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Olympus PEN-F review: The F in this PEN stands for fun and fast

Fast all over

The camera's quite fast, a little more than most similarly priced cameras. Startup is slightly sluggish, typical of mirrorless models, but not onerously slow. Otherwise, the autofocus is snappy and accurate, and image processing never held me up.

The camera doesn't support continuous autofocus in its high-speed mode, but at the next level down it sustains a continuous-shooting rate of 5.6 frames per second for more than 30 frames in its hidden Super Fine mode, with very good autofocus accuracy. That's more than enough for typical action shooting.

As with most cameras, complete autofocus doesn't make the right choices, but it's more consistent (it usually picks the same spot). Though it doesn't support Olympus' hybrid stabilization, its sensor-shift works very well.

Shooting speed

Olympus PEN-F
0.1
0.1
0.2
0.2
0.8
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7
0.1
0.3
0.4
0.2
0.7
Canon EOS 80D
0.2
0.4
0.2
0.2
0.4
Sony A6300
0.2
0.3
0.2
0.2
2.4
Nikon D7200
0.6
0.6
0.2
0.2
0.3

Legend:

Shutter lag (typical)
Shutter lag (dim light)
Typical shot-to-shot time
Raw shot-to-shot time
Time to first shot

Note:

Seconds (shorter bars are better)

Continuous-shooting speed

Sony A6300
8.3
Canon EOS 80D
7.1
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7
6.5
Olympus PEN-F
5.6
Nikon D7200
5.0

Note:

Frames per second (longer bars are better)

Streamlined and powerful

With the exception of the lack of grip, I really enjoy shooting with the PEN-F, maybe because in a lot of ways it's designed for control freaks, with features like four custom settings modes on the dial. The viewfinder is large, comfortable and sufficiently high-resolution for manual focus without focus peaking.

olympus-pen-f-01.jpg
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The front "creative" dial gives you direct access to Olympus' filters and color settings. CRT, Color Creator, is the company's novel interface for adjusting color. You can adjust all the settings without removing your eye from the viewfinder.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It also features novel capabilities like 4K Time Lapse (it takes up to 999 shots and automatically creates a movie with frames in 3,840x2,160-pixel resolution); Live Bulb, for continuous preview of long-exposure shots; Live Time, which is essentially the same thing except for the way you control the length of the exposure; and Live Composite, which takes multiple exposures of varying duration and combines them in such a way as to keep from blowing out brightly lit areas while still capturing dimmer lights, with continuous display of the cumulatively updated image.

Other drawbacks include a nonstandard USB connector and the SD card slot in the battery compartment. Plus, it's not sealed against dust and weather, which it really should be given its price tag.

Conclusion

The Panasonic Lumix GX8 has the same sensor and similar specifications, but offers 4K video and a tilting EVF. It lacks the hipster retro vibe of the PEN-F, but it's also cheaper. So while I would recommend the PEN-F in general, it's not a great value for the money compared with some other mirrorless models. Its size advantage without sacrificing photo quality does confer some benefits over a comparable dSLR, though.

Comparative specifications

Fujifilm X-Pro2 Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II Olympus PEN-F Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8
Sensor effective resolution 24.3MP X-Trans CMOS III 16.1MP Live MOS 20.3MP Live MOS
12-bit
20.3MP Live MOS
Sensor size 23.6 x 15.6mm 17.3 x 13mm 17.3 x 13mm 17.3 x 13mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.5x 2.0x 2.0x 2.0x
OLPF No Yes Yes Yes
Sensitivity range ISO 100 (exp)/200 - ISO 12800/51200 (exp) ISO 100 (exp)/ISO 200 - ISO 25600 ISO 80 (exp)/ISO 200 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 (exp)/ISO 200 - ISO 25600
Burst shooting 8fps
83 JPEG/27 raw
5fps
unlimited JPEG and raw
(10fps with fixed focus and IS off)
5fps
unlimited JPEG and raw
(10fps with fixed focus and IS off)
6fps
100 JPEG/30 raw
(8fps with fixed focus; 10fps with fixed focus and electronic shutter)
Viewfinder
(mag/ effective mag)
Hybrid
Reverse Galilean
92% coverage
EVF
0.48 in/12 mm
2.36 million dots
100% coverage
varies with focal length
(.59x at 50mm)
EVF
2.36 million dots
100% coverage
1.3x - 1.48x/ 0.65x- 0.74x
OLED EVF
2.36 million dots
100% coverage
1.08x - 1.23x/ 0.54x- 0.62x
OLED EVF
Tilting
2.36m dots
100% coverage
1.54x/0.77x
Hot shoe Yes Yes Yes Yes
Autofocus 77-point phase-detection; 273-point contrast 81-area
Contrast AF
81-area
Contrast AF
49-area
DFD Contrast AF
AF sensitivity n/a n/a n/a -4 - 18 EV
Shutter speed 1/8,000 to 30 sec; bulb to 60 min; 1/250 sec x-sync 60 - 1/8,000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes; 1/250 sec x-sync (Super FP to 1/8,000) 60 - 1/8,000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes (1/16,000 sec electronic shutter); 1/250 sec x-sync (1/8,000 sec Super FP) 60 - 1/8,000 sec; (1/16,000 with electronic shutter); bulb to 30 minutes; 1/250 sec x-sync
Metering 256 zones 324 area 324 area 1,728 zone
Metering sensitivity n/a -2 - 20 EV -2 - 20 EV 0 - 18 EV
Best video H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/60p @ 35 Mbps H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/60p, 50p (52 Mbps); 30p, 25p, 24p (77 Mbps)
H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/60p, 50p (52 Mbps); 30p, 25p, 24p (77 Mbps)
UHD/30p, 25p, 24p @ 100Mbps; 1080/60p, 50p, 25p, 24p @ 28Mbps
Audio Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input; headphone jack on HLD-8G grip Stereo Stereo, mic input
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes Yes Yes Yes
Maximum best-quality recording time per clip 14 minutes 4GB 29 mins 4GB/29:59 mins
Clean HDMI out n/a Yes Yes n/a
IS Optical Sensor shift
(5 axis)
Sensor shift
(5 axis)
Optical and Sensor shift
Display 3 in/7.5 cm
Fixed
1.62 million dots
3 in/7.5cm
Articulated touchscreen
1.04m dots
3 in/7.5cm
Articulated touchscreen
1.04m dots
3 in/7.5cm
Articulated touchscreen
1.04m dots
Memory slots 2 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC
Wireless connection Wi-Fi Wi-Fi Wi-Fi Wi-Fi, NFC
Flash No Included add-on Included add-on None
Wireless flash Yes Yes Yes n/a
Battery life (CIPA rating) 350 shots
(1,300mAh)
310 shots
(1,220mAh)
330 shots
(1,220mAh)
330 shots
(1,200mAh)
Size (WHD) 5.2 x 3.3 x 1.8 in
141 x 83 x 46mm
4.9 x 3.3 x 1.8 in
124 x 85 x 45mm
4.9 x 2.8 x 1.5 in
125 x 72 x 37mm
5.2 x 3.1 x 2.5 in
133.2 x 77.9 x 63.1mm
Body operating weight 17.5 oz (est.)
495 g (est.)
15.7 oz
446 g
15.3 oz
434 g
16.1 oz (est.)
487 g (est.)
Mfr. price (body only) $1,700
£1,350 (est.)
AU$2,400 (est.)
$1,000
£900
AU$1,250 (est.)
$1,200
£1,000
AU$1,800 (est.)
$1,000
£700 (est.)
AU$1,400
Release date February 2016 February 2015 March 2016 August 2015

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