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Overview of Four Thirds Lenses

Developments in advanced lens design have arguably been at the center of Four Thirds. Olympus and Panasonic conceptualized their lenses for the new imaging system from the ground up for digital photography. In particular, they chose to produce lenses that are telecentric, so that the light rays hit the digital sensor orthogonally. As a result, FT-lenses show a very high and even sharpness from corner to corner. Also, FT-lenses tend to reach a high level of contrast and sharpness already at their widest aperture, so that there is little need to stop the lens down in order to improve image quality.

Telecentricity
Telecentric design of the Olympus ZD 14-54mm[olympus]

Moreover, the relatively small sensor in FT cameras has made it possible to reduce the size and weight of 43-lenses, so that many optics are more compact than corresponding lenses for APS-C or full frame systems that provide the same angle of view. Four Thirds lenses have a format factor of 2, meaning that an FT-lens with a focal length of 25mm provides the same field of view as a 50mm lens on a 35mm-full frame camera. Moreover, the Four Thirds lens delivers a depth of field that is 2 aperture stops wider than a 35mm-full frame lens with the same angle of view, so that it is easier to get the main subject in sharp focus. On the other hand, using FT-lenses makes it more difficult to achieve a very narrow depth of field that is sometimes desired in portrait photography.

Zuiko
The collection of Olympus FT lenses[olympus]

Since the launch of the FT-system in 2003, the lens catalog expanded quickly over the following years. It grew to comprise a total of more than 50 optics with native FT-mounts. In 2008, Micro Four Thirds was created as a mirrorless camera system with an even shorter flange-focal-distance, thus making it possible to realize substantial further reductions in lens size and weight. While mFT quickly superseded FT, all FT-lenses can be operated on mFT cameras with full aperture control when using an FT to mFT adapter. However, the autofocus performance of FT-lenses will fall short of that of native mFT lenses on mFT cameras, unless the camera has on-sensor phase-detect pixels (like the OMD-EM-1) or the FT-lens has an Imager-AF module designed to work with contrast-detect autofocus systems (like the newer Olympus 2.8/25mm, 4-5.6/9-18mm, 3.5-5.6/14-42mm, 2.8-3.5/14-54mm II, 4-5.6/40-150mm, and 4-5.6/70-300mm).

Olympus released a total of 24 FT-lenses, Panasonic 4, Sigma 14, and Samyang 15. Three of the 57 optics are revised versions of earlier lenses: The Olympus 50-200mm SWD received the silent and quick Supersonic Wave Drive (SWD) autofocus motor in 2007, the Olympus 14-54mm II was upgraded with the Imager-AF module in 2008, and the Samyang 85mm was redesigned with internal focus mechanisms. Production of the original lens-versions stopped when the new designs arrived.

Olympus 35-100mm
X-Ray of an Olympus 35-100mm f/2[Oliver Waletzko]

Olympus grouped its Four Thirds lenses into three categories: Super-High Grade (SHG), High Grade (HG), and Standard Grade (SG). SHG lenses are optically excellent primes and constant maximum aperture zooms, including the world's first interchangeable f/2 zooms (the 14-35mm and the 35-100mm). They are of exceptional build quality and feature environmental seals against dust and moisture. The HG lenses are also weather sealed and provide very high optical performance, with the 12-60mm and the 50-200mm being particularly popular among enthusiast photographers for their versatility and imaging quality in a compact package. The SG lenses lenses are affordable, highly portable optics that nevertheless can offer very high optical performance. For example, the 9-18mm or the 35mm Macro are very well regarded as quality lenses at budget prices. Olympus officially discontinued its FT lens line in March 2017.

None of the Sigma or Samyang lenses were custom-made for FT, but represent modified versions of their APS-C or full frame lens offerings. They do not provide a telecentric design, but as they are conceived to cover a larger imaging circle, only the central, "sweet spot" of the lens is used on FT-cameras, so that aberrations towards the borders and edges of the projection frame are not visible. The Sigma lenses support autofocus, while the Samyang offerings (also sold under the Rokinon brand name) require manual focusing.

