So who was 4/3 originally aimed at?

Started Nov 16, 2013 | Discussions
Bobby J Veteran Member • Posts: 4,813
Re: Big GA..there is absolutely NO doubt who it was aimed at....
1

Now, since you are a practicing professional....answer this... Why did it fail?

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BJM

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bobn2
bobn2 Forum Pro • Posts: 60,931
Re: So who was 4/3 originally aimed at? - Original press release
3

Big Ga wrote:

Wu Jiaqiu wrote:

Roger Engelken wrote:

the FFT-CCD is distinguished by a larger pixel area, with bigger photodiodes and transfer channels. This means more electrons can be captured. A high signal/noise ratio can therefore be achieved together with a wider dynamic range. Final images benefit from more exposure latitude, greater detail and less noise.

this gets mentioned in equivalence debates, the amount of light falling onto the sensor, and a bigger sensor with bigger pixels captures more photons.

Not necessarily. A 4/3 camera with a lens two stops faster would capture the same number of photons as a FF camera with the slower lens.

But that of course does raise an interesting question ......

That is exactly the case. The FT system was well founded in the understanding that it is not sensor size but the light that the sensor can gather which is the metric (in a sense, equivalence was central to the whole concept), and the smaller sensor gave an intrinsic advantage in manufacturing costs and also potentially in system size and weight. But Olympus made a few crucial errors in what was mostly a very well designed system.

i) They made the sensor too small. The format independent standard for a 'fast lens' has been f/1.4 FF equivalent. So 645 went to f/2 or so, 6x7 to f/2.8 (or, exceptionally f/2.4) and so on. With quarter frame sensor that would need an f/0.7 lens which is on the edge of feasibility. One stop smaller from 35mm (full half frame) would have made that f/1.0 which becomes feasible. The f/2.0 zooms would also have been on a par with 35mm f/2.8 zooms.

ii) They made the register too large. Telecentricity was a good idea, but designing the system so that it was an absolute requirement was short sited, and restricted later developments. One of the successes of the Canon EF mount was the short register in relation to frame size.

iii) Related to (ii) they really failed to give options which took advantage of the size and weight advantage. The first several FT DSLRs were as large or larger than the competition, right up until the D400. The same with the lenses. The question really was not so much whether photographers wanted bigger or larger gear, if you have a USP, you might as well use it and secure the part of the market that wants that.

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Bob

OP Big Ga Forum Pro • Posts: 18,623
Re: Big GA..there is absolutely NO doubt who it was aimed at....
2

Bobby J wrote:

Now, since you are a practicing professional....answer this... Why did it fail?

Hmmm. I don't know if that's a hard or an easy question to answer.

This is just my opinion of course, but .....

In its original 'aimed at the pro' incarnation, the problem they faced was they needed advantages over the established big two, to make people switch or at least buy into the system. They probably had this in terms of a nice (but small) set of lenses, with good build quality and weathersealing, and the promise of telecentricity and a 'designed for digital' ethos that did seem to make sense at the time. And the E1 body was liked by many people (and I actually recall Reichmann giving it a fairly positive review in an episode of the Luminous Landscape video journal - he was dubious of the system concept as it was though, and he's been proved right!).

The problem was there wasn't really anything else that was particularly compelling, and there were some things that were actually sub-par. Particularly, perhaps two of the most important things for pro use, namely sensor performance and AF, were noticeably behind the competition. There was very little compelling reason for pros shooting Canon or Nikon to switch.

There were also holes in the lens lineup.

Now the sad thing is that probably all of the above MIGHT have been able to have been fixed, given time and resources/money. The lens lineup did get fleshed out, but there were (and are) still many key lenses missing that a pro would want. We don't have a long macro. No tilt shift lenses, no fast portrait or wide primes etc.

Of the lenses that were made, many seemed to be designed with the blinkered goal of simply being 'the best' instead of being made to be more useful to the working pro. I've never made any secret of the fact that I thought the 14-35 and 35-100 should have been designed to be operated at f1.4, even if that would mean the f1.4 performance was slightly soft. The 14-35 should NOT have been restricted to 14mm - the competition were all making 12mm equivalent focal lengths, and to a working pro, the difference between being able to zoom a 24-70 type lens out to 24mm and not 28mm is often the difference in having to carry an additional wide lens or not. I'm absolutely delighted that the new 12-40 is what it is and not just a small 14-35/2.8, its going to be FAR more useful in real life.

Af - well that's a tough one. Its possible the smaller AF sensor might always have been a problem, but I have this nagging feeling from stuff I've read, that Oly simply weren't prepared to pay the licence to use the (IIRC) Honeywell patent to allow contemporary AF performance. Whether this was tied up to the accounting scandal and a lack of cash - I have no idea.

