backside of the camera, but at least the protrusion doesn't seem to look quite as disgusting as the viewfinder of the gx7/8.

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    1. Yeap, it was the public feedback that made the EVF into the PEN-F. It is not ugly at all of course.

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  24. Is it just me, or I think there is some sort of shutter shock in the insert shots (100% crops)?

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    1. They look a little soft to my eyes.

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    2. I don't understand what insert shots you were referring to. But none of the photos above look soft. If it did someone else would have pointed out.

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    3. This one in specific
      http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-rdFBf695AMM/VqZW5JkuQ9I/AAAAAAAAtDY/P5caphEBbqY/s1600/P1250327a.jpg

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  25. I did not realize that feature was Already in em-10ii.

    This is a bit of a let down suddenly. I wonder if it's in the em-5II also then.


    This camera ticks a lot of boxes; but my e-p 5 probably still hahahaha a value.

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    1. Nope, the AF targeting pad was introduced in the E-M10 Mark II, and E-M5 Mark II does not have it, not even with current latest firmware.

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  26. Any chance we'll see the ability to link our spot metering point to the AF point on the EM5II, just like we are now able to do on this camera? Also, what about the monochrome modes?

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    1. Nope, these features are unique to the new PEN-F at this moment.

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  27. Hi Robin,
    This is Debbie from Olympus Taiwan. Our online-marketing team think that your work is amazing!
    Could you let us share your works in our official Facebook-Olympus TW:https://www.facebook.com/Olympus-TW-386268178057359/
    Once we have your permission, we will post your work in our Facebook with your name and camera model as the title of work and your resume/short autobiography/website info as the content.
    We are sincerely looking forward to any positive from you. Many thanks!

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    Replies
    1. Sure Debbie. Go ahead no worries! Thanks for the courtesy of asking.

      Delete
  28. Robin, great review. You mentioned that you were able to disable the exposure compensation dial. Is it also possible to assign it to a different function, say ISO?
    Thanks

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    1. Currently I don't have the camera with me so I don't know if ISO is assignable but I did assign it to Flash Exposure compensation instead.

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  29. Robin: do you know if the Exposure Compensation can be changed when the camera is set to Manual and Auto ISO? This feature is present on higher end Nikon cameras and is quite useful. Thanks, Richard

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    1. The Exposure compensation dial has only two customizable functions: either the usual exposure compensation or the FLASH exposure compensation.

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    2. Robin: I didn't make my original question clear enough. So here goes: if shooting in Manual and Auto ISO, can I dial in either pos or neg Exposure Compensation. Given that ISO is the only remaining variable, the ISO should be changed. Is that the case? Thanks, Richard

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  30. Robin, great review. You mentioned that you were able to disable the exposure compensation dial. Is it also possible to assign it to a different function, say ISO?
    Thanks

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    Replies
    1. The Exposure compensation dial has only two customizable functions: either the usual exposure compensation or the FLASH exposure compensation

      Delete
  31. Nice and honest review. About the Viewfinder, how does it compare with the one in the EM-5 MkII which "Should" have slightly larger magnification?

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    1. The EVF is exactly the same as the E-M10 Mark II's EVF, slightly smaller than the E-M5 Mark II.

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  32. Thank you Robin, await part 2 with interest.
    So the new sensor is no major leap from the now older one, thank goodness for that as I bought my first om only last december, when I decided I could wait no longer to go m4/3 and olympus. Shame though.

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    1. Hey Alan, I thought that is a good thing since you will have no regrets with what you have now!

      Delete
  33. Robin,
    I appreciate your candor in this review, both indicating all the positive and improved features of the camera as well as addressing areas where you believe that the camera could be improved. Even though you are an employee of Olympus, you provide an honesty that is both well appreciated and respected.

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    1. Thanks Howard. I believe honesty is very important especially when it comes to camera reviews. I try my best.

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  34. The ugly truth, isn't it, Robin? :D

    https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/s/xrlphjqu4bmuolo/PEN_Mole_s.gif?dl=0

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    1. I never said the camera or the dials were ugly. I just said they were not so functional and could have been better in some ways.

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    2. "I just said they were not so functional"

      Like a mole :)

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  35. This review is refreshing. I guess you went in w higher expectations re. the new sensor and rumored new features of the cam.
    After reading the latest BCN report re. sales figures, that Oly overtook Sony for the no. 1 spot in Japan for mirrorless, and Pany did the same for video camera, I understand that Sony might have withheld the best sensor technology from these two. In contrast, the Fuji xpro2's new sensor is significantly better than the prev. one. There is a honest one-stop improvement, not to mention much better sharpness. Until Panasonic produces a better sensor, I don't see the current reliance on Sony will get them very far, unfortunately.

