Andy Westlake tests Olympus’s retro-styled Pen-F, with its built-in viewfinder and 20-million-pixel sensor
Once upon a time CSCs were seen as the poor relation to DSLRs in terms of focusing performance, but that has all changed. The Pen-F focuses quickly and decisively in anything but the lowest light and, with most lenses, silently. Using the touchpad (or d-pad) you can place the AF area almost anywhere in the frame, and the camera will achieve accurate focus even with large aperture lenses. When taking pictures of people, turning on face- and eye-detection allows the camera to do all the hard work, so you can concentrate on composition. For anyone used to struggling with autofocus fine-tune on SLRs, this is all a very welcome change.
Manual focus is straightforward, too. The camera offers a choice of focus aids: either a peaking display that highlights in-focus areas of the scene, or a magnified view of your chosen focus area (at levels ranging from 3x to 14x). The former is great for quick focusing, but magnified view is more accurate when really precise focus is required. One of my few handling criticisms of the camera is that the magnify button isn’t all that easy to locate by touch when you’re using the viewfinder.
Metering uses the main image sensor, which means it’s generally very accurate, giving a well-judged balance between highlight and shadow detail. By default your exposure is previewed in the viewfinder, so on the rare occasion the camera gets things wrong, you can see before even taking the shot. This means that the exposure compensation dial usually becomes more of a creative control than a means of second-guessing likely exposure errors. Alternatively, spot metering can be used in tricky conditions, with Olympus providing unusual shadow and highlight-weighted modes.
Image quality from the 20-million-pixel Four Thirds sensor is really rather good. It can’t quite match the latest 24-million-pixel APS-C sensors for raw image quality, but resolution is easily sufficient for a highly detailed A3 print when shooting at low ISOs. High ISO image quality inevitably can’t match cameras with larger sensors. Loss of fine detail becomes visible at ISO 800 and I’d avoid shooting much higher than ISO 3200, unless there’s really no other option. However, one great advantage of Micro Four Thirds is that you can buy small, relatively inexpensive fast primes such as the Olympus 17mm f/1.8, 25mm f/1.8 and 45mm f/1.8 which, together with the excellent in-body image stabilisation, reduce the need to shoot at very high ISO settings.
When it comes to camera JPEGs, Olympus’s excellent colour rendition and auto white balance come to the fore. Combined with the accurate metering, this means that the files produced by the camera are very attractive indeed. Some might find the noise reduction a bit over-enthusiastic by default, but this can be turned down using the Noise Filter setting in the menu.