Four Thirds

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It seems Olympus has finally ditched manufacture of Four Thirds lenses to concentrate on Micro Four Thirds

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

According to Four-Thirds.org and highlighted by dpreview.com, unsurprisingly, it seems Olympus has decided to discontinue manufacture of their superb range of Four Thirds lenses designed for Four Thirds dSLRs – which they stopped making several years ago.

The Four Thirds dSLR system was introduced 14 years ago and introduced many innovations such as telecentric lens design to optimise digital sensors, Live View, sensor based image stabilisation, and sensor cleaning, but it was their High Grade and Super High Grade Four Thirds lenses which drew many like myself to this system – these lenses were amongst the best optically corrected lenses ever made – for example, nothing that Canon had made came close to the Olympus ZD 7-14mm f/4 lens, and the Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 was more compact, optically better and with closer focus than what Canon or Nikon provided in the focal length range of 100-400mm for a full frame.

Alas, these lenses were often no smaller than full frame lenses and often not that much cheaper which meant most professionals quite rightly could not see the value in the system, while in the mirrorless world, these lenses were not optimised for CDAF which is the main AF technology used in most mirrorless cameras.

With the removal of the mirror, and the development of the far more popular and more compact Micro Four Thirds system, Olympus and Panasonic have a winner in their hands, and as could be expected, are putting all their R&D into this system – both having now given up on the ill-fated Four Thirds system.

New in-camera optical distortion correction technologies and the shorter sensor to lens flange distance has given the Olympus engineers more freedom to create smaller, lighter, more affordable lenses than their Four Thirds counterparts could ever be – albeit sacrificing optical distortion as a priority in lens design.

Olympus and Panasonic have already created a great range of Micro Four Thirds lenses, and Olympus has said it will now concentrate on developing new wide aperture prime lenses – to continue on from their 1st digital f/1.2 lens,  the superb Olympus mZD 25mm f/1.2 lens and the amazing Olympus mZD 300mm f/4 OIS lens.

There is a lot to look forward to, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with – perhaps a 9mm or 12mm f/1.2 for Milky Way astrophotography (Panasonic already have their superb 12mm f/1.4 and Olympus have a great ground breaking f/1.8 fisheye lens), perhaps a 100mm f/1.4 and a 200mm f/2.4?

 

Cradle Mountain in the snow with the Olympus ZD 50-200mm lens on Micro Four Thirds

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

I have always loved the Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens for Four Thirds as it is quite a unique lens:

  • it is the most compact, and light premium quality lens of 100-400mm field of view (in 35mm terms) and the only one of its main competitors to be able to fit into a 24cm deep camera bag whilst fitted to a camera
  • it weighs just 1.07kg with tripod plate and is only 157mm long with a 67mm filter thread and close focus is an amazingly short 1.2m
    • the longer, far more expensive Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L weighs 1.36kg, attracts internal dust, uses 77mm filters,  and lets in only just over half the light, while close focus is 1.8m
    • the heavier, longer, much more expensive Nikon Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR weighs 1,36kg, is 171mm long, uses 77mm filters, lets in only just over half the light, while close focus is a poor 2.3m
    • the much heavier, far more expensive Nikon Nikkor 200-400mm f/4 VR weighs 3.3kg and is more than twice as long at 358mm, and you need to resort to 52mm rear filters while close focus is 2m
  • it is weatherproof, and the long lens hood further reduces risk of rain landing on the front element
  • it has lovely bokeh for a zoom lens
  • it is relatively affordable
  • when used on an Olympus camera, you get 3-5 EV of image stabilisation
  • it can be used with either 1.4x or 2.0x tele-converters (allowing hand holdable 800mm super telephoto capability with AF as well as 1:2 macro!)

This is one of the lenses I like when I am a passenger in a car on a road trip and only get to shoot out the window.

HOWEVER, it has a couple of problems:

  • you need to use it on a Four Thirds dSLR or the Olympus OM-D E-M1 if you want fast AF
  • it is a touch big and heavy on most Micro Four Thirds cameras, and on most, AF will be slow if there is only CDAF available.

Personally, I cannot wait until Olympus bring out their even more compact Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO lens later this year, although I would like to see a 100-200mm f/2.8 or at least a 200mm f/2.8 weatherproof prime lens as well.

In the meantime, I took this lens with me on my cabin luggage to Cradle Mountain, and despite having this in my backpack, plus a fisheye lens, a 12mm lens, a 20mm lens, a 45mm lens, a 60mm macro lens and my 75mm f/1.8 lens with my Olympus OM-D E-M5, and a few extras, the weight still was under 5kg! This would be impossible to achieve with any other system, and sure made life bushwalking that much more pleasurable.

So here are a few shots taken with this lens mounted on my E-M5 Micro Four Thirds camera:

Cradle Mountain region in the snow

The threatened Tasmanian Devil:

Cradle Mountain region in the snow

Cradle mountain region with fresh snow after the overnight snow storm which converted the beautiful green national park into a white wonderland:

Cradle Mountain region in the snow

Cradle Mountain region in the snow

Cradle Mountain region in the snow

Cradle Mountain region in the snow

 

 

Is the Olympus dSLR strategy becoming more clear and hybrid Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds cameras the future high end Olympus cameras?

Friday, December 21st, 2012

43Rumors.com has just posted information suggesting the next new Four Thirds camera, presumably, the successor of the aging semi-pro Olympus E-5 dSLR, will be a hybrid camera – the fruit of a secret project named “Kasei” which commenced in 2009.

This hybrid camera is said to be able to use both Four Thirds lenses and Micro Four Thirds lenses with full AF capability, and will be released late 2013.

