Pen-F review, part 1, aesthetics and first impressions

The Olympus Pen-F has been lauded by most reviewers for its retro looks. But I think that everyone ignored the camera that preceded it, the Olympus E-P5.

Side by side, they don’t look that much different. Olympus used just a few tweaks to amp up the retro-ness.

1. The modern, but very useful, front grip is replaced by a JPEG wheel. Which of course, in old cameras, represented something else. The JPEG wheel is useless to serious shooters who shoot RAW. For the next PEN, please lose the wheel and bring back the grip. The E-P5 was much more comfortable to hold. (But I doubt that will happen. Olympus got too much positive press over the silly wheel, but not much negative press for removing the grip.)

2. The dials, which on the E-P5 are flush with the top plate of the camera or partially hidden within the body, are now big and protruding on the Pen-F, like dials from the 1950s. And as much praise as these dials have gotten, I think the dials in the E-P5 feel better. The front dial around the shutter button feels kind of unpleasantly loose on my Pen-F.

3. There’s a new dedicated exposure compensation dial. I find it way too stiff, and it was probably made that way to prevent it from accidentally being turned and consequently messing up your exposure, but I don’t find it pleasant to use. I like to fiddle with my exposure before each shot in order to get the perfect exposure. I believe the camera lets you set one of the other dials to exposure compensation, so I may wind up doing that and ignoring the exposure compensation dial just as I ignore the JPEG dial. In which case they both become useless retro ornaments. [Upon further examination of the camera, you have to set the exposure dial either for general exposure or flash compensation.]

4. The silver metal parts of the body are less shiny and more matte.

5. The black part of the camera body is more textured.

6. The on-off switch is now a more old-timey dial instead of a modern toggle switch.

The E-P5 had one huge Achilles heel. And that is that it didn’t have a built-in viewfinder. And because of that, it didn’t get the respect it deserved. There is a really high quality add-on viewfinder, the VF-4, but that thing is huge. It adds a huge black plastic lump on top of an otherwise svelte metallic body. It totally ruined the look of the camera, made it take up a lot more space in your bag, and prevented you from using an external flash in the hot shoe while simultaneously using the viewfinder.

I have no doubt that the Pen-F is a much bigger success than the E-P5 because Olympus gave the people what they wanted, a built-in viewfinder. Despite the missing viewfinder, the E-P5 is the camera I’ve liked best of all cameras I’ve ever used. But I agree that it’s a lot better to have a built-in viewfinder, and I am hopeful that I will come to love the Pen-F more than I loved the E-P5, the addition of the viewfinder making up for the loss of some of the other stuff that I liked.

* * *

Reminder: You don’t need a new camera, it’s just G.A.S.

Read my previous Pen-F post: Pen-F, why now?

Read my next Pen-F post: Pen-F review, part 2, buttons and dials out the wazoo

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