Sensors - well, just look where we are today. They have forged an agreement with a sensor manufacturer that's class leading, and all of a sudden, there isn't such a huge gulf in performance any more. What's really sad here is that Panasonic themselves are now nipping at Sony's heels and their latest sensors aren't too shabby at all (and are giving better results that the once class leading Canon). Its just such a pity that this didn't happen half a decade or more ago. (and bear in mind that Oly have used sony sensors in smaller cameras in the past, and Sony started making sensors for cameras like the D3/D300 something like 6 years ago - Nikon saw the writing on the wall when they were getting thumped by Canons sensor tech, and they went and did something about it)

But anyway, the issues in certain areas and thus the lack of compelling reasons for high end users to switch meant that the assault on the pro market could only last for a certain time until the accountants decided it wasn't going to work and another direction or niche market was the only way to go. That seems to be what happened, and investment in the high end seemed to stop.

Who knows if it could have been different. If a few high end pros would have taken the plunge and ran with the system, got some interest, made (a lot) more sales, got more investment ploughed in, sorted the inadequacies out ... who knows where we'd be today. Maybe there would be a 4/3 system that would finally be competitive with the big boys. Its such a shame we have the OMD sensor technology now, but it wasn't put into a conventional body. That would at least have sorted one major thing out.

rovingtim Veteran Member • Posts: 8,644
Re: So who was 4/3 originally aimed at? - Original press release

bobn2 wrote:

iii) Related to (ii) they really failed to give options which took advantage of the size and weight advantage. The first several FT DSLRs were as large or larger than the competition, right up until the D400.

This may not have been so much of a problem if the bodies were competitive, but they were not.

The same with the lenses.

It didn't help that Olympus was misrepresenting the lenses -- ie. a 150mm f2 = 300mm f2 -- sparking the 'equivalency wars'. Compare the 35-100 f2 to Canon's 70-200 f4, for example, and things did not compare well at all. The Oly was bigger and more expensive and could only be attached to bodies that seriously lagged behind in performance.

Optically, it was excellent.

The question really was not so much whether photographers wanted bigger or larger gear, if you have a USP, you might as well use it and secure the part of the market that wants that.

I would suggest that if Olympus bodies were competitive to the competition, and they were honestly representing the lenses, the point you make at the beginning of you post may have been evident.

However, Olympus made a point of emphasising size as their USP. Because the performance of 4/3rds bodies lagged, all Olympus had left was size. The E3 and SHG lenses destroyed that.

redshifted Veteran Member • Posts: 3,161
Re: So who was 4/3 originally aimed at?
1

Hey Gareth,

I can't believe you're still dealing with Oly after all these years .

It was aimed squarely at editorial/commercial film shooters that were still sitting on the fence of digital photography circa 2003-2004. The CCD sensor output was tweaked for those of us used to shooting Fujichrome, Kodachrome and Ektachrome.

The lenses and body were designed to replicate film shooters' cameras and focal lengths. AF didn't have to be great for folks skilled at manually focusing their lenses. The tiff output choice and Firewire cable is evidence of Oly's intent. Tiff was most useful to photogs delivering their files to art directors/editors and firewire helped move those big files to your/their Apple computer.

They got me .

Best,

Ed

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windsprite
windsprite Senior Member • Posts: 2,621
Everybody ... and nobody.
2

I think you're right about the E-1 being aimed squarely at the pros, but the consumer-type E-300 and then E-500 came out soon enough afterward that they must have been part of the grand design from the very beginning. Olympus had to introduce the pro body and lenses first, in order to establish their "brand," but clearly they intended to capture a much broader cross section of the market than that.

Too broad, perhaps, because they never really developed the particular segments that would have capitalized on their strengths and set them apart from other brands. They had high-quality 600mm and 180-500mm equivalent lenses that weighed less than the similar-quality Canikons, which might have appealed to many high-end sports and wildlife shooters, but they never delivered on the autofocus, frame rate, low-light performance, DR, etc. that make life easier for these people. They probably also underestimated the importance sports photographers place on subject isolation. Look at Donald Chin, who used to shoot sports with four thirds. Now he's doing it with FF and lenses like the 400/2.8, 200/2, and 85/1.4 wide open, even when he has more than enough light to stop down.

Event photography is another area where the low-light performance, AF, subject isolation, flash system, and lens variety were not on par with the competition.

Portrait photography? Where are the dreamy, creamy primes?

Deep DOF is trumpeted as being an advantage of the format. OK, so why only two fairly short macro lenses?