This is not really a surprise as it is the logical evolution of the Four Thirds system and as long as core Four Thirds functionality is not lost, it makes more sense than just creating a Four Thirds lens only dSLR.

The big question is how will they achieve this, and there are a variety of possible paths including:

  • an E-M5 style camera but with a new sensor with phase detect AF for the Four Thirds lenses and the next generation of electronic viewfinder which Olympus has been teasing us with.
  • an E-M5 style camera but with a phase detect AF equipped Four Thirds to Micro Four Thirds lens adapter in the same way that Sony NEX system can use the Sony Alpha lenses
  • a modular camera with optical viewfinder and mirror for use with Four Thirds lenses, and a EVF module for use with Micro Four Thirds lenses
  • a camera with hybrid optical and electronic viewfinder, plus mirror which is locked up during EVF use with Micro Four Thirds lenses or for movies and Live View mode with Four Thirds lenses
  • a camera with hybrid optical and electronic viewfinder with a translucent fixed mirror similar to the mirror in the Sony SLT cameras

The most likely solution is a high end Micro Four Thirds camera with the next generation EVF and a new Four Thirds adapter which allows fast AF with Four Thirds lenses.

Why do we need such a camera?

Whilst the Four Thirds consortium were probably correct in choosing the 2x crop sensor as it gave the best compromise of camera and lens size, cost, edge-to-edge image quality while still giving reasonable ability to blur the background and have access to reasonable high ISO performance and ability to print large prints to 30″x40″ size, they struggled to compete with the sheer market force of Canon and Nikon in the dSLR marketplace while their lenses were still quite big and heavy.

This left sales of the Four Thirds dSLR dwindling and becoming uneconomical with little possibility for revitalising sales in that segment alone particularly with competitive pressures of the falling prices of full frame dSLR which increasingly make the cropped sensor dSLRs less attractive other than for entry level buyers who can’t afford full frame dSLRs.

Then Panasonic and Olympus radically changed the camera world by introducing the Micro Four Thirds mirrorless system.

Micro Four Thirds has evolved to become the most versatile mirrorless camera system with the most extensive range of dedicated lenses and camera bodies, and importantly with the Olympus E-M5, E-PL5 and Panasonic GH-3, the system now has very high image quality and the fastest autofocus systems of any camera system ever made, while the Olympus E-M5 has the best image stabiliser system of any camera ever made.

But as good as these new Micro Four Thirds cameras are, they still have a couple of significant flaws:

  • the contrast detect AF does not autofocus well if at all on fast moving subjects and subject tracking is poor
  • options for telephoto lens choices or wide aperture zoom lens choice with fast AF are very limited

There is also a small army of dedicated Olympus Four Thirds fans out there who would love to be able to use their superb lenses on a camera with a sensor as good as in the Olympus E-M5 but with fast phase detect AF.

Unlike Canon and Nikon who never really valued their cropped sensor dSLRs sufficiently to create very high quality lenses designed for them, Olympus started from scratch and designed wonderful, telecentric lenses for the Four Thirds cameras, but now all we need is a modern camera with the image quality of the E-M5 to make the most of them.

Furthermore, Olympus and Panasonic have been making some very nice Micro Four Thirds lenses such as the superb Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens and the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro lens which the Four Thirds users would love to be able to use but at this point cannot unless they buy a Micro Four Thirds camera.

There is a risk though that the Olympus E-5 dSLR may be the last optical viewfinder dSLR Olympus make and if this is the case, there may be some gnashing of teeth amongst the Olympus users, although the promised next generation electronic viewfinders may be good enough to placate even the die hard optical fans.

For these reasons, a hybrid Micro Four Thirds / Four Thirds high end camera with weatherproofing and fast AF for all lenses and high image quality makes a lot of sense and would value add to both systems and build on the amazing momentum that Micro Four Thirds has going for it while at the same time addressing its 2 main flaws.

I for one cannot wait to be able to use my Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 again with fast AF speed and get the same image quality or better than I get on my Olympus E-M5.

Meanwhile EOSHD.com‘s top 5 video/stills cameras for 2012 – the top 3 are all Micro Four Third mount cameras:

  1. Blackmagic Cinema Camera
  2. Panasonic GH-3
  3. Olympus E-M5 – better for stills, but the ONLY camera with image stabilisation in movie mode for legacy manual focus lenses – great for those needing to shoot without a video rig
  4. Canon 5D Mark III
  5. Sony RX100

A few thoughts on cameras and where most of us may be heading

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Let me state again for clarity, I am not a commercial photographer, I do not shoot weddings, sports, and I don’t print my images any larger than 20″ x 30″ and even then, I do these rarely.

I do however take my photography as very serious fun which has re-shaped the way I view the world.

In 2007, I had the opportunity to acquire two very different and thus complimentary dSLR camera systems with the relatively new Live View technology which I considered critical for digital photography, in particular, for accurate manual focus of tilt shift leneses, etc.

Olympus Four Thirds:

A budget, relatively compact, entry-level Four Thirds Olympus E510 dSLR which from memory gave 10mp images, up from my 7.5mp Olympus E330, and for the 1st time in a SLR of any type, had built-in image stabilisation in the camera which could also be used with legacy manual focus lenses.

This camera became my main camera due to its compact size and weight, and I was lucky enough to have superb Four Thirds lenses to match it – ZD 7-14mm, Leica-D 25mm f/1.4,  ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro (perhaps the sharpest mass produced lens to date) and the unique ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD lens with EC-20 2x teleconverter. With these lenses and the kit lenses, I had 35mm equivalent coverage of 14-800mm field of view, plus macro plus portrait lens.

