Olympus Pen-F

A tiny but comprehensive mirrorless camera with retro styling

This, Olympus’s newest mirrorless model, is likely to be one of the cameras of the year. Journalists and bloggers, myself included, adored it within hours of its launch, which is no surprise; the Pen-F is an almost ludicrously comprehensive interchangeable-lens camera in a tiny package.

It has a plethora of redoubtable features, from the conveniently sited mechanical dial on the front panel, used to select artistic modes, and the top 1/16,000th of a second shutter speed, to the 21.8-megapixel Live MOS sensor and the 2.36M-dot OLED electronic viewfinder. The five-axis (roll, pitch, yaw, vertical and horizontal) stabilisation works for HD video as well as stills, and – get this – the 50-megapixel High Res Shot mode combines eight photos into one incredibly detailed image. Exploiting just a quarter of the functions would very likely make you a better photographer.

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The diminutive scale of the Pen-F only becomes evident when you pick it up. It measures 12.5cm x 7.2cm x 3.7cm, making it almost too small for my ham fists; and with the 17mm lens and battery in place, it weighs just over a pound in old money. That really is very light indeed.

Some may roll their eyes at my pre-metric measurement, but I have a reason for going that way. For while the Olympus Pen-F is as up-to-the-minute as cameras get, its form is a shameless emotional pitch to the love of retro – the early 1960s in particular. The case is a stylistic recreation of Olympus’s quirky 1963 half-frame Pen‑F, and on the website you’ll see a chap in 1960s gear, looking like he’s on a date with Britt Ekland.

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I’m all for stylish-looking cameras, such as Nikon’s Df, an electronic evocation of the classic Nikon F (that I reviewed here a while ago). I even believe that the aesthetics of a camera affect the way you use it. However, unlike many (mostly younger) reviewers, who were knocked out by the Pen-F’s look, I don’t think it’s as pretty as it could be – and certainly not as lovely as the original Pen-F. Don’t get me wrong, I would be very happy to use it, but find its appearance too busy and the finish 10 per cent less smooth than I’d like. It’s just not quite as deluxe in the flesh as in photos. But that’s a small matter, and otherwise, it’s a marvellous camera.

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