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a history of Micro Four Thirds part III - the Micro FourThirds system

overview of Micro Four Thirds

When we view the mirrorless camera market segment, it’s easy to see the division along the lines of sensor sizes. But if you look a little more carefully and study the market, you may also see the segment divided into those who see mirrorless as the next big thing as well as those who see it as just another area of involvement and nothing else. Between the two, a company’s level of seriousness can be quite evident and this can be measured by the products it produces, the rate at which they get replaced with newer models as well as the number of lenses that populate their systems. When you begin to look at the mirrorless segment from this viewpoint, perhaps sensor size doesn’t matter much anymore. Judging from the numbers of late, that seems to be increasingly truer by the minute.

Top selling sales chart for mirrorless camera sales in Japan (October 2012) indicating strong Olympus leadership Image courtesy of http://bcnranking.jp

However old habits do die hard. Legacy criticisms levelled at FourThirds somehow continued with the newer Micro FourThirds platform simply because the latter uses the former’s sensors. Issues like dynamic range as well as the inability to match larger APS-C sensors in terms of noise control at higher sensitivity levels continue unabated. These problems however were not necessarily a flaw of the sensor platform but more so because Olympus was not able to use better quality sensors than what they were able to access from Panasonic’s offerings. And the key issue with this was that Panasonic was not supplying them with the best they had, preferring to keep those to and for themselves exclusively. The outcome of this was that Olympus’ early days with Micro FourThirds suffered in almost the same way as their days with FourThirds.

But even so there was no real stopping the emergence of Micro FourThirds. This is because the compelling advantages were difficult to ignore. Physical size and weight advantages were immediately apparent even with Olympus’ early Pen models. Despite the use of inferior sensors, these Pen models proved that the concept was not flawed and that in time, Micro FourThirds will become formidable enough to challenge the DSLR market. It was only a matter of getting their hands on the right technologies that were steadily coming on-stream.

Meanwhile mirrorless was not entirely and exclusively Micro FourThirds. A few others were making a beeline for the same mirrorless segment. Seeing the potential were Sony, Fujifilm and Samsung and all three pitched in with cameras designed around the larger APS-C sensors. Of the three, Sony’s prowess is most undeniable but Fujifilm wasn’t far behind. During the initial stages, Samsung was also amongst the front-runners. The market was hotting up gradually. However a few things happened that turned the tables for Micro FourThirds. Amongst them were a number of industry endorsements and these made a big difference.

Firstly Cosina joined Micro FourThirds, promising to deliver lenses under their Voigtländer label. This was soon followed by Carl Zeiss and shortly, Schneider-Kreuznach joined also. It didn’t take long for Tokina-Kenko to sign up. Komamura Corporation was next and so were quite a few others. By comparison, the FourThirds consortium had begun with a number of big names involved but over the years, most of them – with the exception of Sigma – remained dormant. Seeing Micro FourThirds picking up inertia, Sigma re-joined and drew up plans to field lenses. Today it’s easy to lose touch concerning who or how many have joined – the significance of Micro FourThirds is now not just a reality but an important business model in the industry for custom accessory makers to exploit.

By now with the arrival of the OM-D E-M5, Olympus has shown its most serious hand. Pretty much many things in the company have now fallen into place with this new camera. The market has taken to it like duck to water. It has won more awards on its own than the sum of all FourThirds DSLR cameras put together. The E-M5 has clearly shown that sensor superiority with APS-C was merely illusory, caused essentially by the fact that ‘victors write the rules.’ Now with a Sony sensor, Olympus has clearly displayed that Micro FourThirds can only go better and higher and this is a promise that many are holding them up for as they anticipate the next OM-D model that is due sometime in 2013.

By now it is clear to many that the DSLR concept held very little advantage anymore compared to mirrorless cameras in general. While the battle for honours is not entirely over yet – for example, C-AF needs to be worked on more – the momentum is gathering pace. For Micro FourThirds especially, industry support has been phenomenal and the market can see this for themselves. Lens availability isn’t confined to what Olympus and Panasonic can offer. Others have entered the fray and offered a far wider range of lenses as well. Names like Nokton, Sigma, Tokina, Leica, SLRmagic and many others have become key players in the market. Zeiss and Schneider have complemented these with their range of high-calibre cine lenses for professional applications. Tamron has recently signed up and will soon compete directly against Sigma and Tokina. It doesn’t stop there either – users take delight in enjoying the compatibility of their Micro FourThirds cameras with legacy film lenses, which number in the thousands as far as varieties go. With the right lens mount adaptor – and there appears to be hundreds of these available now – you can just about shoehorn any lens you like on to your Pen or OM-D camera.

Micro FourThirds has also shown a deft hand at high-definition movie making. The advantages are evident – Micro FourThirds’ sensor size is suddenly large when compared to contemporary video cameras, making it an even better proposition for serious moviemakers. When coupled to the wealth of lenses available, Olympus and Panasonic found themselves in an area of great opportunity never experienced before with FourThirds. Of the two, Panasonic took greater advantage with their undeniable experiences in the video market but in time, Olympus jumped in with both feet as well.

By now Micro FourThirds ‘inferior’ sensor size has receded into relative insignificance. Not many people talk about this issue anymore for two reasons. The format has proven itself more convincingly than ever. As more people indulge in the mirrorless experience with Micro FourThirds, the evidence only became clearer that in the final analysis, the image quality difference isn’t as big as many made it out to be. Secondly the mirrorless movement is not controlled by Nikon or Canon anymore. New leaders have emerged – Olympus and Panasonic – and both have clearly done their work to push Micro FourThirds to the forefront. By doing so – and with the show of enthusiasm lacking in the two DSLR giants – the authoritative influence has now changed hands.

Current model range (Olympus)

PEN

Olympus’ offerings began with the Pen. It took three full years before the company underlined their more focused intentions with the second line called the OM-D in which the E-M5 was its first outcome. The Pen range, however, is currently its most pervasive. By virtue of the number of models that has appeared since, the Pen symbolises Olympus’ key foothold in the market as far as the mainstream segment of users is concerned. On the other hand, the E-M5 is representative of the company’s broader push to replace their FourThirds System eventually. Now that the OM-D System is here, Olympus has placed itself on notice that the day is near when the definitive OM-D camera will come to signal the end of the road for its DSLR range.

