Olympus Pen-F Review and GX8 Comparison

I’ve been a micro 4/3 user for a few years now. Mostly with Olympus bodies and a few Panasonic bodies. My favorite so far in terms of form factor and ease of use has been the Olympus E-M1. The only reason that I sold the E-M1 is that the image quality isn’t as good as the newer 20 megapixel cameras — the GX8 and the Olympus Pen F.

The past few months, I’ve been using the GX8. While I like the handling of the camera, the out of camera JPEGs are OK, but not great. Also, Adobe seems to hate Panasonic cameras because they only give them one camera calibration profile — Adobe Standard. With Olympus, Canon, Fuji, Nikon, and others, they give multiple camera calibration profiles to mimic the manufacturers’ colors. Thus, saving time in post processing by giving you multiple starting points. This is fine for some users, but I prefer spending a minimal amount of time post processing. If possible, I’d rather get great JPEGs out of the camera. Why? I’d much rather enjoy time with my family, taking more photos, practicing karate, etc. I shoot RAW+JPEG, and that way if a file here or there needs tweaking, I have the option. Enter the Pen-F. It’s supposed to have many creative options and be built around getting great results out of the camera. First lets talk about the pros and cons of the GX8:

GX8 Pros:

  1. Fast and accurate focusing.
  2. 4K video and excellent video controls.
  3. Great sensor.
  4. Weight / Size / Ergonomics.
  5. Tilting EVF.
  6. Controls.
  7. EVF and screen.
  8. Weather sealing.
  9. Easy to navigate GUI.

Cons of the GX8:

  1. JPEGs out of camera are OK, but not WOW (like Fuji).
  2. Adobe only provides one camera profile.
  3. The image stabilization doesn’t work very well with the 40–150mm f/2.8 Olympus lens.
  4. Video isn’t stabilized.
  5. Mushy shutter button — not a definitive click.
  6. Touch to shoot works, but not as well as Olympus.
  7. Does not include a flash — even a bad one.
  8. 2.5mm mic jack!
  9. Tilt out screen — I much prefer the kind that tilt up and down.

This past Saturday, I purchased the new Pen-F from Glazers Camera in Seattle. I ended up purchasing a silver one. My rationale? Same sensor (according to the reviews), stabilized video, but mainly better JPEGs out of the camera due to it’s myriad of creative options. When I got home, I immediately listed my GX8 for sale on Amazon (eBay sucks, Amazon does too, but less).

Pros of the Pen-F:

  1. Image stabilization works very well in stills and video. This is one of the main reasons that I switched from the GX8 to the Pen-F. Even though the GX8 has awesome video, it’s jittery when handheld and needs either stabilized lenses or a stabilized system. I have no interest in purchasing either one of those. By contrast, the Pen-F’s built in stabilization works great in video and stills. With regards to stills, I own the Olympus 40–150mm f/2.8 lens. It’s a great lens, but not stabilized well on the GX8 at all. On the Pen-F it’s fantastic!Here’s a video example I shot with the Pen-F. The lighting is a combination of natural and artificial light. Sound was recorded with the onboard microphone. Shot handheld, no editing, using the custom color mode with an edited curve and color tweaked all using the settings in the camera camera. I used the Leica 15mm in continuous autofocus mode.

Let’s look at some sample images — these are straight out of the camera:

Cons of the Pen-F:

  1. JPEGs (yes, I know I listed it in the pros too) — The JPEGs are good, but require quite a bit of camera fiddling to be expected. The fiddling controls are awkward at best and not all in one menu location. The art filters also have some creative tweaks, but not all adjustments are available on each creative mode. Perhaps the most disappointing this is that the resolution doesn’t seem as nice as the GX8. I can’t put my finger on it, but the GX8’s files just look better, maybe sharper or richer. Personal preference, but I don’t see Olympus winning the JPEG contest here. The GX8’s files are better.
  2. The SD card sticks going in and out. It’s in there pretty tight. I’ve tried with multiple cards. I’m concerned I could break battery door by fighting with the SD card slot. Also, the battery door latch stinks. It’s hard to open and close it. You need finger nails.
  3. No weather sealing — it started raining a tad when we were out, and I had to put it in a bag.
  4. Feels cheap — I prefer the feel in the hand and build quality of the E-M1 and the GX8. The Pen-F just feels flimsy and toy like. The battery door feels chintzy, the SD card sticks (see #1 of the cons), the multi selector feels cheap, the color selector on the front announces to the world what color you are using and isn’t customizable, the on off switch is annoying, and there’s no grip. For this much money, it should feel solid. It should be built well. Olympus really let me down on this one.
  5. Better control system and buttons on the E-M1. The E-M1 feels great, is built great, and the buttons / dials feel of quality. It’s a solid camera. The Pen-F is anything but. Olympus took a step backwards and sideways with this.
  6. No mic jack.
  7. EVF / Eye sensor is finicky. You cannot have the LCD flipped out and then use the EVF. First you have to close the door. Also, once the LCD during selfie mode was upside down, I had to close the door and reopen for it to be fine — maybe a firmware update can fix that bug.
  8. Stupid flip out / twisty screen.
  9. LCD and EVF aren’t quite as good as the GX8.
  10. Cannot adjust video settings once you press record.

After a day of usage, I realized I made a mistake in buying the Pen-F. It feels like a toy, no doubt about it, it’s made cheaply, the camera just isn’t up to the same level of build quality as the E-M1 or the GX8. Also, the image quality out of the camera is good, but not any better than the GX8 — I might even say worse. Certainly, not what I was expecting.

Without a doubt, this is one of the biggest buyers remorse camera decisions I have ever made. Bottom line? Olympus messed up and too many of the reviews online are biased because they get advertising dollars from Olympus or freebies.

Make no mistake, the Pen-F is an overpriced toy camera. It’s not made well and I cannot recommend it to anyone. The E-P5 and E-M1 from Olympus were better made cameras. Better yet? Skip all modern Olympus cameras and get the Panasonic GX8. That being said, I do own a couple of Olympus lenses though — the pro lenses are great and 17mm f/1.8 produces great images.

In conclusion, I returned the Pen-F today. It’s unfortunate to Glazer’s Camera since they will either take a loss in re-selling it as used or the time it takes to send back to the manufacturer. Although, it shows they are an honest store that put their customers first. The fault here lies with Olympus. Had they produced a quality product, I would have kept it.

Luckily, my GX8 didn’t sell in the short time I had it on Amazon, and I’m keeping it. When the E-M1 Mark II comes out, I’ll have to give Olympus another look, but I won’t be so quick to jump in.

One of the main reasons I started this blog was to share what I’ve learned about photography and learn from knowledgeable others. In this case please learn from my mistake.

Originally published at bershatsky.com on February 15, 2016.

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