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Amarcord: The PEN F


Olympus PEN history is very long and plenty of nice cameras have been created. And let’s check what kind of design could be used for the future PEN models. And if you dream of a digital PEN with integrated viewfinder than you cannot avoid to talk about the superbly made Olympus PEN-F (here on eBay)!
And the viewfinder isn’t juts a “normal” viewfinder. Camerapedia writes: “The Pen F is a quite compact camera with a porro prism viewfinder, which completely avoids the traditional SLR prism bulge because the reflex mirror flips sideways, resulting in a compact viewfinder arrangement.” You can see the back of the PEN-F here. Another unique feature was the rotary focal-plane shutter that has the advantage that you can sync with the electronic flash at all shutter speeds.

But overall the camera shines because of the clean and extremely elegant design. Maybe its just me, but I would love to see the same design on a future PEN with integrated viewfinder! And with the same cult lens cap (they are here on eBay).

More about the camera at Cameraquest and Camerapedia. PEN-F acutions on eBay (Click here).

So let me know…

...would you like a digital PEN-F designed camera?

View Results

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  • mahler

    Admin, I have no idea, what aspect of this design is so preferable. I hope that Olympus stops its current retro design philosophy and provides a new PEN, which has an ergonomic grip. This gripless designs makes no sense.

    Additionally Olympus should completely redesign the back of the PENs, especially get rid of this awkward and flimsy multicontroller.

    To me a design akin to the E-M5 with no hump, a better arrangement of the top controls, and a smaller screen, which allows for bigger controls, would be preferable.

    • vdaffyduck

      +1 Yes, please no more retro design!!!!!!!!!

    • E-1

      Made dozens of excellent photos with an EPM1 today.

      • mahler

        Fine. So what?

  • Aj

    So basically an olympus e300? the real PEN-F digital camera.

    • yeah you are right! I totally missed that camera, it even got the mirror angle right!

      • Anonymous

        The interesting point here is the way so many keep on about having a u43 Lumix DMC L1, which is either the E-300 or E-330 in a Panasonic body, the 330 being an upgraded 300. A shortcoming of the 300 was a dismally dark viewfinder caused by the small mirror and the use of a PorroPrism mirror assembly, had the 300 been more inkeeping with conventional SLR styling I believe it would have been more successful. I still own one which is used by my father, I prefer to use the E-1, it may have lower spec but it is simply a gorgeous camera to use.

        Yes we do have the digital Pen as mentioned, which is the standard E-P series 1,2 & 3 at present and wondering what comes next. Please, please Mr Olympus, produce one with a built in EVF.

      • mahler

        The E-300 had possibly the worst optical view finder ever made.

    • the OVF of E300, dark tiny poro mirror was a terrible experience, but I did rather like the novelty of its shape

      • yeah i used it for a shoot back in 2005, and loved the fact it could be put in a small messenger A4 bag together with a convertable tablet/laptop. not possible with any dslr at that time.

    • the irony was at the release of the E-300, many people complained it did not have the traditional hump/slr shape!

      • ultimately theres room for both, the RF style is potentially more compact and it does have a substantial following

    • kodachromeguy

      I used the Olympus E-330 for 4 years. It was innovative but not a commercial success. It was a robust unit and had the unusual viewing modes A and B. B was excellent for magnified viewing with manual focus lenses. It is a pity it did not sell well, but at almost $1000 originally, it was much too high, even in 2006-2007.

  • Well, the digital version of Pen is already here, but I get what you mean, it lacks of built-in EVF. This Olympus we are talking about, they like to overcharge their customer with accessories that’s why we have add-on EVF =)

  • No, I would like a digital Olympus Flex.

  • IMHO the E-Px design is one of the most beautiful invented, and the size is perfect. I can just put it in my pocket. The big question is therefore if the shell is big enough to accommodate the (smallish) EVF and a Flash. Flash of course could be add on, but if there is no room for both, perhaps a change of design becomes a must.

    I have no suggestions, except that, differently from the OM-D, the camera must be streamlined, so that one has a clear cut choice between those models.

    • Anonymous

      Good point there Amalric regarding using an Add On flash, the principle for that Olympus have with the XA range, a flash that attaches to the side of the body. This would keep the overall style of a low body line, perhaps a kit unit as with OM-D, but still have a hot shoe for times when a larger flash is required but then with Oly’s flash control system that is not a real requirement.

    • its what the 5th year, at least one should have an EVF no matter the damage to height of camera. But it seems to me there is the slightest impact on height anyway. Flash could be integrated into the front (same is true for SLRs)with a fresnel lens monogrammed with OLYMPUS.

