Olympus Four Thirds Digital SLR System
Four Thirds – what on earth does that mean?
The term Four Thirds reflects the size of the sensor contained within the camera and also has become terminology for the mount for the lens, i.e. Four Thirds Mount. A number of years ago, camera manufacturers had bespoke lenses for their system, which dates back to the ‘wet process’ of SLR photography.
Olympus and Eastman Kodak decided that there should be a standardisation of D-SLR, or digital single lens reflex photography and the Four Thirds System came into being.
This was the first true digital system, designed purely for digital photography. The sensor within the camera is four thirds the size of a full frame sensor, meaning that the cameras could be smaller and lighter. All lenses made to the Four Thirds standard are fully digital, meaning that firmware updates are available to ensure that the lenses keep up with technology.
Leica and Panasonic made camera bodies to the new standard alongside Olympus. The Olympus E400 was released for sale in Europe in 2006 and carried the Kodak sensor, highly rated for the outstanding quality. However, this relationship was not to last, subsequently Panasonic took over production and supply of the CCD Four Thirds sensors.
Another advantage of this system is that the lenses are inherently lighter than their counterparts on a full frame system, but more powerful. For example, the Zuiko 70-300mm telephoto lens has the equivalent maximum focal range of 600mm, working best at an aperture of F8.
Olympus Four Thirds cameras were highly respected and noted especially for their ‘true blues’. The original E400 with the Kodak sensor is still a camera worthy of note, 10 years after it’s release as the smallest, lightest DSLR in the world and boasting 10.8 megapixel images, supporting both JPEG and RAW images.
Olympus then moved to the Micro Four Thirds system as technology moved on offering the ability to produce mirrorless digital cameras, thus making cameras smaller, more compact and quieter without the ubiquitous ‘clunk’ of the mirror moving, but not compromising on quality. This was the end of the era of the Four Thirds System for Olympus, having produced some ground breaking cameras on the way with the E400, followed by their flagship models E1, the E3 having live view and the E5 having the capacity to record short bursts of video as well as live view, all of which now seems the norm in today’s terms.
Olympus continue to offer a range of lenses for the Four Thirds System (an adapter is required for the Micro Four Thirds System) from the beginner to the professional user. The Professional range of lenses are of a quality that by far surpass the entry level lenses in build and speed, with a price tag to match the higher end specification. The quality of the Olympus/Zuiko lenses, even at entry level, is still second to none.
Sigma and Panasonic produce lenses for the Four Thirds System, the Sigma lenses can offer a more affordable approach to lens buying without compromising on quality.
Although now discontinued, in the second hand market, you can grab yourself a bargain used Olympus Four Thirds camera, I have my trusty E400 and subsequently bought two E3’s and an E5 – all of which are used models, none of which I could of afforded with their new price tags. The E400 was a birthday present and I haven’t looked back from that day.