The brief history of the digital Pen range has not been without its little hiccups along the way. For example the premium line-up that began with the E-P1 and quickly followed by the E-P2 had suddenly, without clear reason from the company, stopped after the E-P3 whereas the Lite sub-range had followed through faithfully from the E-PL1 and E-PL2 to the E-PL3 and eventually, the E-PL5. For reasons known only to Olympus, the ‘4’ was avoided – the same held true for their DSLR range. We’re waiting to see if they will resume the premium line for the next generation that should just be around the corner as we write.

Largely of its own doing, the missing E-P5 underlined Olympus’ losing of the plot. By that time it has gotten to the point where there was much confusion about how the models are distinguishable. With the product mix getting muddled and the arrival of the OM-D, the company might have had jitters considering whether or not an E-P5 might ‘interfere’ with the popularity of its new E-M5. And in the end they probably killed off the E-P5 in much the same way as they forced the much-liked Camedia C-8080 into retirement because they felt that it posed a serious threat against the then-released E-300 FourThirds DSLR camera.

So right now we see Olympus’ Micro FourThirds camera line-up to be broadly divided into two main groups. One is the Pen and the other, OM-D. With the Pen family, there are three sub-ranges, which are as follows:

Olympus Pen Premium
Lite
Mini

Of the three, the pride of the Pen family will be the premium sub-range. The models in this grouping are easy to identify in terms of their model numbering. They follow the base nomenclature of E-Px where ‘x’ is the representative generation number. We believe Olympus will skip ‘6’ in line with their affinity towards even numbers but we could be wrong (since the E-P2 did appear although there was no E-2 DSLR model). Therefore we expect the next premium model to be the Pen E-P7 since they skipped the ‘5’.

At the base of its offerings is the Mini sub-range. Using the word ‘Mini,’ Olympus added an ‘M’ to the nomenclature to come up with E-PMx. So far we’ve seen two models – the E-PM1 and then E-PM2. Because these models came out late in the Pen development line, the company had chosen not to align them with the generation numbering. So while we saw the E-P3 being introduced, the first Mini model was not an E-PM3 but instead, the E-PM1. This numbering idiosyncrasy could be confusing when you compare the correlation amongst the different Pen models – after all the E-PM1 lines up with the E-P3 and the E-PM2 would have done the same had there been an E-P5!

In between the Mini and the premium line is what Olympus calls the Lite range and appropriately the letter ‘L’ is inserted into the nomenclature to become the E-PLx. So far this is the only one of three to be consistently available throughout all the generations, keeping in step all the way. In other words it is the most complete of the three Pen lines.

While the premium E-Px line takes pride of place at the top of the tree, the Lite is supposedly a stripped-down version with similar performance capabilities. The feature mix should be less ‘serious’ but more ‘fun’ than the premium line. It should be easier to use as well with friendlier interfaces. Build construction quality might not be as high-end although being an Olympus, the tradition of being well-built should remain even for a Lite model. The Mini models also appear similarly well built but not as well fleshed out. It has lesser physical buttons and so is less visually imposing. It looks simpler but the base performance capabilities are similar to the range-topping E-Px. Of the three lines, the Mini models are supposedly the simplest to use with a strong focus on appealing to young lifestyle users who may even look at an E-PMx as a fashion accessory.

E-Px Premium (1) E-P1, (2) E-P2, (3) E-P3, (4) E-P5, (5) E-P6 expected*
E-PLx Lite (1) E-PL1/1s, (2) E-PL2, (3) E-PL3, (4) E-PL5, (5) E-PL6, (6) E-PL7 expected*
E-PMx Mini (1) no model, (2) no model, (3) E-PM1, (4) E-PM2, (5) E-PM3 expected*

OM-D

From the OM-D line-up, nothing is very clear right now because we have only seen the introduction of its first model. However we believe there will be some degree of sub-grouping within. For the moment, we could imagine the OM-D System to comprise the following sub-groups:

Pro-grade sub-group Top-of-the-range, weatherproof, high shutter cycle, flagship performance, high-priority functionality, very high tolerance, strong versatility
Prosumer-grade sub-group Mid-range, weatherproof, medium shutter cycle, enthusiast-level performance, high feature mix, user-friendly, value proposition, good versatility
Consumer-grade sub-group Entry range, light body construction, medium shutter cycle, beginner-level accessibility and design, high feature mix, very user-friendly, high value proposition

By identifying the three possible sub-groups, we believe that the current E-M5 should fall into the middle group, the prosumer segment. Olympus had made it clear that the E-M5 is not a pro-grade camera and hence, prosumer is an excellent fit for it then. We’re waiting to see what comes next as Olympus deliberates over the best direction to forge on with the OM-D System. Unlike the Pen range, the OM-D is the company’s statement of intent. This is the future definition of where the company wants to be. Therefore they need to make the right decisions here.

E-Mx pro (1) no model, (2) E-M1
E-Mx (1) E-M5, (2) E-M6 expected*
E-Mxx (1) E-M5, (2) E-M60 expected*

* We’re at pains to say that the future model numbers documented here are speculative. We do not have information as to how and what Olympus will call their next-generation cameras but we believe we’re making an intelligent guess here.

The problem in interpreting the company’s next move within the context of the OM-D System is to know where it wants to go. Therefore the next model to accompany the E-M5 may be a pro-grade or a consumer-grade. This move could depend on several factors. If Olympus experiences a technological breakthrough and is able to address its autofocusing issues, then we could really see the pro-grade OM-D camera sooner than we think. To do this, the company has two uphill challenges to meet. Firstly it must address the needs of its existing FourThirds users who are looking to jump into the OM-D System and continue to use their current HG/SHG lenses. Right now that is not possible because none of their mirrorless cameras offer the best performance solution in this regard.

