THE PEN-F IS DEAD. LONG LIVE THE PEN-F By David Ellis

THE PEN-F IS DEAD. LONG LIVE THE PEN-F.

By David Ellis – His website is HERE 

Last April, much to the consternation of many Olympus fans, the company announced it was discontinuing its stylish PEN-F. No mas. I’d been on the fence about buying one for a long time, especially given that I have a couple of EM1.2’s and a healthy collection of Oly glass. But, about 24 hours after that announcement, I plunked down the plastic, still wondering if I was putting good money after bad. After all, given the full frame revolution, Fuji fanaticism and the tidal wave of ridicule Micro 4/3 receives from the bloviating blogosphere, one could question whether it was a smart investment.

Smart? Maybe not. An act of passion? Absolutely! In a very short time, it’s become the camera I reach for first for most of my street photography. That, plus the self-imposed restriction of using it primarily with Oly’s 17mm 1.8 lens has recharged my photography. The PEN-F brought me back to basics. So much so, I’m seriously thinking about chucking most of my other gear—not because of GAS-related, 61MP sensor compulsiveness or the near-death experience Micro 4/3 seems to be having. But because I really don’t need much of the other stuff.

Case in point are the photos I recently shot on a walkabout in Haarlem, (not NYC’s Harlem, but the quaint town just outside of Amsterdam). Great light and rare intermittent sun gave way to some interesting images that were fun to shoot. The B/W shots were made as JPGs with some minor toning in Lightroom. The color images are RAW but were originally visualized as B/W through the finder, again with light post-processing in Lightroom.

Everyone has their passion camera–the one they can’t wait to shoot with, that gives them all the freedom they need to get the images they visualize. The one that facilitates their vision rather than getting in the way. Too bad Olympus decided to bloat its brand with the M1X. I’m sure it’s a great sports camera, and it will be interesting to see how much of the new technology makes it down Olympus’s food chain. But for me, a PEN-F Mk II with weather sealing and an upgraded sensor would have been as close to perfection as I would have ever wanted. RIP.

36 Comments

  1. I owned a Pen-F briefly. It looked great sitting on a table, but I found it uncomfortable to hold without the grip, bloated with the grip, and finally the E-M5ii was more practical, just as small, has a better EVF, and is weathersealed. The Pen-F’s market imho is restricted to those for who camera looks are important (and that’s fine, I can empathise, and it can impact on enjoyment and results in photography) and those who want the best SOOC/Jpg workflow. And that’s not a sustainable market…

  2. A great post. Courageous! I suffered from gas for a long time. After shooting with Nikon for 30 years, other than travel, I’ve owned everything. Fave was em-1. The glass is amazing. Size is perfect. I now no longer have gas, having finally splurged. M10 with 3 fixed lenses. Yes, expensive. But I love it every time I pick it up. 2.5 years and no gas.

    • Thanks, Jim–glad it worked for you. I’ve often thought the PEN-F was a gateway drug to an M10–certainly the Leica glass is worth it. But I rented one for a couple of weeks and as much as I loved the size and IQ, I shoot really quickly on the street and am often in places where that red dot can be an invitation to getting clocked. Really gave it a shot, but it seems I’m too much of a twitch shooter to appreciate the deliberateness of true rangefinder. But never say never…

  3. I had Pen-F and after that Fuji XT2 and then Sony A7 III but at the end I stopped taking taking camera with me everywhere as they are too big and just not right.
    Pen-F with Mitakon 25mm 0.95 was a perfect set that I enjoyed the most by far. Well almost perfect – FF for old manual lenses would be amazing 😉

  4. Why didn’t Olympus ever lower the Pen-F price? Stubbornness or is it really that much more expensive to make? I hope they get back to making some smaller less expensive bodies. I’d hate to see them go out of business because they think they can sell lots of m43 cameras at E1MX prices.

  5. After buying Pen-F I retake my pleasure of photographing the everyday life, the unexpected. I no longer go out with the intention of photographing, the photograph that intends me, because I’m always like my Pen-F in shoulder strap.

  6. Love David’s photographs, aren’t they grand?

    I too have the Pen-F & 17mm f1.8 combination and have used it for the last 3 years to take the majority of my photographs, it suites my style, and I won’t be changing it any time soon. The snap focus ring on the 17mm is perfect for zone focusing when I am shooting street “rangefinder style” unnoticed by anyone.

    As for the bloviating blogosphere… who cares?

  7. I spent 3 years going back and forth whether to buy a Pen-F. I loved the style and size with small primes, but when I went into department stores or shops they laughed at the Oly with its tiny sensor and mocked it as a toy. After 3 years the price had barely dropped but I found one at a decent price and got it new and some secondhand primes. I love it. Set to extra fine jpegs, it produces really nice images with minimal PP work required. In low light and with fast moving subjects, like kids indoors, it is hopeless. But I knew that. And the Mono setting is just wonderful.

    As for M4/3, I go to the Ming Thein blog quite a bit and I am always impressed at the images Robin Wong produces exclusively with M4/3 gear – super sharp, colourful and punchy. I think people are obsessed with sensor size because they think it makes up for their inadequacies as photographers.

