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Tuesday, 12 August 2008


My hope is that, by saying what I'd like the format to offer (similar to your own desires) is that enough people saying the same thing finally get through. It does seem as if there is an impenetrable force field between camera designers and their purchasers (sometimes known as "marketing").
In my gloomy moments, this announcement signals the introduction of another bunch of rubbish cameras that offer nothing that photographers want. In my optimistic moments, it suggests the possibility of some really great small format cameras.

This is a good reminder.

Most of the comments I've heard about the new system are negative, citing that whatever camera is produced from this system will have a terrible EVF, that the AF will be slow and that it won't have the image quality of the 5D. These comments are just confusing to me.

I'm really looking forward to the possiblities this format allows which are far better than anything on the market so far. People that are comparing this to their digital SLRs will be dissapointed, but I'm hoping the implementation from Olympus will make this far better than any compact we've experienced yet. There is a place for a camera like this. I've wanted one for years and reading this blog reminds me I'm not alone.

As I recall, it was well over a year after the four-thirds system was announced that the E-1 arrived on the scene. So it's likely we'll have plenty of time to speculate. Unless the sun explodes.


Are you really suggesting that the vast universe of internet commenters stop speculating and becoming wildly over-excited about vaporware and other things they don't know [anything][much] about?

'cuz if so, then I think you should also ask for world peace, a winning lottery ticket and a teleportation device...

BTW, I don't really get why people hate EVFs so much. They aren't suitable for action and they can be problematic in dark conditions, but in terms of framing and composition, I consider them much better than the rear LCD on most digicams that must be held at arm's length. I often get the feeling that people are confusing EVFs with other camera characteristics. For example, people complain that EVFs are not fine-grained enough to judge focus. True, but how many cameras are there with EVFs that require you to manually focus? With an autofocus camera, this isn't a problem. The trick is to get the autofocus to an acceptable level in terms of speed and accuracy, but this isn't necessarily linked to the use of an EVF. If you DO want to manually focus, I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be possible to create a camera with a "digital rangefinder" (such as in many Nikon DSLRs), a display with visual feedback as to whether the lens is accurately focused.

Finally, I would note that I used to have a Fuji S7000 and I never had much to complain about with its EVF, even though that was over four years ago. I am sure that manufacturers will continue to improve the quality of EVFs as technology marches on.

Best regards,

Re abbreviations. Does this mean MFT doesn't mean "mighty fine tobacco" anymore?

I thought it meant Magnetic Field Tomography....

Mike J.

MAIKUROFOSAZU is my favorite shorthand for micro four thirds, only because it is not very short. Found in a Japanese-to-English Google translation here: http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fdc.watch.impress.co.jp%2Fcda%2Fdslr%2F2008%2F08%2F11%2F9015.html

Actually, I do know the answer to j, I'm just not saying. I'll give you a hint, though -- don't hold out for Pico Four-Thirds.

A few months ago I took part in a market research focus group for new dSLR cameras from an unnamed manufacturer. In addition to being shown some traditional designs, the main focus was some smaller "research" models which covered every permutation of model format that has been speculated at and more (rangefinder, EVF, interchangeable lens, traditional styling, futuristic styling etc etc).

The manufacturer running the research was unnamed, but I do live less than 4 miles from the UK headquarters of one of the two named companies. (Equally, it could have been a competitor carrying out the research in the competitor's back yard).

If it was one of the MFT pair, then the camera models may be a little closer, or at least some concept models that could be shown at Photokina.

I'm surprised nobody has complained about the "DoF control" that these cameras will lack, thanks to a 4/3 sensor. They're probably too busy complaining about EVFs and will get around to it eventually.

Personally, if one of these can hit the market with a 50mm-equiv. f/2 for under $400 (assuming focusing is relatively quick), then I will be most interested.

Mike, bearing in mind the Sun is never going to explode:


there should be enough time for Olympus/Panasonic to cook up a few of these cameras before the end of Earth as we know it.

And who knows, maybe even Pentax will have released a DA* 85mm f/1.4 by then too...

You could say I'm paranoid, worrying that mFT could be the death knell of the "proper" FT DSLR.

But just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you... :-)

Right with you on EVFs Adam, except that I'd say they're just fine for action. What about them isn't? Mine (Canon S2 IS) has a suitable refresh rate for lots of sports photography - I've used it for tennis, baseball, horse racing, football, etc, and it's not the EVF that's lacking.