Canon 1D Mark III pro dSLR:

As fantastic as the Olympus kit was, it had some deficiencies which the 10mp Canon 1D Mark III would hopefully address – lower noise at high ISO, fast burst rate to 10fps, continuous AF, weatherproofed body, fast flash sync, and 1.3x crop sensor allowing better ability to blur the background and gain shallower depth of field with the Canon pro lenses.

To maximise the benefits of the Canon system for my needs whilst keeping the size down as much as possible, I decided against the big, heavy but almost mandatory 70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens, and instead went for a mix as follows: 17mm, 45mm and 90mm tilt-shift lenses, 24-105mmL IS, 85mm f/1.8, 135mm f/2.0, 1.4x teleconverter.

What did I learn?

The prints from each system at low ISO were close enough to identical in terms of image quality (but obviously not depth of field and background blurring capability), and indeed, these sensors were all I really need in terms of sensor image quality as I rarely need to shoot at high ISO.

For portraits, the Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 lens or the Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 lens gave adequate depth of field to ensure I get all I need in focus – such as ear to tip of nose. Wider aperture lenses are mainly for full length shots, and for this, the cheap manual focus Rokinon 85mm f/1.4 of a Four Thirds or Micro Four Thirds body could give almost identical imagery as the much bigger, heavier, and more expensive Canon 135mm f/2.0 lens on the Canon 1D Mark III.

Having a camera that shoots at 10fps does not mean each of those frames will be in accurate focus, far from it, and worse, the Canon 1D Mark and similar pro cameras really need to be used very frequently for continuous AF so that the user can learn the complexities of the function settings so that the AF system can be optimised for their subject matter. This is not a simple matter, particularly when shooting fast moving subjects with shallow depth of field lenses.

The Olympus flash system is far more intuitive to use than the Canon system but unfortunately there is much less 3rd party support for it t present such as Pocket Wizard radio remote TTL flash which currently is only available for either Canon 0r Nikon.

As long as you are using high quality wide aperture lenses, the potential down sides of a cropped sensor such as Four Thirds or Micro Four Thirds can be minimised, particularly if the body has built-in image stabilisation to help avoid the need for high ISO.

Technology has moved rapidly in the 4 years since 2007, and we can expect even more progression over the next decade, so that investing in a 2x cropped sensor system such as Micro Four Thirds is unlikely to be a risk, as it already gives adequate image quality and this can only get better.

Thus for the past 2 years, 90% of my photos have been taken with a Micro Four Thirds camera, the Panasonic GH-1 because I loved its even more compact size, its ability to take high quality HD video, flip out LCD screen, and the absence of the mirror means magnified live view manual focus with legacy lenses just becomes so much easier. The Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens combined with this camera is a fantastic walk about, indoors and party lens – just combine it with an Olympus FL-36 flash bounced off a wall or ceiling and you are in party photography heaven. No big intimidating dSLR system but fantastic quality easy portraits.

BUT there was one problem:

As good as this and the other early Micro Four Thirds cameras were (and ANY other contrast detect AF camera such as Sony NEX, or Samsung) they all suffered a major issue – relatively slow autofocus.

Panasonic and then Olympus addressed slow AF speed in their 3rd generation of cameras, most now also with touch screens, to the point the Olympus E-P3 was able to AF faster on a stationary subject than any other camera including pro dSLRs from Canon or Nikon when it was released – an amazing feat considering how immature contrast detect AF technology is compared to the old tried and true but inaccurate, phase contrast AF technology in dSLRs.

Enter the Olympus OM-D E-M5:

2011 would be a year Olympus corporate would rather forget, but 2012 was now a time to finally produce a camera worthy of the enthusiasts and semi-pros, and put all these wonderful new technologies together into one weathersealed, metal body for the first time – enter the exciting new Olympus OM-D E-M5.

I have written a post on the announcement and its features, but I will summarise again the features that make this a compelling camera to me over the other options such as dSLRs, Panasonic, Sony, Nikon or Samsung:

  • image quality of the sensor will be in excess of MY needs – see above – many will argue the fine details of which camera does better high ISO, but it is a mute point for most of us – it doesn’t matter 90% of the time!
  • designed for the enthusiast photographer who wants FULL control of the camera – customisable function buttons, large control dials, fast flash sync 1/250th sec
  • weatherproofed, compact, light metal robust body which looks good
  • superb range of compact, affordable, high quality lenses under $1000 including 12mm f/2.0, 20mm f/1.7, 25mm f/1.4, 45mm f/1.8, 45mm f/2.8 macro, 60mm f/2.8 macro, 75mm f/1.8, 100-300mm compact super telephoto, and many more – this, plus the 5EV 5-axis built-in image stabiliser is why Micro Four Thirds will be better than Sony or Samsung or Fuji for some time yet for most of us – versatility = fun.
  • 9fps burst rate or 4.2fps with AF is adequate for most of us, especially as the 10fps on my Canon 1D Mark III didn’t AF properly anyway.
  • very nice built-in electronic viewfinder which automatically switches between the lovely touch sensitive OLED tilt screen.
  • remote TTL flash via the bundled little flash unit (Panasonic do not support remote TTL flash)
  • Super-FP HSS flash at shutter speeds to 1/4000th sec.
  • high quality HD video that will be good enough for most of us photographers and for the 1st time, the in-built image stabiliser will be able to be used during movie mode which may help reduce the need for carrying large bulky stabilisers.
  • image stabiliser can be activated with half-press shutter to make it easier to manually focus a magnified view – now this should be brilliant for those of us who love our legacy lenses.
  • weatherproofed Four Thirds adapter so you can maintain weatherproof status when using those superb Four Thirds pro lenses.
  • optional fully functional grips will make it easier for portrait mode, particularly using large lenses, and the extra battery may help your movies ending prematurely.
  • 2x crop factor means the sensor is just large enough to allow adequate blurring of backgrounds and shallow depth of field when using wide aperture lenses
  • 2x crop factor also means lenses can be made smaller and with higher quality edge-to-edge of the frame.
  • the partnership with Panasonic adds much to the Micro Four Thirds system and significantly reduces risk.
  • tilt or shift adapters are available to turn legacy lenses such as Nikon lenses into tilt or shift lenses – a far cheaper option than on dSLRs.
  • it is expected Birger will produce an adapter that will allow aperture control and AF with Canon EF and EF-S lenses – presumably it will work with this camera as well as the Panasonic GH series.
  • underwater housing option available.

