For the last three months I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to shoot with the new Olympus PEN-F. It is such a fantastic addition to the PEN line and it’s focused directly at the Street Photographer. The new PEN-F model gets its name from the original PEN-F introduced back in 1963 which sold over 500,000 units in its lifespan. I am very excited today to finally start talking about all the wonderful features combined with such great technology. This blog post is not going to be comparing high ISO shots to those of other brand cameras or looking at how a certain lens functions with the new PEN. It will talk about my shooting experiences in multiple conditions on the streets of 4 major cities in the US, all of which have a great street photography vibe. This camera was able to adapt to each scenario and my intentions are to illustrate that through words, video and more importantly, the images I produced with the new camera. If you want a high tech review version you may have to look elsewhere because this camera to me is all about “feel” when I am in the streets and how it captures my creativity. It’s a camera that helps you understand the passion behind image making. Hold on and fasten your seat belts, because here we go…
To start, you will find some great information in a video I did with fellow Olympus Trailblazer, Jamie MacDonald. After spending considerable time with the camera I asked Jamie if he wouldn’t mind doing a video type interview exploring the camera from A to Z. He captured that discussion on video and mixed in some images to give you a feel of how the camera operates in the streets. I would ask that you watch this and then come back to my blog to further explore the images I created with the PEN-F.
When I first received the camera the timing couldn’t have been better because over that next 6 weeks I was going to be in New York twice, San Francisco, Chicago and of course my hometown, Detroit. I was more than excited to get out into the streets and work with it in as many conditions as possible. I shot over 2,000 images in this time frame and used every feature I could find on the camera. I documented all of my personal Monochrome and Color Profile Control settings by taking images with my iPhone and naming them after famous street photographers from New York City. You will see images and those settings below in my galleries. It was almost like eating an elephant, where do I start? I knew I needed to try every feature on the camera and I approached everything from a street photographer’s mind set.
A couple images with the new PEN-F compared with one of the original film cameras that debuted in the 1960’s. (click on image to enlarge)
Now that you have the back story on how I used the new PEN-F, let’s talk about some basics concerning the features. The 20 megapixel sensor was a surprising addition and I felt more comfortable letting my Auto ISO run up to a max of 8,000 at times while using the M.Zuiko prime lenses. I only used the primes from Olympus during my shooting. I never used zoom or PRO lenses from the Olympus catalog, but of course you can. The camera body was well balanced and felt very solid to the initial touch. It uses the same 5 axis stabilization as in the O-MD E-M5 Mark II which is second to none. The outer casing was all black and sported a new exposure compensation wheel on the top right side which I loved to use. Very noticeable is the “sleekness” of the outer body seeing that there are no visible screws to be seen. I can only imagine how much work this was for the engineers to hide the screws and give it this look. Unlike the PEN models of the past this had an electronic view finder that was simply amazing and the eyepiece is located on the left side of the body. I was so happy about this because when I am shooting I like to keep both eyes on the street and now my right eye can be on the viewfinder and my left can be surveying the streets ahead. It was definitely one of my favorite features. Overall though, my top feature that I fell in love with was the dial on the front of the camera that allowed me to select Monochrome and Color Profiles. This is what makes this camera different than anything I ever shot with. Post processing, outside of a few crops, was nonexistent for two reasons. One is I did not have a RAW converter yet and most of everything I captured was the look I wanted before I began to shoot because of the customization through the Color and Monochrome Profiles.
The Monochrome and Color Profiles on the PEN-F make all the difference to an image maker looking to emulate old film quality in their shots or develop their own style and emulsions through its customizable settings. Each Profile Control has 3 settings. The first has no presets and you can make your own here. The second and third each have a specific setting which resembles certain types of film. I will explain these in more detail below with sample images. (click on images to enlarge)
Color Profile Control:
- Profile 1 is up to you. You can adjust how the colors are depicted and select the level of curves and shadows that will show in your image all from the back toggle button located below the selection wheel. By using the right and left toggles you can go through the colors or select the level of Highlights and Shadows to make your own customizable setting. These are the settings I referred to earlier in this post about taking pictures of the screen and keeping it in my notes on the iPhone.
–Here is one of the Color samples I named Patterson. These are highly customizable in color schemes and curves.
- Profile 2 is Chrome Film which has rich colors.
- Profile 3 is Chrome Film with vivid saturation
Monochrome Profile Control:
- Profile 1 is up to you. Like above in Color Profile 1, the same goes for the Monochrome here. The difference being you choose the color filter and you get one more option which is the selection of a vignette. The vignette is also found on all three of the Monochrome settings. You also get one more new feature and that is film grain. This is not your heavy handed electronic film grain options like in other filters. I know for a fact that Olympus went to great lengths to make this a very realistic grain and it can be added in differing levels of density. You will be surprised in the difference this grain has and how it feels like something from the past film days.
–Here is one Monotone sample I named Boogie. Green filter, -3 on Vignette and -7 on both shadows and highlights
- Profile 2 is a Classic Film, like a monochrome film.
- Profile 3 is a Classic Film, like an Infrared Film.
You also have settings like Color Selector and Art filters we all may be used to when shooting with Olympus cameras.
Here are some images from the Art Filters settings with some of my unique tweaks in those settings.
The Build and Quality
As soon as you pick up the new PEN-F you will notice how well constructed and solid it feels in your hand. The button placements were right on the money for me and as previously stated I love the eye piece being on the left of the camera for how I shoot in the streets. The top controls are laid out well and the new exposure compensation wheel at the top is solid and clicks well when turned. You will notice a hole with threads in the shutter button to screw in a mechanical “plunger” cable release. In staying with some previous PEN designs the top is nearly level across the buttons and hot shoe with the bottom being ultra-cool with nothing more than the socket for a tripod plate (see comments above about no screws can be found). Smooth all the way across. It does have a fully articulating screen like the OM-D E-M5 Mark II and a solid raised portion on the back for your thumb rest. I was not able to shoot with the additional grip but would like to get one soon to see how it feels. I had no problem shooting with it though because I hand hold my camera with a wrist strap 95% of the time. The pictures below will give you an idea of what the camera looks like from many angles. They were all shot by Jamie MacDonald when we worked on the above video.
To tell you I think the new PEN-F is a great camera for the type of photography I do would be a huge understatement. It is the best street camera I have ever used and with the new Control Profiles for Color and Monotone along with a 20 megapixel sensor, it makes the possibilities endless. If you are a street or urban type of shooter you need to check this camera out as soon as possible and if not, you will love the versatility built into this new PEN-F for many types of image making. Olympus has hit a Grand Slam in my book with this new camera and I can’t wait to continue talking about it in the weeks to come on Mirrorless Minutes and in all my social channels. Please stay tuned for more and if you liked this post please consider signing up for my email list on my home page.
Shoot Light | Shoot Often
I would like to personally thank fellow Trailblazer Jamie McDonald for all the help in making the above video and snapping some images of the camera. He has some amazing skills on this type of project and I was glad he said he helped bring my story out to everyone about this new gem from Olympus.
Other Specs from the camera you might find interesting:
-OLED Electronic view finder approximately 2.36M dots
-Simulated Optical View Finder mode (OVF)
-AF targeting pad
-Up to 1/8000 shutter speed
-High Res Shot equivalent to 50 megapixels (8 shots combined into a single JPEG using sensor shift)
-Lens tagging for 3rd party lenses