  8. I agree’, I think the Pen is great. I have Sony full frame and several Fuji’s, however I do my best work with the Pen. I think Olympus is missing the boat.

  9. I also use this camera and lens (17, 1.8). The camera is practically weathersealed currently but some finishing touches would be great. In addition to the upgraded sensor, I would like to have the high-res setting upgraded to the hand-held version as advertised on the new MX-1 by Olympus. The Pen-F is beautifully designed and with a bit more marketing Olympus could sell more if that is their concern. BTW: the pictures posted here are great and show how nicely the camera works. For me, I frequently am asked, “What kind of camera are you using?” when someone likes one of my photos! Perhaps a column entitled, “What kind of camera are you using?” would be great!

  10. Personally I hate the surge of mirrorless camera bodies with faux prism finders. It’s the opposite to form follows function, but adopts shapes from redundant technology, like early motorcars that still looked like horse-drawn carriages, but at least without a faux horse. Or like current electric cars with a bonnet for a straigh-eight engine.

    Admittedly I like mirrorless camera bodies that adopt the shape of redundant rangefinder and half-frame bodies. But I find the location of the EVF more practcial. As right-eye-shooter, my nose remains in fresh air rather than is sqeezed against and smearing the rear LCD. I believe it’s even worse for left-eye-shooters.

    Generally digital camera bodies fail to use the opportunity to arrange EVF, grips and dials more ergonomic, indenpendly from the technical constraints of mechanical camera bodies for film.

  11. Thanks for sharing. M43 photos are almost always converted to grayscale or with extreme color filters, just like in this article. This is done because of the poor color reproduction of the small sensor, which was the main reason for me to move on from M43. I still own one PEN camera, but I haven’t touched it in years…

    • No extreme file conversion here. The B/W shots are OOC JPGs with minor warm tint in LR; the color photos are virtually OOC RAW with minimal post processing–most contrast adjustments. For my taste, I find Oly images require far less post-processing than Fuji and some others. Full disclosure, I also shoot with Canon FF and Fuji X for studio and more low-light situations.

    • poor color reproduction? Really, Michael? I find the colors coming out of my EM1MII and PEN-F to be better than from my EOS MK3.

  12. Gorgeous images – shows that Micro 4/3 is more than adequate for most people. I have a G9 based system and love the size of the glass compared to larger sensor systems. I have a Hasselblad X1D system but for most purposes the Micro 4/3 system is far more than needed and a pleasure to carry. I see no risk on Micro4/3 disappearing due to benefits of glass size. The camera market is shrinking and manufacturers will have to slow rollout of equipment and variety. I think APS-C has the biggest risks in the longer run. But stop worrying and buy what you like and get out taking pictures.

  13. This was a camera I always assumed I’d buy but it’s always been very pricey and that price has never come down. I absolutely would have bought it anyway, if I hadn’t bought an EM1 just before the PenF was announced. I think it’s the nicest digital camera body to ever come out of Japan and there are some really nice lenses to make the most of it.

    You’ve used it really well here. A great set of photographs.

  14. Man is the m4/3 complex running deep. Not many people criticize other formats it seems as much as those who defend m43 because you know – liking a Fuji or suggesting FF has advantages and m43 is not perfect is a major sin. Please!

    Disclosure: I shoot m43. I own also a PenF

    Going to PenF- this has to be the camera I hav loved and hated the most. JPEG engine is fantastic. Focusing on lower light or loving objects- not so hot. EVF is fantastic. Should have had a tilt and not fully articulated LCD.

    It is the fact it’s a bit slowish at times and this LCD what probably frustrates me the most. Also the fact Olympus doesn’t have clear markers where focus is in the dark. (Note- em1 mKii finally has a better option here but why not give us that back in a firmware)

    I sincerely hope the jpeg engine survives in the body of the em5 mkiii. I find the epl9 quicker , snappier and better to focus in lower light notably than PenF.

    Anyhow. PenF still has amazing jpegs and much better than expected nice raws.

    At the asking price it needed the new turbo pic speed, some form of water resistance and ideally a tilt lcd for street.

    Enjoy your camera.

  15. Hi!

    I don’t have an electronic PEN F, but a PEN EP-5. That one has the detachable, flippable viewfinder and I often shoot at ground level, so I think the PEN F was a downgrade with its built in viewfinder. I don’t think I’ll switch to Full Frame or buy another digital anytime soon.

    I also have two completely refurbished PEN F’s (without light meter) from 1963. These little gems are killer camera’s and the most fun ones I have! Two, because I want to shoot those until I die.

    I so much hope micro four thirds won’t vanish. It’s just too good! I’ll post an article with images soon.

    Dirk.

    • I had a Pen EP-5 as well. Great little camera. I wish the Pen-F had come down in price but never did. I sold all my Micro 4/3rd for Nikon Z7 and although I love what the Z7 does I still wish I had kept my Pen EP-5 and the Leica 42.5 lens I had for it. Micro 4/3 is really about the size of the gear, it really is portable. Full Frame not so portable.

