Pen-F review, part 2, buttons and dials out the wazoo

Olympus sure did stuff a lot of buttons and dials into the relatively small Pen-F camera. It’s the total opposite philosophy of the Leica TL2 (which I’ve mentioned twice before in this blog: There’s no mode dial on a Leica TL2, Leica TL2: the world’s most overpriced camera?). The Leica TL2 hardly has any buttons and only has two dials, and doesn’t even have a mode dial! With the Leica TL2, you’re supposed to use the touchscreen to do everything.

On the Pen-F, you get the front and rear assignable dials, a mode dial, an exposure compensation dial, a diopter adjustment dial (which is very useful for people who need vision correction and don’t want to wear glasses while looking through the viewfinder), a front JPEG dial (or whatever it’s officially called), an on-off switch that’s shaped like a dial, and a JPEG lever (all the other Pen-F reviews mention the useless [to RAW shooters] JPEG dial, but the fact that there’s also a useless JPEG lever took me by surprise). And then you get two “function” buttons, a magnifier button, a depth-of-field preview button (on the bottom front of the camera), an orange button, plus the standard array of 9 buttons used for menu navigation and previewing.

Yes, there are a lot of dials and buttons, but most of them are in awkward locations. The people who designed the Ricoh GR had the goal of placing the controls such that they are all easy to access while holding the camera with one hand. The Olympus Pen-F control placement gives me the impression that they started out with the goal placing dials wherever they would make the camera look the most retro, and then wherever there was some empty space left over, they added some extra buttons. It’s a great marketing accomplishment, but a dubious accomplishment in camera ergonomics.

All of the buttons mentioned above, plus two of the buttons on the directional menu, can be assigned to various functions, allowing one-touch access to commonly used functions without having to access the “Super Control Panel.” But there is still some customization I feel is missing. You can assign one button to “AEL/AFL,” but what if you want to have one button do AEL and another button do AFL? I actually do want that, but it’s not an option.

It would also be nice if you were allowed to assign the JPEG lever to a more useful task. I think it would make a great ISO lever.

But overall, the amount of dial and button customization you can do has increased over the previous Olympus E-P5. This is a welcome change. I especially appreciate that there are C1 to C4 modes on the mode dial. This makes it easier to assign and use custom modes. The E-P5 does allow you to overwrite useless settings like “Art” with custom modes, but having actual C1 to C4 settings on the mode dial is more intuitive.

I’ve set up my buttons and dials as follows:

Front dial: exposure compensation (in aperture priority mode)
Rear dial: f-stop (in aperture priority mode)
Exposure compensation dial: flash compensation (this assignment is necessary to allow the one of the other dials to be used for regular exposure compensation)
Orange button: AEL/AFL (The orange button by default is for video, but I use AEL/AFL often and the orange button is the easiest button to reach.)

And I don’t know what to do with the other buttons.

* * *

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

Read my previous Pen-F post: Pen-F review, part 1, aesthetics and first impressions

Read my next Pen-F post: Pen-F review, part 3, EVF and display options

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