The OLYMPUS PEN F Experience By Thomas Ludwig

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The OLYMPUS PEN F Experience

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By Thomas Ludwig of COSYSPEED

Thanks Steve for the opportunity to share my thoughts about the PEN F on your amazing blog. You are doing super great work and I feel inspired everyday!

It’s a sexy little camera, the PEN F. Many would use it as a street photography camera and that’s the way I wanted to review it. My focus was also on the way it fits into a CAMSLINGER bag and how this combo works on the streets.

JPGs out of cam are extremely good, so I didn’t touch the RAWs at all. All images in this review, except product images, are straight out of cam, shot in Monochrome Mode II with added grain and vignette. That’s the way I would have processed them in Lightroom.

FACES – The OLYMPUS PEN F in Lübeck/Germany

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The PEN F in the Streets

Some days ago I got the chance to test the new Olympus PEN F together with some Olympus prime lenses and I was curious to see how it performs. As many others like Steve have already mentioned all features of the PEN F in their reviews, I will only focus on street photography with the retro stylish micro 43 camera – of course to my personal needs and habits.

When shooting on the streets most important to me is image quality and focusing abilities. And so this review is mainly focused on these points. In fact it ended up being a PEN F / Monochrome Mode review, as I liked the JPGs right out of the cam.

For those of you who don’t like to read long texts: The PEN F is a timeless designed camera, that you will enjoy for many years. In my eyes it is already iconic, just like it’s forefather PEN F from the 70’s. I enjoyed using it every minute especially because of the JPGs that I could use without editing – this gave back HUGE fun to my style of street photography.

 OBSERVED

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The setup

Olympus PEN F | Olympus 12mm/F2 | Olympus 17mm/F1.8 | Olympus 45mm/F1.8 | Spare Battery | Olympus Macro Converter

All packed in a CAMSLINGER 160 with STUFFBAG 30

CAMSLINGER 160 and PEN F

003 CAMSLINGER 160 and PEN F

BEAUTIFUL GRAIN and NICE LOOK – All images in this review are shot in Monochrome Mode II with Grain and Vigenette added. This was made all in cam.

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TIRE and WOOD
NICE DETAILS and RICH TONALITY – The new sensor in the PEN F delivers plenty of detail. Tonality of the Out Of Cam JPGs is simply great!

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Image Quality

Actually I had only two full days of street shooting with the little Oly. So I went to Lübeck in my neighborhood, a city next to Hamburg/Germany. I shot in RAW and JPG, while for JPG I used the Monochrome II filter, added some vignette and grain – all IN cam which is absolutely great. I would have converted the RAWs this way in Lightroom and so I was keen to see how the JPGs would look like on the screen of my PC. And they looked great! That great, that I even didn’t touch the RAWs. So all the images in this review are out of cam without ANY editing. To me this worked 100% to my taste. High ISO? This is an overrated point IMHO, nevertheless the PEN F delivers very well images up to ISO 3200 and if used in Monochrome Mode with Grain, you can go higher without any problems.

Besides the cool design of the cam this is maybe the strongest point of the PEN F in my opinion – beeing free of editing and post processing and getting what I want right out of the cam.

SOMEDAY

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CHURCH

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OUT OF THE LIGHT

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SPRING

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TUNNEL

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Handling

The PEN F handles very nicely. Due to a missing grip, it is maybe not as comfortable to hold as a SONY a6000 or LUMIX GX8, but there’s an optional grip available if you need it. To me it was absolutely fine. Especially because the PEN F feels very premium and it’s a pleasure just to hold it in your hand. All the dials feel durable and solidly made. The UI with so many physical controls needs some time to get used to, but as soon as you know where all functions are, it makes photographing much easier.

The design reminescense to the original PEN F from the 70ies is especially visible with the silver PEN F model. Look at these lovely curves and lines!

PEN F

011 PEN F

Focusing in the streets

I’m using mostly three focus methods when in the streets:

#1 – Single point auto focus
#2 – Continuous auto focus with subject tracking
#3 – Hyperfocal focusing

#1 – Single point auto focus

The auto focus of modern micro 43 cameras is so quick, that to focus and to trigger is almost one process. And so I was using single point auto focus most of the time and with moving subjects I had about 95% in focus, even when using the little 17mm/F1.8 wide open. The focus of the PEN F is insanely quick and accurate in single point mode. To me there was nothing left to desire.

WHAT DO YOU THINK – Single Point Auto Focus works amazingly quick and accurate

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#2 – Continuous auto focus with subject tracking

Actually this method seems to be the most charming. Set your focus point and the cam will track it until you press the shutter. However continuous auto focus with subject tracking turned out to be not very effective on the PEN F. I’d say that 50% of my shots were out of focus. I guess this is a firmware problem and can hopefully be fixed in the future. However focus is not all!

