Which should I get, the Olympus PEN-F or OM-D E-M5 Mark II?

Women at Eeyore's Birthday Party - Austin, Texas

Women at Eeyore’s Birthday Party – Austin, Texas

Every so often, people ask me, “Which should I get, the Olympus PEN-F or the OM-D E-M5 Mark II?”. After all, while I own a lot of cameras, from many different brands, I use Olympus cameras most often. Ever since I added the PEN-F to my stable a year ago, I’ve been using the PEN-F / OM-D E-M5 Mark II dual camera combo for most of my outings.

While it’s often advantageous to shoot with two identical cameras, I actually prefer having the PEN-F and E-M5 Mark II combination. Each does things a little differently, which I consider a plus. However, the controls and menus are similar enough not to trip me up. The two compliment each other, quite nicely.

Here’s the simple answer. For most people, I recommend the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II over the PEN-F. On almost every technical dimension, the E-M5 is a better camera. It has a larger electronic viewfinder, a weather-sealed body, separate solid and well designed doors for the battery and SD card. And while the focusing systems are very similar, the E-M5 seems a tad faster and consistent. Maybe it’s specific to my particular PEN-F, but I do on occasion notice a slight hesitation acquiring focus lock.

The E-M5 Mark II is also less expensive. The list price is $100 lower. Sometimes, during sales, the price difference might be even larger.

The one technical advantage of the PEN-F is the 20MP sensor, compared to the 16MP one in the E-M5 Mark II. But, in reality, there’s only a barely noticeable resolution difference between the two. I did discover an advantage to the extra pixels, however. While I rarely crop for composition, I now employ perspective correction for critical architectural photos in post-processing. Correcting perspective effectively crops your photos, reducing resolution. With the PEN-F, even with these corrections, I still create photos with a higher then 16MP pixel count.

Given the technical advantages of the E-M5 Mark II, you might think it’s a simple decision. Case closed. Well, not quite. There are a host of non-technical decisions that play to the PEN-F’s advantages.

There are two killer features of the PEN-F. Its beautiful retro design and the effects dial in the front of the camera. Back when I first reviewed the preproduction PEN-F, I knew these were nice features. What I didn’t realize back then was how much of a game changer these are to my photography. Let me explain.

It’s amazing how many times people are attracted to the beautiful PEN-F design. Often, people at parties or even on the street ask me about the camera. They think it’s a film camera or a Leica. It’s a conversation starter, which can work nicely at get togethers or creating rapport with street photography subjects.

There’s a psychological boost too. The camera is not intimidating like a DSLR and I believe its classic design puts people at ease, even more than the equally sized OM-D E-M5 Mark II.

The dial up front is basically a convenient short cut to JPEG settings. Different types of black and white, color and filter effects are in easy reach of your fingers. There’s a fun, creative aspect to this that’s important. After all, photography is a creative endeavor. Anything that increases creativity and experimentation is a big plus.

I’ve primarily used the “Mono Profile 2” setting which has significantly changed my photography. Now, perhaps 35 – 40% of my photos are in black and white. Viewing the scene in black and white changes the images I create. It’s not the same as shooting in color and converting to black and white in post.

Don’t like black and white JPEGs, no problem. I shoot in JPEG + RAW mode all the time. I compose in black and white and have the option to use the JPEG or the full color RAW. Sometimes, I even convert my RAWs to black and white, if I want to get a different look from the standard monochrome JPEG. It works really well.

Go beyond the technical considerations and consider which is more important? Camera specifications or a device that boosts your creativity. I can’t claim that the PEN-F will change the way you shoot, but it sure has for me. I created today’s photo at this year’s Eeyore’s Birthday Party, Austin’s throwback hippie get-together. The PEN-F has both enabled and influenced me to make these kind of photos. Not interested black and white? Well, the PEN-F also has color effects too. Something that I need to explore in the future.

So while I recommend the OM-D E-M5 Mark II for most people, especially for its superior feature set, if I could only have one camera, I would choose the PEN-F.

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7 thoughts on “Which should I get, the Olympus PEN-F or OM-D E-M5 Mark II?

  1. Great comments regarding these two cameras. I’ve been running this very same question through my brain for a couple of months now.
    I’m leaning towards the Pen F for the very reasons you would choose it.
    But, I’d like to hear your answer to one nagging question/concern I have… Is it a hard transition to the Pen F ‘rangefinder’ form factor? I’ve always shot ‘SLR’ or ‘DSLR’ bodies.
    Thanks, Andy!

    1. Hi Randy, while the PEN-F has a rangefinder like form factor, it shoot like any other Olympus mirrorless camera. So no problem there.

      About the only difference is, if you use your right eye to look through the view finder, you can “theoretically” use the left to see the scene outside the view finder. This is optional, of course.

      Unfortunately, I’m left eye dominant so I don’t get to shoot like this. I shoot the PEN-F like the OM-D, and don’t have any problems.

      1. Perfect. That’s exactly what I needed to know!
        Thanks again.
        I really appreciate your ‘photo-blog’ format.
        It’s a good balance of informative (interesting) comment & photos that I always look forward to visiting.

      2. zdadster, glad I can help. Thank you vey much for your feedback. It’s nice to know what people like and don’t like with my blog.

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