Secondly it must improve its C-AF capabilities and draw level with the competing APS-C DSLR cameras. If either issue is still in the works, Olympus will release the consumer-grade OM-D body instead, promising more of the same (as we’ve seen in the E-M5) but perhaps in a less expensive offering. Between the two broad groups, the Pen is a steady breadwinner. It reaches the common mass more successfully than the OM-D. It promises ease of use and it looks the part compared to the OM-D. It is stylish in a not-so intimidating way and it has fun potential in a cheaper package. All up, the Pen is Olympus’ middle-of-the-road bread-and-butter solution and nothing will change that at least for now.

The OM-D is different. Here, the company is looking to revive its fortunes as well as the reputation they earned with the OM System that saw service from 1972 to 1992. In that 20-year period, the OM System produced 7 pro-grade, 3 prosumer, 6 amateur and 2 non-MF camera bodies to make up for a total of 18 cameras.

OM pro-grade OM-1, OM-1MD, OM-1N, OM-3, OM-3Ti, OM-4, OM-4Ti
OM prosumer OM-2, OM-2N, OM-2S Program
OM amateur OM10, OM10QD, OM20, OM30, OM40 Program, OM2000 Spot
OM non-MF OM707AF, OM101PF

We’re not likely to see Olympus producing as many OM-D bodies as they did during the OM System days but we expect to see sub-groupings that are at least similar in some ways.

Olympus Micro Four Third cameras

1st gen. 2nd gen. 3rd gen. FAST autofocus 4th gen. uses Sony sensor Sony Dual AF sensor
PEN Group E-P series E-P1 Jun 2009 E-P2 Nov 2009 E-P3 Jun 2011 E-P5 May 2013
E-PL Lite series E-PL1 Feb 2010 E-PL1s Nov 2010 E-PL2 Jan 2011 E-PL3 Jun 2011 E-PL5 Sep 2012 E-PL6 May 2013
E-PM Mini series E-PM1 Jun 2011 E-PM2 Sep 2012
OM-D Group E-M pro series E-M1 Sep 2013
E-M series E-M5 Feb 2012

Current model range (Panasonic)

We don’t profess to know in great detail about Panasonic’s offerings but they’re there for you to glean in the same way as we see them ourselves. At this moment of writing, we understand that the company is in the midst of revising their G-series groupings, which means that design policies could be changing right this moment. This will likely entail repackaging of features and possibly a relabelling and repositioning of their future models in light of the shifting trends within the mirrorless market segment. As the market inertia for mirrorless grows even more so, we can expect to see realignment efforts from not just Panasonic but Olympus and perhaps the others as well.

For the moment, Panasonic’s DMC G-series features four sub-groups:

GH premium SLR-styled range with highest video quality
GX advanced compact range
G classic consumer range
GF consumer compact range

Of the four, the G and GH lines look more like mini-DSLR cameras. This is because they have body lines that look as if there is a pentaprism on top. These two lines also happen to be the company’s flagship ranges. Exactly which one is more so than the other is not so clear although from the likes of the models revealed so far, the GH range appears to be the definitive statement. We’ve also been seeing many serious photographers and videographers using the GH more so than the G for their work. This is not difficult to prove as they are virtually countless examples on the Internet. In fact the GH is so popular for video users that it has a niche of its own in so many different ways.

As for the other two, the GF range seems to serve as a starting or entry point for beginners and novices. Those coming from the Lumix compact series will likely find the GF to be a suitable bang-for-the-buck proposition. On the other hand the GX is relatively new with only one model so far appearing in the G-series family. Yet it reveals itself as a model with a strong focus on advance technologies. It’s interesting to see how that works out with the GH range.

Apart from the G-series, Panasonic has another ace up its sleeves in the form of the AG-series. This is Micro FourThirds on movie steroids. This is where Panasonic showcases the capabilities of not just Micro FourThirds but its own experiences in building and delivering a pro-grade video camera complete with interchangeable lens capability and a whole wealth of technological features that it hopes to compete against the likes of Sony and Canon. With Micro FourThirds as the platform, the stage is set for a strong battle for attention.

So far the results have been mixed with its AG-AF100 model. We believe Panasonic has already or is close to discontinuing the AF100 but a new model is somewhere in the wings, waiting to be launched. It’s very early days right now for the video camera battle and we’re not sure where it will go from here. Other than Panasonic’s AF100, there are other companies that have joined the Micro FourThirds group that intend to design their own high-definition video cameras. So it remains to be seen how far this platform will go in competing against the market leaders.

DMC group G series G1 Sep 2008 G2 and G10 Mar 2010 G3 May 2011 G5 Jul 2012 G6 Apr 2013
GH series GH-1 Mar 2009 GH-2 Sep 2010 GH-3 Sep 2012
GF series GF-1 Sept 2009 GF-2 Nov 2010 GF-3 Jun 2011 GF-5 Apr 2012 GF-6 Apr 2013
GX series GX-1 Nov 2011 GX-7 Jun 2013
AG series (video) AF100 Sep 2010

Micro FourThirds market strengths and dominance

Mirrorless Camera Market Share with Olympus, Sony and Panasonic accounting for nearly 70 percent of all mirrorless camera sales in Japan Image courtesy of http://petapixel.com

Even as Olympus and Panasonic beef up their own offerings through their system accessories, it is the third-party support that has proven to be even more pivotal as it defines the acceptance of Micro FourThirds as the all-encompassing mirrorless standard. To date it is the benchmark by which other mirrorless systems are measured against. It is so pervasive as a platform that plaudits have been earned right across the world even in the most conservative markets. With strong vendor backing, there are far more options and accessories available for users and owners to customise or enhance their Micro FourThirds cameras.

Huge native lens range

Micro FourThirds’ strength in numbers in terms of available lenses is legendary today. Two factors lead us to this fact. Firstly the short flange distance that is a hallmark of Micro FourThirds lends itself to compatibility with many different types of lenses stretching back to the film generation. Secondly the willingness of so many vendors throughout the world in designing and offering a broad range of different lens mount adaptors. When the two are combined, it’s easy to see how people have embraced Micro FourThirds.