The 11-22 and 7-14 are terrific architecture lenses, but the people who shoot that genre often also want tilt/shift.

Some of the bodies were fairly compact. Why didn't they take it a step farther and made more primes, especially pancakes?

All this is not to say that there aren't a lot of nice things about the four thirds system, or that one "can't" do this or that genre with it. I'm talking about market perception. It seems like they tried to do too many things all at once and wound up being a sort of jack of all trades (you fill in the rest).

That's why they are finally enjoying some success with micro four thirds. It's a system that at least seems to know what it's all about. It's even summarized in the name!

Julie

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GBC Senior Member • Posts: 1,451
Re: Superior?

Although the target market for the Olympus line was certainly someone who is looking for an alternative to Canon or Nikon, the superior thing was a bit of a prodding joke, as this came up in another thread regarding luminous landscape commenting on zuiko lens quality being on par or better than any canon or Nikon glass.

Messier Object Veteran Member • Posts: 8,093
Re: Superior?
1

Sergey_Green wrote:

GBC wrote:

Photographers who were interested in using lenses that were superior to Nikon and Canon.

But superior in what way? Smaller format made those lenses equal to only stopped down lenses on the other systems, which essentially were very much the same in size and performance. This is the whole point of the discussion. Aside from long like 90-250 telephotos the overall system was as big as the larger formats that could do more. And with this it became rather unclear who in fact this system was made for.

I definitely agree with you Sergey regarding all but the  2 big lenses 90-250/2.8 and 300/2.8 which were aimed at Sports and Wildlife work where the DoF-control penalty of the smaller sensor has little or no impact as shutter speed  is the priority. 
IMO it was a real pity that Olympus could not source a better sensor for the E-5

Peter

Aoresteen Regular Member • Posts: 456
Re: Very mich so ..

Sergey_Green wrote:

Aoresteen wrote:

One of the first lenses announced was the 300mm f/2.8 Big Tuna. Clearly Olympus was targeting pros with the E-1 as not too many amateurs buy a 300mm f/2.8 at $7,000 new.

And then they did not sell many of them, as today it is rather a rarity, but the system continued. Till it finally made absolutely no sense even to Olympus themselves, as their market simply faded from existence.

And it's a lens that I have on my Christmas list - not for this year but next if things go well for me in 2014

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Messier Object Veteran Member • Posts: 8,093
Re: Everybody ... and nobody.

windsprite wrote:

I think you're right about the E-1 being aimed squarely at the pros, but the consumer-type E-300 and then E-500 came out soon enough afterward that they must have been part of the grand design from the very beginning. Olympus had to introduce the pro body and lenses first, in order to establish their "brand," but clearly they intended to capture a much broader cross section of the market than that.

Too broad, perhaps, because they never really developed the particular segments that would have capitalized on their strengths and set them apart from other brands. They had high-quality 600mm and 180-500mm equivalent lenses that weighed less than the similar-quality Canikons, which might have appealed to many high-end sports and wildlife shooters, but they never delivered on the autofocus, frame rate, low-light performance, DR, etc. that make life easier for these people. They probably also underestimated the importance sports photographers place on subject isolation. Look at Donald Chin, who used to shoot sports with four thirds. Now he's doing it with FF and lenses like the 400/2.8, 200/2, and 85/1.4 wide open, even when he has more than enough light to stop down.

Event photography is another area where the low-light performance, AF, subject isolation, flash system, and lens variety were not on par with the competition.

Portrait photography? Where are the dreamy, creamy primes?

Deep DOF is trumpeted as being an advantage of the format. OK, so why only two fairly short macro lenses?

Don't forget the 90-250/2.8 and 300/2.8 which have DoF advantages for wildlife shooting

The 11-22 and 7-14 are terrific architecture lenses, but the people who shoot that genre often also want tilt/shift.

Some of the bodies were fairly compact. Why didn't they take it a step farther and made more primes, especially pancakes?

All this is not to say that there aren't a lot of nice things about the four thirds system, or that one "can't" do this or that genre with it. I'm talking about market perception. It seems like they tried to do too many things all at once and wound up being a sort of jack of all trades (you fill in the rest).

That's why they are finally enjoying some success with micro four thirds. It's a system that at least seems to know what it's all about. It's even summarized in the name!

I think it was unfortunate that Olympus used the term "micro" , and now looking at the size of the E-M1 which is comparable to an E-620,  the "m"  will come to signify "mirrorless"

Julie

Bobby J Veteran Member • Posts: 4,813
Re: Well stated Gareth, and as I expected, what you are saying

is pretty much what I remember.  Thank you.

