In memoriam: Olympus brings down the curtain on the legacy Four Thirds system
It probably shouldn't be a surprise but it's still a little sad to see it in print: the latest catalogue from four-thirds.org states that production of Olympus's Zuiko Digital line of Four Thirds lenses has been discontinued.
It's been six and a half years since the launch of the last Four Thirds mount camera, so it's understandable that Olympus has decided to move on, but we thought we'd look back at Four Thirds: what it meant and where it led.
|The first Four Thirds camera: the Olympus E-1. Built around a 5MP Kodak CCD, the E-1 arrived around two years after Olympus first announced a collaboration with Kodak.|
Where it all started
In 1999, Olympus engineer Katsuhiro Takada selected the 4/3"-type sensor as being the optimal size to allow smaller cameras capable of high quality images. Olympus developed the lens mount and communication protocols and was joined by other makers including Kodak, Fujifilm and Panasonic. The Four Thirds system website was launched fourteen years ago tomorrow.
Four Thirds was the first ILC system specifically designed for digital. This not only meant a wholly new lens system, providing the focal lengths that make sense for the sensor size (at a time when most camera companies were making do with selling film lenses mounted on smaller sensors), but also adopting a policy of making telecentric designs, which project light straight onto the sensor, rather than at increasingly challenging angles, towards the edge of the sensor.
|Panasonic's first Four Thirds camera: the still beautiful DMC-L1.|
Unfortunately, the telecentric lens designs often ended up being relatively large, meaning that the system didn't end up being significantly smaller than APS-C cameras. Unfortunately, the decision to use 4/3"-type sensors also meant that the viewfinders in most of the models were even smaller than those that still plague most low-end APS-C DSLRs.
|My personal favorite. The Olympus E-620 was the Four Thirds camera that, to my mind, offered the best balance of size and capability.|
While the Four Thirds system is no longer with us, it's worth giving credit for the innovations it played host to. For a start, it was the first interchangeable lens system to offer live view. It wasn't the slickest of implementations: seemingly unsure whether live view was supposed to offer an immediate digital preview (with phase detection still available) or provide the precision of contrast detect AF and live view magnification, the E-330 offered both. And was duly given short shrift by DPReview founder Phil Askey in his review.
|It may be out of production, but the Olympus US website says the 90-250mm F2.8 is still in stock. It'll cost you $5999.99|
The system evolves
However, the most significant development to come out of Four Thirds, though, was its successor, Micro Four Thirds, the world's first mirrorless interchangeable lens camera system (indeed the system for which the term was coined). Micro Four Thirds persisted with the Four Thirds type sensor but by abandoning the mirror box (and the telecentric design philosophy) was able to fully deliver on the size benefits that had originally been promised.
Without a mirror to move out of the way, live view came into its own and a whole new class of camera was born.
Credit should be given to Olympus for working to provide cameras (specifically the E-M1s) that were designed to continue to give good performance for those users who'd bought the highest-end Four Thirds lenses.
Long live Four Thirds
The history of photography is full of defunct systems and obsolete mounts. Even though the curtain has come down on Four Thirds, you can still buy a camera that will make good use of its lenses. The king is dead...
Nov 18, 2017
Nov 7, 2017
Oct 25, 2017
Oct 25, 2017
A Bay Area startup offering a pay-by-the-photo camera service cleverly addresses the pain points photographers experience when they pick up their first DSLR. But can it survive the smartphone?
It's been a big year for software innovations, dual cameras and huge displays. Take a look at our picks for the top smartphone cameras and why we think they stand out.
We're counting down our top 10 most popular sample galleries of 2017. At the #7 spot is the ready-for-any-weather Olympus Tough TG-5.
By combining his skills as a time-lapse filmmaker and an engineer, Julian Tryba created this out-of-this-world creative 'layer-lapse' of New York City that alternates between night and day in time with the music.
Canon Japan's new lineup of novelty camera-themed gifts was just revealed online, including a lens mug and lens thermos, two retro camera-themed USB drives, and a picnic mat.
The Profoto A1 most certainly isn’t for everyone [...] But for those who are used to using the Profoto systems, and want something that pairs seamlessly with the strobes you already have, there is no better companion.
