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Olympus PEN-F review – Hands on with CSC retro stunner

Olympus PEN-F

Stunning-looking new CSC has new sensor and a wealth of hands-on controls

From the very first PEN, Olympus has regularly played off its enviable heritage with its CSC cameras. For the latest model it’s gone all-out though to create a camera that looks as good as the pictures it’s capable of taking and the new Olympus PEN-F is something of a success in both areas. We got to play with the new camera, in some pretty dismal light admittedly, at an event today and can report it’s seriously desirable.

Olympus describes the PEN-F as being a rangefinder-style camera and it fits. There’s an electronic viewfinder positioned in the top-left corner as you’d expect and the rest of the styling comes straight out of the sixties, when such cameras ruled the roost. The EVF is complemented with a flip-out and rotating LCD, which has a stylish mesh-grain on the rear when stowed away.

Olympus PEN-F rear screen closed

On the right of the camera are numerous metal dials and they’re all rather lovely. Each has a sharply milled pattern for grip, and a really satisfyingly stiff action, to the point where your thumb could take a bit of a bashing if you have soft skin. The mode dial locks in position, so no accidental changes, front and back dials let you enter settings quickly and accurately, while a dedicated exposure compensation dial (+/-3 in 1/3 stops) gives you practically everything you need without fiddling with menus.

Olympus PEN-F dials

The shutter button is incredibly responsive, and not just in terms of being a nice button, the PEN-F feels seriously quick to respond. Olympus has apparently worked hard on reducing shutter lag and the PEN-F really feels like it’s benefitted. If it’s pure speed you’re after the camera is capable of 10fps continuous, that’s the same as recent models such as the OMD E-M5 Mark 2, with which it shares the TruePIC VII image processor.

The processor may not have been upgraded but there’s a whole new sensor inside the camera. After many years of sticking with 16-megapixels for its Micro Four Thirds cameras, it has now made the move up to 20 megapixels. That matches the sensor of the Panasonic GX8. They’re very different beasts though, the Panasonic makes much of its video-capturing pedigree, while Olympus is focused almost entirely on photography, to the extent it has removed the low-pass filter in order to get every last detail possible out the sensor.

Olympus PEN-F doors and screen

Olympus claims there’s roughly a one-stop improvement in terms of image noise over the old 16-megapixel sensor, which is nice to have along with the higher resolution. We didn’t get a chance to take anything approaching some decent test shots.

Olympus cameras have always been well-regarded for their excellent handling of straight to JPEG shooting, though most CSCs manage this well these days. It’s still very keen on in-camera effects, though. To this end a dial on the front lets you quickly adjust the colour balance in a photo (with live preview), play with differently saturated black-and-white effects, or acess the wide range of art filters on offer.

Olympus PEN-F colour wheel

Add all that up and you get a very desirable camera, although with a body-only price of £999, around £200 more than the GX8 costs at present, it needs to be. Then again these cameras are marketed at very different people, do you want great design, or do you want cutting-edge 4K video features. It’s good to see that the Micro Four Thirds format can support such different cameras and we look forward to giving the beautiful PEN-F a full review upon its release in February.

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