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    1. Ah I believe those are just speculations but, perhaps, Olympus was holding back so that they could outdo themselves in the E-M1 successor?

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  36. Robin, this is one of your best reviews yet. The design of the camera is the sexiest yet for Olympus cameras and I the bump to 20mp is highly appealing. The high asking price really hurts it for me at this point. The next camera on my wish list is the EM10 II and I'm not sure the Pen-F is worth nearly double the asking price. Lately I've had less and less time for post processing and the Olympus cameras are the best I've owned in straight out of camera output.

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    1. Thanks Maruyama-san,
      I understand that the pricing of the camera may not agree with every one but the design and build quality justify the price point. Yes, if you want results straight out of camera then Olympus is one of the best choices out there!

      Delete
  37. Excellent review, I'm looking forward to part 2 :-)

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  38. Read review on stevehuffphoto.com he loves new camera and us getting one. He did a nice job with B&W and chrome color
    Bob in Chicago

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    Replies
    1. I will explore both when I am shooting this weekend, updating for my Part 2 review. I just could not fit that many items in a single blog.

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  39. Good review, but I dont agree Mr. Wong has slender fingers.

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  40. Robin, Thanks for the great an honest review. I have several Olympus cameras and love them, but this highly anticipated camera is a big disappointment. I do not see any new innovation here and the price is absolutely ridiculous for an EM10 II in a more retro body with worst ergonomics. It is even more expensive than the flagship EM1 and M5II, which are largely superior cameras with weather sealing. Based on images posted at various sites I do not see any significant improvements with overall image quality and low light sensitivity. Even the processing engine was not updated, which is a shame. The weight of the camera is almost the same as the weight of EM10II or M5II, which have much better handling, weather sealed and have tethering support . I hope that the update for the EM1 will be something really substantial with largely improved sensor, otherwise will lose my faith in Olympus and move to Nikon D500/D750 or Sony full frame cameras, which are in a completely different league in the image quality department

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    1. Dear Pal,
      I shall have to ask you to slow down, take a deep breath, and not panic for now. Yes, the new PEN-F may not be a miracle, but it is no slouch either. I understand the high side of pricing is not for every one, but when the camera is not made for you, how does that come to a conclusion of you losing faith? Olympus still gets tonnes of things right, and this PEN-F is designed to look beautiful with sturdy build quality.
      If you want weather sealing and tethering support, I think you already know that your answer is an OM-D, not a PEN.

      Delete
    2. Dear Robin, I already have OMD-M5II with most Olympus Pro lenses and primes and I love it. But honestly in some situations with a good lens, such as Lumix-Leica LX025, even the very old E5 12 MP sensor produces comparable if not better images than the 16MP sensor in M5II (e.g. for indoors portraits). The imaging (sensor) technology has tremendously advanced during past 5 years and Olympus should implement these advances to remain competitive. Utilizing a new faster processor and new sensor with DRAM technology would allow the high resolution mode to be usable not only for still static pictures, and would also allow the possibility to upgrade the camera to be able to add 4K video later with a new firmware update (in case of PEN-F the faster new sensor would allow that, but most likely the old Trupix 7 processor not). The new 20MP sensor, particularly if this is the same Sony used in GX8, is not better than the old aging 16MP sensor (in some ways even inferior according to some professional reviews). Already reviews are out showing that in the high resolution mode the new 20MP sensor in PEN-F produces noisier images and has no advantage compared to the old 16 MP sensor in EM5 II at higher ISO settings.
      I would be perfectly happy with a sensor around 16MP-20MP with improved dynamic range, speed and noise handling. This coupled with the very good Olympus lenses (and hopefully even better 1.2F primes coming soon) would give a very significant competitive edge to Olympus m4/3 systems. I really hoped to have in PEN-F with a significantly better sensor and some innovative new features, like faster processor allowing the high resolution mode to be useful not only for static objects (and weather sealing which is a must for a dedicated "street shooter camera" priced over the flagship PRO model).
      I really do hope that the updated EM1 will have a truly new and improved processor and sensor. I just had a chance to play for a few days with Nikon D810 and one of the new Sony full frame cameras. The dynamic range of those images, even with inferior lenses, and almost none existent noise even at high ISO settings are in a completely different league compared to Olympus files which are very quickly falling apart during processing if the shooting conditions are not nearly optimal. I think Olympus, instead of venturing into a new full frame camera (according to rumors and new lens patents) seriously need to invest to improve the sensor technology used in m4/3 cameras and make reasonably priced faster and more accessible primes (also with weather sealing) in order to remain competitive. Maybe I had too high expectations, because I really wanted to like this camera and have one, but do not see any reason which would justify getting one (I prefer the usability and image quality over the look). Hopefully the new EM1 will be a different story. Thank for all your excellent and honest reviews

