More so than any kind of modern technology, digital cameras have pushed retro designs into the mainstream. Fujifilm, Nikon, Panasonic, and Olympus all have their own throwback shooters—and Leica has never really strayed from its timeless designs.
It’s not just a gimmick, either. In the world of photography, retro style is sensible: Unlike today’s sleek, touchscreen-controlled phones and tablets, experienced photographers want to have all the knobs, buttons, and dials they need at their fingertips.
The fetching Olympus PEN-F is the company’s latest old-school camera, and it bears the same name and stylistic touches as Olympus’ 35mm film SLR cameras from the early- to mid-1960s. While a tribute to a 35mm film camera would suggest the PEN-F has a full-frame sensor, that isn’t the case. It’s built around a Micro Four-Thirds sensor like the other cameras in the PEN series.
This sensor’s brand new, though. It’s a 20-megapixel imager, bolstered by Olympus’ excellent five-axis stabilization system. It also does the same cool things as Olympus’ recent OMD series cameras. There’s the “Hi Res” mode found in the OMD E-M5 Mark II, a tripod-optimized feature that moves the sensor around to capture a 50-megapixel shot. There’s also the focus-bracketing feature found in the E-M5 II, E-M10, and E-M1.
The PEN series usually bears lesser specs than Olympus’ higher-end OMD lineup, but not this one. The PEN-F is basically an OMD-level camera in a throwback body. It captures continuous shots at a rate of up to 20fps, has a lightning-fast autofocus system, boasts shutter speeds up to 1/16,000 of a second, and shoots RAW. Video capture tops out 1080p at 60fps, although you’re able to record time-lapse video in 4K at 5fps.
For sure, the most compelling thing about this camera is its body. There’s a distinct dial on the front that lets you toggle between monochrome, color, and filter effects. Up top, machined aluminum dials handle mode selections, shutter, and exposure compensation, while a heavy-duty scroll wheel on the back lets you dial everything in.
This is also the first PEN camera with an eye-level viewfinder; the others only have a live-view LCD screen. And it’s no half-assed EVF, as its OLED display has 2.36 million dots of resolution. But there’s still a 3-inch flip-and swivel touchscreen on board, and like most cameras these days, Wi-Fi connectivity is built in.
Those OMD-level specs in a PEN body come with a price to match, and you’ll have to wait about a month to start shooting with it. The PEN-F will be available in early March, priced at $1,200 for the body only. It’s compatible with Micro Four-Thirds system lenses—which have a bigger-than-most crop factor of 2x.