Summary:

The Olympus OM-D series is likely to be THE solution for many of us and makes a fantastic travel companion with just a few small lenses – no longer do we need to lug around heavy, large camera kits to get the shots we want on our travels.

If the OM-D series is too big for your occasion, then you could look at its smaller PEN series cameras such as the Olympus E-PL3 or E-PM1, particularly when used with the more compact pancake lenses.

Some of us will still want the benefits offered by a full frame sensor in pushing the boundaries of dynamic range, high ISO performance, megapixels, or shallow depth of field, and thus will put up with the cost, weight and size of full frame dSLR camera kits.

Professionals will increasingly head towards medium format digital cameras.

With the advent of the OM-D and the iPhone and the like, it seems there is little point in buying cropped sensor dSLRs or low image quality point and shoot cameras unless there was a specific need.

Seems Canon and Nikon watching on the sidelines while their leadership in camera sales burns and threatening to be totally taken over by Micro Four Thirds

Friday, February 10th, 2012

No one doubts that Nikon and Canon are the 2 joint leaders by a long shot in the pro dSLR marketplace.

Until June 2009, this was the situation with their consumer level dSLRs as well.

Then out of the blue, Panasonic and Olympus radically changed the game with their hugely successful Micro Four Thirds system.

This is particularly the case for sales in Japan if the data from these charts are to be believed.

In early 2009, Nikon and Canon shared ~75% of total dSLR sales, Olympus struggled with 5% with their Four Thirds system and Sony was averaging about 10%.

Once Olympus joined Panasonic in the Micro Four Thirds system in mid 2009, the pair increasingly cannibalised Canon and Nikon dSLR sales in Japan to the point that by August 2011, Canon and Nikon had roughly equal share of only 40% of all dSLR/mirrorless sales, while Olympus and Panasonic now shared a whopping 30% of these sales, and in terms of units sold according to lens mount, Micro Four Thirds hit the lead in Japan in mid-2011 with over 30% of unit share, compared with Canon EF at 20% and Nikon F at under 25%! The initial surge in the Sony NEX sales has dwindled from their peak of 20% to fall to 12%, although not helped by the Thailand floods which has delayed their NEX 7 model.

No wonder lens manufacturers started jumping on the Micro Four Thirds band wagon in late 2011!!

Mirrorless cameras account for 45% of all dSLR/mirrorless camera sales in Japan by Sept 2011 – this was not even remotely thought of in 2008!

Canon and Nikon seem to be caught out by this demand for high image quality, large sensor, quiet, compact cameras with small lenses which mirrorless have brought to the marketplace and captured the attention of a public who had their appetites wet with point and shoots but deciding they wanted more image quality but not the bulk of dSLRs.

Nikon has finally entered the mirrorless marketplace but their choice of sensor size which severely limits ability to blur the background seems strange as it is unlikely to attract their dSLR users nor the ladies moving up from point and shoots.

Canon is still to enter the mirrorless market and one wonders if they have left their run too late to stop the Micro Four Thirds juggernaut – a force that will only grow ever stronger now that they have finally created a metal bodied, weatherproofed, awesome camera with an amazing built-in IS which works in movie mode, 9fps, flash sync 1/250th sec, remote TTL flash and the fastest AF available.

We have Panasonic using their expertise in the video market to create great video quality Micro Four Thirds cameras, while Olympus builds on its OM and Four Thirds experience to develop nice photographers cameras such as the newly announced OM-D E-M1 which I expect will sell like hot cakes when it is available in April 2012.

The sheer versatility of the Micro Four Thirds system with lens adapters for almost any lens ever made and they become image stabilised when used on an Olympus body, and when used with shift or tilt adapters, become shift or tilt lenses – this is just not a possibility with dSLRs unless you use the massive medium format or large format lenses.

But in the end it may be the vast array of lovely compact lenses available in Micro Four Thirds mount such as 7-14mm f/4, 12mm /2.0, 20mm f/1.7, 25mm f/1.4, 45mm f/1.8, 60mm f/2.8 macro, 75mm f/1.8 which all come in under $1000 and offer fantastic image quality which will mean that MFT’s will be a force to be reckoned with over the next few years.

Why would most people bother even considering a dSLR in this environment if it is not full frame or for sports / professional use?

Canon and Nikon are likely to be increasingly squeezed in the top end as more and more professionals move to medium format systems to distance themselves further from the non-professionals and to stay competitive in a difficult market.

Sure the new Nikon D800 will shoot 36 megapixels, but it won’t be the same quality imagery as a 50mp medium format and this is where Canon and Nikon may find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Their only “safe place” lies in the photojournalism, wedding and sports arenas but that will not be enough for them so Canon will be forced into the mirrorless market as well whether it likes it or not.

Mirrorless cameras are bringing the fun and the image quality to the masses and it is hard to see the momentum faltering!

I bought my 1st mirrorless in mid 2009, will be buying the OM-D E-M5 in April and I can’t see myself buying a dSLR ever again, unless I upgrade my Canon 1D Mark III to a full frame version one day.

