2019 Buying Guide: Best cameras under $1500
Published Mar 14, 2019 | dpreview staff
24MP Four Thirds CMOS sensor | In-body image stabilization | 1080/60p video
What we like:
- Excellent JPEG and Raw image quality
- Gorgeous design with numerous control points
- Effective 5-axis image stabilization
- Articulating touchscreen LCD and high-res EVF
What we don't:
- AF system struggles to track subjects, especially during continuous shooting
- Complex menus can be overwhelming
- Below average battery life
Olympus' PEN-F is a mirrorless camera whose design harkens back to the company's film camera with the same name that debuted in 1963. The PEN-F may have classic styling but inside you'll find the latest and greatest tech, including a 20MP Four Thirds sensor, 5-axis image stabilization, a 50MP 'High-Res Shot mode' and a 2.36M-dot EVF.
The body of the PEN-F is compact, with no visible screws and a faux leather finish. Like the original PEN-F, it has a cool-looking dial on the front plate, but this can only be used to select from (JPEG only) Art modes. The camera doesn't have much of a grip, and Olympus offers an add-on that make the PEN-F much easier to hold. As with most higher-end Olympus ILCs, the PEN-F is incredibly customizable, to the point where it can be overwhelming. Photos can be composed on either a tilting touchscreen LCD or a high resolution (2.36 million-dot) electronic viewfinder. The PEN-F lacks a built-in flash, though a small external model is in the box.
The PEN-F may have classic styling but inside you'll find the latest and greatest tech
You'll find a pretty standard 81-point contrast detect autofocus system on the PEN-F. When using a single AF point the camera can depth track quite well at up to 5 fps. Subject tracking is one of the PEN-F's weak points, with a sub-10% hit rate. While the camera can track moving faces, the amount of time required to actually lock focus is slow. The PEN-F can shoot continuously at 10 fps (single AF) or ~5 fps (continuous AF) using the mechanical shutter and 20 fps with its electronic shutter. With a CIPA rating of 330 shots per charge, carrying an extra battery is a smart idea.
JPEGs produced by the PEN-F offer pleasing color and good high ISO performance. Dynamic range remains the same as on the 16MP sensors used on previous Micro Four Thirds cameras, however. The camera's High Resolution mode produces 50 megapixel stills which are a composite of eight exposures. The benefits are increased color resolution (which in turn reduces false color) as well as lower noise and obviously, greatly increased maximum print size. This feature is only usable for static scenes, since any movement will produce undesirable artifacts. Speaking of movement, the camera's 5-axis image stabilization is very effective at reducing camera shake when shooting both stills and video.
Those interested in video can record movies at 1080/60p at bit rates of more than 50Mbps. Video quality is good with very little 'wobble' from the autofocus system, except in low light, and the PEN-F's touchscreen makes rack focusing easy. The camera's internal mic is just ok, and there's no jack for an external microphone (or headphones for that matter.)
Overall, we found that the PEN-F is more than just an attractive camera. Its image and video quality is very good, 5-axis IS excellent and ergonomics top-notch. If there's one weakness it's the autofocus system, which was just fair when it was announced and behind-the-times in 2017.
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