Fujifilm has asked a US district court to clear it of any wrongdoing, after allegedly being threatened with trademark litigation by Polaroid.
While a couple of our reviewers are out testing the Sony a7R III in Arizona, back in Seattle we slapped the camera in front of our studio scene to get a close look at its image quality. See how it stacks up against the competition.
We're counting down our top 10 most popular sample galleries of 2017, and the #8 ranking belongs to the Nikon D7500.
B+W has announced a new aluminum filter holder that offers three slots so users can use multiple filters at the same time. The holder goes with the 2mm thick 100mm square filters it launched earlier this year.
8K video is coming a lot faster than you think, and Blackmagic is ready for it. Meet the DeckLink 8K Pro, a new high performance PCI-E capture and playback card built to handle 'real time high resolution 8K workflows.'
"Glass is everywhere in photography. From Eugène Atget’s reflective vitrines to Lee Friedlander’s sly self-portraiture, photographers have long been in thrall to the visual complications glass can inject into a composition."
Former Apple Aperture lead developer Nik Bhatt has designed an iOS app called RAW Power that lets you edit raw photos from your professional camera using your phone and tablet.... color us intrigued.
Advertising photographer Blair Bunting got his hands on the new Microsoft Surface Book 2, and it blew him away. Bye bye MacBook Pro...
The OnePlus 5T retains many of the 5's features and specs, but comes with an edge-to-edge display and a dual-camera that is optimized for low light.
Sony's recently announced IMX461 backside illuminated medium format sensor will bring 100MP resolution and almost 2x the speed to the next-gen Fuji GFX and Hasselblad X1D.
With the ‘Rent a Hasselblad’ camera equipment renting program, the camera makers is aiming to give enthusiast and professional photographers easier access to its medium-format photography products.
They say seeing is believing, and that's exactly what happened when one DPR staffer took the Google Pixel 2 out for an afternoon shooting under challenging conditions.
We're counting down our top 10 most popular sample galleries of 2017. At the #9 spot we have the Fujifilm GFX 50S, a medium-format camera that took CP+ 2017 by storm.
Instagram is testing a new feature that lets you follow hashtags in addition to people, making it possible to keep track of your favorite #landscapes or #portraits without leaving your home feed.
Despite the gigantic volume of second hand film bodies in existence, it seems there is still a demand for new 35mm SLRs with a retro feel. The latest is a remake of the Ihagee Elbaflex from the 1960s, but with a Nikon F mount.
The Polaroid Insta-Share Moto Mod straps an instant printer directly to your Moto Z smartphone, so you can print your photos as soon as you've captured them.
The Mitakon Speedmaster 135mm F1.4 lens is being relaunched in 7 different mounts, including: Sony A, Sony E, Canon EF, Nikon F, Fujifilm G, Pentax K, and Leica L. Got an extra three grand lying around?
In January, Kodak announced it would bring back the beloved slide film Ektachrome. The timeline has been pushed back a bit, but Kodak says you can expect to purchase Ektachrome again in 2018.
Instagram popularity is threatening some of the most beautiful landscapes in the US, as hordes of 'nature lovers' trample over the same spots over and over again in search of the same exact shot.
You’d have to be pretty brave to immerse your $50K RED cinema camera underwater. But if you've got the guts, Gates just released a new housing you can be pretty sure won't wreck your unbelievably expensive toy.
Adobe has released a 'Lightroom Downloader' app for Windows 10 and macOS High Sierra that allows you to download all of your images from the Adobe Cloud, all at once.
After releasing a popular 4K action cam and an affordable mirrorless M43 camera, Chinese camera maker YI is diving into yet another market: 360° VR. Meet the YI 360 VR: a powerful little two-lens camera that can shoot and stream in 4K.
The DJI Spark has received a lot of attention thanks to its diminutive size, but how does it stack up? In our review, we take a look at what it's like to fly this pint-sized drone, as well as what's in it for photographers.
Between now and the end of the year we'll be counting down our top 10 most popular sample galleries of 2017. Coming in at #10 is a fast wide prime and part of the highly-acclaimed Sigma Art series.