Friday, 19 September 2014

Six years of Micro Four Thirds

On September 12th, 2008, the Panasonic Lumix G1 was announced, the very first Micro Four Thirds camera. It was a true revolution in photography: A compact system camera with very photography oriented ergonomy and functions: A good EVF, tiltable LCD, a rugged body with an easy to grip surface. The autofocus was surprisingly fast, even if AF-C was not very useful. It had one strange omission, there was no video mode.


Even though it was paired with what is widely seen as a fantastic kit zoom lens, the camera was pretty much ignored.

It was not until Olympus launched the E-P1, with a retro styled, metal clad body, that the interest in M4/3 took off. Even if the E-P1 was inferior to the Lumix G1 in terms of usability and functions, in my opinion, and it was paired with an inferior lens.

Here are some highlights from the last six years:



2009


The Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 lens (my review) was launched, and became an instant classic. Even if the price was seen as a bit steep, the lens is loved for the compact size, very good sharpness even wide open, and pleasant bokeh. The downside of the lens is the slower than usual focus speed, even if it is hardly a real life problem anymore with newer cameras.

Olympus launched the PEN E-P1, which became the first really popular M4/3 camera:


Panasonic launched the Lumix GH1, the first system camera capable of continuous autofocus during video recording. It was the best consumer system camera for video for a long time, until its predecessor was released.

2009 also saw the release of the Lumix G 7-14mm f/4 ultra wide angle zoom lens, the first M4/3 lens with a true pro ambition.

2010


The "firmware hack" appeared for the Lumix GH1. This gave you an option of customizing the bitrate and other video options, allowing to create higher quality video streams. This led to an increased interest for the GH1, among independent filmmakers, and enthusiasts alike.

The Noktor 50mm f/0.95 was released, the very first ultra fast lens for M4/3. This specific lens was not so successful, but it was followed by a range of ultra fast lenses from Cosina Voigtländer.

In 2010, many companies tried to sell more television sets by including the 3D feature. To get more 3D contents, 3D photo products were also released. Panasonic made a 3D lens for some select cameras, but it is not very useful, in my opinion. See my review here.


At this time, Panasonic tried to sell Micro Four Thirds to the masses, through the Lumix G10, essentially a stripped down G2. It lost the articulated LCD screen, and had a much simpler EVF.

It is fair to say that it was very unsuccessful: They were not able to sell cheap cameras. And their lesson appears clear today: Leave the low end of the market to somebody else. Panasonic have later focused on the premium market, with cameras like the Lumix GX7 and the Lumix GM1.

2011


Samyang launched the 7.5mm f/3.5 fisheye lens (my review). It was one of the first third party lenses designed especially for M4/3, and more important, it is a very good lens available at a reasonable cost. It is highly recommended for anyone who would like to try wide angle photography.

Olympus released the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 (my review), which was the first affordable fast portrait lens, at least in the European market.


From Panasonic, we got the Lumix/Leica 25mm f/1.4 (my review). While pricey, it was a very good, classic fast normal lens, in a quite compact form factor.

At this time, Panasonic was into miniaturization, and created the Lumix GF3. When combined with the Lumix G 14mm f/2.5 lens (my review), it was the smallest interchangable lens system camera to date.


The camera was seen as being too dumbed down, and was not very popular. GF3+14mm kits were often split, and the 14mm pancake lens was sold cheap on Ebay. This made people perceive it as poor, which I think is far from the truth. In my opinion, the Lumix G 14mm f/2.5 is very good for its size and cost.

2011 was also the year of one of the biggest financial scandals in the history of Japan, and it affected none other than Olympus. The scandal comprised concealing losses originating from the years of financial hardship in the 1980's. Read about it in the ousted CEO's own book..

2012


The Olympus OM-D E-M5 was made. With a combination of a nostalgic, retro design, compact size, and very innovative functions, it was an instant success, and brought a lot of people into the Micro Four Thirds system.


The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is still sold at a premium price point today, even if it is getting old by digital camera standards.

Panasonic, wanting to compete with pro DSLRs, launched the Lumix X 12-35mm f/2.8 (my review) fast standard zoom lens for use with the Lumix GH3 camera. The lens is very good, and significantly smaller and lighter than similar lenses for DSLR systems.


Olympus made the 75mm f/1.8 tele lens, which is often seen as one of the best lenses for the system:


2012 was also the year we got the first third party autofocus lenses, the Sigma 19mm f/2.8 and the Sigma 30mm f/2.8. My favourite of the two is the Sigma 30mm (my review), which is reasonably priced, and offers a very good image quality with a useful focal length.

Early in 2012, we got a new first: The first third party Micro Four Thirds camera to be announced, the Kodak Pixpro S-1. The actual product did not materialize until two years later, though. Made for the Chinese market, it is decent, but not a very good camera.

2013


In 2013, we saw the release of the Olympus OM-D E-M1, the first truly professional Micro Four Thirds camera. It was the first camera which could autofocus legacy Four Thirds lenses at a good speed, even in AF-C mode, due to the inclusion of PDAF photosites on the sensor.


We also got the Lumix GX7, the long awaited "rangefinder style" Micro Four Thirds camera, with an eye level viewfinder in the top left corner:


Panasonic made the Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 (my review), a very compact and good zoom lens. I find it very useful.

2014


The Lumix GH4 (my review) was released, the first 4k capable consumer system camera.

Also, JVC announced the GY-LSX2, a professional camcorder style video camera, with a Super 35mm sensor and a Micro Four Thirds mount. Just like the GH4, it can also do 4k video, but it is special in that it is the first Micro Four Thirds camera to feature a larger than Four Thirds sensor. Here is a sensor size comparison:


The actual product is not yet available, though.

Olympus has finally announced their pro tele zoom officially, the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8:


It will be an expensive lens at around US$1500, but has pro features like weather proofing, internal zoom, and a dedicated 1.4 tele converter optionally available, the MC-14.

The Lumix GM5 is a very compact camera with an eye level viewfinder included:


It will be the perfect travel camera for style conscious photographers. The Lumix GF3 was also a small camera, but failed because it did not have the level of external controls that the users expect today. The Lumix GM5 fixes this by retaining a lot of physical controls, despite the small size. It has a PASM mode wheel, and a focus selector, which is very useful.

The future


There is now a very impressive Micro Four Thirds lens lineup.

What news are you expecting for the coming years?

4 comments:

  1. Very interesting story.Thank you.Please more ;-)

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  2. I'd love to see a body with the video capabilities of the GH4 and the in-body stabilisation of the EM1.

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  3. Yes, that is true. More use of in-body image stabilization (IBIS) would be nice.

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  4. They still need to progress on AF capabilities

    ReplyDelete