Today the premium lens offerings come from Olympus and Panasonic. They’re not only the highest performing varieties but they also have the breadth of choice plus full electronic compatibility. But of course there are others. Waiting in the wings is Sigma, who has just recently released a brace of new prime lenses for Micro FourThirds. More are expected as Sigma gears up for its first zoom lenses to arrive. Cosina and even Samyang from Korea have released high-quality manual-focusing (MF) lenses. They are joined by countless others so far and if you include legacy film lenses that are in abundance throughout the world, then numbers of thousands is not difficult to believe.

Joining Sigma is Tokina who recently revealed the first catadioptric (mirror) super-telephoto lens for Micro FourThirds. Tamron is scheduled to release its first fast zoom lens – we believe we will not only see this soon in 2013 but expect to hear the company’s roadmap for Micro FourThirds. High-end cine lenses are available from the German pair of Zeiss and Schneider and they broaden the appeal of Micro FourThirds to reach into the very exclusive cinematography market.

Micro FourThirds Photographic lenses Olympus, Panasonic
Lens Sigma, Kenko-Tokina, Voigtländer, Jackar, SLRmagic, Samyang (including Wanderlust), Tamron
Ecosystem Cine lenses Carl Zeiss, Jos. Schneider-Kreuznach
Lens support options Lensbaby, Mitakon, Metabones, Zacuto, Komamura

Very established (mature) legacy lens support

One of Micro FourThirds greatest strengths is its support for older film lenses; in other words, lenses that were once popularly used by SLR cameras during the film era. Because the film era stretched many decades, this literarily amounts to thousands of different lenses.

Although most if not all of these lenses are no longer available new, many are widely sold as secondhand via popular web outlets like eBay and Craigslist as well as across many photography-centric blog and websites. In fact businesses concerning the buying and selling of old legacy lenses have been increased out of sight because of the popularity of mirrorless cameras and in particular Micro FourThirds.

Olympus’ E-M5 seen here with a diverse combination of native, cross-platform and film legacy lenses Image courtesy of www.cameralabs.com

From this lucrative secondhand business came a horde of manual-focusing lenses that are bright and fast. Many of these users were fast discovering the matching qualities of a small and light mirrorless camera coupled to inexpensive but fast glass – the combination was enough not only to set the whole market on fire but to spur Olympus and Panasonic to respond in kind. Eventually we saw the emergence of lenses like the M.Zuiko Digital 12mm f2.0, 45mm f1.8, 75mm f1.8 and the 17mm f1.8.

In fact many of these old lenses were considered pedestrian during their days. Lenses such as Olympus’ own Zuiko 50mm f1.8 or the 28mm f2.8 were not exactly pro grade during their time but when given a new lease of life in the digital era, they have become competitive. Many of these lenses were (and many still are) fairly inexpensive to find and buy on the secondhand market that is, if you know where to find them but we believe that the popularity of the mirrorless medium may eventually push prices up as buyers catch on with their demand.

Of course the matching of old film lenses to Micro FourThirds cameras is made possible by the proliferation of various lens mount adaptors. Other than Olympus’ own OM and Panasonic’s Leica-R adaptors, there is a remarkably wide range out there that finding one that will work with the legacy lens of your choice should not be a problem. So almost overnight, any Micro FourThirds camera can work with lenses coming from any of the following film-era brand names:

Canon Canon (FL,FD) Bayonet mount
Contax Contax (C/Y) Bayonet mount
Fujica Fujinon (X) Bayonet and screw mounts
Konica Hexanon (AR) Bayonet mount
Leica Leitz (M) Bayonet and screw mounts
Leica Leitz (R) Bayonet mount
Minolta Rokkor (MC, MD) Bayonet mount
Nikon Nikkor (F, AI, AIS) Bayonet mount
Olympus Zuiko (OM) Bayonet and FTL screw mount
Olympus Zuiko (Pen F) Bayonet mount
Pentax Takumar (PK, K, KA) Bayonet and screw mounts
Praktica M42 Screw mount
Ricoh Rikenon (K, KR) Bayonet mount
Yashica Yashinon (C/Y) Bayonet mount

While this may not be an exhaustive list, it more or less covers the broad bulk of the available film lenses of any day. The chances of ownership amongst the brands are high enough to consider Micro FourThirds as the platform of universal compatibility.

Broad system support

There is an amazing body of major and minor vendors providing accessory support for Micro FourThirds in the form of leather cases and various boutique products, lens caps, filters and other lens-related accessories as well as underwater kits. And the numbers are increasing but of course, that’s not all. In fact these are cosmetics.

The accessories that make Micro FourThirds even more significant are those that are technologically compelling. The names of the companies might not ring a lot of bells but the products they represent are leading edge state-of-the-art.

