Pen-F: a brief, if effusive, review

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Seamus42 Forum Member • Posts: 52
Pen-F: a brief, if effusive, review
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I recently hemmed and hawed, trying to figure out whether to replace my messed-up (I dropped it, thank you very much) E-M10 with an E-M10ii. I mean, it's a great deal for a refurb at $299! And I love the Mark I.

Then I figured hey, a used E-M1, maybe a refurb E-M5ii. I was all over the place, as anyone who saw the thread can attest. But in the end, the lure of the Pen-F was more than I could withstand. The newer sensor seemed like a plus, if only a very minor one, given the more-than-adequate IQ of the 16MP sensor I am used to. Everything else seemed in-line with the E-M5ii, so definitely a major upgrade for me.

I got my Pen-F a few days ago. I photograph as part of my job at a college, so mostly events, business-style portraits for staff, pictures of earnest students in class, our scenic mountainside campus, etc. I had no doubt that the Pen-F would be up to my relatively modest professional needs, given that the E-M10 has done very well to date.

I wasn't prepared for what I got. I knew it would be different, probably more versatile with its improved IBIS, higher-res EVF, etc. But a remarkable thing happened: I've been used to doing a fair bit of work in post-processing. The Pen-F images could certainly be touched-up and improved that way, but the shots I got for a portrait and an event were only improved in such a minor way it seemed like a waste of time. The IBIS gave me crisp focus at lower ISO in a dark interior, and the very rushed outdoor portrait I was asked to take for instant turnaround was basically a point-and-shoot experience. For the first time ever, I sent a portrait out for consumption without touching it.

I'm sure that the 20MP vs. 16MP difference isn't that big a deal, and probably won't be noticed by most eyes. But there's something going on here. This is a spectacular camera.

I heard chatter about ergonomics. Yet for my fairly small hands, this thing is extremely comfortable, even without a grip or a leather case. Its feel reminds me very much of the Konica film SLRs I still use, and it's very close in size to my Konica TC.

I heard about the lack of weather-proofing, but in 3 years with my E-M10, I haven't had a circumstance in which I wished for weather-proofing. It's just not a factor for me.

I heard chatter, too, about the useless dial on the front. And yes, it is completely useless when I'm at work. But the rest of the time? It's a blast. The monochrome mode is gorgeous. Those of you who shoot only RAW, well, I certainly get it. But I shoot RAW + JPEG all the time-- if something isn't working out, I've still got the RAW file.

In the end, this is what I have been after for a decade-plus -- a sophisticated digital camera that can also offer much of the feel and many of the rewards of a vintage film camera. It reminds me of that incredibly dumb new camera in which you change out cartridges to change ISO and color or B&W, only this is actually useful and not so artificially limited. I miss loading up B&W film and abiding by its limitations, or throwing in a roll of slide film to take on the challenge. The Pen-F offers a great echo of that -- enough to make it fun and worthwhile, without the pain and suffering of film's limitations.

I'm having all kinds of fun that I could only have had with my E-M10 by going through all kinds of post-processing tinkering. Sure, it doesn't make a hill of beans of difference when you're solely making a living with your images. You want total control all the time then. But that's a small part of why I have a camera.

It's a real pleasure to have what almost amounts to two cameras in one. One is completely up to the task of what I need professionally, and the other is a rewarding emulation of what I miss about film. I still have my Konicas, and I know I'll still shoot them. But somehow, I think I'll feel the need far less.

There's one part of this that bums me out, though-- I never, ever would have bought a Pen-F at its $1200 price tag. I got a refurb. And I don't think it would have been worth it for $1200. But for $750? I could not be happier. This camera is sticking around.

 Seamus42's gear list:Seamus42's gear list
Olympus OM-D E-M10 Olympus PEN-F Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm 1:4-5.6 R Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 45mm F1.8 Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 EZ +11 more
Olympus E-M1 Olympus OM-D E-M10 Olympus OM-D E-M10 II Olympus PEN-F
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