Olympus Pen F Review in 2019. Still a contender?

The Olympus Pen F is a super (and I mean super) stylish camera that was aimed squarely towards high-end consumers when it first came out. As the price slowly slips over the years, it’s getting a bit of a cult following, so I thought I’d review the Pen F in 2019. Is it still worth considering?

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Specs I care about at a glance:

  • 20mp micro four thirds sensor

  • 5 axis in-body stabilisation

  • Flippy screen (all hail the flippy screen)

  • Creative dial for quick-change presets

  • HD video only

  • Wifi and app

  • No mic input

  • No weather-sealing

 
 


Olympus Pen F Style

To justify buying this camera, looks need to be important to you. Let’s be honest, you can find the same specs in much cheaper camera bodies. You can find the same specs in more ergonomic bodies. You can find better specs for about the same price or less (helloooo Lumix G80). 

So you gotta value that vintage look first and foremost.

Check out the Olympus Pen F on Amazon here.

And you know what? I have to say that I still believe — even in 2019 — the Olympus Pen F is the sexiest modern camera ever made. I really do. There are some very pretty Fuji cameras that come close, and I have such a soft spot for the Pentax Q, but I just adore everything about the Pen F aesthetically. I love the numerous metal dials, the tactile user experience, and the overall feel of the camera.

Build

This tiny little dude is very robust. You can tell that underneath that pretty exterior there’s some serious metal housing keeping everything safe.

First annoyance… No weather-sealing. I mean. Come ON, Olympus. Have you seen the price of this thing?! You can get weather sealing on competitors at around the same price (hello again, Lumix G80).

But, this isn’t exactly going to be the camera you’d pick up in the rain, or to take on safari, is it? So, fair enough, I guess, but I still think it should be included for the price.

The dials are metal and robust and satisfyingly clicky. You do sort of want to stop and stare at this camera when you see it. You want to turn it over and over in your hands. It’s a damn piece of art as far as I’m concerned.

Built in presets… that are… good?

I bet your toes curled when I mentioned built-in presets, right? On the whole these sorts of things are gimicky at best, and a complete waste of time at worst. But I actually really like how the presets are utilised on the Pen F.

First of all, you get a customisable dial at the front to save your four favourite styles. You also get a dial (so many dials! I love it!) to customise said presets by playing with highlights and shadow curves.

The best preset by a mile is the monochrome filter. I add a bit more contrast — love me a contrasty black and white filter — and honestly, I think this monochrome filter is better than any I’ve ever seen in Lightroom.

And if you shoot in Raw+Jpeg, you can get the best of both: see your filter on the screen in real time, get a high quality jpeg of your photo in monochrome, and get the un-affected raw file for you to tinker with if you so desire.

There are a few decent presets, but some are, ya know… gimicky. I do love the monochrome one though. I really do. The photos below are all taken with the Pen F built in filters.

Olympus Pen F for video

Before my rant, let me preface this by saying that I don’t think the Pen F has ever been advertised as a video camera. It’s certainly aimed at street and travel shooters who love minimalism and style. So bear that in mind.

I’m only so salty about this because of the price. Competitors absolutely knock the video features out of the park at the same price points (hello again Lumix G80, haven’t seen you for a few paragraphs).

First, the audio. The audio. There is no mic input (I feel I’ve made the G80 joke enough by now but seriously), no flat colour profiles, jello stabilisation that I couldn’t get to work to save my life. Either it’s jello or completely unstabilised footage. Even the omission of any 4k is shocking given the price point.

But worst of all, the electronic shutter leaves a constant, awful, whining sound on all your footage no matter what you do. You can hear it all the damn time, and with no mic input you really are out of options. So if you want a hybrid camera that is great for both video and photo, look elsewhere. 4 more images below taken with the in-built monochrome. Did I mention I love it enough yet?!

What is the Pen F ideal for?

That pesky electronic shutter is superb for stealthy photography. Using the Olympus Pen F for street photography with this camera is an absolute joy, especially when paired with smaller primes, like the Olympus 17mm, or the cheaper and delightful Olympus 45mm

It’s lovely for travel too, with its small form factor. It’s a camera you could hang around your neck and actually look semi-cool.

I’ve taken this camera to a few paid jobs myself. I shot a few styled photo shoots, and a few weddings, and I have to say that the auto focus was sluggish and frankly stressful in high-pressure situations, so this isn’t the camera to bring to a sporting event or anything in too challenging light.

In good light it’s very pleasing though. I have to say even out of the camera without editing the Olympus colours and skin tones are beautiful.

My Least Favourite Feature of the Pen F

This is definitely an individual thing. I urge anyone looking at the Pen F — or any Olympus camera — or any camera! — To have a test of the operating system before committing. 

I hate the menus in this camera. Even after six months of solid use, I still found myself hunting for things like HDR, timelapse, and things that you use occasionally but rely on. 

There is a Super Menu, which is like a quick menu for all your every-day needs like metering modes and such, but for things you might use weekly rather than daily, I personally found this camera a nightmare. There are menus buried in menus buried in menus. I missed more than a few opportunities (thankfully none of them paid work!) due to this.

As I say, this is very individual. I’ve had people say that they love the Olympus menus and they make perfect sense to them. So please have a look for yourself before committing to buying.

Some of my favourite images from a styled shoot I shot with the Olympus Pen F:

The Flashgun is cute… but useless

It comes with a very stylish mini flashgun which instantly made me go AWWWWW when I first saw it. So cute. It’s just a bit useless. It’s big enough that I never bothered to take it out with me, and small enough not to do a great job.

And because the camera is so small, standard flahguns were a joke on it. I had to hold the setup by the flashgun because it was so top heavy. Of course, this isn’t the first camera you’d think of if you use flash regularly, so not a big thing. Just worth mentioning.

Long exposure options - Epic

I love love love the Olympus long exposure options! If I could choose one feature to steal onto my Panasonic cameras it would be this.

Live bulb 

See your photo as it develops. Wait until you see what you like and then stop the exposure. It completely takes out the guess work in your long exposure photos. Perfect for light painting, astrophotography, light trails etc.

Live composite mode

I love this! This single feature makes me want to buy another Olympus camera. 

Live composite mode only adds in the changes in your scene. Let me give you an example. You’re shooting a waterfall on a tripod. You can use this mode to create a whispy waterfall without using an ND filter and without overexposing your image. Mind blown.

You can create star trails, leaving your exposure open for literally hours. 

It’s such a brilliant feature I can’t get enough of it.

Conclusion

If you love the look of the Pen F, and find one at a decent price, then definitely they’re worth considering. I wouldn’t use this camera with larger tele lenses, so if you love your smaller primes, this could be a perfect fit.

Try the menus before you buy, forget the video features entirely, and buy a few spare batteries. If you want a stunningly sexy stills camera that has loads of great features like the long exposure modes and the presets, then fill yer boots!

  • You could consider (you guessed it!) the Lumix G80 instead. It has weather sealing, amazing video features, 4k, a mic input, easy menus and is just an all-round steal.

  • If you enjoy the smaller form factor of the Pen F, you might want to look at the Lumix Gx9. It is nowhere near as pretty, but it is far from ugly, and you get more video features. It still has that 20mp sensor too.

  • I also adore my Lumix GX80. It is soooooo much cheaper, quite pretty, and has virtually the same spec. You lose the flippy screen, but the video features are miles better, and I get along with the menus a lot better. You can read my full review here.


All photos in this article were taken with the Olympus Pen F. Check out the Olympus Pen F on amazon:

Olympus Pen F with 17mm lens

Olympus Pen F body-only