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BJM

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Aoresteen Regular Member • Posts: 456
Re: Big GA..there is absolutely NO doubt who it was aimed at....
1

IMHO it failed for 3 reasons:

1.  Lack of pro wide primes & fast normal/short tele lenses.  The only wide prime was a fisheye 8mm.  The next prime was a 25mm f/2.8.  Are you kidding me?

Where is the 25mm f/1.2?  There should have been 10mm, 12mm, 14mm and 17mm f/1.4 primes.  There should have been a 42mm f/1.2.

The long end was very well covered with the 150mm f/2.0 and the 300 f/2.8.  The wide end was not.

2.  Lack of Tilt/Shift wide angle as others have said.

3. Lack of decent high ISO capability.  The Olympus ISO range tops out at 6400 with the E-5.

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John Mason
John Mason Veteran Member • Posts: 5,818
Well - it was smaller initially
2

When I bought my E1 I also was using Canon's 1ds.  The discussions in this thread about size often compare the E1 to cameras from other lines that were not built to pro standards in terms of weather proofing.
I remember playing with both cameras at length to try to pick which one was going on an overseas trip.  The E1 kit with 14-54 zoom vs the 1ds with 24-105 zoom.  The size/weight greatly favored the E1.
My test color range shots of flowers showed that even using different raw developers, the sensor on the E1 was much better than the Canon at color accuracy especially in the reds and violets.

But, alas, as much of what I was shooting was going to be indoors where flash was not allowed, I lugged the bigger Canon kit around.

I've been dual system since those days upgrading the Canon to 1ds, 1ds2, 1ds3, 5d2 (which while the same sensor size ad the 1ds3 was the first Canon to not be plagued by dust), and now 5d3 (which brings a bit of the 1d level viewfinder, focusing system and build to a smaller body finally)

On the Olympus side I went E1, E30 and E5 and then EM5 and now EM1 (and still have all those bodies).

I have 3 canon L zooms and 3 Olympus zooms - two SHG's and 1 HG.  I do agree with the LL article that as a company group of lenses, the Olympus lens line is overall better than the Canikon offerings.  This difference is most apparent when shooting wide open and in the corners.  There are exceptions, of course, but as an overall statement, that matches my experience.
I also agree with the LL article that in many ways the promise of smaller yet pro level build was hard to achieve with the mirror box and rigid adherence to telecentric design.  In m4/3 Olympus is changing their own rules quite a bit and allowing digital processing to correct some lens aberrations to allow a lens to be smaller.  The 12 f2 is a prime example of that (pun intended).
So now it's many years later and I'm still shooting dual system.  But with the EM1 I'm just about to go single system.  While the image quality is really not much different than the EM5 the EM1 is the first camera since the E1 that ergonomically just clicks all the boxes for me.  It's a pro level camera in a handy little box, but still flexible when you add the HDL7 to handle the bigger SHG lenses.  I might well sell the EM5 to get a second EM1 I like it so much better.  Though, frankly the EM5 will be fine as a cotton carrier hip 60mm macro lens camera on hikes.
It's been an interesting decade since the E1 came out.  The range of capability overlap between a FF camera and a 4/3 or m4/3 camera has gotten larger with each generation.  I think the EM1's success will be because finally - not ten years ago when the E1 came out - but now, the technology is there to allow the EM1 to fulfill the failed promises of the original 4/3 system.
I was just at Robert's Camera today buying some FL600r flashes and was impressed at how much store space had EM1 posters, cubes, handy peel off rebate sheets, a dedicated Olympus counter with knowledgable salesperson and some EM1's in stock.  This is entirely different than the E5 launch.  There is justifiable excitement about this camera.
I did some indoor difficult lighting shooting this week with the EM1 and 14-35 shg out front shooting at F2.  What a great combo with that strong IBIS of the EM1 and fast sharp edge to edge zoom!
Fun times!

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Gesture Veteran Member • Posts: 6,461
Re: So who was 4/3 originally aimed at? - Original press release

Good insights.

alatchin Senior Member • Posts: 1,055
Originally

It seems, judging by everyones posts here, was targeting professionals. Probably with the goal of creating a leader effect with flagship bodies being used and promoted by professionals. This plan seemed to cascade down into consumer bodies.

There is a chance that sensor development and cost, along with improvements in processing and EVFs led to the conception of m43rds. Combined with Pentax and Sony continuing to compete in the DSLR market and it appears Olympus changed direction recognizing what EVFs could mean for their camera market.

This time however they quickly produced smaller lighter and cheaper bodies, building from the bargain basement up (EP1 led to a cheap EPL1 which contonued to be banged out for years), building a grass roots userbase and then growing their line into more professional products.