WELCOME TO THE GYM – Not in focus but I like it anyway

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#3 – Hyperfocal focusing

Set a distance in manual focus mode and just trigger, when you think your subject is in the frame as you like it. Sounds easy but in fact hyperfocal focusing is tricky if you like to get some DOF. The more you open the aperture, the thinner is the in focus area. The day in Lübeck all images where more or less out of focus, when using this method because I was shooting wide open all the time. If set to F10 I’d say 99% would have been in focus. I know now, that I have to improve my skills 🙂

The OLYMPUS 17/1.8 and 12/2.0 are very well suited to this focusing method, as they have a manual mode with distance scale!

ROSARY, MISHABA or MALA – Hyperfocal focusing wide open is difficult

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The PEN F in a CAMSLINGER

A CAMSLINGER bag is all about quick, single-handed operation and designed to wear at the hip. I fixed the included FINGERCAMSTRAP to the cam and was able to grab the PEN F within a second out of my little bag. But the On/Off switch is on the left side of the PEN F and so one needs always a second-hand to turn it on. As soon as you have a coffee in your left hand or fix yourself while standing in a shaking subway with one hand, then you could of course access and draw the PEN F quickly out of the CAMSLINGER, but not take a photo. So I never switched the cam off and had it always in stand-by in my CAMSLINGER. This may cost a bit of battery power, but fixed my little problem easily.

CAMSLINGER 160 and PEN F 015 CAMSLINGER 160 and PEN F (1)

015 CAMSLINGER 160 and PEN F (2)

015 CAMSLINGER 160 and PEN F (4)

015 CAMSLINGER 160 and PEN F (5)

Carrying the PEN F and gear in a CAMSLINGER at the hip, is extremely comfortable. As your upper body is free of belts and straps, your neck will never hurt. In fact it is almost as quick to grab your cam, as it would be with a sling strap – but the PEN F was always protected, when not in use. I prefered to use the slimmer CAMSLINGER 160 then the more space offering CAMSLINGER Streetomatic. The 160 is just perfect for rangefinder styled cameras like the PEN F.

THOMAS IN LÜBECK WITH CAMSLINGER AND PEN F

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Conclusion

The PEN F is a marvelous piece of camera design and delivers stunning images. It’s technology is up-to-date and will be for many years. I’m hoping a firmware update will lift the tracking abilities on the professional level of the OLYMPUS EM-1, because this is a feature that makes street photography much easier.

The possibility to get final results right out of the cam is pretty cool and gives a further kick to the fun I had with the PEN F. So just go out, shoot and come back with images that are simply ready – to some this is might be a game changing benefit!

The PEN F is one of these rare cameras that one will use for many years and so a good medicine against G.A.S. :-). The timeless design and great build qualty makes a camera that is simply gorgeous! If you are looking for a street photography camera – go for the PEN F!

 

Reference: COSYSPEED

B&H PHOTO: COSYSPEED BAGS

FROM STEVE: Thanks Thomas! Many of you may not realize I met Thomas in Las Vegas a couple of years back where we shot a Street Shooting video. Thomas is an amazing man and he has a great passion for photography, that was very clear when we met. Below is the video we shot while there, was a great memory I will never forget.

 

31 Comments

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  3. Time for one of your wonderfully fun “crazy comparisons ” , steve? PenF ‘tri-x’ vs xpro2 ‘acros’ vs Leica MM ?

  4. Thanks for the write up on the Pen. Personally I think the advantage in m4/3rds is that it forces people to use more depth of field. Street photography shouldn’t be shot wide open… It should be telling a story, not just blowing out the back ground. Shooting f10 on the pen would be like shooting at F20 on full frame… This makes composition a must! Enjoy the camera.

    David

  5. Guys just a quick comment it’s very difficult to do a review of a camera and also produce great photos. Looks like it’s a great camera for Street. All cameras have their good and bad aspects.You have to learn to get the best out of your camera and you will learn this with experience.

  6. This article reminds me how much I dislike my PEN E-P5.

    The shots are nice, but in the end it demonstrates again that these latest M43 sensors only work if you apply a crazy amount of processing. The Olympus colors are so annoying that everyone ends up switching to black and white. It is too much of a one trick pony for me.

      • I love Olympus color! I used the Olympus C-5050Z for a long time and would get complements from people who thought I was a professional (and I’m not anywhere close to one – just an enthusiast who shoots almost all jpg). I shot the Gates installation in Central Park in February 2005 and got wonderful color contrast and clarity all in 5mp. It does lovely Macro work too! I think the Olympic Pen F must be I think Steve Huff does a GREAT service to all of us who like to keep up with features and just the pure enjoyment of taking photos with the real possibility of consistently good to great results. The only thing I miss, is that the C-5050Z had an ISO setting of 64 (like Kodachrome!). I also use a Fuji x30 and enjoy the Classic Chrome setting too! Anyway, there is so much to love and enjoy in cameras today. Now, struggling whether to go with the Pen F or a Fuji XT-10, ES2 or even the XT2 in the fall! Just a trade-off on size and conveniences, but nothing to complain about either!

  7. Thanks Thomas, Great review and great pics. One quick question: how do you change the grain and vignette in the camera – is it in the menu?