Due to the relatively short flange-focal-distance of 38.67mm, lenses from many other camera systems can be mounted and used on FT-cameras via adapters. These adapters (see here on eBay) are purely mechanical devices that do not transmit any exposure or focusing information between the lens and the camera, so that aperture and focus have to be set manually. However, some adapters have a "dandelion" chip installed, which reveals lens-specific EXIF data to the camera, makes it possible to use AF confirmation, and indicates the correct focal length, so that the in-body Image Stabilization can work properly. Adapters corresponding to lenses for Olympus OM, Leica R, Nikon F, Minolta MD, M42, Pentax K, and Yashica/Contax exist. There are also adapters for Canon FD lenses, but these adapter-lens combinations do not achieve infinity focus (as the flange-focal-distance of Canon FD is only 3.3mm longer than FT, and a sufficiently robust adapter needs to be thicker), so that they are mainly of interest for macro photography. Also, the bayonet mount and flange distance of Konica AR lenses is very similar to FT and some photo enthusiasts have converted Konica Hexanon lenses for use on FT-cameras.

Below is a grouped listing of all lenses with a native Four Thirds mount and their core specifications. The manual Peleng 3.5/8mm fisheye lens (here on eBay), is included, even though it is mounted onto FT-cameras via an M42-to-FT mount adapter and thus strictly speaking not a native 43-lens. However, it has been quite popular with Four Thirds users trying to explore the fisheye perspective at a reasonable price and, thus, deserves honorable mention in this compendium.

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Four Thirds Lenses
#  Lens
Designation
Focus
System
(type)
Filter
Type
(size)
Weather
Sealing
(y/n)
Lens
Dimensions
(dia x len)
Lens
Weight
(net)
Product
Launch
(year)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(USD)
1
 
Olympus ZD 7-14mm f/4 ED AFnY87 x 120 mm780 g20041,799i
2
 
Olympus ZD FE 8mm f/3.5 ED AFnY79 x 77 mm485 g2005799i
3
 
Samyang 8mm f/3.5 Aspherical IF MC FisheyeMFnn75 x 80 mm428 g2009299i
4
 
Peleng 8mm f/3.5 FisheyeMFnn73 x 66 mm370 g2010229i
5
 
Samyang 8mm f/3.5 UMC Fish-Eye CS IIMFnn78 x 80 mm430 g2012329i
6
 
Olympus ZD 9-18mm f/4-5.6 EDAF72n80 x 73 mm275 g2008599i
7
 
Samyang 10mm f/2.8 ED AS NCS CSMFnn87 x 111 mm610 g2013599i
8
 
Sigma AF 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSMAF77n84 x 86 mm495 g2008479i
9
 
Olympus ZD 11-22mm f/2.8-3.5AF72Y75 x 93 mm485 g2003799i
10
 
Samyang 12mm f/2.8 ED AS NCS FISH-EYEMFnn77 x 78 mm530 g2014499i
11
 
Olympus ZD 12-60mm f/2.8-4 SWDSWD72Y80 x 99 mm575 g2007999i
12
 
Samyang 14mm f/2.8 ED AS IF UMCMFnn87 x 101 mm560 g2010399i
13
 
Olympus ZD 14-35mm f/2.0 SWDSWD77Y86 x 123 mm915 g20052,299i
14
 
Olympus ZD 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6AF58n65 x 61 mm190 g2006249i
15
 
Olympus ZD 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6AF58n71 x 87 mm285 g2005299i
16
 
Panasonic-Leica 14-50mm f/2.8-3.5 OISAF72n79 x 103 mm490 g2006999i
17
 
Panasonic-Leica 14-50mm f/3.8-5.6 OISAF67n75 x 93 mm434 g2007699i
18
 
Olympus ZD 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5AF67Y74 x 88 mm435 g2003499i
19
 
Olympus ZD 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 IIAF67Y75 x 89 mm440 g2008599i
20
 
Panasonic-Leica 14-150mm f/3.5-5.6 OISXSM72n79 x 90 mm520 g20071,699i
21
 
Samyang 16mm f/2.0 ED AS UMC CSMF77n83 x 95 mm600 g2013399i
22
 
Olympus ZD 17.5-45mm f/3.5-5.6AF52n71 x 70 mm210 g2005199i
23
 
Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX DC Asp. IFAF67n74 x 84 mm445 g2006449i
24
 