Micro Four Thirds sales in Australia would be far stronger if Panasonic and Olympus Australia changed their ridiculous pricing strategies which tend to price their products 30% higher than US prices encouraging Australians to buy their cameras and lenses overseas. Please guys, with the $A higher than parity with the $US there is no excuse for this.

Take for example Panasonic Australia, the much loved Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens retail price in Australian stores is $A599 (down from the $A799 RRP on Panasonic’s website in 2009), but Australians can have it delivered to their home from overseas for $340 brand new in a box – even allowing for 10% GST the Australian RRP is just ridiculous!

All very fascinating and exciting for us enthusiast photographers who can reap the spoils of the fight – no longer do we have a duopoly!

What can we expect next from Olympus?

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

Consumer sentiment over the past couple of years has suggested that the Four Thirds dSLR system may be reaching end of life based upon the success of Micro Four Thirds and the seeming lack of new Four Thirds cameras or lenses of late.

Of course, one has to take into account a difficult financial and local environment which must be straining the resources of the Japanese camera makers, not just Olympus.

So what can we expect from Olympus?

There is no doubt that their Micro Four Thirds system development will continue at pace as is evidenced by their new Pen cameras and the very nice new lenses they have just announced – the 12mm f/2.0 and 45mm f/1.8 (although it is a pity they couldn’t have given us f/1.4 but then price may have been an issue) which show they have seen the light and realised that wide aperture primes are the way to maximise the utility of the Micro Four Thirds format.

I would think that their next Micro Four Thirds camera would be more of a pro version and perhaps designed more like the Panasonic G3 so that it adequately fills the gap created by their apparent decision to replace entry level Four Thirds dSLRs with Micro Four Thirds models. Personally, I would like to see a weatherproof version with built-in EVF and flip out LCD.

NWP interviewed Sally Smith Clemens, Product Manager at Olympus USA, in July 2011, and essentially she has confirmed much of what most of us already suspect given Olympus has stated in the past that they see the Micro Four Thirds replacing the entry level dSLR market but given it is not as feasable for longer telephotos or large aperture zooms, they will be targeting the Four Thirds dSLR’s at the semi-pros and sports/wildlife photographers.

Sally has confirmed these beliefs and insists Four Thirds will be supported into the future for those needing weather-proofed cameras with flip out LCDs and fast continuous AF for moving subjects, such as the Olympus E5 dSLR, and that there is no need for introduction of new Four Thirds lenses at present given the mature lens line up.

I am hoping her comments does not imply Olympus will not be making a Micro Four Thirds camera with weather-proofing and flip out LCD. Time will tell.

Now let’s look at what is happening over at Four Thirds Rumours website:

  • seems a successor to the E-30 mid-range dSLR may be coming soon – the E-50, and if so one could expect it to be a non-weather-proof version of the E-5, and thus be similar to the E-30 but have HD video capability.
  • Panasonic and Olympus appear to be working on a global shutter which will allow better video plus near silent electronic shutter still images – very handy indeed for classical music performances, etc. Hopefully it will also give us faster flash sync and potential for very fast burst rates – at least  10fps in full resolution and allow a range of multi-frame techniques such as in-camera HDR, etc. This may make its way into the GH-3.

So, not a lot of new gear for Four Thirds users at this stage, but at least Olympus appears to have committed to its future, and certainly would not be wanting to give up all that R&D costs on those brilliant Four Thirds lenses just yet!

I would expect the next Olympus lens  for Micro Four Thirds would be a wide aperture macro lens with focal length somewhere between 50-100mm – personally, a 100mm f/2.8 macro would be a great addition for nature lovers who want a reasonable working distance, while providing a nice, albeit long, portrait lens – it would give similar macro performance at half the weight as the Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L macro lens, while a 60mm f/2.0 macro would also be popular (it seems Canon is rumoured to have one of these in their proposed EIS mirrorless 2x crop system lineup).

Then I would expect they would create a new compact macro flash system for both Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds to replace their old Four Thirds macro flash.

I wish they could create an AF version of the Rokinon 85mm f/1.4 lens but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one!

3 macro ring flashes compared – Olympus, Sigma and Canon

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

I have Olympus, Panasonic and Canon cameras and like using ring flashes not only for macro work but as a shadowless fill light for general use such as portraits – but note, they are not large enough to be beauty lights for portraits!

I now have all 3 of these macro ring flashes and offer some points of comparison.

Clearly, if you want TTL flash you need to use the flash that matches your camera, but as Canon, Olympus and Panasonic have similar flash hotshoes physically, you can use either of these in manual flash mode on either camera EXCEPT the Sigma flash will ONLY fire if it is mounted on a Canon – a very annoying design.

If you want the easiest to use flash, with easily the best manual flash control, and a true ring flash – then the Olympus wins out – just need to work out how you will mount it on your lens if it is not designed for it.

All of these ring flashes could have been designed much better:

  • the Canon should have had a larger internal diameter for more versatility, and it is not really a full ring flash but for most purposes, this is splitting hairs. BUT the BIGGEST issue is that it’s manual flash mode only allows changing of output in 1EV increments – this is disastrous when  you have a set magnification and thus flash to subject distance, an optimised aperture for your subject and you need to give just a little less or more flash!
  • the Sigma has a nice large internal diameter and can be fitted to many lenses but it can only be used on a Canon camera, and remote TTL slave flash must be a Sigma flash – very disappointing on both issues. Manual flash output increments as for Canon – very disappointing!
  • the Olympus should be MUCH smaller, especially now we have Micro Four Thirds cameras, and they need to make adapters so it can fit to a 72mm filter thread – for many lenses it needs to be hand held!

Interestingly, Olympus, always the innovator has brought out a cute little twin light for macro flash on its Pen cameras – very cheap and fun to use but only for macro use.

