Olympus PEN-F

Heir to the Leica IIIf?

I admit that I bought the Olympus PEN-F with little to no expectations. It was more an impuse purchase due to its attractive design than a carefully meditated and researched decision.

I am not a big fan of small sensors and the “Micro 4/3” format was never my first choice. Most lenses offered until now in MFT are garbage and the cameras are sub-mediocre in options and performance. Mind you, my standard equipment is Leica M, a Nikon D7100 (macro only) and the Sony RX1R-II (for low-light situations)… Yes, I admit I am a pixelpeeper. Unfortunately, when one gets accustomed to this kind of quality all other things tend to get rated according to those standards. That is not always a good thing since one tends to evaluate any equipment to Leica M & Summilux 50 standards… the truth is that not much will hold up to that comparison. Sorry.

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So why, having all bases WELL covered, did I get the PEN-F in the first place? Answer; It looked good and I am a sucker for buttons! As simple as that… Jokes left aside, I am old-school and like to have manual controls so I don’t need to fiddle with menus before taking a shot.

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So once at home, I started playing with what I thought was a toy and… wow, impressive. This little “vintage” looking camera has practically all features and settings (if not more…) than in a pro-DSLR. Stunning, practically anything can be set or modified. On top of that, the manual controls make sense. Something Leica M-shooter wish they had more of.

If there is one “term” that defines the Olympus PEN-F that would be; “the Swiss pocket knife” of cameras.

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Ok. I admit that I am impressed. Now comes the shooting. Initially with the standard 17mm lens and soon after also the 12mm. Equivalent to 35mm and 24mm respectively in a full frame sensor. Here the results are then expected from a MFT sensor and small and reduced lenses. The sensor has a 20 mpx. resolution and is noisy (to my standards) even at its native 200 ISO. The noise is acceptable up to 1600 ISO (with the necessary LR corrections it becomes acceptable). Sharpness is good at the center but things get tricky at the edges and corners with standard and wide angle lenses. How do you fix these shortcomings? Easy:

  1. Go to the ISO settings and choose “Low ISO”. Although many claim the native 200 ISO has better dynamic range. True, but I found it to be a bit more noisy.
  2. Activate the in-camera stabilization as well as the anti-shock shutter settings to compensate for the loss of speed.
  3. Shoot in RAW mode to maximise file edition possibilities and flexibility when editing.
  4. Use some “old school” acquired skills to maximise image quality like always having the sun/light source behind you…
  5. Some basic Lightroom RAW editing skills.

The results should be more than acceptable even for the most demanding photographer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Soon after I got the M.Zuiko 60mm Macro. Surprised again at the versatility and fun with this lens. In fact, it has remained on the PEN-F for most of the summer and I had a great time! Surprisingly sharp and accurate. The only shortcoming is that unlike the other premium Zuiko lenses of the brand it does not have the quick manual focus ring clutch. For a macro lens would have been bliss! Here some samples of the M.Zuiko 60mm Macro during this summer:

Now, can I make the statement that the Olympus PEN-F is the “heir” to the mythical Leica IIIf? Absolutely. Such flexibility and pro-features in a camera that size reminds me without a doubt what the Leica IIIg must have been when it was introduced in the beginning of the 50’s.

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As stated, the PEN-F is small, extremely versatile and an ideal tool for travel. To make it perfect I only wish it had a larger sensor with better ISO performance. No more than 24mpx and native 100ISO to reduce the noise and maybe increase dynamic range. I also miss more lens options and superior and faster glass in the full frame equivalent 21mm to 50mm range. My favourite focal length is 21mm for going outdoors and traveling. Unfortunately wide angles are the weakness of the MFT system.

The PEN-F and four lenses in my PEM/OM-D 12mm, 17mm, 60mm and lately a 75mm (24, 35, 120 and 150 in full frame numbers…) fits in a VERY small bag. I can’t but recommend the PEN-F system if you want the best possible balance between price, portability, flexibility and quality. Great job Olympus.