Sigma 18-50mm f/3.5-5.6 DCAF58n68 x 68 mm270 g2004149i
25
 
Sigma 18-125mm f/3.5-5.6 DC IFAF58n77 x 107 mm405 g2004349i
26
 
Olympus ZD 18-180mm f/3.5-6.3AF62n78 x 85 mm435 g2005499i
27
 
Samyang 20mm f/1.8 ED AS UMCMF77n83 x 94 mm530 g2016599i
28
 
Samyang 24mm f/1.4 ED AS UMCMF77n83 x 103 mm680 g2008669i
29
 
Samyang 24mm f/1.4 ED AS IF UMCMF77n83 x 103 mm595 g2011599i
30
 
Sigma 24mm f/1.8 EX DG Aspherical MacroAF77n84 x 88 mm520 g2006549i
31
 
Samyang 24mm f/3.5 ED AS UMC Tilt/ShiftMF82n86 x 115 mm720 g2012999i
32
 
Panasonic-Leica 25mm f/1.4 D Summilux AF62n75 x 78 mm510 g20071,099i
33
 
Olympus ZD 25mm f/2.8AF43n64 x 24 mm95 g2008249i
34
 
Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSMAF62n77 x 59 mm430 g2006449i
35
 
Samyang 35mm f/1.4 AS UMCMF77n83 x 117 mm720 g2011599i
36
 
Olympus ZD 35mm f/3.5 MacroAF52n71 x 53 mm165 g2005229i
37
 
Olympus ZD 35-100mm f/2.0 EDAF77Y97 x 214 mm1,650 g20052,499i
38
 
Olympus ZD 40-150mm f/3.5-4.5AF58n77 x 107 mm425 g2005499i
39
 
Olympus ZD 40-150mm f/4-5.6 EDAF58n66 x 72 mm220 g2006279i
40
 
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSMAF77n85 x 74 mm530 g2008499i
41
 
Samyang 50mm f/1.4 AS UMC MF77n82 x 80 mm545 g2014499i
42
 
Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 MacroAF52Y71 x 62 mm300 g2003499i
43
 
Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 ED AF67Y87 x 157 mm1,070 g20031,199i
44
 
Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 ED SWDSWD67Y87 x 157 mm1,145 g20071,199i
45
 
Sigma 50-500mm f/4-6.3 APO EX DG HSMAF86n95 x 219 mm1,840 g20051,099i
46
 
Sigma 55-200mm f/4-5.6 DCAF55n72 x 93 mm330 g2004159i
47
 
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 II EX DG HSM MacroAF77n87 x 190 mm1,385 g2007799i
48
 
Olympus ZD 70-300mm f/4-5.6 EDAF58n80 x 127 mm620 g2007399i
49
 
Samyang 85mm f/1.4 Aspherical IFMF72n78 x 80 mm522 g2008299i
50
 
Samyang 85mm f/1.4 AS IF UMCMF72n78 x 80 mm520 g2013399i
51
 
Olympus ZD 90-250mm f/2.8 EDAF105Y124 x 276 mm3,270 g20055,999i
52
 
Samyang 100mm f/2.8 ED UMC MACROMF67n73 x 128 mm715 g2015599i
53
 
Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG MacroAF58n74 x 95 mm450 g2006799i
54
 
Samyang 135mm f/2.0 ED UMCMF77n82 x 127 mm830 g2015599i
55
 
Sigma 135-400mm f/4.5-5.6 DGAF77n84 x 189 mm1,280 g2006749i
56
 
Olympus ZD 150mm f/2.0 EDAF82Y100 x 150 mm1,610 g20042,499i
57
 
Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG APO HSM IF MacroAF72n80 x 137 mm895 g2006729i
58
 
Olympus ZD 300mm f/2.8 EDAFrearY127 x 285 mm3,290 g20036,999i
59
 
Samyang 300mm f/6.3 ED UMC CSMF58n65 x 81 mm285 g2013299i
60
 
Sigma 300-800mm f/5.6 EX DG APO HSM IFAFrearn166 x 544 mm5,880 g20067,999i

Olympus as the lead company within the Four Thirds consortium used to publish a lens roadmap to give FT users some visibility on upcoming releases. All the envisioned lenses were launched, except one. A 100mm high-grade macro lens featured over several years on the roadmap. Yet, that lens never materialized.

lens schedule
FourThirds-roadmap (2008) with 100mm macro-lens[olympus]

Further Reading

As mentioned earlier, all FT lenses can be mounted on and used with m43 cameras. Corresponding adapters are available from Olympus, Panasonic, or third party manufacturers. You can also find a compendium of all native m43 lenses on this site. Moreover, if you are interested in how a particular camera-lens combination looks like, check out the simulation tool at four-thirds.org. Finally, if the terminology and jargon around Four Thirds seems overwhelming, have a look at the Four Thirds glossary for explanations of key terms.

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