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  41. Hi Robin - Great review and I'm eagerly awaiting Part 2. Question - With age, I've developed a tremor in my hands and I used a VF-4 on my other Pens since it will swivel up allowing me to brace the camera against my chest and look down into the viewfinder. Does the Pen F allow the use of the VF-4? Or, does Olympus plan to offer some sort of external EVF as an accessory? Thanks. Jay P

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    1. Nope, the VF-4 is no compatible with the PEN-F. The accessory port seems to be discontinued from the new PEN line.

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    2. Thanks for the speedy reply. I didn't see the port but I thought I had read in another review that there was a way to add an external EVF. Bummers, that's a disappointment. Jay P.

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  42. Robin, thanks for the detailed review, much appreciated.

    I'm E-M1 shooter from Russia, and I wonder how Pen F EVF compares to E-M1 EVF (which I consider to be absolutely the best in the world of mirrorless - tried in shops Fuji XT-1, Fuji 100s, Sony a6000, Sony 7 - nothing comes close in feeling of naturalness if I can say so, it feels like OVF).

    You said that "The EVF is exactly the same as the E-M10 Mark II's EVF, slightly smaller than the E-M5 Mark II." but I haven't tried neither of E-M10 Mark II nor E-M5 Mark II.

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  44. Hi Robin, The images that you have taken with this camera look incredibly good, to my eyes anyway. I have owned EM10 and now EM5 Mk2, and I just don't seem to be able to get the image quality that you seem to manage, not at least consistently. Am I missing something? It appears that the shooting conditions need to be perfect to get these detailed images, and I have always thought that the sensor can struggle in less optimal lighting situations. Pal's comments do make sense.
    Cheers
    Aniell Esposito

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  45. I would kill to have those C1-C4 modes on the mode dial of my E- M5 II..... the lack of which is my biggest frustration with it. At last Oly sees common sense, but why do none of their top series (OM-D) cameras have it?

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  46. Thanks for the awesome review.

    Would love some advice on what direction I should go with gear. Been shooting an OMD EM5 for 3 years, using the 25mm 1.8 and 12-40mm 2.8 the most. Love the camera in almost all situations until I get into low light. Maybe I'm using it incorrectly, I still have a lot to learn, but as soon as I need to get in iso 2000 or 3200 the photos seem super grainy.

    Should I be looking to a bigger sensor?

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  47. Thanks Robin for the extra detailed review as always . And beautiful pictures as always . There is a small request ,hope when you do the part 2 review and explain us the new mono and color modes you try to show us sooc jpegs with standard 1,2,3 modes and how they look and maybe some which you have personally tweaked as per your taste and style to create that filmic look. Thanks

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  48. Another wonderfully honest review wonderfully well done. Man, what a beauty of a camera. Fantastic. Too bad that the ergonomics are not entirely perfect (think: front rotary knob) - I can foresee a lively market in half cases and grips! But otherwise, what a lovely design. Thanks to the EVF and a compact lens on it this would be a ideal take-anywhere camera for me. The image quality, to my eyes, is excellent. 20Mp is way, way more than anyone needs for anything unless one wants to print murals all the time.

    Excellent review, Robin, I can't wait to read the extension!

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  49. Hi Robin, as a follow-up question, can you check how long takes to complete a High Res shot? assuming the shutter speed is fast enough(>1/200) that does not factor much into the total time. Oly has been talking about upcoming hand-held High Res shot, that'll be a truly ground-breaking feature. But unless Oly engineers can improve the full-sensor read-out speed by an order of magnitude this year, IMO it's mission impossible. The current read-out speed would require at least 1/2.5 sec to complete a High Res shot. Wonder what Pen F can do at this point. TIA!

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  50. Sony has the BSI CMOS sensor technology which can make the High Res shots possible handheld (see the new 1 in sensors in RX100IV and RX10 II) capable of 960 frame/sec readouts (or see the crazy sensitivity of new FX CMOS sensors in Nikon D5 or D500,with native ISO 102400 (extended to 3 million) with 14-Bit RAW support, which would allow the fastest electronic shutter times even under very low light conditions). The question is if Olympus invests in these new sensor technologies for new EM1 or just goes with the disappointing 20Mp sensor, which basically adds 4 extra megapixels without any noticeable improvement in image quality.

