Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs


A Note on Four Thirds Cameras (Early in 2007)

A review note by Uwe Steinmueller @Digital Outback Photo



3/5/2007 Note: Olympus announced the new E-510 camera which features image stabilization on the sensor level.


Recently we had two Four Thirds cameras for test. What is a Four Thirds camera? Olympus influenced (created) a industry consortium to standardize cameras for a new lens mount and sensor size. The proclaimed goal was to initiate cameras that can use lenses only designed for digital cameras.

Up until recently only Olympus produced cameras and lenses for the Four Thirds system. Then Sigma was the first third party company that produced lenses for the Four Thirds system. Likely the most important news for the Four Thirds system is that Panasonic (with Leica lenses) is producing its own Four Thirds cameras and using Leica zooms on it. Different to Sony (buying Minolta) and Samsung (OEM Pentax cameras) Panasonic uses a more open lens mount standard. Hard to tell whether this will allow the Four Thirds system to be a broader success in the future. The key questions we see are:

  • How will future Panasonic and Kodak sensors compare to the ones by Sony and Canon?
  • Is the Four Thirds sensor size ("The standard diagonal length is 21.63 mm (half that of 35-mm film format)" a limit for higher demand on resolution?
  • Will Fuji and Kodak (both members of the Four Thirds consortium) also develop own Four Thirds cameras. We don't think Kodak will do this.


Olympus E330 and Leica Digilux 3

Here are some notes on two Four Thirds cameras launched in 2006:

  • Leica Digilux 3 (Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1)
  • Olympus E330

Leica Digilux 3 and Olympus E330

We think of the Leica Digilux 3 mainly as a Panasonic camera from the body part and of course with a Leica zoom lens.

Panasonic licensed quite a few features from Olympus to build this new body:

  • Viewfinder
  • Anti dust technology (first introduced to digital SLRs by Olympus and now followed by many other companies: even by Canon in the new 400D/Rebel XTi)
  • Four Thirds lens mount

In return Panasonic licensed it's new Live MOS sensors (more info from Panasonic) to Olympus for the E330.

This is by no means a review. We try to communicate some of our observations while handling both cameras.

  • The Digilux 3 is quite big. Big can mean good as it feels better in your hands (and we cannot complain). On the other side the Olympus E330 is quite a bit more compact.
  • Bettina is left eye oriented and she loved that the viewfinder is extended on the back. Also the E330 worked just fine for her.
  • The viewfinder image (also E330) is not very bright and also small. But honestly we did not have any real problems using the cameras with autofocus.
  • The Leica zoom features a MEGA O.I.S. image stabilization (image stabilization missing today on any Olympus camera and lens).
    Note: 3/5/2007 Olympus announced the new E-510 camera which features image stabilization on the sensor level.
  • You can use the Leica lens on the E330 but there are some differences:
    • On the E330 you cannot use the O.I.S. option "Only activate O.I.S. when pressing the shutter" which can be enabled on the Digilux 3.
    • The aperture on the Leica zoom is set via an aperture ring on the lens (adds a nice classic feeling to the camera). This seems to be a Leica extension to the Four Thirds specification not supported by the Olympus cameras. Still there is no problem to control the aperture for the Leica zoom on the E330.
  • Olympus lenses can be used on the Digilux 3. Setting the aperture in manual mode is not really intuitive (uses a Func 1 button). Because the Olympus lenses don't have the lens aperture ring you set the lens aperture to automatic and use the normal camera controls to set the aperture with the E330. Worked fine for us.
  • The flash in the Digilux 3 uses the same two settings as the Digilux 2:
    • Direct flash
    • Bounce flash

    The E330 only features the usual direct flash.

  • The Digilux allows a live preview through the sensor and even sports a live histogram. The E330 has two different live preview modi but unfortunately has no live histogram. For us the most important aspect of a live preview could be determining the exposure via the live preview (but the E330 does not feature a live histogram).
  • The histogram on the Digilux 3 is tiny and very hard to interpret. We found the larger histogram on the E330 much better to read (although there should be a frame around the channel histograms to better detect channel clipping).
  • We think the sensor has a strong AA filter. This requires pretty strong sharpening and may prevent that the Leica zoom can show its full class.
  • The E330 has a swivel LCD which can be convenient when using the live preview.

Overall we liked both cameras but we are not sure how much of an alternative these cameras are compared to Canon's and Nikon's offerings. For sure the Leica zoom seems attractive and the Olympus lenses are also good performers. Hard to say how bright the future for Four Thirds cameras will be.

  • We expect new Leica lenses shown at PMA 2007
  • Also Olympus should get closer to their next flagship camera after the E-1

Here are some RAW files from both cameras.

For a reference there are also two shots with a Canon 5D and the extreme sharp Canon 50mm f/1.2 .





Review methodology (or lack of :-)) here.


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