      You might remember some of those Citroen HY delivery vans that had fluted pressings for strength.

      Since you mention OMD, from a purely visual experience its EVF housing is too tall, and the edges of the LCD frame too square. So much of the original OM good looks was about its detailed top deck and refined pentaprism housing , a bit lost on OMD. A brief look at OM40 reveals a useful design for digital conversion in ballistic plastic with its rather squatter appearance, particularly the prism.

  • Miroslav

    That design has already been used in E-P1-3.
    AFAIC, no grip=no buy.

    • Yes the pen series was a take off of the pen series, that’s how it was advertised and sold
      Do we intend to have a take off of the take off.
      Once we had genuine wood, then we had plastic wood, now we have genuine plastic, how the levels of acceptability change.

  • Alfons

    That is one beatiful classic camera. Olympus should take more design clues from Pen F!

    By the way: most digital Pen cameras are nice looking from the front, but the backside falls way behind. Why does it have to look like the LCD monitor is sticking out of the back of the camera? Couldn’t the cameras be designed so that the whole back panel is uniform with the depth of the LCD?

    There’s one downside I can think of with retro design: I don’t like how aluminum or brass freezes my fingers when it’s cold, but plastic just doesn’t look the same, right?

    • well done Alfons, and quite right

      tempting to use the entire surface as a touchscreen controller overlay on 16×9 HDMI screen. Much of the camera would end up little bigger than a smartphone in plan so the screens are available.

    • slide along from inside edge popup grip

  • tomas

    yes I would buy it …such digital Pen with eg fixed 25mm lens … priced around 500 …why not…if grip…then only minimalistic
    And pls keep the nice old design…for one hand grips..go to panasonic.
    Oly should keep its traditional design …must diferenatiate from panasonic.
    Famous history is someting competitors cant buy …

  • Olympus has released a limited-edition “classic Pen F” lens cap already. It was available with the Pen that also had a black Fl-14 flash. I don’t think it was available separately, or if so, only for a limited time.

  • Vivek

    “…would you like a digital PEN-F designed camera?”

    Yes, only if it would have a titanium shutter and the flash sync would go up to the maximum shutter speed like the real pen F!

    • ah well, the original had a rotary focal-plane shutter
      trouble is nobody makes the parts anymore, original was probably an inhouse part and camera builders are moving away from inhouse bits

    • The shutter maximum was 500, getting it to 500 was a major hold on putting the series into production. The 500 speed was a bit of a wishful think as well.
      The e3 goes to 250 for flash I believe. So, its a couple of years later and things do move on.

  • Luckily I had the possibility to use the E-M5 and the X Pro 1. While I like v. much the button layout of the latter, the E-M5 is much easier to hold, and possibly without pushing by mistake any buttons, like in the X Pro 1.

    It’s a real problem also with the E-P2. especially if one pusher the ISO button by mistake. Perhaps with small cameras there should be a way to disable al buttons.

    The fluted surface Is an idea of genius. To increase the grippiness of the E-P2, I just use velcro bands which work a treat.

    A pop up flash a’ la Leica X1/2, to use as a controller, would be fine.

    In fact I believe that Jap. companies should really work on a concept for Leica replacement. It’s high time and Oly could solve the problem for Sony.

    Last, how come we have no leaks. Is the E-P5 due in April, or in June?

    • “Last, how come we have no leaks. Is the E-P5 due in April, or in June?”

      way too early yet, remember the OMD campaign, track back to how long that was and it would be representative of future marketing efforts. It was I must say, one of the most successful marketing campaigns for a camera ever, and drew enormous interest.

    • admin


      • dont call me June

  • isn’t it 2013? please not another breadbox from the 60’s

  • Admin appears to be obsessed with rangefinder cameras given the number of posts “begging” for rangefinder designs. I would have thought your obsession would be satisfied with the Fuji and Leica cameras with this type of design. I don’t know why you want Olympus and Panasonic to do the same thing.

    • admin

      I am not obsessed. I just like the PEN-F and fel a camera like that is missing in the Olympus range. I own the E-P1 and I am 100% fine with it for what I need to do with it.

      • adaptor-or-die

        in the past film cameras tended to mimic Leica, no matter the brand, the PEN was sized close to and keep the lines of the Leica M & introduced through the lens viewing. Something Leica never offered. The entire Fuji line seems to be Leica clones & with their price break, a popular trend. For Olympus to follow the same trend would probably appear to be so much cloning? The OMD of course evokes Love/Hate opinions, but you can’t mistake it for another modern brand. Effective marketing. Retro-RF boxes don’t have that. Having it mistaken for a Leica is now a historic approach. The digital PENs e-Px’s really do match the original well visually. All Olympus really needs to do now is offer the internal EVF and keep the general look they have already achieved. Design should be limited to making dials and buttons more refined. The OMD added the effect double top wheels. This should be retained.

