Hands-on: The Olympus Pen-F is a new vintage beauty that feels great in the hands

Olympus' new camera is named after the original Pen F from 1963, and is billed as "the rangefinder that responds to your imagination." The classic styling is certainly very evident, as is the inclusion of an OLED EVF, which sits on the left side of the camera body.

Indeed, design and styling are clearly points of emphasis here, as Olympus says they are targeting two groups of users with this new camera: The design and style-oriented photography enthusiasts, as well as the "lifestyle cosmopolitan" crowd, who will appreciate the camera's aesthetics. Multiple accessories for further customisation are already available, like the gold soft button by Gariz you see on ours.

Certainly, the emphasis on design is very evident with the new Pen F. Olympus says everything was built along a circular design concept, which is why all the dials have a circular appearance. Take a good look at the body, and you'll notice that there are hardly any screws visible, not even on the base plate.

Controls have a good amount of tactility

There are again a number of function keys that you can set to your liking, and we like how the knurled dials have a good amount of give to them, so that there's a tactile sense to when you've adjusted a setting.

Also, it does seem like all the buttons are raised up just about enough to easily reach by feel with this camera, in particular the movie recording button, which is nicely raised so you shouldn't have any problems activating it.

Unlike the E-PL7 (or even the E-PL6) the Pen F's rear LCD doesn't just flip out. It turns outwards too, just like the E-M5 Mark II. That means you can use the camera in a variety of angles, but as one photographer pointed out, may be slower to use for street photography than a simple flip screen, when you want to use the camera at waist level.

We must say we really like how the camera feels in your hands. The front handgrip and the rear thumb grip seem to be just about deep enough for you to get a good grip on the camera. The camera feels balanced; solid but not heavy. The inclusion of touch AF and the large number of AF points on the camera also make it easy for you to get focus, right where you want it.

In our short time with the camera, it certainly seemed like the camera found and locked focus fairly quickly and accurately. Seeing as how the front colour dial is a new feature, we tried experimenting with it a bit, trying the black and white modes, and the selective colour modes.

Unlike most black and white modes we've encountered so far, the implementation of colour modes on the Pen F allows you to easily adjust the black and white effect by presenting you with a colour spectrum that's fully editable. Like adding colour filters in front of the lens when doing traditional photography, adding or reducing certain colors will affect the brightness of the tones in the scene in black and white. With the Pen F, any changes you make are instantly reflected, letting you see what does what.

For example, in this image, we wanted to increase the contrast of the suitcase against the surroundings, so we chose to increase the saturation of the reds and magentas in monochrome. The increased saturation made the red channels deeper, and so we got a deeper shade in the final image.

Here's the scene in color.

The same scene in black and white with emphasis to the red channel. (12mm at f/2.2 , 1/125s, ISO 200)

Because we were shooting in the afternoon, there wasn't really much of an opportunity to test the low light capabilities of the camera. What we did manage to do though, was to capture an image at ISO 6400, and another at ISO 25,600. Both of these are "boosted" ISO settings in the camera, and so don't get selected except for extreme conditions, but we were curious to see how the new sensor performs.

12mm at f/5.0, 1/250s, ISO 6400

At ISO 6400, it does seem that the sensor performs at least as well as the OM-D EM-5 II, with a good amount of detail retained and hardly any colour noise detected. The image is pretty clean overall.

12mm at f/14, 1/250s. ISO 25,600

Moving on to the ISO 25,600 shot we were brought back down to earth in a sense, as with this picture the details are definitely lost beyond recovery. Still, given the size of the 20MP Four Thirds sensor, we must say the results are certainly at least on par with the previous generation.

Overall, we must say the camera gives you great images with good detail and vibrant colors. Expectations have to be adjusted as far as dynamic range goes if you're coming from cameras with larger sensors, but from what we've seen, the Pen F certainly delivers in most of your day-to-day situations.

More importantly, the styling and handling make it feel like a camera that you'll want to bring out with you, and that always results in more pictures. We do wish that the colour effects could be applied to images after they are captured, as right now they are only applied when you have the colour mode active during capture.

Now the only thing is the local price, which unfortunately will only be announced towards the later half of February when the camera becomes available. DP Review has the US body-only price at US$1,199.99, which we expect will hit near or below S$2,000 when the Pen-F reaches us.

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