Street Photography London Review of the New Olympus PEN-F

I have been shooting with the Pen-F since mid-February. As a camera for street photography the new Pen-F by Olympus ticks all the boxes and more.

First impressions, the Pen-F is a striking camera with a very solid feel.

It comes in both silver and black, I'm usually a big fan of silver but for the first time I actually think the black is nicer, just more classy and discreet.

© Nicholas Goodden - Shot with the Pen-F

© Nicholas Goodden - Shot with the Pen-F

It's slightly bigger than I thought, not in a bad way though, it feels about right. It still a bit smaller than the OM-D but it has kind of the feel of a solid rangefinder. There are no screws apparent on the body.

Note that (in case you think I'm "Olympus til I die") I also own the Sony A7RII. But goodness it's big, and the lenses are big too. 90% of the time I'll decide to carry the Pen-F around. Yes, sure... it's not a 40+ megapixel camera, but it's one I can carry soooo easily.

This is an essential thing to consider in street photography.

As has become usual on Micro Four Third bodies by Olympus, plenty of controls are fitted around, all fully customisable meaning if you do it right, you'll hardly ever need to enter the menu.

© Nicholas Goodden - Shot with the Pen-F

© Nicholas Goodden - Shot with the Pen-F

With practice you'll know your camera so well you'll be able to quickly change settings without taking your eye off the scene in front of you.

(Oh... Olympus, please look at the button located at the front right below the lens. I don;t even have the biggest hands but I had to disable it as its location means I keep pressing it by mistake. It got pretty annoying.)

The Pen-F's menu itself remains largely unchanged from what we've gotten used to but there are small improvements and additions of course.

The viewfinder on the Pen-F is excellent although I have (on rare occasions) found it a bit small when shooting in very extremely bright light. I do like the fact it is located left of the camera instead of the middle as seen on OM-D cameras.

When used in low light, I feel there may be an improvement on noise level at higher ISO compared to other Olympus Micro Four Thirds. Not sure if that's the new 20mp sensor but it seems to perform a bit better.

The screen can be rotated all over the place in the same way it does on the OM-D E-M5 Mark II, which will particularly please the video shooters. But it seems strange to me as this camera is not pitched for the video shooter but clearly for the stills photographer. Actually it's even pitched towards the street photographer, and ask most street photographers... what we prefer is a tilt screen as seen on the E-M1 or E-M10 Mark II, helps with shooting from the hip.

This is my main regret. Instead here you have to swivel the screen around and I worry damaging it. Plus it makes it stick on the left side of the camera which is a little awkward.

If you want to shoot looking down at your camera... this is the only option.

If you want to shoot looking down at your camera... this is the only option.

Rotate the screen 180 degrees and you can close it facing the camera. This means you don't have to always be distracted by what's on the screen, you don't have to always chimp at your latest shot and it gives the camera almost an analog look with its screen hidden away.

The perfect way to not be distracted by constantly looking at your screen.

The perfect way to not be distracted by constantly looking at your screen.

I have personally been perfectly happy with the quality of Olympus JPEGs for a while now, so much so that unless I am shooting RAW for a client, I will otherwise stick to JPEG for my out of hours photography.

© Nicholas Goodden - Shot with the Pen-F

© Nicholas Goodden - Shot with the Pen-F

The Pen-F, when for example in monochrome, allows you to adjust shadows, highlights, midtones, add a colour filter for different black and white results, finely adjust the level of vignette and grain as well. So with all these options, you can customise your black and white look just as you like it.

I like this a lot! It's not gimmicky at all once you try it trust me.

Same goes for color, you can now in-camera play with colours, changing the saturation of each individual hue, to a very minute detail.

What I don't quite get is why Olympus felt the need to add the grain control or vignette control on monochrome but not colour. After-all grain in the film days was not limited to monochrome. I'm not too sure why the options between colour and mono are different. Maybe a firmware update will fix this.

The aim of all this is for photographers to spend less time post-processing with the ability to really apply more or less subtle personal preferences.

The optional grip is also very well thought, clear indication Olympus listens to its users since it has an opening under the battery meaning you can remove the battery without removing the grip.. which could get VERY boring.

However the same cannot be said of the Olympus CS-47B Leather Body Jacket for PEN-F which you need to unscrew to remove the battery. Seeing how often I charge batteries, I can see this becoming a bit annoying when a simple opening below could have solved this.

© Nicholas Goodden - Shot with the Pen-F

© Nicholas Goodden - Shot with the Pen-F

True the Pen-F is an expensive camera and it can be unclear to some why they would choose it over the cheaper E-M5 Mark II which also benefits from weather sealing.

But one really needs to hold the Pen-F and use it extensively to understand the care that went in designing it and the joy you get shooting with it.

I've been taking photographs with it for a little while now and I'm sold. Sure it's not perfect but I think we all know any camera has flaws when we look for them (just like us humans!).

The pros far outweigh the cons and I don't have to justify why I fancy a camera. I love photography, I love design and the Pen-F does it for me.

Looks like details down to the camera strap have carefully been thought of!

Looks like details down to the camera strap have carefully been thought of!

Fully articulated screen for those awkward angles

Fully articulated screen for those awkward angles

Same fully articulated flash as the EM5 Mark II

Same fully articulated flash as the EM5 Mark II

Optional grip and the ultra sharp 75mm f1.8 lens

Optional grip and the ultra sharp 75mm f1.8 lens

Thanks for reading!

Nico