        As to the Gothic “F”logo that would only make proper sense if they called the new model the e-PF (5?) and that might make sense stepping into a prosumer PEN level?

        • “in the past film cameras tended to mimic Leica, no matter the brand, the PEN was sized close to and keep the lines of the Leica M & introduced through the lens viewing.’
          I agree that most rangefinder cameras looked like the Leica, in reality there was not much option. But I don’t think they ‘followed’ Leica, the shape was just the way it was and where things had to go to make it work.
          But I cannot for the life of me see where you get the original pen f looking like a Leica. I have had mine for eons but I have never thought of it as looking like a Leica.
          The whole objective of the pen was small and pocketable, yet being a large system at the same time. To be this the hump had to go, so it went inside. That made it look like the P&S cameras of the time, the Minolta al and the pen range, and the others from different manufacturers, but in a lower body that did not have the view finder layer. But like a Leica, no, maybe I have the only one in the world that does not look like a Leica.

    • Mr. Reeee

      A lot of current M4/3 users would LOVE to be able to buy a compact body with a built-in viewfinder. A rangefinder style body would be perfect, instead of the current clip-on EVFs or DSLR style bodies.

      My fave rangefinder is the Konica Auto S2. Simple and spare design with no clutter.

    • Ant

      Not admin, but generally, the louder audience gets fired up with rangefinder form factor.
      Putting up expectation with drawings of rangefinder-like camera made the readers excited more than the “already everywhere” P&S or SLR form factor.

      IMO, if rangefinders are still produced as much as SLR until this day, ubiquitous and priced competitively, rangefinder wont be as lusted as now where only Leica still produce the only digital rangefinder.

  • MarcoSartoriPhoto

    Basically it’s what I’d like to see from Sony/Olympus: a rangefinder style RX1 with a Zuiko fixed lens. I name Sony because I’d like it to have a bigger size sensor, but even a competitor to Fuji x100s would be welcome.

    • ISO 1638400

      An Olympus FF RX1 clone/competitor would be unlikely. There’s no guarantee it would be cheaper than RX1 either. Remember, Olympus is not always a budget option. But, yes, it would be good to see a more budget friendly competitor to the RX1. RX1 is very overpriced for sure, even more so because it’s a Cyber-shot division made and branded camera, not an Alpha division one.

      Fuji X100/S has little or next to no competition at the moment. Leica X2 is $700 more (this is after a recent price reduction too), no integrated EVF/OVF, has a slower lens, and is outperformed in high ISOs and overall IQ by the “old” X100. But it’s a Leica. And it does have great output typical of Leica.

      Contrary to a lot of price complainers, I think the Fuji X100S is a good value camera at $1299 launch price. Take any APS-C or m4/3 ILC RF styled camera and try and match it after adding lens of same or similar FL and external viewfinder (if applicable) and you will most times end up paying more than the X100S price. Sony CZ 24 f/1.8 (36 equiv.) for NEX is already ~$1100. One argument I always hear against the X100/S is that it’s a fixed lens camera. Well, of course it is! It’s a reason too why it’s been so popular amongst enthusiasts. 35mm is a great classic focal length. Every system demands a great 35mm equivalent lens. With X100S, you are almost getting the camera or lens for free, depending on which way you want to see it. I’m looking forward to trying one out when they are available.

      • MarcoSartoriPhoto

        @ISO 1638400 I agree with you: I don’t know what would be the price of an Olympus RX1, what I know is that even Sony president admitted, surprised, that in Europe RX1 prices are higher and not justified, compared to the rest of the world. As far as concern Fuji x100s, me too I’m waiting to try it, and if I can get a good price from the shop owner (as he did with OMD-Em5 last year, selling me the first Italian silver OMD kit for 1000€) I’ll get it. Many people complain about fixed lenses, thinking it’s a limitation: it is, if you need to take photos at birds, for example, but that classic 35mm is a perfect all-around for me. Let me know if you get your hands on a x100s!

  • I insist that digital bodies be unrelated to the dSLR shape. If you know camera history you’ll know that the flapping mirror was introduced as a device to solve the parallax problem in RF cameras.

    Digital has no need for it, so the internal arrangement is completely different, even from a Pen F.
    Unfortunately people seem unable to think of original shapes and therefore the flurry of retro models.