These are two well understood marketing strategies, and had Sony not chosen to resurect Minolta, and Pentax continue to compete we may have seen more action on the DSLR front. As it seemed to pan out, the advantages of removing the mirror and competing in this new segment was a "better" approach.

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Cephalotus Veteran Member • Posts: 3,791
Re: So who was 4/3 originally aimed at?

around 2001/2002, when the E-system was designed a typical consumer DSLR cost around 3000-4000 US$.

There have been no lenses available designed for that sensor format (APS-C)

So Olympus thought if they could save 1000US$ on the sensor by choosing a smaller size and introduce a 2000-2500US$ camera with some pro specs (excl. AF and fps) and good lenses especially made for that camera they would have a signficant advantage.

That idea could have worked in early 2003 when a Canon 10D was still 2000US$ and you had to buy that 17-40/4L lens as your standard kit. Nikon only had the D100 for 2500US$ and afair a standard zoom was still lacking

An E-1 + 14-54 would have been competitive to those cameras.

But the end of 2003 brought the Canon Rebel 300D with a 18-55 zoom made for the APS-C sensor for 1000US$ together.

Sure, this was another market segment, but it clearly showed that there was no sensor cost advantage for the smaller 4/3" sensor any more and that other manufacturers would also be able to make lenses for their APS-C sensor

The Nikon D70 (+18-70 lens) and the Canon 20D with its at that time excellent 8MP sensor put and end to the claim of superior picture quality in the 4/3" sensor world.

Until the GH3 / OM-D EM-5 the 4/3" sensor lacked clearly behind their APS-C counterparts and most people see sensor performance as more important than lens performance.

Now in m4/3 world the 4/3" sensor is good enough and the lenses are not as good as they had been in 4/3 world and they seem to be much more successful.

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Cephalotus Veteran Member • Posts: 3,791
Re: Everybody ... and nobody.
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I think it was unfortunate that Olympus used the term "micro" , and now looking at the size of the E-M1 which is comparable to an E-620, the "m" will come to signify "mirrorless"

proofs the idea. The top level m43 camera is a small as an entry level 43 camera.

Not even talking about lens size advantages.

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rovingtim Veteran Member • Posts: 8,644
I'm starting to see your point

Big Ga wrote:

Olympus had the goal of competing at the highest level in the pro market.

If Oly's original goal was to compete at the highest level, then Olympus' path of development after the E1 makes more sense. What this suggests is they failed in the execution. And as Bob says ...

http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/52539298

... the sensor was too small (accounting decision?) for the lenses to achieve parity in regards to common professional standards.

Perhaps the emphasis on size as a USP was originating in marketing rather than the engineers. The same Olympus marketers were demonstrably misrepresenting the lenses, so I'm surprised this is a revelation to me.

If true, this may exemplify the damage false marketing can cause.

OP Big Ga Forum Pro • Posts: 18,623
Re: USP was size

rovingtim wrote:

Big Ga wrote:

rovingtim wrote:

Big Ga wrote:

I often see people like RovingTim over here saying that Olympus lost their way with the bigger camera gear, and the whole point of fourthirds was to create a smaller, more portable system, the promise of which only MFT seems to have now finally fulfilled.

I've never really agreed with this. My opinion was that from the outset, Olympus had the goal of competing at the highest level in the pro market.

If they are competing at the 'highest level', then they needed a competitive sensor. Especially with the technology in 2003, this wasn't going to happen with a sensor 1/4 to 1/2 the area of other popular cameras.

Why not? it seems to be happening now with the EM5/1 sensor ??

The highest ISO on the 1Dx is 200,000.

Ok, fair point. I'm afraid I'm stuck in base ISO performance mode with MFT. Oh the irony .....

OP Big Ga Forum Pro • Posts: 18,623
Re: So who was 4/3 originally aimed at? - Original press release

rovingtim wrote:

bobn2 wrote:

iii) Related to (ii) they really failed to give options which took advantage of the size and weight advantage. The first several FT DSLRs were as large or larger than the competition, right up until the D400.

This may not have been so much of a problem if the bodies were competitive, but they were not.

Well, to be fair, they were competitive in a lot of ways. But also to be fair, the one or two bits that were behind were in key areas (and hence its easy to forget the good bits!)

The same with the lenses.

It didn't help that Olympus was misrepresenting the lenses -- ie. a 150mm f2 = 300mm f2 -- sparking the 'equivalency wars'.

Was it Olympus themselves that were doing this though? or was it the users?

I recall some lenses like the 70-300 having stickers on them saying 140-600mm equivalent, but I'm not sure it they also kept the same aperture. Or are you saying that by omitting the 'equivalency' aperture, this was deception itself?

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