    The problem is not the the number of pixels, but the quality of these pixels (dynamic range, pixel size, light gathering, etc), which remains the same with the recently introduced 20Mp sensor in PEN-F. Try to do night exposures with the Olympus sensor and compare RAW files to ones taken by any new camera with full frame Sony sensors, particularly if anything is moving. You will not believe your eyes. The Sony sensor will see even what you can not see by your eyes; in contrast the Olympus sensor will struggle to see even the fraction of what you suppose to see by eyes, and will completely cripple the dynamic range at higher ISOs and will introduce lots of noise and bluring of moving objects. I consider the usable ISO limit of EM5II sensor around 1600-3200 ISO (above 3200 you will further lose your dynamic range and get lots of noise)(Just for comparison the native ISO of new Nikon or Sony full frame or crop sensors is going to be approx 32-64x folds better than this)

    Robin is a very good photographer, he knows the limitations of these cameras better than anybody else, and uses the best Olympus primes in most of his pictures coupled with nearly perfect light conditions. If the light conditions are not good or bad, the dynamic range of Olympus RAW files is very limited even during daytime photography and very difficult and time consuming to recover the messed up or missing shadows or overblown highlights; and this could take lots of time in processing; in contrast with a sensor with good dynamic range it takes just a few seconds to make a few minor adjustments).

    Another example. If I want to take a really good indoors portrait of my daughter of 7 with OMD M5II without a flash (she is never still and continuously running and moving in the house, and will never pose for a picture), even with the best Olympus F1.8. primes from 20-30 attempts I am lucky to have one picture right (you can forget about the focus tracking in low light conditions with EM5II). Because she is very fast, I can chose to have either blurry pictures (despite 5 axis stabilization) and less noise, or high noise at very higher ISO settings (around 3200) with largely diminished dynamic range but no movement artifacts associated with lower shutter speed. I am not happy with either, and this frustrates me very much.

    In contrast, with a better sensor camera you can easily get every second picture right without significant noise or blurriness not using flash in the same situation.

    Again the question is what you want from your camera. If you are happy with the current sensor performance, which is around 5 years technology, you will be perfectly happy with extra 4 megapixels of the same in PEN-F. But if you are not happy with the current 16 Mp sensor you will not gain any noticeable improvements from PEN-F 20MP sensor in image quality.
    Best
    Pal

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  51. Poor Pal. One wonders why almost two centuries after the invention of photography we still have to struggle with such poor equipment. Lewis Hine, Julia Margaret Cameron and Lewis Carroll must have had a hard time shooting their children portraits without digital full frame, 12fps and ISO 102,400. If you want to capture your restless daughter indoors you better buy the new Nikon D5 or Canon 1D X Mark II. I would go for the one that will be chosen as official camera for the Olympics in Rio!

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    1. Wolters, In most of those pictures you implied children were still and posed; and predictably lots of efforts went into taking those pictures. I never had any problem taking good still portraits of people even with E510 and its kit lens in reasonable light. The 12 MP sensor coupled with the focus mechanism of aging Olympus E-5 still performs better with a bright Leica Summilux lens for moving subjects in relatively low light than the new M5II or any other PENs, including PEN-F with most primes(in fact the continuous focusing mechanism of PEN-F according to some recent reviews is very bad).

      My big disappointment was the overall absence of innovation from Olympus with PEN-F, particularly in the badly needed imaging department, and the price which is exceeding the flagship models. I hoped to see at least some improvements in the sensor technology. It is a beautiful (probably one of the the best looking) and capable (very nicely illustrated with Robin's excellent pictures) camera , but you can take the same quality pictures with a 4 years old M5, M10 or PEN P-5, for 20-30% of its price (see Robin's older posts).

      The current Olympus sensors are hardly better than the old 12 Mp Olympus E-5 sensor(it actually had higher density and larger pixels) introduced over 5-6 years ago, while the sensor technology has tremendously advanced since that. Why not to implement this new technology into new Olympus cameras (all competitors are doing this)? I would be perfectly happy with 6400 usable ISO, instead of 3200, which should not be a big deal given the performance and sensitivity of modern sensors (that would largely solve the problem I mentioned). I would probably still be sticking with the Olympus E5 platform with an improved 12-16Mp sensor, but Olympus decided to completely abandoned it.