    But there is no need of them, except that some traditional button arrangements seem better than others. In this respect Fuji seem much better than O & P, becasue you can tell the settings of a camera at a glance. One must also consider that at the time of the Pen F, the settings were infintely less than in digital, so that the real estate fo the back of the camera had no problem with a crowding of the buttons.

    Possibly a Maitani of the digital era must still be found.

    • Mr. Reeee

      I agree about the SLR form factor being carried forward, to a point.
      The thing is, that the arrangement of the viewfinder being vertically centered above the lens works exceedingly well from an ergonomic and usability standpoint. So why change it just for the sake of change?

      I always liked the pivoting bodies of the old Nikon CoolPix series cameras, for whatever that’s worth. ;-)

    • mahler

      You can insist as much as you want, but for me and many, many others the DSLR shape, like in the E-M5 and GH3, is the best form factor. No need to change this. Not sure what problem you have with a hump.

  • Anonymous

    Just look at the NEX 7. View finder, flash, tilt screen, manual controls, no hump.

    • even the NEX still maintains a significant heritage from the film era, which is the lefthand body part, which was necessary for the film cartridge. The Olympus E-1 was one of the few DSLR(if not the only one)designs which got rid of that part, since the lefthand naturaly supports the lens by default.

      • Minolta dimage same.

        • also forgot the Olympus E-10/20…with the latter sitting in the book shelf, staring at me lol.

          • digifan

            Fuji S6900, very nice design.

      • ISO 1638400

        Are these RF or SLR design inspired? Or a combination of both? I think a combination of both. These also did away with the left hand grip section.

        Looking at those 2004 cameras, I wonder why more cameras don’t go back to this design. It seems it would fit the bill for a lot of users here and elsewhere, who constantly complain about “gripless” “bricks” and poor ergonomics, while still wanting relatively compact designs and without imitating the ubiquitous SLR.

        • ISO 1638400

          Forgot to post the link to the cameras in question!
          And I should have wrote, “Looking at those cameras from 2004…”

          • digifan

            Yeah, I owned a Pro1 then. Found that the Olympus was too big and slow, hehe.
            Befor that I had Fuji’s S602 and before that S6900.
            I’d like a m43 camera that’s shaped and build like the Fuji S690o. I loved that magnesium body.It held a SM-card so it should be possible to put in a SD-card unit.

        • maybe olympus could re-introduce the E-1 in MFT format?

          • MAFAv8r

            Yes please

          • Robbie

            It would have been terrific, whether 43 or M43.
            A E-1 style body with the latest sensor.

          • I loved the ergonomics of the E-1. Nothing has ever been better. Now Olympus just needs to “shrink” it (moderately) to mFT proportions, include PDAF on-sensor, best modern EVF, and wow, I think they’d have something really special…

      • I have never seen cameras designed for left handed people, dont tell me they use their right hand for lens support and press the shutter button with the other on a regular design lol.

        • yes I think some 15% or so individuals are left handed,
          some weapons these days have ambidextrous control suites
          it seems some of the most talented snipers are leftys so it was justified on that basis

        • Mr. Reeee

          Lefties use mirrors, or shoot upside down, what else? ;-)

      • kodachromeguy

        One other example: the Sony R-1, which in many ways was a superb Carl Zeiss lens with an APS-C sensor and battery at the end. I still use one occasionally.

  • “a digital PEN-F designed camera?”

    If by that you mean a rangefinder body for micro43 with viewfinder and styled as a PEN-F, sure… assuming that ergonomics of the camera were well though…. gripping a soap bar is not the best experience…

    Basically… make something functional, it it looks good the better, but don’t put looks over function… (also, don’t make it overpriced just because it looks good)

  • I’m Sorry..

    But that’s one Ugly Camera… Leave that in the past.

    • I think ‘retro’ is very misunderstood

    • Anonymous

      “One ugly camera” that looks and handles better than anything CaNikon has produced in years, the only thing about the Pen that hurts my eyes is the lop sided appearance of the leatherette covering.

  • We have two Gestalts from the past – the SLR, and the Leica/RF – and we have one building under our eyes: the camera/phone.

    If the latter was pushed to the final consequences, it would have a wearable EVF, a’ la google. As a result body could be v. small and connected as a phone – difference being mount for lenses.

    My question is: do Oly and Panny have room for all three concepts, or only for two? Say that the extremes of the range are well covered by Canon and Nikon, Samsung at the other hand.

    We know by the last sales figures that m4/3 cameras must sit in between, and justify somehow their high introduction prices.

    What is the resulting optimal shape? Should it be a durable good or a throwaway type like a phone? I am not sure that O &P designers have yet come to an answer.