  16. I would be interested to know why people choose to use a M4/3 camera as there are APSC smaller and better quality. Good BW shots.

  17. These are excellent pictures. They just draw my attention and want to look them again. Thanks for posting

  18. Bloviating. Wow, great word. Yes, it’s a beautiful camera. With all my GAS, never bought Olympus or Fuji. I’m also ending with only one camera, Leica Q2. Last camera, for me, must be Leica, and must be full frame. Only improvement to Q2 would 35mm. Can’t wait longer. As it is, it’s wonderful. Crop mode works for me. Thanks, Steve, for wonderful site.

  19. Really beautiful images! You definitely found the right tool that serves you perfectly for street photography. I am not into M43, but always when I had a soft spot for the Pen. With its compact size it comes close to the vintage 35mm film rangefinders that I mostly use for street shooting, and Oly lenses are legendary. So, enjoy your good decision and have always good light!

  20. Wrong introduction pictures! Why add a grip/base plate that defeats it’s purpose as a small street camera? Also, why the big lens? Since you talk about the 17mmf1.8, that should have been the lens on the camera. I’m guessing you didn’t put up those pictures………..And as an adjunct, great photos!

  21. Really beautiful images from a capable photographer using a nice camera.

    I have used m43 off and on and I am perfectly satisfied with the imaging capability. I LOVE the m43 lens selection. I also am a current user of the original Olympus film pen f. So I should have been the target customer of a camera that apparently didn’t sell well. Why didn’t I buy one?

    1 The goofy flip out screen. I realize some people prefer that kind of screen, and other people came to tolerate it. I just could not bring myself to commit to using that thing.

    2. Too many dials/buttons/menu options. My film pen f is simple, rugged and cheap. Olympus should have stuck to that formula when designing this camera. Instead we got a little (admittedly beautiful) boutique machine with a million buttons, a stupid PASM dial, half-assed video, and layers upon layers of menu.

    3. The front dial is awesome in theory but gimmicky in practice for a raw shooter. Should have been a shutter speed dial like on the film camera.

    4. It was too expensive. Yes i could have afforded it. But given the competition somebody would have REALLY had to want it to pay that asking price.

    I don’t know but Olympus seems to be in a real tough place right now trying to figure out what kind of camera will move micro 43 gear. Maybe they should try keeping it simple. Olympus, I’m still available.

    Thanks for your love letter to a camera that should have sold like hotcakes.

    • Even though I agree with points 1,2 and 4, the camera just feels so good that none of that stuff really matters to the extent you couldn’t live with it, given enough spare cash lying around. It would be great if Olympus got brave and brought out a version without the gimmicks but with weather sealing (and PDAF so you could use 4/3 lenses). I don’t think they can, though. Everyone is locked into more more more, not keeping it superbly simple. Must be why I like my Leica T so much!

  22. I have a Pen F too. It’s a nice enough camera. It’s very stylish and feels well built. The IQ is fine up to about ISO 800/1600. But it’s one of those cameras that doesn’t quite add up when looked at critically:

    – The flip out screen makes it less than ideal for street work

    – The lack of weather sealing and smaller EVF means it compares poorly to the EM5ii, which betters it in both respects, and at a lower price.

    – Its AF is worse than any current Olympus camera. CAF is pretty awful; and SAF, whilst good in nice light, stops working way too soon in low light compared to any of its siblings.

    – The JPEG knob is poorly positioned and isn’t re-assignable to something that a raw shooter would find useful.

    – It’s overpriced for what it is.

    So, it’s a dud then? Thankfully not, because overall it’s a great example of the whole being better than the parts. I’d really love a tilt-only screen though.

    • I just dont understand why they didnt bring out a Pen-F ii with weather sealing and other upgrades. Mad.

  23. Agreed. I use the same combo: Pen-F and 17, 1.8. Having the AF to manual clutch makes the 17,1.8 a tight lens. Why make such a beautiful camera and then discontinue it? Commerce I guess.

    I’ve written Olympus twice about an upgrade to the camera and they will not say those words: Has been discontinued. They only say, “We will forward your request to the design team.” Thanks.

  24. Hi Steve, the Pen F is a wonderful camera a canera for photographers, like the Ricoh GRD (another wonder (I know it doesn’t have an evf, (but I don’t care at all, I’ve had four generations with inmense pleasure)). It has cream glass too. But many critics, bloggers, testers, phocus on Hasselblad MF, Fuji MF, Leica MF, FF, 61 Mp from Sony, etc. Many times they also centered their attention and criticism in CAF, AF, speed, etc, and when most of these things aren’t important for the majority of photographers, and when most of famous and wonderful pictures in history have been made with very basic machines, not even with AF. I think it’s a catch 22, testers look for minute details and differences, and brands give them so. An Olympus Pen F could fulfill the life of a good photographer. A real shame they’re discarding it. More and more, are few basic but good quality cameras. A camera is just an experience of use and ownership; the important iq comes from glass, and photographer’s skill.

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