Metz do have a 15 MS-1 ring flash slave unit but this requires a master TTL flash to function – see here.

If you have a Canon 580EX or Olympus FL-50 flash, and want TTL ring flash on the cheap, you can get an off-camera TTL flash cord (the Canon will work for both Canon and Olympus even in TTL), plus the Orbis Ring Flash adapter – this can even be used on the Olympus ZD 7-14mm ultrawide zoom -  see here and here.

Nikon don’t make a true ring flash for their system, but have taken a different approach to macro flash which is quite interesting – a ring which attaches to most lenses up to 77mm filter thread, upon which you mount up to 8 wireless compact macro SB-R200 flashes which are then controlled via TTL by the camera’s flash, of if there is none, a Nikon flash mounted on the camera. This gives a cost effective, versatile macro flash system without any need for a large controller unit (if your camera has inbuilt flash), but although it can simulate a ring flash, you won’t get circular catchlights as with the Olympus ring flash.

Olympus Ring flash SRF-11 Canon MR-14EX Sigma EM-140 DG for Canon
TTL flash Olympus, Panasonic Four Thirdsand Micro Four Thirds – note Panasonic cameras are not TTL compatiblewith legacy lenses! Canon EOS cameras Canon EOS cameras
Remote TTL master No Canon flashes. Auto with 1group; Manual with 3 groups; Yes for Sigma flashes only
manual flash output increments awesome: 1/3rd EV terrible: 1 EV terrible: 1 EV
Pocket Wizard FlexTT5 radio flash Manual flash only Remote TTL or  manual Manual flash only
Main controller can power TwinFlash too Yes No, separate twin flash unit No twin flash available
Flash type True ring flash two almost half rings NOT a ring just 2 twins mounted
lens mount type Bayonet, need adapter for ZD50mm f/2.0 macro. Only fits a couple of lenses including the ZD 35mm macro lens.Note the original ZD 50-200mm lens did allow attachment of this ring flash but the later SWD version of this lens does not allow it to attach! Click on, adapters for filterthreads 52-72mm Click on, adapters for filterthreads 52-72mm
Internal diameter of ring 70mm 57mm – major issue with 72mmfilter thread lenses such as the 135mm f/2.0 but said to be compatible with the 180mm f/3.5 macro. 72mm – adequate for EF 135mmf/2.0 lens
main controller size very large reasonably compact large
 manual flash usage  Olympus, Panasonic and Canon cameras without adapters   Olympus, Panasonic and Canon cameras without adapters  Canon cameras only!

Ring flash

Panasonic GH-1 with Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro, flash adapter and Olympus Ring Flash. The hand grip on the GH-1 is very handy here.

Sigma EM-140 DG macro flash

Sigma EM-140 DG ring flash – more details on the Sigma flash here.

Why would anyone buy the new Olympus E-5 dSLR – well there are a few very good reasons!

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

Olympus has been very quiet of late in updating their Four Thirds dSLR cameras and lenses – largely due to the combination of the global financial crisis and the distraction of the successes from their Micro Four Thirds mirror-less camera system with which they are joint partners with Panasonic.

Indeed, the success of the Micro Four Thirds camera system which has taken the photographic world by storm has meant that the Four Thirds dSLR system seems to have become even more marginalised to the extent that its future seems uncertain.

I suspect another important factor is that the sensor contract with Panasonic is apparently ending early 2011 and this has apparently prevented Olympus from sourcing other sensor options such as the new Kodak sensors – 2011 may give us a very different picture of the future of Four Thirds!

Why then would anyone pay $2000 or so for what is a rather modest upgrade of the Olympus E-3 semi-pro dSLR that is the Olympus E-5?

To my mind the reasons fall into these categories:

  • existing Four Thirds users and others who wish to upgrade to a camera that is not only an excellent photographer’s camera with great image quality (especially at ISO 800 and below), weather-proofing, excellent build, adequate pixels, AF and burst rate for most photography, swivel LCD, inbuilt image stabiliser, and finally some HD video capabilities.
  • as a compliment to the Micro Four Thirds camera, which are not designed to handle the larger lenses as are the larger dSLRs, but the E-5 will still be able to use the same electronic flashes and similar accessories, while the Four Thirds lenses can be used on Micro Four Thirds cameras via an adapter and you still maintain full aperture control and a variable degree of AF capabilities.
  • wildlife photographers looking for a relatively light, compact, weatherproof, super-telephoto kit – when combined with the 3.3kg 90-250mm f/2.8 or 300mm f/2.8 lenses – do you really want to carry around a $A10,000 Canon 400mm f/2.8 IS lens and all the gear that needs to go to cope with its 5.4kg back breaking weight?
  • storm chasers like Mark Humpage who love the weather-proof compact Olympus kits
  • those who believe that Olympus will not leave Four Thirds users out in the cold in a few years, or do not care if they do.
  • those who want to use one of the superb, unique Olympus Four Thirds Zuiko Digital lenses.

Let’s look at the last category – those unique Zuiko Digital lenses, renown for their superb optics with edge-to-edge performance not usually possible on Canon or Nikon lenses which must use a larger image circle, and physics dictates that aberrations increase exponentially the greater the distance from the centre.

There are some Four Thirds users deserting the system quite reasonably given the uncertainties which Olympus’ marketing department have contributed to, and this has meant lower demand for, and thus often lower prices for these excellent lenses, especially in the second hand marketplace – this means potential for snapping up some excellent lenses, but a risk you may only be able to use them for the next few years or decade if Olympus does indeed cease support for Four Thirds – which I think is unlikely.

Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD:

  • I am a BIG fan of this lens
  • you cannot buy a Canon, Nikon or Sony lens which covers the same field of view as this lens with comparable combination of aperture, image quality, image stabilisation (built-in the camera), weatherproofing, close focus, weight, size, price and bokeh.
  • RRP has been $A1300 or so which means it is not a super expensive
  • although it is a little big and heavy for many people, it is no where as big or heavy as you would need for a Canon or Nikon equivalent field of view
  • it weighs 1kg but similar lenses from Canon or Nikon weigh at least 1.36kg, and over 1.5kg if you go for the traditional 70-200mm f/2.8 IS lens
  • it’s length is only 157mm which means normal backpacks will hold it mounted to a camera – you will need a special photo backpack which you have to take off your back to access if you try mounting a Canon or Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens to a dSLR.
  • this lens alone would make me buy the E-5 if my old E-510 gave up the ghost – it is too big for Micro Four Thirds use, but when you want blurred backgrounds at a bit of a distance, or lower light capabilities at long focal lengths, this is one versatile lens
  • furthermore, you can combine it with the excellent Olympus EC-14 (1.4x) or EC-20 (2x) teleconverters for even more telephoto reach – up to 800mm f/7 hand holdable in daylight!
  • see more comparisons of this lens in the table on my web page here

Olympus ZD 150mm f/2.0:

  • I do not own this lens as it is a bit expensive for me at $US2499 while RRP in Australia is a ridiculous $A4299 and a street list price of $A3199 even though the $A is on parity with the $US  (thanks for trying to promote your system in Australia Olympus!), but this is a superb, unique lens.
  • I love my Canon 135mm f/2.0 lens on a 1.3x crop Canon 1D Mark III which gives an effective 189mm field of view, but it is not image stabilised (a big issue when you must resort to 1/320th sec or slower for fill-in flash portraits) and suffers from quite a bit of flare.
  • the 150mm f/2.0 lens in contrast is designed to be quite a different beast – it gives a field of view of a 300mm lens while allowing a fast f/2.0 aperture to still retain shallow depth of field but not too shallow and allowing faster shutter speeds  than a 300mm f/2.8 or f/4 lens would allow, and of course you get image stabilisation courtesy of the cameras.
  • if one was using a full frame dSLR, you would need at least a 300mm f/4 IS to match the field of view and depth of field characteristics, but you lose 2 stops of light coming in, so you would need to use 2 stops higher ISO to compensate, and you may still not get the superb edge-to-edge image quality of the smaller Olympus lens, while use with a 2x teleconverter only gives f/4 aperture instead of a dim f/8 aperture as with a 300mm f/4 lens.
  • at 1.6kg it is quite a heavy lens for its size, but is a relatively compact 150mm in length which is substantially shorter than a Canon 300mm f/4 lens at 221mm long.
  • it would make a superb astrophotography lens as there are no optical IS elements to adversely impact the image quality of pin point stars and the f/2.0 aperture would allow shorter exposures.
  • LensTip have just reviewed this lens and their tests re-affirm how superb this lens is.

The other superb Olympus ZD lenses:

  • the other pro and super pro Olympus lenses are superb with edge-to-edge image quality generally not possible on Canon or Nikon equivalents, but these are either too expensive for most of us (eg. over $US6000 for the 300mm f/2.8 or 90-250mm f/2.8), or the benefits over Canon or Nikon equivalents are not quite as substantial (the 14-35mm f/2.0, 35-100mm f/2.0, 11-22mm, 50mm f/2.0 macro) while the Olympus 7-14mm f/4 can potentially be replaced by the cheaper Panasonic Micro Four Thirds 7-14mm lens, although image quality uncorrected by software or Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras is not as good and the superb Panasonic Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 can potentially be replaced by the much smaller, and cheaper Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 Micro Four Thirds lens. (Note you cannot use a Micro Four Thirds lens on a Four Thirds camera!)

I am sure others will have their own reasons for buying an E-5, but now that the Canon 7D offers an articulating LCD, reasonable weatherproofing and better HD video, the E-5 camera itself is perhaps not a sufficiently compelling reason to buy into Four Thirds at this stage – it is only when  you look at the unique camera-lens options available that you realise, there is a great reason to buy an E-5 over a Canon 7D or Nikon 300s.

Finally… the long awaited Olympus E-5 dSLR is announced

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Olympus Four Thirds users have been waiting patiently for an upgrade to the pro level Olympus E-3 dSLR.

Today, Olympus has finally announced it formally.

Overview of features:

  • Four Thirds system dSLR
  • weatherproofed body
  • the highest image quality of any Olympus camera – 12.3mp LiveMOS sensor + TruePic V+ image processing
  • Low Pass Filter is less aggressive allowing for more of the optical resolution of the superb Olympus lenses to be visualised
  • built-in image stabiliser – now up to 5EV stabilisation and sensor dust removal system
  • 11 point twin cross hair phase detect AF
  • 11 area sensor contrast detect AF (but no continuous CD-AF)
  • pro level optical viewfinder with 100% view and 20mm eye relief
  • 3″ high resolution swivel LCD – at last both high resolution and swivel!
  • 5fps burst rate x 16 frames RAW, 150,000 shutter life, 7 frame AEB at last (for the HDR togs out there)
  • ISO 100-6400, wireless TTL flash, dual CF/SD card slots at last!
  • apparently, fast sensor contrast detect AF with Face Detect AF capability – I wish!
  • AVI M-JPEG 720p HD video at 30fps with stereo mic jack – not ground breaking compared to the GH-1 but adequate for most people
  • 10 in camera ART filters – adds an extra one to that in the Pen cameras – Dramatic Tone – all can be used in any mode including HD video
  • level gauge, multi-exposure mode
  • new battery – BLM-5 – same form factor as our beloved BLM-1 but 1,620mAh at 7.4 volts instead of 1,500mAh at 7.2 volts so you MUST use the new charger with it – don’t get your chargers and batteries mixed up!
  • 813g, RRP $US1700

On the face of it, it is not going to entice Nikon or Canon pros over, even though the Olympus lenses are superb, but it will be a photographer’s camera able to weather almost any conditions and will give more telephoto reach for lens size than any other current pro dSLR.