Brand name: Astro
Company: Astrodesign, Inc.
Country of Origin: Japan
Year Founded: 1977
Website: www.astrodesign.co.jp/english/
Designing of professional video equipment and measurement/analysis-related equipment
Well known for the world’s first programmable signal generator and the Ultra-HDTV image processor devices first seen at Expo 2005, Aichi, Japan
Developing of advanced imaging-related equipment including 4K camera systems
Brand name: Blackmagic
Company: Blackmagic Design Pty Ltd
Country of Origin: Australia
Year Founded: 1984
Website: www.blackmagicdesign.com
High-quality electronic equipment for broadcast and video production
Particularly well known for their cinematic camera with Micro FourThirds mount
Brand name: Cosina
Company: Cosina Co. Ltd.
Country of Origin: Japan
Year Founded: 1959
Website: www.cosina.co.jp
Manufacturer of high-quality cameras, lenses and accessories as well as a glassmaker
Holder of naming rights for Voigtländer
Manufacturer of the Epson digital and a new Zeiss Ikon film rangefinder camera with Leica bayonet mount
OEM manufacturer of various 35mm film SLR cameras including the Olympus OM2000 Spot, Yashica FX3, Nikon FM10 and FE10, Canon T60, Konica TC-X and various Vivitar models
Manufacturer of manual focusing lenses for Zeiss with Leica (ZM) mount, Nikon (ZF) mount, Pentax (ZK) mount, Canon EOS (ZE) mount and M42 (ZS) mount
Brand name: Fujifilm
Company: Fuji Photo Film Co. Ltd.
Country of Origin: Japan
Year Founded: 1934
Website: www.fujifilm.com
Manufacturer of colour photographic film, digital cameras, photofinishing equipment, colour paper, photofinishing chemicals, medical imaging equipment, graphic arts equipment and materials, flat panel displays, optical devices, photocopiers and printers
First Japanese producer of photographic films
Brand name: Snapshooter
Company: Jackar Optical (DCPlus)
Country of Origin: Hong Kong, China
Year Founded: N/A
Website: http://jackarlens.com
Low-cost manufacturer of lenses for mirrorless platforms and in particular Micro FourThirds
Brand name: Kodak
Company: JK Imaging Ltd.
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Year Founded: 2012
Website: www.kodakcamera.jkltd.com
Manufacturer of Kodak-branded products including Micro FourThirds cameras, pocket video cameras and portable projectors as well as global supplier of consumer imaging and electronic products
Global licensee of the use of the Kodak name by Eastman Kodak Company
Brand name: Kenko Tokina
Company: Kenko Tokina Co. Ltd.
Country of Origin: Japan
Year Founded: 1957
Website: www.kenkoglobal.com
Manufacturing of interchangeable lenses for digital and film cameras
Japan’s largest OEM manufacturer of lens filters
Brand name: Komamura
Company: Komamura Corporation
Country of Origin: Japan
Year Founded: 1947
Website: www.komamura.co.jp/e/
Developing of multiple imaging-associated products including battery systems, colour management systems and filters as well as pro-oriented cameras and lenses
Importer of photo equipment from Europe and USA and exclusive distributor in Japan for Rolleiflex, Miller, Minox, MiniDigi, Schneider-Kreuznach, Rodenstock, Gossen, Glidecam, Astroscope, Expodisc and others
Original designer of the Horseman professional camera system
Brand name: Leica
Company: Leica Camera AG
Country of Origin: Germany
Year Founded: 1913
Website: www.leica-camera.com
Manufacturer of film and digital cameras including lenses and accessories
Brand name: Lensbaby
Company: Lensbaby LLC
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Year Founded: 2004
Website: http://lensbaby.com
Manufacturer of lenses, lens accessories and adaptors for Micro FourThirds
Brand name: Metabones
Company: GBI Limited
Country of Origin: Hong Kong
Year Founded: N/A
Website: www.metabones.com
Manufacturer of reduction-type lens adaptors for mirrorless platforms including Micro FourThirds
First to the market with reduction-type lens adaptors
Brand name: Mitakon
Company: MXCamera Ltd
Country of Origin: Hong Kong
Year Founded: N/A
Website: http://mxcamera.com
Manufacturer of lenses and reduction-type lens adaptors for mirrorless platforms including Micro FourThirds
Brand name: Nauticam
Company: Nauticam International Ltd
Country of Origin: Hong Kong
Year Founded: N/A
Website: www.nauticam.com
Manufacturer of underwater camera housings, lens ports and other related accessories for video and still digital cameras
Brand name: Noktor
Company: SLR Magic
Country of Origin: Hong Kong, China
Year Founded:
Website: www.slrmagic.com or www.noktor.com
Manufacturer of camera lenses, spotting scopes and other optical products
Brand name: Photron
Company: Photron Limited
Country of Origin: Japan
Year Founded: 1968
Website: www.photron.co.jp/company/english/gaiyou.html
Manufacturing of professional film and video equipment and photo-based instrumentation
Brand name: Samyang
Company: Samyang Optics Co. Ltd.
Country of Origin: Korea
Year Founded: 1972
Website: www.syopt.co.kr/eng
Manufacturer of state-of-the-art security systems, high-performance CCTV lenses and DSLR camera lenses
Brand name: Sanyo
Company: Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd.
Country of Origin: Japan
Year Founded: 1950
Website: http://panasonic.net/sanyo/
A subsidiary of Panasonic (2009)
Manufacturer of consumer electronics and home appliances, dry batteries, electric vehicle batteries, solar cells and cellular phone
Brand name: Schneider-Kreuznach
Company: Jos. Schneider Optische Werke GmbH
Country of Origin: Germany
Year Founded: 1913
Website: www.schneiderkrueznach.com/en/homepage
Manufacturing of high-class lenses for professionals in various fields including optical products for industrial and medical use as well as photographic lenses and cinema projection lenses
Brand name: Sigma
Company: Sigma Corporation
Country of Origin: Japan
Year Founded: 1961
Website: www.sigma-photo.co.jp/english/
Manufacturer of film and DSLR and compact cameras including lenses and accessories
Manufacturer of FourThirds and Micro FourThirds mount lenses
Manufacturer of lenses under the name of Quantaray
World’s largest independent lens maker
Brand name: SVS-Vistek
Company: SVS-Vistek GmbH
Country of Origin: Germany
Year Founded: 2001
Website: www.svs-vistek.com
Manufacturing of professional machine vision components and systems
Brand name: Tamron
Company: Tamron Co. Ltd.
Country of Origin: Japan
Year Founded: 1950
Website: www.tamron.co.jp/en/
Manufacturing of high-precision optics including high-quality lenses for SLR cameras, lens units for surveillance as well as ultra-precision optical components based on the integration of advanced optical, electronic and precision machinery engineering technologies
Brand name: ViewPLUS
Company: ViewPLUS Inc.
Country of Origin: Japan
Year Founded: 1998
Website: www.viewplus.co.jp
Manufacturing of video equipment and solutions that link communications and image processing as well as sensing technologies
Brand name: Zacuto
Company: Zacuto USA
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Year Founded: 2000
Website: www.zacuto.com
Manufacturer of videography-type accessories for DSLR and mirrorless still and video/cine cameras
Brand name: Zeiss
Company: Carl Zeiss AG
Country of Origin: Germany
Year Founded: 1846
Website: www.zeiss.de/en
Developing and manufacturing of a large variety of optical products including astronomical telescopes, microscopes, eyeglasses, optical sight devices as well as high-quality camera lenses
One of the oldest existing optics manufacturers in the world

The good news here is that this list will just keep on growing as Micro FourThirds spreads its influence further and wider. In the short future, we could see some additional familiar names in the industry coming in.

