Olympus Pen-F Street Photography

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Olympus Pen-F Street Photography

Olympus PEN F Review For Street Photography

I went ahead and got myself Olympus’s latest camera, so here’s my Olympus PEN F (mostly street photography) review.


The Olympus PEN F is an amazing camera that combines what everyone has always wanted: A digital camera in a retro film body. It’s like someone pried an old Olympus PEN and put in a digital sensor in it. It’s the best of both worlds.

Olympus PEN F Review

Simply stated, this is the most beautiful camera I have ever seen or owned. And I had many in my lifetime, everything from Nex to Leica.

The whole camera looks like…..the PEN F of yesteryear, and that’s a great thing. The top plate is extremely nice and metallic, every dial seems to have their own personality. There is no top shutter speed dial like the X100s but a mode dial. If you ask me it’s better that way when you use the EVF, it’s a more natural way to work.

The screen articulates and reverses, this is a great way to protect your screen and get it out-of-the-way. It also makes it look like a vintage camera even more. As a screen protector you can still get one if it’s thin and doesn’t get in the way of the screen closing.

A lot of people complain about the front dial and their fingers changing it, but I think it’s too hard to turn by accident, and the middle finger doesn’t really touch it. I don’t know what these other reviewers are talking about when they have issues with the front dial.

The camera can be gripped nicely, there is no large frontal grip so that means it’s easy to go from portrait orientation to landscape orientation. You might want to think twice if you want to add a grip to the PEN F, there might be an issue accessing the front dial. I don’t think anything extra is necessary, not even a thumbgrip.

The button layout is excellent and to make a long story short, all the buttons and dials feel real good. The first OMD with it’s mushy buttons are but a distant dream. There is a screw for a soft release but I found that I like the camera without one.

Sometimes I just turn the dials just for kicks because they have such nice feedback to them. The EV dial is solid, and will not move accidentally, something that happens often with other cameras, same thing with the power button.

It looks a film rewing knob but it’s to turn on the power. Many cameras I had simply turn on when I put them in my bag, but I can tell you that this has no chances of turning on by itself. Plus it’s all the way to the left, so there is also no chance of you turning it off while using it.

The lock on the mode dial is absolutely great. I was afraid at first because I remember my Xpro when I had to press the button to get it off the Auto shutter speed, this is different. This is a tiny button you press to lock or unlock the mode dial.

So the mode dial cannot be moved if it’s on the locked position. I cannot tell you how many ruined images I have because somehow the mode changed while the camera was on me or in my bag.

All the things stated above might seem trivial, but trust me after 50 years in the streets, I can see how Olympus really focused on the details.

Everything you need to operate the camera is on the top dial, you don’t need to operate the menu unless you want to. I use the screen rotated and I feel like I’m using my good old film cameras.

I was only planning to use a wide angle and a telephoto on the PEN F and use my Fuji x100s for the 35mm focal length. I made the mistake of putting the 17mm f1.8 on it and I ended up separating myself from my beloved X100s.

The whole camera is sexy, I can’t even see a screw. Nothing can beat a camera that turns you on because you want to use it. And the more you use it, the more images you are going to create.

That Black and White mode

First the bad news and then the worst news. First, you can’t process raw files in Lightroom yet. The worst news is you don’t want to do it in Olympus viewer!

So I’ve been shooting JPGs and that’s where the front dial shines. You can select your processing on the fly with it and if you are a BW shooter like me, you will never remove it from the Monochrome mode. It is a beautiful mode! Here’s an out of camera JPG:

It just resonates with me, it’s like I don’t need to process anything, the camera gives me the BW I want. You can also change a few settings and get things right in camera. You can save some of your own presets but I have yet to do so as I am so struck with the monochrome mode.

Of course it’s a JPG but haven’t missed raw yet because it hits home pretty much every time. As a street shooter all I had to do was to just punch up the grit a bit in Lightroom, but no crazy edits over the JPG the camera outputs. Most of the time I just use the JPGs I get, and I’m a RAW shooter!

Image Quality

The Image Quality is great. It’s dependent on the lens but those 20 megapixel files are superb. Mu43 is smaller than APSC but since Olympus and Panasonic are locked into the format, they spend so much money in research and development that they maximize the space they have to work with. Here’s some low light shots, and you can see why I am impressed (click for bigger size):

This is a mu43 camera people! If you have a shred of light available, you are probably fine. Here’s the maxed out ISO in darkness (click for full size):

It might be hard to see in the image below but here is an Olympus PEN F at 6400 on top and the X100s on the bottom. The X100s file is slightly more grainy and the PEN F is much darker and less grainy in darkness.

PEN F Street Photography

The camera responds very well and intuitively in the streets. Let’s get the bad things first, only 2 things bother me. The first doesn’t have a flip up screen, but if you think about it, when you articulate the screen out, you kinda doubled the size of the camera making it weird to an unlooker, kills the discretion a bit. I prefer the flip-up of the EP5. But you can’t have everything can ya?

Second problem, I can’t set the function buttons to change metering modes. Many other options are available like to switch to manual focus and all but I cannot change my reading mode. Might not be an issue for you but it is for me, and it’s an easy firmware fix. Please hear me Olympus!!

The camera is blazing fast and also stabilized. Look, I’m not a young shooter anymore, I’m not steady and can’t focus my Leicas anymore (so I don’t use em’) so this camera helps me in two ways: the autofocus helps me when I don’t use hyperfocal and stabilization allows me to shoot as slow as 1/15th of a second….and I have serious tremors.

Ergonomically, it’s made for the streets. It’s like you hold it and you want to hit the streets. If you like to pray and spray the fast autofocus is there to cover you.