    • kodachromeguy

      I understand what you are saying. We had at least one other gestaldt from the past: the box with lens mounted on one end and film-holder on the other. This was the Hasselblad design but scaled down to 35 mm. I think Rollei was the only recent manufacturer in 35 mm size. I really liked the idea of having different films in different film holders. Sadly, it was never a big seller and the system was shockingly expensive. The other gestaldt might be the miniature twin-lens reflex design, but I think the smallest units used 127 film. Cheers…

      • I liked v. much the Hasselblad system an the double lens Rolleiflex 2.8 of the past, really jewels of crafmanship and function.

        It’s interesting that the only surviving species of that era is still the Leica. And that many companies now strive to give a digital equivalent. The Leica was never a studio tool, like the Hasselblad, but it always was a good (and expensive) solution for mobility.

        • adaptor-or-die

          The best thing that all camera makers can do is design their cameras to come back up to eye level. Instead over the last 5+ years, they designed devices that require you hold them at arm’s length, squinting at inferior electronic outputs, requiring button pushing and menu reading …

          Older cameras, no matter the design relied on using them without having to look at the camera, adjustment rings on lens tubes or body mounts, readouts inside the VF. Stability and precise feedback came with such ergonomics. But most trends now throw out many useful concepts, simply because they are “dated”

          Look next time at any iPad owning idiot holding up their electric picture frame like they are straightening a picture out on a wall and once they get the view they want touches the frame to “capture” their moment. This is what the general public demands, and what profit-driven corporate’s bow to.

          • Its a lot of “if that sells, it must be what people want” when often people think the ipad (example) itself is good, along with the picture quality, but the picture taking ability/ methodology sucks. (after all it was designed for webcam use primarily) Though it would be difficult to change it without considerable expense (flip out lens or whatever to make it user friendly).
            People accept that the photo shooting on an ipad is just part of the offering and if its messy to use, (many don’t even think its messy because they don’t know better) its easier to carry one item than several.
            So we have a lot of camera makers making what turns out to be small pads with big lenses attached for photos only. Why, “because that’s what people use on their ipad and what we have always made combined”! and “people don’t buy p&s because they have ipads. They must like the way they work”
            If all m43 cameras had had simple ovf (simple frames to fit the standard supplied lens) as well as the plug in evf from the start. Both pany and olympus would be sitting on a much much bigger world market.
            I did not use m43 until I was assured the EVF was something I could afford at the same time as the camera. I, like many others would not entertain peering at a screen with an invisible image in bright sunshine with my arms fully extended and my best glasses on. If the ep1 had had ovf built in I would have bought one. Of course the screen should have tilted (swivel preferably) from the start. (An old old canon a620 I had, had all these features) Touch screen not critical but nice. What on earth were these designers thinking. Sorry designers, what on earth was the marketing department thinking. I know don’t remind me, not much of a positive nature.

    • The Pen F/FT were among the most innovative camera designs of all time, gorgeously made, and equipped with optics still competitive 45 years after introduction.

      I still own an FT, albeit with 42/1.2 lens. I secretly believe it was the real inspiration for the E-1, another masterpiece of ergonomic design.

      Point here is not slavishly reproducing an old design for its own sake, but to realize what made these cameras great. They achieved something rare, a pinnacle of esthetic, even beautiful appearance, photographic functionality, superb mechanical and optical quality, and willingness to take the risk of incorporating leading-edge technologies.

      Whatever we think of a particular new release, Olympus certainly has a track record of accomplishments second to none in these respects.

      • “Whatever we think of a particular new release, Olympus certainly has a track record of accomplishments second to none in these respects.”

        There is also the known phenomenon that often innovative manufacturers do not pick up the kudos for new product or enlightened innovation. The product may have been to early for acceptance in its market or provided a solution to a problem that did not yet exist for the potential user. Kudos often goes to the next one to invent the already invented. But with a time delay, this giving an acceptance for the product in the back of the mind. It is very common for the re inventor to run off with the prize and the credits.

  • MarcoSartoriPhoto

    Don’t worry too much, the way of writing is noticeably different.

  • Big YESSS!

  • OM-4

    With state of the art EVF there is no need for LCD on the back.

    Can’t see why Oly/Pana can’t do a RF like built in EVF in a small body.
    Look at a NEX 6. EVF in a thin body, flash and it even has a flippy screen.

    Oly bodies are thick because of mount distance and IBIS. Cut the rear LCD or put in just a fixed tiny one for settings. Then there should be sufficient space for real buttons and thumbwheels/whatnot. If you want to chimp just use the EVF or tether to your mobile/tablet via wifi/app.

    If you insist on rear screen, a tilt swivel LCD screen could also be buillt in accesoire grip (added touchscreen bonus).

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