Market/industry standard

Being the first cab off the rank with an exciting vision is important because it opens up great opportunities for leadership. However this can only happen if you grab the chance and grow these opportunities, keep developing and broadening the lead at the front with new products and embracing advanced technologies along the way. The good thing is that both Olympus and Panasonic had done this. The not-so-good news is that they probably didn’t do enough to distance themselves from the rest.

The E-M5 side-by-side the APS-C based Canon EOS Rebel T3i Image courtesy of www.imaging-resource.com

Nonetheless Micro FourThirds is by far the benchmark today for mirrorless platforms. It’s not unassailable and it’s not unbeatable but what they have secured for themselves is a remarkable platform that has now become somewhat universal. The big news with Micro FourThirds is that many others have joined in and adopted it – something that has not happened with the other mirrorless systems. It must be said however that Micro FourThirds is not considered an ‘open source' system; at least not in terms of the strict definition of what ‘open source’ is. Still many have become participants and suppliers, all sharing the same enormous nest of lenses to boot. For vendors like Blackmagic and Astrodesign, for example, joining this platform reaps great benefits because they no longer worry about where high-quality lenses are going to come from. Seeing that the lenses are from Olympus and Panasonic with broad support from many others, their customers have a wealth of options to choose from; again, something that the others cannot compare with.

Another important milestone in the early development years at Micro FourThirds is Zeiss’ decision to support the platform for its cine lenses. The same applies to Schneider-Kreuznach. Both together probably has a commanding market presence insofar as pro-calibre cinematography lenses and so such a move is not without its significance. And with that decision, Panasonic’s first Micro FourThirds movie camera – the AG-AF100 – is the first move of its type. Now that this model has been retired, we understand Panasonic is not far off in bringing in its successor.

The third indication is in market inertia. BCN Rankings already indicate a decisive shift from DSLR to mirrorless cameras. In the top fifteen ranked bestsellers in terms of system cameras in Japan, the largest slice went to mirrorless. It was significant enough as more than 50 percent has now moved over at the expense of DSLR camera sales. Of all the mirrorless camera sales, Micro FourThirds racked up the most and in between Olympus and Panasonic, it was Olympus who turned up the winner by a fair margin. This bit of surprise wouldn’t have gone down badly at management level. After the financial scarring that rocked the whole company, this piece of good news has been long overdue and the encouragement to move more strongly couldn’t have been better timed.

The diminutive E-M5 next to the full-frame Canon EOS-1Ds behemoth Image courtesy of Jordan Steele of http://admiringlight.com

The fourth sign comes from the migration patterns that are now slowly crystallising. The clear separation between mirrorless and DSLR cameras is no longer there. In a space of less than three years, mirrorless protagonists have achieved what they set out to want to do – to eat into the DSLR share of the pie. This translates into several identifiable user groups.

The first are the users who decide to co-own their DSLR and mirrorless camera kits. The idea is that they would use the mirrorless camera as and when possible, switching only to the DSLR if or when there are times when its capabilities are better put into use. Such instances would be in the areas of sports or action photography where C-AF performance is still better or where ultimate image quality is defined by its larger sensor size.

The second group are former DSLR users who have decided to throw the towel in and move over to mirrorless. Unlike the first group, these users are not convinced that the image quality edge that DSLR cameras supposedly have is worth the hassle of the weight and size. They believe that mirrorless has finally come of age and this is the time to take the plunge.

The third group are users who have moved straight into the mirrorless from their humble compact camera underpinnings. If not for mirrorless cameras, they would have adopted DSLR cameras as the natural progression when it comes to the pursuit of better image quality and/or user controls for creativity purposes. They see mirrorless cameras offering them a more natural step-up; one that they can more readily accept because the weight and size factors are not so imposing.

The final group are users who, like the ones in the first group, had decided to run two systems simultaneously. However unlike those in the first group, these users eventually saw enough justification to completely quit the DSLR kits and go fully into their mirrorless camera systems. And when they decide to do so, they sell their DSLR kits online. These users hold the belief that having owned the two side by side, they can see enough to warrant a wholesale transition without regrets.

In most cases, regardless of whichever group of users we’re referring to, the ones that are most greatly impacted by the popularity of the mirrorless cameras are Canon and Nikon and to a lesser extent the other DSLR camera makers such as Sony. We believe that the impact will not abate but instead will increase over time as incoming technologies improve the mirrorless breed and draw it even closer in performance terms to the DSLR camera. And the lion’s share of the mirrorless success story comes from Olympus, Panasonic and Sony. Between them, they take up most of the market share of mirrorless sales not just in Japan but across the whole world.

Micro FourThirds triggered a race to label the new generation camera type

No one knows what to really call the mirrorless camera. For that matter, our use of the term ‘mirrorless camera’ may not be specific enough because after all, compact cameras are also mirrorless. On the other hand, the term SLR was ubiquitous enough because every film SLR camera during then used the same range of 35mm film. Film itself became the great uniter and all SLR cameras were measurably the equal of one another. Not so digital.

Without film, the DSLR camera’s measuring yardstick was the sensor but because there are so many different sizes of sensors, the term ‘DSLR’ was vague in ways the film SLR wasn’t. Nonetheless, it stuck and everyone could relate still to what a DSLR camera is. There was no need to add any further to it – DSLR was a good enough term and it prevailed.

The mirrorless camera became the new great divide. Again we face the same issue as with DSLR. Not all of them are equal of one another. Some use the FourThirds sensors; some have adopted APS-C while a few others sport much smaller sensors again. Yet there all purport to be similar because none of them have a reflex mirror and yet they all accept interchangeable lenses as part of their appeal. Still we have an industry that has not been unanimous in what this new segment of cameras should be called. However that has not stopped different quarters from coming up with their versions.

