The PEN-F's retro-inspired lines drew the Rangefinder card from DPReview in today's headline: Olympus PEN-F revives 1960s rangefinder-style design with 20MP sensor, built-in EVF. In their accompanying first impressions article, they describe the Pen-F as having ‘rangefinder-like controls’, and later, ‘sleek rangefinder-style looks’.
Subject: Olympus PEN-F
But what about the Pen-F control scheme or design is rangefinder-like?
Come to think of it, what does rangefinder-style even mean?
The new PEN-F clearly is a homage to the original Pen-F, a tiny 1960’s half-frame SLR camera of which I own two. If you give it room for a bit of digital modernisation, it is the spitting image of the original Pen-F.
If you’re willing to classify the new MFT PEN-F a rangefinder-style camera, it is only logical to classify the original SLR upon which it is based, a rangefinder-style camera. It is not. The original Pen-F had: a reflex-mirror housing, TTL viewing and focusing, and an off-centre viewfinder, the last of which is typically used to describe rangefinder-style cameras. The logic that goes into twisting a digital camera that looks almost exactly like an SLR of the same name must fall under one of the following headings:
1. it has a flat front - only rangefinder cameras have flat fronts
2. it comes in silver (and black) - only rangefinder cameras come in silver or black
3. it has dials - only rangefinders have dials
4. its viewfinder is off-centre - only rangefinders use off-centre viewfinders
5. it’s not technically an SLR - only rangefinders are technically not SLRs
6. its announcement follows the X-Pro 2 - only rangefinders are announced after the X-Pro 2
While the entire list is bosh, the last two hit close to the mark. It is a false dichotomy to divide the camera world between SLRs and rangefinders. Broaden the classification to: "cameras are either rangefinders or non-rangefinders” and presto! you’ve got a dichotomy. Unfortunately, it is one that leaves no room for today’s mirrorless cameras to fit under any heading but ’non-rangefinders’.
If looks were the only pre-requisite to determining the classification of a camera, the X-Pro 1 and 2 would be the only rangefinder-looking mirrorless ILCs out there. Even the X-E1, which is basically an X-Pro 1 minus the optical viewfinder, functionally resembles an SLR more than it does a rangefinder. Pardon me? It is a TTL design whose electronically coupled viewfinder retains the FOV of any lens attached to the camera and whose focusing and framing are entirely TTL. Rangefinders do not work like that.
But what of its shape? Indeed, what of it?
Until very recently, most consumer and professional small format cameras had dials. Whether they were TLRs, SLRs, rangefinders, or other, made no difference. Dials do not make a camera a rangefinder. Colour does not make a camera a rangefinder. Shape does not make a camera a rangefinder. Retro styling does not make a camera a rangefinder. If any of the above did, Nikon’s Df would be as much a rangefinder as a Leica M. It most certainly is not.
The new PEN-F, as cute and modernly anachronistic as it is, is a spitting image of none other than an SLR. Even had it not had been the doppelgänger successor of an SLR, it would not look any more like a rangefinder.
By all means, read Ming Thein's review: Premiere and Review: The Olympus PEN-F.