Pen F – Sweet for the Street

A few months ago I bought a used Lumix GF1 body for $125. The camera was introduced by Panasonic almost eight years ago. It’s a twelve megapixel Micro Four Thirds design that still has some great attributes for the street. I bought it to determine whether or not I want to commit to Micro Four Thirds for street photography since there are many features of the camera designs that make them well suited for that purpose. Along with the camera body, I bought an M. Zuiko 25mm f1.8 prime lens that I reasoned could be used with another Micro Four Thirds camera if I decided to go in that direction.

A couple of months passed and I enjoyed using the GF1 on the street. The size is perfect and I don’t experience neck pain any more from carrying the huge DSLR. The design of the camera makes it easy to change the shooting parameters that I use all of the time: aperture, ISO, exposure compensation, and focus point, to name a few. Among the shortcomings is that the twelve megapixels doesn’t support the crops that I like to use to make fine adjustments to composition. My opinion is that if, for example, I need to straighten an image to get a dominant line perpendicular or horizontal, I will also need a few extra pixels so that I have something left over after the crop to remove the white wedges at all of the corners after rotating the image.

Along came the twenty megapixel Olympus Pen F. It is slightly larger than my GF1, but a huge improvement in shutter response and ISO performance. I won’t go into a full review of the camera here since many others have done a very good job of that. I want to specifically talk about my impressions of the camera as a street photography tool after using it for the first time.

My first impression came as I took it out of the box.  It is a beautifully crafted camera. I purchased the silver and black version rather than the all black because I thought the silver gave it more of a retro appearance. It is comfortable in my hands and the buttons and knobs have a solid feel.

Olympus Pen F Micro Four Thirds Camera

Before my first shoot, I sat down with the Pen F Instruction Manual and my new camera to set all of my street defaults. Since I like to have a lot of control, I turn off the auto ISO, setting my default to ISO 1600. I stick with the default matrix metering (Digital ESP Metering) and use continuous autofocus (C-AF). I set the aperture wide open for aperture priority shooting. The file format is set for RAW RGB.

On the street the camera powers up quickly, ready for shooting. The touch screen makes it very easy to select the focus point. On the GF1 and my DSLR, it was necessary to use the arrow buttons to move the focus point. Now all I need to do is touch the screen where I want to place the focus point. I use this feature instead of letting the camera select the focus point automatically because I don’t want to trust the camera to always do it correctly. An optional feature is to not only place the focus point, but also to focus and shoot without touching the shutter release button. The Pen F allows adjustment of the size of the focus point, which is handy for more dynamic situations where your aim may not be precise and need a larger target.

Shooting is fast: the shutter response is very good and the sequential shot rate is up to 20 fps using the electronic shutter and 10 fps using the mechanical shutter. I found the electronic shutter difficult to use because there is no feedback. When you press the shutter release the camera rips off images at a mind-numbing speed, but you get no idea how many images you are shooting. The real advantage of the electronic shutter is that it is perfectly silent. Most of the time, however, I prefer the mechanical shutter because I can hear the clicks. The mechanical shutter response is also very good so that you can rip images at a high rate using successive shutter presses.

One last feature of the Pen F that I like a lot is the creative dial on the front of the camera body. There are five settings: MONO (Monochrome Profile Control), COLOR (Color Profile Control), camera default, ART (Art Filter), and CRT (Color Creator). The only one that I want to mention is some detail is MONO since my finished work is normally black and white. There are three monochrome profiles to choose, each with grain and color filter options. My favorite is the Monochrome 2 profile that simulates Kodak Tri-X film.

The camera automatically shoots RAW+JPEG when the creative dial is used so that you get both the color image and the processed JPEG. The JPEG results are quite good and the only reason that I would do my own processing might be to achieve a stylistic appearance. I really can’t think of a good example except that I like to have the RAW file in case I don’t like the camera processing.

After the first shoot with the Pen F, I am delighted with the camera and can’t wait to take it on another trip to the street.