      I would suggest you just to try a Nikon D 810, 750 or a new Sony full frame camera and take RAW images in daylight and in the evening and compare the dynamic range of those files using a good raw file editor to the images taken by any Olympus camera under the same conditions(using a professional graphic card and monitor capable of resolving these differences). The astonishing difference in the image quality is hard to describe, unless you see it by your eyes, reflecting the sensor technology innovation over past 5 years.

      By the way, all photographers you mentioned used large film cameras, which would be equivalent to much larger sensors/films than the current 35 mm full frame sensors in the cameras I mentioned. They were also professional photographers who devoted most of their times to photography. Unfortunately I have only very limited free time and do not want to take every time 30 pictures to get the one I really like, because of the limitation of the Olympus sensor/focus system. I would also like to be able to take landscape pictures with much better dynamic range which is not possible with a 5 years old sensor technology.

      Let's not forget that most people can not afford to get all expensive PRO lenses and primes for the M3/4 system; and honestly the pictures taken with Olympus kit lenses coupled with current sensors, particularly at low light, are less than impressive (almost can be matched by a good cell phone)

      The child pictures of the photographers you mentioned are amazing, dramatic and striking, etc. But in most of them the subjects are very artificially posed and not in movement (because of the obvious limitation of technology that time), which I personally do not like. Unfortunately Lewis Hine died in poverty, and he has not benefited much of his increased reputation after his dead, which in part was politically driven because of the subject of his prior work (abused children, child labor, etc)

      Robin's blog and enthusiasm is one of the main reasons I am still with the m4/3 platform and waiting for an improved sensor in EM1II.

      Delete
    2. High megapixel count does not always mean an image being sharp....Nikon D4 is 16mp. Sigma DP2 Merrill is 15mp (output) and these two will bury that Olympus at ISO 100 for IQ.

      Delete
    3. Exactly, likewise the 12.2MP Sony sensor in a7S. This was one of my main points. Instead of more megapixels I would prefer to see increase in the quality of the sensor. The performance of PEN-F sensor based on objective evaluations is almost identical to the performance of the old 16MP sensor of E-M10II based on techradar's detailed evaluation, which suggest no increase in quality, only in quantity.
      http://www.techradar.com/reviews/cameras-and-camcorders/cameras/digital-slrs-hybrids/olympus-pen-f-1313803/review/4

      Delete
  52. Robin, as an avid Oly shooter this body interests me, but I think the only thing to force me to upgrade from my E-M5 Mk I would be a safari edition (green and tan). Do you know of any plans for something like that?

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  53. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  54. Thank you for your great review.
    I have one question. Is there the AF Target Spot Metering feature? I can't find this feature in the pen-F's manual.

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  55. Great review as ever Robin. Thanks !!

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  56. Hi, great review, it was a nice read from Italy!
    I would have 3 questions:
    With pen-f can you move af point zone using the 4 keys rear selector as on m5 II?
    The shutter release time is the same super fast that M5 MII or do you thinks could be a little slower ?
    Do you think that the continuos AF performance could be the same that on M5 II? Thanks!
    Simone.

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  57. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  58. Hi Robin

    Thanks for Your excellent review! I'm an Olympus FAN also and have a nice collection of Olympus cameras. I think the PEN-F is a brillant camera and we can not expect better ISO performance from a 4/3 sensor at this time. I'am waiting when can I try this little wonder, but i'm also waiting for a new OM-D E-1 II...

    Best regards from Slovakia

    Lajos

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  59. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  60. Hello Robin, thanks for the review. I would love to know, if there is any way to use my old (30y plus) Zuiko lenses from the OM-1 / Pen-F analogue times. Any information from your company? Kind regards from Switzerland Torsten PS.: I have been travelling in Malaysia in 2014 and enjoyed to see your photos!

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  61. ottima recensione Robin sei sempre un grande professionista complimenti!!!

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  62. ma sono indeciso tra em1 o pen f, cosa consigli ? grazie

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  63. Great review thanks. I'm new to Olympus having got the OM10 last year and now considering adding the PenF. You mention the off camera flash (spiders). What do you use please, how do you configure etc? Wireless flash? Many thanks

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  64. Really great review. At first I'm anticipating to read a biased review from Olympus employee, but you are very honest. For me this review better than other boring "chart and bs" review. And you're nailing some great photograph too!!

    ReplyDelete
  65. I just have one problem with your reviews....

    Your images are so good I don't think it matters what camera you use they would look great!

    ReplyDelete
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