MILC Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera
MIL Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens
DSLM Digital Single-Lens Mirrorless
EVIL Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens
ILC Interchangeable Lens Camera
CSC Compact System Camera

Of these, the more popular ones include MIL/MILC, ILC and CSC but all the same, there has been no agreement on a standard description.

General specifications for Micro FourThirds

Lens mount Micro FourThirds
Sensor FourThirds
Sensor size 17.3 x 12.98 mm
Sensor diagonal length 21.63 mm (0.852 inch)
Sensor crop factor 2X
Lens mount diameter Inside (female): ~38 mm Outside (male): ~44 mm
Rear flange focal distance 19.25 mm
Image stabiliser Olympus: Sensor based (‘IS’) Panasonic: Lens based (‘OIS’ or ‘Mega OIS’) and Sensor based
Autofocusing type off-the-sensor Contrast-detection AF +/- phase detect

Current camera bodies

These are models that are current in production and available for sale by Olympus and Panasonic as of October 2013.

Olympus Pen-series

This range comprises cameras without built-in viewfinders but essentially share the basic competitive fundamentals that are offered in the higher-end OM-D System cameras. The Pen cameras are able supported by the VF-1, VF-2 and VF-3 electronic viewfinders and soon the new VF-4 (2.44 million dots) will join the range. This is supposedly the digital interpretation of Olympus’ legendary half-frame Pen-F camera. Returning to its strong traditional roots, the company hopes to extend the Pen concept by embracing Micro FourThirds.

Classic/Premium E-P3, E-P5
Lite E-PL3, E-PL5, E-PL6
Mini E-PM1, E-PM2

Olympus OM-D series

This is the premium definition of Micro FourThirds cameras from Olympus. The OM-D System cameras define the most advanced technologies, highest levels of performance and the most rugged body construction. They all feature built-in electronic viewfinders and they echo the company’s legendary OM cameras. With the OM-D, Olympus is pinning hopes on rejuvenating a vision that has become an industry hallmark.

Pro E-M1
Enthusiast E-M5

Panasonic Lumix DMC G-series

Panasonic uses the ‘DMC’ code to denote Digital Medium Camera. You will find DMC in all their digital camera products from compacts to earlier DSLRs and now to their Micro FourThirds cameras. Collectively the company uses the name Lumix for all their digital cameras and ‘G’ is used to differentiate from their ‘L’ cameras that were part of the FourThirds system.

Premium video GH-3
Advanced GX-7
Classic G5, G6
Lite GF5, GF6
Mini coming 2013?

discontinued camera bodies

These are models that have been discontinued from production and therefore no longer available for sale as new units by Olympus and Panasonic. However if any of these interests you, eBay isn’t too many mouse clicks away.

Olympus PEN series
E-P1, E-P2, E-PL1, E-PL1S, E-PL2
Panasonic Lumix G-series
G1, G10, G2, G3, GH1, GH2, GX1, GF1, GF2, GF3
AG-series (video)
AF100 (awaiting replacement)

Native lenses

Olympus (13)

These are lenses made by Olympus for use with all Micro FourThirds cameras. Called M.Zuiko Digital (MZD in short), these lenses do not provide built-in image stabilisation since Olympus already offers this feature in their camera bodies. Without exception every one of these lenses is designed, engineered and built by Olympus. Some were developed and built at the company’s Tetsuno plant, which is especially known for its legendary designs.

MZD: M.Zuiko Digital

Fixed lenses (1) Olympus Body Cap 15mm f8
Prime lenses (6) MZD ED 12mm f2, MZD 17mm f1.8, MZD 17mm f2.8 Pancake, MZD 45mm f1.8, MZD ED 60mm f2.8 Macro, MZD 75mm f1.8
Zoom lenses (6) MZD ED 9-18mm f4-5.6, MZD ED 12-50mm f3.5-6.3 EZ, MZD 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 II R, MZD ED 14-150mm f4-5.6, MZD ED 40-150mm f4-5.6 R, MZD 75-300mm f4.8-6.7 II

Panasonic (14), Leica (1)

These are lenses made by Panasonic for use with all Micro FourThirds cameras. Lenses that are called ‘Lumix G’ are designed and built by Panasonic. Those that are called ‘Leica’ are designed by Leica but built by Panasonic in Japan on their behalf. Interesting there are also ‘X’ labelled lenses that are purportedly for serious (or pro) applications. Exactly how they stack up with the Leica branded lenses, we don’t know – whether they are more highly rated than the German designs could be something we’ll discover sooner rather than later. All lenses built by Panasonic for Micro FourThirds cameras that are labelled either ‘OIS’ or ‘Mega OIS’ offer built-in image stabilisation. This is because Panasonic Micro FourThirds cameras do not offer this feature internally.

Fixed lenses (1) Lumix G 12.5mm f12 3D stereo
Prime lenses (4) Lumix G Fisheye 8mm f3.5, Lumix G 14mm f2.5 ASPH, Lumix G 20mm f1.7 ASPH, Leica Summilux DG 25mm f1.4
Zoom lenses (10) Lumix G Vario 7-14mm f4 ASPH, Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f2.8 ASPH Power OIS, Lumix G X Vario PowerZoom 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 ASPH OIS, Lumix G Vario 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 II ASPH Mega OIS, Lumix G Vario HD 14-140mm f4-5.8 OIS, Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm f2.8 OIS, Lumix G Vario 45-150mm f4-5.6 ASPH Mega OIS, Lumix G X Vario PowerZoom 45-175mm f4-5.6 ASPH OIS, Lumix G Vario 45-200mm f4-5.6 OIS, Lumix G Vario 100-300mm f4-5.6 OIS

Cross-platform lenses (Olympus, Sigma, Leica)

These are lenses that were meant for use in the FourThirds system with Olympus and Panasonic DSLR cameras. Olympus calls theirs Zuiko Digital (or ZD in short). Panasonic, on the other hand, never released any lenses under their own branding. Instead lenses were all engineered and designed by Leica but manufactured by Panasonic in Japan. Sigma was also an active supplier of third-party FourThirds lenses under their own brand name. These lenses are all usable with Micro FourThirds cameras via suitable lens mount adaptors that are offered by Olympus and Panasonic. However their performance has often been a mixed blessing – although possible to use, autofocusing is slow on the early cameras. For serious users, this has so far been unacceptable and those who have migrated from their FourThirds systems will be pleased now that starting with the E-M1, phase detection sensors have been added to the sensor which provides fast AF with these lenses whilst maintaining weatherproofing.

