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What You Need to Know About About Micro Four Thirds

September 20th, 2009

You’ve probably heard about micro four thirds style cameras. There is a lot of anticipation of the Lumix GF1 that will be out soon.

Micro Four Thirds is commonly referred to as a 4/3″ type or 4/3 type sensor (inch-based sizing system is derived from now obsolete video camera tubes). It’s area is 30–40% less than the  APS-C sensors yet is around 9 times larger than the 1/2.5″ sensors typically used in compact digital cameras.

Olympus and Panasonic have been promoting this size sensor size. Olympus has their E-P1 body and Panasonic will be coming out with their Lumix GF1 some time this month. Apparently Leica is also coming out with a micro four thirds camera.

I want to put the micro four thirds cameras in perspective for real estate photographers. There is much to like about the micro four thirds style camera systems. Like DSLR quality and compact like weight. What are the key issues for a real estate photographer? As usual it’s all about the availability of a wide-angle lens. Here are some facts:

  1. I can’t find any retailer that’s selling the GF1 or E-P1 bodies without a lens. Most retailers appear to be selling the GF1 with a 14-45mm lens. None of the lenses sold with the GF1 or E-P1 are suitable for real estate.
  2. The micro four thirds sensor size has a focal length multiplier  of 2.0 which means the 14-45mm lens is equivalent to a 28-90mm focal on a full frame 35 mm camera. This is not suitable for real estate shooting. For real estate, you need a lens between 14mm and 24mm. A 16-35mm or 14-24mm zoom is perfect.
  3. Olympus makes some really high quality glass that will fit on either the GF1 or E-P1. Specifically the Zuiko 7-14mm ED f/4.0 or the Zuiko 9-18mm ED f/4.0. Either of these lenses would be ideal for real estate work. Only problem is the Zuiko 7-14mm costs $1719 and the Zuiko 9-18mm costs $521 over the cost of the body and kit lens.
  4. So the minimum cost for a GF1 for real estate work is $899 plus $521 or  about $1420. This is not much different than a ordinary DLSR and wide-angle lens. A Olympus e-P1 system is a little less but not much.

So the bottom line is that while there are some nice weight and size advantages over DSLRs and quality advantages over compacts, there are no cost advantages yet. This could change if micro four thirds is really popular. Prices tend to drop as the number of units sold increase. In the mean time you’ll probably have to pay about the same for a micro four thirds system as a ordinary DSLR system.

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6 Responses to “What You Need to Know About About Micro Four Thirds”

  • The two zuiko lenses are full-size 4/3 lenses, need an adapter and don’t benefit from the short flange distance. The most adapted wide for micro 4/3 is the panasonic 7-14 :
    http://www.panasonic.net/avc/lumix/systemcamera/gms/lens/g_vario_7_14.html
    300g instead of the zuiko 780g, it delivers micro 4/3 promises.
    But at 945USD for the cheapest offer, it’s still a little ahead of my 500€ threshold.

    As a bike user, I really wait for those.

  • Also the lack of optical viewfinder – even if just for the reason that many don’t want to look like they are using a point and shoot! Can we use it with a dark cloth?

  • There is also a 14mm f2.8 prime in the pipeline:
    http://dc.watch.impress.co.jp/img/dcw/docs/312/633/02.jpg

    I was looking at four thirds for pole aerial photography but just got a Nikon D5000. Nothing beats a real DSRL. If lightweight is your main concern (skydiving, climbing, biking, kites & helicopters) than this new format is indeed the best option. If you want to spend the cash for it that’s it.

  • @ claire, I think all four thirds offer an optical viewfinder, as an accessory. You slide these in the hotshoe.

  • 1. It’s about the image quality necessary for the job. M4/3 may be able to do this.
    2. EVF are becoming more common. The GF1 has one. Probably the E-P2 as well.
    3. With adapters that are readily available you can put other lenses on your M4/3 body.
    4. Expect the bodies to be sold w/o lenses in the near future.
    5. Pricing is an important consideration.
    6. Pentax and Sony are also looking into offering M4/3 cameras. Another name that seems to be leaning this way is Nikon.
    7. It’s still a little early to tell in terms of photo life is the M4/3 is a keeper with full-frame offerings popping up.

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