The 5fps burst rate is modest and adequate for most people, and at least hopefully it means 5fps of in-focus shots unlike some of its competitors at 10fps.

I would dearly love to have a fast face detect AF in a pro camera, but I suspect it won’t be fast, and it will only work with CD-AF compatible lenses.

When taking portraits with my Canon 1D Mark III and Canon 135mm f/2.0 L lens, I rarely have the face near the centre, so to focus accurately on the eyes with such shallow depth of field means continuously aiming the centre AF point on the eyes, setting focus then recomposing and hope that neither you or the subject has altered position in the meantime.

Fast face detect AF would be brilliant in that situation, but I don’t think the E-5 will deliver on that front unless they make a pro-level CD-AF 75mm f/1.4 lens for me as well, or at least a CD-AF 100mm f/2.0 macro lens (please Mr Olympus, bring out this lens SOON!).

Overall a solid, evolutionary, conservative semi-pro camera rather than the revolutionary one that Olympus has been suggesting is on its way.

It will be a fantastic upgrade to those used to looking through the tiny viewfinders of the E410/420/510/520/620 and give better image quality and weather proofing to boot, and it will compliment the Micro Four Thirds cameras very nicely, but I don’t think it will entice new users to the Olympus camp as they will generally not understand the importance of great lenses, compact size and the renown Olympus jpeg image colours out of the camera.

Sample pics here.

I would have preferred they use the GH-1 over-sized sensor as long as they had removed the banding issue with the initial sensor releases and perhaps added more capable video (if only to be a bit more competitive with the competition in this regard).

In my opinion, it is a better all round photographer’s camera kit than either the Canon 7D or Nikon 300S and if I were buying a Canon or Nikon, unless I was shooting sports, I would be buying one of their full frame sensor dSLRs, not their cropped sensor dSLRs, because then you have a much better reason for carrying around all those big heavy, expensive pro lenses.

The Canon 7D which was announced a year ago has similar specs, size, weight and price but differ on:

  • 18mp not 12mp – not a big deal really, do you really want 18mp to use up your storage space?
  • slightly larger sensor and thus presumably slightly better at high ISO although the 7D was not as good as the GH-1 on DxO tests.
  • 8fps burst not 5fps – probably not a big deal for most of us
  • 1080i video at 30/25/24 fps as well as 720p at 50/60 fps
  • 19 point AF not 11 point – probably not a big deal for most of us
  • LCD screen does not swivel – this is a big deal to me – I love a swivel LCD – thank you Olympus
  • no in-built image stabiliser – this is a big deal to me – I love the built-in image stabiliser – thank you again Olympus
  • no ART filters
  • no multi-exposure mode
  • environmental sealing but probably not as weatherproof or rugged as the E-5
  • optional wireless FTP image transfer grip
  • optional N3 wired intervalometer, remote release

Likewise, the Nikon D300s differs on the following points:

  • 12mp 14bit DX sensor – not substantially different to the E-5 in reality
  • similar ISO 200-6400 and movie functionality (720p)
  • 51 AF points of which 15 are cross hair
  • 1005 pixel metering
  • up to 8fps burst with AC power or MB-D10 power pack
  • LCD screen does not swivel
  • no in-built image stabiliser
  • no ART filters
  • no multi-exposure mode
  • environmental sealing but probably not as weatherproof or rugged as the E-5
  • optional wireless FTP image transfer grip
  • intervalometer, remote release
  • 918g

As long as the image quality of the E-5 matches or betters that of the Canon 7D or Nikon D300s then Olympus has a competitive photographer’s camera with just enough video functionality without wasting money on a feature that most won’t use.

Nikon has just announced a new dSLR which will sit between their D90 and D300S – the D7000, but  like the D300s and 7D, this does not have the weatherproofing, image stabilisation or flip out LCD screen that the E-5 has, nor the superb cropped sensor lenses but does have 1080i HD video, ISO expansion to 25,600, 39 AF point (also uses color to detect subject but only 9 cross hair), 2016 pixel metering and 16mp.

Nikon has also just announced a revision of their 200mm f/2.0 VR lens with a better image stabiliser module. But this lens goes some way to demonstrating one of the benefits of the Olympus E-5 – you can get similar telephoto reach with the Olympus ZD 150mm f/2.0 at MUCH less weight (1.6kg instead of almost 3kg) and expense and instead of having to buy new lenses every few years to get better image stabiliser, you can just but a new camera which will immediately give better IS to EVERY lens – now that is a MUCH smarter way to go in my book! Now I would carry around a 1.6kg lens, but not so keen on a 3kg one – that is going to require a monopod or gimbal head – even more weight to carry around!


Fast 50mm lenses

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

I have started a resource page of 50mm lenses for 35mm and Micro Four Thirds cameras as these lenses are likely to be considered as portrait lenses on cropped sensor digital cameras and many might find it useful to have a list of lenses with some links.

Feel free to add your comments to this post here – but spammers forget posting comments on my website – I have a super intelligent spam processing system which will delete spam type comments that do not contribute to other readers.

The page on 50mm lenses is here.

Hope it is useful to some of you.

By the way, the term “fast” in this context refers to wide aperture lenses – and I have restricted it to lenses f/2.0 or wider aperture.