Viewfinder and others

The viewfinder is nice and bright, and the diopter adjustment will not move, something again, O seemed to have paid attention to. I usually use the screen of the camera but I just found myself using the viewfinder more and more.

The Pen F has an external flash that is the coolest I have ever seen. It can actually bouce! I’ve waited so long for something like that. There is no manual control but I really like the little bounce capability.


I love my Olympus PEN F, it’s the most beautiful camera I have ever owned, and it has MOJO. I look at it and I want to use it. But it’s not all looks, behind the retro looks packs the best that the micro43 sensor can offer. I don’t see myself using anything else for a long time.

If you have any questions about the camera, shoot me some questions in the comments. Shooter out!

Street Photography in Hong Kong with the Pen-F by Olympus

by Nicholas Goodden  4 Comments

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Let me tell you: there’s nothing quite like a new camera and a change of scenery to recharge the old creative batteries, especially after a long British winter. I just came back last Sunday from a fantastic three-week trip to Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand and therefore, had plenty of time to intensively test the new Pen-F by Olympus, which I’ve had since mid-February.

I recently published an article here on Fstoppers on the benefits of wandering in street photography, and I did just that in Hong Kong. Here was the challenge: My time in Hong Kong was limited to just under three days, and I had a new camera to test, so I figured I may have just been able to pull together a small series of street shots from there. It’s no secret that street photography is very difficult. After all, we all have a certain degree of shyness and apprehension when it comes to shooting strangers.

I’ve been shooting street photography in London for a few years now, and even though I am a lot more confident today, I still have to constantly overcome fear. That’s me; we’re all different, and I have no issue admitting this.

What I found out from this trip in particular is that there’s nothing like being a tourist to remove the guilt or anxiety which comes with taking photos of people/strangers up-close.

When I am in London, since I’ve now lived there for over 16 years, I almost feel like I have no right to shoot people. I worry what they’ll think, how they’ll react. It’s natural, I guess. But out there in Hong Kong, I got such a feeling of freedom. Everyone around was taking photos, holiday snaps. So, who will know I have a purpose beyond that? I’m just a tourist, shooting what tourists shoot. Aren’t I? Well, nearly, except I’m on a mission, of course!

All shots in this article were captured with the Panasonic Leica DG 25mm f/1.4 Summilux lens. This is one of my all-time favorite micro four-thirds lenses for street photography; it’s on-par with the Voigtlander 17.5mm f/0.95, but a lot lighter and more compact.

As you can see, these are a mix of color and black and white shots. The purpose was to really dig deep into the extensive customization of these two modes (mono and color) available on the Pen-F.

Indeed, what has been labeled by some as gimmicky is actually a way to fine-tune the look of your JPEGs straight out of camera. “JPEGs,” I hear you scream! Yes, JPEGs. I (more often than not) shoot JPEG+raw.

You see, when I can avoid it, I am not one to spend hours in front of a Mac to create a photograph; so, this ability to achieve a certain look before I press the shutter means I can spend more time shooting, less time post-processing. And of course, by also keeping a raw file, if I am not 100% happy with the shot, I can always come back to it later on my Mac.

All these photographs are displayed as they were shot. Hong Kong really delivered, and I highly recommend the place for any street photography buff out there. I won’t write pages of boring technical analysis on the Pen-F, I just prefer to share real life photos I shot during a three day stopover in Hong Kong. This was a really valuable trip, and I feel recharged and ready to hit the streets of London again!

If any of you wants to ask me something, drop a comment.Posted In: Fstoppers OriginalsGearLocationNatural LightPicturesStreetTravel 4 COMMENTS

About Nicholas Goodden FOLLOWnicholasgooddenphotography.co.uk

Nicholas “Nico” Goodden, based in London works with large international brands including Adidas, Amazon, Peugeot and Sony Entertainment. His specialist areas are urban/street photography, moving images, timelapse and social media marketing for photographers.RELATED ARTICLES

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David Sanden – March 16, 2016

well done, street photography still strikes that weird uncomfortable vibe in my gut. I feel I’m imposing on people who didn’t ask for a face-full of lens.

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Nicholas Goodden – March 20, 2016

Hi David. I agree and many times I do to. It’s a balance between loving street photography and photographing people and at the same time knowing sometimes when not to take that shot. Tough one.

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Charles Pragnell – March 30, 2016

Great article Nicholas and some cool images. The PEN F is indeed a very lovely camera and the perfect tool for street photography I would imagine. The question that always comes to my mind when I do a little street photography is ‘To ask or not to ask?’ If you ask there is chance you might get a horribly posed and awkward potrait but if you don’t ask there is a high risk you might receive some challenging looks or at worst a dry slap. I recently went to visit my sister in Provence and as we strolled around some of the market towns I developed a way of getting some natural portraits. I persuaded my sister to buy goods from the market sellers, distracting their attention away from the lens and enabling me to take much more natural photos. It seemed to work well and of course spending money on their goods felt like I had paid to take their photo. Expensive and of course you need a willing sister 🙂

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Nicholas Goodden Charles Pragnell – April 1, 2016

Hi Charles. There’s no doubt that street photography is tough and controversial. It’s up to each individual to adopt the attitude they feel matches who they are. Some street photographers have no care or empathy for others, it makes it a lot easier for them. Personally I often think “how would I feel if someone shoved their camera in front of me and took my photo without asking or even looking/smiling. “Weirdo” I’d think. So my approach (although never perfect of without guilt at times) is to either grab the shot without being noticed, but if I am caught or seen then I don’t act weird or suspiciously. I just smile and raise my eyebrows as if asking “May I?”… sometimes I even use something called language! I actually ask people. Just do whatever makes you feel comfortable, we all know deep inside really what’s right or not.

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