And actually, in very low light conditions, an EVF can be really good, since it can artificially brighten the scene so you can actually see what your framing and composition are.

A few other nice things about EVFs:
1) Histogram overlays, ISO settings, and anything else you want can be overlayed in the image, as well as their placement and options changed.

2) Fast manual focus may not work well, but the ability to zoom and fine tune focus works very well.

3) Silent operation if very nice - especially in some settings.

4) Playback in the viewfinder so you can quickly chimp a shot without pulling your eye from the finder.

So for everything you give up with an EVF , I think you definitely get some things back. (And for the record, I don't think you give up much. I think the view through a good finder is crisper, more detailed, and prettier than an EVF, but those aren't important plusses for me.)

Dear Mike,

Amen. I've been off on vacation, and this announcement slipped past me until I read your column yesterday, so I went online to read up on it.

I was amazed at the number of people on various websites trying to knit pick technical details based on no information whatsoever. Especially the substantial number of people who are criticizing it for the sensor size, claiming it couldn't possibly produce good results. Oh really?! They have some inside knowledge of the sensor and drive electronics building quality that I don't?

Or maybe they think the Nikon D300/200 cameras also have crap quality -- they have sensors that are only 25% larger (linear measurement, which is what image quality scales with, not area).

It's really getting kind of silly with the size queens. Why don't they just wait and see what the damn pictures look like?! That's what I'm going to do.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ please excuse any word salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital restorations http://photo-repair.com

"One thing's for sure: if you leave it to evolve by consensus, the eventual accepted designation will be the ugliest of the available alternatives."

I read this to mean 4/3*ist will be the resultant name.


I like the sentence, "And Ogawa, who is hot." Really makes you wonder what it was in Japanese!

Mike J.

Good points. I happen to like to use the viewing screen, so no problem there. But autofocus speed is critical, as is also the possible size advantages of the new standard. But until cameras are announced and tested, we know really little.

I sort of like Matthew Allen's suggestion for the short form for Micro Four Thirds, with a slight variation: m4/3. Lower case 'm' for micro, 4/3 for, well, 'cause that's the way I would read it in any context.
I still wish we could just eliminate aspect ratios altogether and go with square format. Crop as you will. Come to think of it, why has square never really caught on? Other than the Big H, did anyone really have an impact with square?
Sorry, drifted a bit off topic there...

Dear Neil,

Maybe slightly off-topic, but a good question nonetheless.

Basically, it's a matter of real estate. Only a small minority of photographers "see" square, so a square sensor wastes 20-35% of the area, depending upon the aspect ratio one prefers. Which means more expensive cameras for the same functional image quality, and all you're getting out of it is not having to rotate the camera 90 degrees.

In addition, the norm for rectangular format camera design is horizontal-wide (the rare and notable exception being 645 film), so a square format camera has to become taller to accommodate the extra height of the sensor. This is very noticeable; it makes the camera look a lot bigger.

All in all, there is only a little to be gained and a great deal to be lost by having a square sensor, for the overwhelming majority of photographers.

At some point sensors will become cheap enough that they will not be an important part of the cost/performance equation, and then you might see more such entities appearing as niche products.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ please excuse any word salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital restorations http://photo-repair.com

"Other than the Big H, did anyone really have an impact with square?"

Umm, Rollei?

For Ctein:
Pretty much all "1/2 Frame" formats frequently result in camera configurations with the default orientation being vertical. This includes 35mm SF (aka "Half Frame", the Canon Dial 35's being the only exception I know), 16 shot 127 (like my Foth Derby), some 16 shot 120/620 cameras (though modern 645 cameras tend to feed the film vertically like the Dial 35's).

For Neal: Square fomats evolved around camera designs using waist level VF's that make rotating the camera very impractical and not around artistic desires for square images. This includes the Hasselblad in addition to all TLR's and many roll film box cameras (true, a few box cameras had rotating VF's or dual VF's to allow a rectangular format; still it was cheaper to build a square format).

About m4/3: OK, so now you know my second favorite abrievation. In print I would choose a mu character for micro instead of the lower case m. In text for the Web, I'd go with the lower case m to avoid font encoding issues.

EVF's: I like them (I use a CoolPix 8400 regularily). Reviewers should keep in mine that rear LCD panels are, technically, EVF's also. What most people think of when one says "EVF" should be called an "EEVF" for Eyelevel Electronic View Finder. I much prefer a good EVF (that is EEVF) over inaccurate, squinty optical eyelevel finders.

