A 50 megapixel full frame mirror-less interchangeable lens digital camera – perhaps the future for Olympus?

Written by Gary on February 1st, 2010

With the rapid improvements in technology and the incredible success of the mirror-less Micro Four Thirds camera system, I wonder if Olympus will push the boundaries further and produce a 50 megapixel full frame version of the Micro Four Thirds that would still be backwardly compatible with Four Thirds lenses and Leica M rangefinder lenses, yet the body would be not much bigger?

Samsung have produced an APC-S sensor based mirror-less camera but in my opinion, they have missed an important point in their choice of lens mount throat diameter and lens flange distance which substantially limits its versatility, not to mention, the mount itself is incompatible for AF with all current lens systems – a big mistake!

Leica have their rangefinder-based full frame mirror less M9 but it is super expensive and does not support live view for accurate manual focus, not to mention the lack of AF or video.

Olympus has a superb range of Four Thirds lenses which provide the greatest telephoto reach of all current dSLRs but their Four Thirds cameras will be limited to 12-14mp, and they could increase their appeal by adding a hi res full frame compatible system – but there is no point doing so with antiquated optical dSLR and phase detect AF technology – that is not the way of the future!

The future of photo journalism is increasingly HD video oriented, particularly if Apple’s iPad changes the way we read newspapers, and current Nikon/Canon full frame dSLR systems are just not designed for AF video and would take a major revamp of their lens mount design and their lenses to achieve continuous, silent AF with stepless diaphragms – I just can’t see either Canon or Nikon going down that path in a the next 2 years – they are far too conservative for that – instead they will just make a 50mp full frame of similar design as their current system.

Now, here is where I wonder Olympus can create a 3rd range of lenses but this range specifically designed for full frame CD AF digital now that sensor prices are falling and full frame sensors are becoming cheap enough for the enthusiast amateur market.

So here is my proposal for a new Olympus full frame system:

  • 50 megapixel full frame sensor
    • this would also give the option of a 12mpixel image when used with the 2x crop Four Thirds lenses
    • it would be nice if it was like the Leica one which is optimised for improving image quality in the periphery
  • sensor-lens flange distance similar to that of Micro Four Thirds
    • ideally it would be great if it could be less than M43 so that M43 lenses could be used, but I very much doubt this would be possible
    • even so, if it was the same as M43, at least you could use almost any lens ever made including Leica rangefinder lenses, and use the tilt shift lens adapters, etc as with M43 cameras
    • would allow smaller wide angle lenses instead of the massive ZD 7-14mm
  • lens mount pins and full frame lenses designed for optimal contrast detect AF
    • for any manufacturer to seriously make full frame lenses with CD AF as fast as if not faster than current phase detect dSLR lenses, they will need to create a new lens mount system.
    • Given that Olympus is yet to enter the full frame digital market place, and they have already had experience with developing CD AF lenses and will hopefully learn from their partnership with Panasonic, they will be in a perfect position to create a new digitally optimised full frame lens system with little regard for backward compatibility – of course, they will need to modify their current Four Thirds lens mount to be compatible as well but I would think this is likely to occur this year anyway – and it will be backwardly compatible with older Four Thirds cameras and lenses
  • option of a silent electronic shutter which can take at least 10fps
    • it would seem current technology in electronic shutters is not quite there yet – hence the use of mechanical shutters still in M43 cameras, but I would expect this will soon change as technology evolves.
  • HD video optimised full frame lenses
    • imagine having silent, continuous AF with stepless diaphragm as with Panasonic’s unique 14-140mm HD lens, but on a full frame camera body with a 135mm f/2.0 lens – now that would be video heaven for those wanting super shallow depth of field and smooth bokeh!
    • the cameras would have at least 25mbps HD video at 1080p60, 1080p24, 720p60
  • option to bin pixels and down-resolution to 12mp and 25mp full frame images
    • binning pixels is a way astrophotographers improve sensor sensitivity and high ISO performance
    • with 50mp to play with, it should be possible for the camera to bin pixels to produce either 12mp or 25mp images with much improved high ISO performance
    • furthermore as I/O technology and data transfer rates improve, it may be possible to produce 12mp full frame or 2x crop RAW videos at 24fps – now that would give the RED cameras a run for their money!
  • it could have all the features of an Olympus E-30, E-P2 and the above, plus:
    • live video output for potential wireless remote viewing and control via an Apple iPad or iPhone
    • GPS location embedded into images and videos with the new power-efficient GPS chip

Why wouldn’t they do this?

  • who really needs more than 14 megapixels??
    • 14 megapixels is sufficient for prints up to 20″ x 30″ , very few of us really need more than that
    • loading your computer and storage disks up unnecessarily with thousands of 50mp images which you are unlikely to display at 50mp is problematic and costly
  • most of the above could be achieved NOW or in the near future with smaller Micro Four Thirds system
    • you wont get 50mp images but who needs them – you could do panoramic stitches if you had to
    • you won’t get quite as shallow a DOF as with a full frame system, but the shallow DOF of a 50mm or 100mm f/2.0 lens is sufficient for the vast majority of purposes including HD video
    • you wont get as low a noise at high ISO as with similar technology full frame cameras, but then technology is improving all the time, and not many people really need ISO > 3200 anyway
    • the current 12mp Micro Four Thirds sensor would be perfect resolution for a 12mp RAW 24fps video once new technologies allow this to be processed, and stored in-camera
  • perhaps the technical limitations of lens size means fast CD AF is just not feasible on full frame lenses
    • the larger and heavier optical elements of full frame lenses may mean the AF motors are not able to iterate fast enough for CD AF systems to work fast enough
  • edge-to-edge image quality at 50mp may be impossible to achieve at reasonable price points
    • optical aberrations get exponentially worse the further from the centre of the image – this is a physical limitation, but with short lens flange distances, this is further exacerbated by the acute angles of light rays to the peripheral photosites on a full frame sensor
    • Leica has partly addressed this with the sensor in the M9 with its special angled photosite lenses, but that is only a 17mp sensor and it struggles to maintain edge-edge image quality
    • Olympus has always been proud of its optical image quality and may not want to sacrifice its reputation – I suspect that is why we don’t see any Four Thirds Olympus lenses with apertures faster than f/2.0!

Comments are closed.