ZD: Zuiko Digital

Prime lenses (12) Olympus (6) ZD ED 8mm f3.5 Fisheye (diagonal), ZD 25mm f2.8 Pancake, ZD 35mm f3.5 Macro, ZD 50mm f2.0 Macro, ZD ED 150mm f2.0, ZD ED 300mm f2.8
Sigma (5) Sigma 24mm f1.8 EX DG Aspheric Macro, Sigma 30mm f1.4 EX DC HSM, Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM, Sigma Macro 105mm f2.8 EX DG, Sigma APO Macro 150mm f2.8 EX DG HSM,
Leica (1) Leica D Summilux 25mm f1.4 ASPH
Zoom lenses (30) Olympus (18) ZD ED 7-14mm f4.0, ZD ED 9-18mm f4.0-5.6, ZD 11-22mm f2.8-3.5, ZD ED 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 SWD, ZD ED 14-35mm f2.0 SWD, ZD ED 14-42mm f3.5-5.6, ZD ED 14-45mm f3.5-5.6, ZD 14-54mm f2.8-3.5, ZD 14-54mm f2.8-3.5 II, ZD 17.5-45mm f3.8-5.6, ZD ED 35-100mm f2.0, ZD 40-150mm f3.5-4.5, ZD ED 40-150mm f4.0-5.6, ZD ED 50-200mm f2.8-3.5, ZD ED 50-200mm f2.8-3.5 SWD, ZD ED 70-300mm f4.0-5.6, ZD ED 90-250mm f2.8,
Sigma (9) Sigma 10-20mm f4.0-5.6 EX DC HSM, Sigma 18-50mm f2.8 EX DC Macro, Sigma 18-50mm f3.5-5.6 DC, Sigma 18-125mm f3.5-5.6 DC, ZD ED 18-180mm f3.5-6.3, Sigma APO 50-500mm f4.0-6.3 EX DG HSM, Sigma 55-200mm f4.0-5.6 DC, Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 II EX DG Macro HSM, Sigma APO 135-400mm f4.5-5.6 DG, Sigma APO 300-800mm f5.6 EX DG HSM
Leica (3) Leica D Vario-Elmarit 14-50mm f2.8-3.5 ASPH MEGA OIS, Leica D Vario-Elmar 14-50mm f3.8-5.6 ASPH MEGA OIS, Leica D Vario-Elmar 14-150mm f3.5-5.6 ASPH MEGA OIS,

Third-party lenses (20)

These are lenses that are designed and built by other manufacturers for use with Micro FourThirds cameras. Some of these lenses do not support autofocusing. Certain lenses in this list are designed for cine applications.

Prime lenses (30) Samyang (4) Samyang 7.5mm (equiv 15mm) f3.5 UMC Fisheye, Samyang 16m f2.0 ED AS UMC CS, Samyang 300mm f6.3, Samyang 800mm f8 Mirror
SLRmagic (7) Noktor HyperPrime Cine 12mm T1.6, Noktor HyperPrime Cine 35mm T0.95, SLRmagic 35mm T1.4, Noktor HyperPrime 50mm f0.95, SLRmagic Toy Lens 11mm f1.4, SLRmagic Toy Lens 26mm f1.4, SLRmagic 35mm f1.7 MC,
Voigtländer (3) Voigtländer Nokton 17.5mm f0.95, Voigtländer Nokton 25mm f0.95, Voigtländer Nokton 42.5mm f0.95
Sigma (5) Sigma 19mm f2.8 DN, Sigma 19mm f2.8 EX DN, Sigma 30mm f2.8 DN, Sigma 30mm f2.8 EX DN, Sigma 60mm f2.8 DN
Mitakon (1) Mitakon 35mm f0.95
Jackar (1) Snapshooter 34mm f1.8
Schneider (8) Super-Angulon 14mm f2.0, Xenon 30mm f1.4, Makro-Symmar 60mm f2.4, Cine-Xenar 25mm T2.2, Cine-Xenar 35mm T2.1, Cine-Xenar 50mm T2.0, Cine-Xenar 75mm T2.0, Cine-Xenar 95mm T2.0
Tokina (1) Tokina Reflex 300mm f6.3 MF Macro
Zoom lenses (1) Tamron (1) Tamron 14-150mm f3.5-5.8 Di III VC (expected launch sometime 2013)
Other lenses (6) SLRmagic Monster Lens 12-36×50 ED spotting scope f8-25 (equiv 840-2,520mm), SLRmagic x Toy Lens Pinhole f128 (equiv 12mm), Wanderlust Pinwide f96-128, Lensbaby Composer, Mitakon Lens Turbo adaptor, Metabones Speed Booster adaptor

Discontinued lenses

These are Micro FourThirds lenses made by Olympus and Panasonic that have been discontinued from production and therefore no longer are available for sale. In all likelihood these lenses have also been replaced by newer improved versions. But for those interested in pursuing, these lenses are likely to appear for secondhand sale on online sites such as eBay, Craigslist and others.

Olympus (4) MZD 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 II, MZD 14-42mm f3.5-5.6, MZD ED 40-150mm f4-5.6, MZD 75-300mm f4.8-6.7
Panasonic (2) Lumix G Vario 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 ASPH OIS, Lumix G Vario 14-45mm f3.5-5.6 ASPH OIS

next: a history of Micro Four Thirds part IV - the Olympus cameras in detail

photo/kl/mft_history3.txt · Last modified: 2014/06/09 21:21 by gary1