    • Hey Peter, there is a little switch on the back of the PEN F under the mode dial. You can use this to change some settings and add grain and vignette 😉

  8. Great images, great narrative. Great camera too, but what I’m missing here is some reflection on how it handles in medium sized hands (like mine).

    I visited the Amsterdam presentation of the Pen F, I was really tempted. But on handling it the disadvantages of the small size were immediately apparent. My right thumb just didn’t land naturally on the four way controller, and once it found it, it turned out to be too small to comfortably handle to f.i. change a focus point. That was what struck me most about the size and consequent placement of controls.

    The wall size images, by Andreas Bitesnich (I photographed him with an FM3a, 35mm and Tri-X) a well known Austrian photographer, were very impressive.

    • Hey Michiel, many thanks for your comment! Overall I wanted to focus on two points only and from the view of street photography. So I’m sure many points are missing in this review but others have mentioned them. However you are right. It can be a bit difficult to hold it when you have big hands. A GX8 or a6000 are better in this regards. If you’d use the additional grip I guess it might work for you… FM3a rocks 🙂

      • FM3a rocks…(and the rest of the compact F series). I just want a camera to handle comfortably in use (the carrying bit comes second; I’m not into zooms anyway, usually not more than one or maybe two primes in my bag anyway). The Pen F is a beautiful camera and it gives beautiful results. Too small for my medium sized hands though.

  9. I love street photography, and there are a lot of amazing works done out there, (I don´t consider mine great, actually far from it), but aren´t we tired of the same old pictures of people walking by and being shot from aside? Don´t want to sound like a troll, but shouldn´t we try to have a bit more imagination…?

    • It’s difficult to make an image that someone doesn’t consider cliché (see sailboats & sunsets). With street photography, sometimes the value is in capturing the shops, the clothing, the environment for posterity as much as the random people from the side. …but it’s a valid criticism of much street photography. Of course, this is a post regarding one’s opinion of a neat little camera as opposed to progressing art.

      • Yep indeed the post is about the camera, and I appreciate the effort, specially since not all of us have acces to equipment before buying, we have to rely on reviews. So this is highly appreciated and helpful. But I saw the comments about wonderful images and can’t just wondered if they really consider the images wonderful. I am also guilty as hell for falling into these cliches, as hard as I try to avoid them. And yes saliboats and sunsets are cliches, but since I don’t do that kind of photography maybe I don’t notice them as much, and I also think does pictures may have a different objective, which is a reminder of the place and scene, but who wants to remember an old person walking by through a boring wall? Anyways I still thank the poster for the review, but hope people see that there is more than boring walls and people passing by to street photography.

        • >> hope people see that there is more than boring walls and people passing by to street photography.

          Consider the opposite situation: What if all of Thomas’ photos had blown you away with how masterful they were? Would you then assume that the reason they were so great was the Pen F? You might then legitimately object that the excellence of the photographs overwhelms any assessment of the camera on its own merits. We all need to be very clear on whether we are judging the quality of the photographer, the photographs, the review, the equipment, or all combined.

    • Hey, many thanks for your comments. The images in the post are made from a view point of street photography but mainly for a review. So I wanted to show some kind of a cross section of images one would find in street photography (which is for sure not complete). So forgive me if I steped into cliches. To my opinion a cliche is as long a cliche, as there is no outstanding talent or experience. As soon as someone with outstanding abilities is at work, cliches are no longer existent. Unfortunately I’m not that kind of person. However you might be right that certain kinds of images are flooding the web…

      • I don’t think the original poster meant it as a criticism of your images specifically, it was only convenient to bring up an issue most street photographers struggle with eventually. It was not the right venue for the conversation but again, I think it was just convenience. It’s very hard to walk out and shoot all amazing images at a moment’s notice, especially when you are mostly demonstrating the usability of the camera and not it’s capabilities, regardless, the images are good examples. I enjoyed your post, please keep them coming!

        • Hi Daniel, many thanks!!! I understand what ailukewitsch wanted to express and am thankful for the statement and discussion. Maybe due to my not really good English, it was a bit difficult to reply in the right and polite way 🙂 I know that these images aren’t master pieces but it was great fun to go out and shoot them. However I’m very happy you enjoyed the post 😉

    • I do agree that some “street” photos can become a little dull, but perhaps the point of “Someday” has been missed, or is it just me that sees a meaning where there isn’t one. Or the old, clearly non gym guy, walking past a gym sign.

      It’s a nice camera review, so thank you. I think the only other thing that people who don’t mind shooting with the LCD would like to know is that you can also focus and shoot just by tapping the screen where you want focus. It’s fast and mostly accurate depending on what’s at that point in the scene and it’s contrast with the rest. Other cameras do that too of course.

      • Hey Dam, many thanks for your comment. You are absolutely right, to focus and to trigger just by touching the scheen is a feature I was just not mentioning in the review, but it is an important one. So many thanks for the reminder!!!

      • Some dismissed that click to focus and / or capture as a gimmick, probably before they tried it. It’s fantastic, especially in some situations like waist level street shots. I wish all manufactures would adopt it.

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