Has Olympus Resurrected Victorian Design Principles?

Camera Jan 27, 2016

Has Olympus Resurrected Victorian Design Principles with the Pen-F?
An exercise in the use of the word “however”.


One of the hallmarks of the Victorian Era was the “Aesthetic Movement”.

The term “Aesthetic Movement” refers to the introduction of principles that emphasized art in the production of furniture, metalwork, ceramics, stained glass, textiles, wallpapers, and books

Why make a useful thing, if you can’t make it beautiful at the same time?

Olympus’ introduction of the Pen-F (the latest in their line of digital mirrorless cameras inspired by their classic half-frame film cameras of the same name) shows that form is just as important as function. Here we have a camera that, on paper, doesn’t break any new ground technologically. The components have been used in various other cameras and have been brought together and tweaked in this one. Sure, there are some incremental improvements but nothing worth writing Mom about.

However, what sets this camera apart from its ilk is its presentation. Not only have the incremental changes dealt with the design flaws of previous incarnations, but they have been bundled into one damned sexy camera.

To wit: I have used several Olympus Micro Four-Thirds cameras over the years. Despite all of the advanced Olympus has made with this camera format, something always sent me scurrying back to full-frame cameras.

Poor low light performance The m43 sensor has never really boasted low light performance as one of its strong suits. My Sony A7 II can run rings around any m43 cameras. However, my last m43 camera, the Olympus OMD EM–1, was equipped with the m.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 lens and that combination worked rather well.

4:3 aspect ratio means you can’t print without cropping, ever. I am not sure what possessed Olympus (and Panasonic) for selected 4:3 as the aspect ratio for their digital cameras. 35mm film cameras are aspected 3:2. Medium format 645 is 4:3, but those cameras produce huge images. Since the vast majority of cameras up until the digital revolution were 35mm, a lot of the printing that goes on is geared towards that. So that means that I have to crop any images taken with a m43 camera if I want to print. This is not that big a deal except that, at 16 megapixels, there isn’t a lot of “wiggle room” especially for big prints. However, the Pen-F sports a 20 megapixel sensor which gives us a bit more “wiggle room” for cropping to print.

The 2x crop factor makes wide shooting difficult, especially with legacy glass. One of the great things about mirrorless cameras is that you can pretty much use any legacy glass you want with a simple adapter. The 2x crop of the m43 sensor means that the effective focal length of any lens is doubled when mounted on this camera. Great for telephoto work, but horrible for wide angle work. However, Micro Four-Thirds sports one of the largest lens ecosystems in the mirrorless world with 61 native mount lenses to date and more being added every year. There is likely a native lens to suit most needs.

So, will this replace my primary pro camera? No, my work demands I use full-frame sensors and Sony really fits the bill for me with the A7 II. Personal use? I am sure willing to give it the college try. This small camera may be perfect for walkabout/street/everyday carry. But only time will tell.