Personally, the biggest surprise for me in the m4/3 announcement is that this wasn't announced years ago. I may well provide the market distinction that keeps their advanced camera market alive. Let Canon and Nikon have the high ground with their big guns. m4/3 can quite possibly have a field day against the high end P&S market, offering more flexibility, and compact DSLR market, offering smaller sizes than 35mm based designs.

4.3 as in "4dot3"

Mike, seems you touched on the idea that too many camera makers were tied to "old think" in one of your Sunday Morning Photographer pieces on Luminous-landscape. I hope this works out to be "new think" where advantages of digital can be exploited to real advantage. Even for us "Dektol in the viens" old think photographers.

Jack: MFT = "Means Fine Tobacco", not mighty ... as in "Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco" -- LSMFT.

I haven't read the announcement yet, only theser online comments. Guess I'm a tru netizan... or is that term so '90s?

Have you read any of the forums about m4.3? Why aren't they out taking photographs instead of yammering about the perceived faults?

BTW, I have a Fuji S7000, and I like it. So there.

I think that the absence of the mirror box means that you have a very flexible platform to build a range of cameras. Expect convergence to be a buzz word for the format. I certainly expect that one of the models would have a form of HD video capture. Panasonic have been a driving force in the miniaturisation of video cameras and currently are pushing a line of inexpensive small cameras based around the SD card.

This new standard would seem to benefit Panasonic more than Olympus as really the mirror box and lenses were all Olympus were contributing to the current arrangement. As a relatively small player Olympus does not have the resources to do lots of R&D where as large electronics companies such as Panasonic do. With the input of large electronic companies such as Sony, Samsung and Panasonic we may at last see some truly innovative designs once serious photographers get over the view that only SLRs equal serious cameras.

I think its quite exciting really and I hope the project comes to fruition.

Off-topic tip: for Japanese, Google Translate is the worst of the public offerings (unless you're looking for entertainment value of course). Excite is probably the best one (just paste the url into the text box): http://www.excite.co.jp/world/english/web/

"M42" has a rather specific meaning, being the 42mm metric screw thread, which is what M42 uses. M43 would confuse things; worse, it would imply that M43 is somehow connected to M42 and that it is an old-style screw-thread mount, not a bayonnet.

I hope the EVF is at the edge of the camera, like on the Leica rangefinders, so one doesn't have to smash one's nose against the back of the camera to see through it. This nose-smashing is one of my least favorite things about SLRs.

Lots of square format cameras didn't involve waist level finders, and lots of waist level finder equipped cameras aren't square, although if you have an abundance of film or a waist level finder , square makes a lot of sense.

Zillions of Kodak Instamatics got sold and they are square, The SX-70 was almost square, and if you collect snapshots and photo albums from the 20s through the 70s you will see that there is a pretty high number of square images.

Patrick: Your comment made me laugh out loud! The only other name I can think of that would be similarly bad is: 4/3-1Ds Mark III.

PacNW: As a lefty, I heartily disagree. At least an SLR gets me slightly closer to where I want to be...


"PacNW: As a lefty, I heartily disagree. At least an SLR gets me slightly closer to where I want to be..."

I didn't say which side. Perhaps it can be modular so lefties can plug it in on the other side.

The center position of SLRs is terrible no matter which eye you use, your nose is smashed right into the camera back. Having it at the wrong edge cannot be worse, and for the 90% (?) of us who are right-eyed, the left edge position is a huge advantage.


When I started writing my first comment, I was originally going to say that I agreed with you. But then I noticed that you wrote "like on the Leica rangefinders". I may be mistaken (and it would be cool if I am), but I thought all Leicas were built with the viewfinder on the left side?

At any rate, one way to solve the SLR problem is by having the viewfinder stick out past the back of the camera. I use a magnifying eyepiece on one of my Pentax dSLRs that works very well for this. (The magnifying eyepiece I bought for my Nikon D300 is a useless piece of ___ however.) Maybe we will eventually get viewfinders similar in form to those on some of the medium format cameras (See http://luminous-landscape.com/images22/p25.jpg). I won't hold my breath, however.



Not that this solves the nose-mashing problem, but it appears that Leica did produce a shutter-release adapter for left-handed shooters for their screw mount cameras. See here: http://www.leicatime.com/LeftHandreleasefrontbottom.jpg

Best regards,

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