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Overview of Four Thirds Cameras

The Four Thirds system was launched in June 2003, when Olympus introduced its first digital SLR, the Olympus E-1. It was a new camera system entirely designed for digital photography and based on an open standard that made it possible for other camera manufacturers (notably Panasonic and Leica) to use the same platform. Four Thirds was actively supported with new product launches until 2010. Subsequently, it was phased out and replaced by the mirrorless Micro Four Thirds system that used imaging sensors of the same size as FT, but promised additional benefits in terms of portability.

E-5
Olympus E-5 with ZD 12-60mm

There are 18 DSLRs using the FT mount – 15 from Olympus, two from Panasonic, and one from Leica. The following tables summarize the main specs of all the FT cameras to easily enable comparisons. The cameras are listed in chronological order. Further details on the FT-system can be found in the Four Thirds Glossary or at four-thirds.org.

Camera body

The relatively small FT sensor made it possible to design interchangeable lens cameras that were generally somewhat more compact than competing models from, for example, Canon or Nikon. However, the size advantage for the camera bodies remained modest. More pronounced differences in bulk and weight could be observed for many of the FT lenses, so that as a camera system, FT had an advantage in portability over APS-C (or full frame) cameras.

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Body Specifications
    Camera
Model
Camera
Width
Camera
Height
Camera
Depth
Camera
Weight
Battery
Life
Weather
Sealing
Camera
Launch
Launch
Price (USD)
1.
 
Olympus E-1 141 mm 104 mm 81 mm 738 g 750 Y Jun 2003 1,699ebay.com
2.
 
Olympus E-300 147 mm 85 mm 64 mm 624 g 750 n Sep 2004 799ebay.com
3.
 
Olympus E-500 130 mm 95 mm 66 mm 479 g 750 n Sep 2005 599ebay.com
4.
 
Olympus E-330 140 mm 87 mm 72 mm 637 g 750 n Jan 2006 999ebay.com
5.
 
Panasonic L1 146 mm 87 mm 64 mm 606 g 750 n Feb 2006 999ebay.com
6.
 
Olympus E-400 130 mm 91 mm 53 mm 435 g 500 n Sep 2006 699ebay.com
7.
 
Leica Digilux 3 146 mm 87 mm 77 mm 606 g 750 n Sep 2006 1,499ebay.com
8.
 
Olympus E-410 130 mm 91 mm 53 mm 435 g 500 n Mar 2007 699ebay.com
9.
 
Olympus E-510 136 mm 92 mm 68 mm 538 g 750 n Mar 2007 799ebay.com
10.
 
Panasonic L10 135 mm 96 mm 78 mm 556 g 450 n Aug 2007 599ebay.com
11.
 
Olympus E-3 142 mm 116 mm 75 mm 876 g 750 Y Oct 2007 1,699ebay.com
12.
 
Olympus E-420 130 mm 91 mm 53 mm 440 g 500 n Mar 2008 599ebay.com
13.
 
Olympus E-520 136 mm 92 mm 68 mm 535 g 750 n May 2008 699ebay.com
14.
 
Olympus E-30 142 mm 108 mm 75 mm 701 g 750 n Nov 2008 1,299ebay.com
15.
 
Olympus E-620 130 mm 94 mm 60 mm 521 g 500 n Feb 2009 699ebay.com
16.
 
Olympus E-450 130 mm 91 mm 53 mm 440 g 500 n Mar 2009 499ebay.com
17.
 
Olympus E-600 130 mm 94 mm 60 mm 535 g 500 n Aug 2009 449ebay.com
18.
 
Olympus E-5 142 mm 117 mm 75 mm 873 g 750 Y Sep 2010 1,699ebay.com
Note: Measurements and pricing do not include easily detachable parts, such as add-on or interchangeable lenses or optional viewfinders.

Sensor characteristics

The FT sensor represented the Achilles heal of the system. It fell short of competitors in terms of megapixel count, dynamic range, and high ISO noise, at a time when these performance characteristics were the main drivers of camera-buying decisions. As a result, FT cameras largely remained niche market products.

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Sensor Characteristics
    Camera
Model
Sensor
Class
Resolution
(MP)
Horiz.
Pixels
Vert.
Pixels
Video
Format
DXO
Portrait
DXO
Landscape
DXO
Sports
1.
 
Olympus E-1 Four Thirds 4.9 2560 1920none20.09.7-14544
2.
 
Olympus E-300 Four Thirds 8.0 3264 2448none20.410.1-4048
3.
 
Olympus E-500 Four Thirds 8.0 3264 2448none20.710.34551
4.
 
Olympus E-330 Four Thirds 7.4 3136 2352none20.810.47352
5.
 
Panasonic L1 Four Thirds 7.4 3136 2352none20.810.48052
6.
 
Olympus E-400 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736none21.010.612753
7.
 
Leica Digilux 3 Four Thirds 7.4 3136 2352none21.010.612753
8.
 
Olympus E-410 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736none21.110.049451
9.
 
Olympus E-510 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736none21.210.044252
10.
 
Panasonic L10 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736none21.310.842955
11.
 
Olympus E-3 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736none21.610.557156
12.
 
Olympus E-420 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736none21.510.452756
13.
 
Olympus E-520 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736none21.410.454855
14.
 
Olympus E-30 Four Thirds 12.2 4032 3024none21.310.453055
15.
 
Olympus E-620 Four Thirds 12.2 4032 3024none21.310.353655
16.
 
Olympus E-450 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736none21.510.551256
17.
 
Olympus E-600 Four Thirds 12.2 4032 3024none21.510.354155
18.
 
Olympus E-5 Four Thirds 12.2 4032 3024720/30p21.610.551956
Note: DXO values in italics represent estimates based on sensor size and age.

Camera features

Olympus was at the forefront of many DSLR innovations, including automatic sensor dust removal ("the dust shaker"), live view, in-body stabilization, flexible rear displays, and art filters. Also, at the time of the release of the E-3 with the 12-60mm standard zoom, Olympus claimed to have the fastest autofocus system of any manufacturer. Moreover, unlike some other camera producers, Olympus offered a rich feature set and many customization options not only for its high-end cameras, but also for its mid-range and entry-level DSLR.

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Core Features
    Camera
Model
Viewfinder
(Type or
000 dots)
Control
Panel
(yes/no)
LCD
Size
(inch)
LCD
Resolution
(000 dots)
LCD
Attach-
ment
Touch
Screen
(yes/no)
Mech
Shutter
Speed
Shutter
Flaps
(1/sec)
Built-in
Flash
(yes/no)
1.
 
Olympus E-1optical Y1.8 / 134 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0/s n n
2.
 
Olympus E-300optical n1.8 / 134 fixed n 1/4000s 2.5/s Y n
3.
 
Olympus E-500optical n2.5 / 215 fixed n 1/4000s 2.5/s Y n
4.
 
Olympus E-330optical n2.5 / 215 tilting n 1/4000s 3.0/s Y n
5.
 
Panasonic L1optical n2.5 / 207 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0/s Y n
6.
 
Olympus E-400optical n2.5 / 215 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0/s Y n
7.
 
Leica Digilux 3optical n2.5 / 207 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0/s Y n
8.
 
Olympus E-410optical n2.5 / 215 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0/s Y n
9.
 
Olympus E-510optical n2.5 / 215 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0/s Y Y
10.
 
Panasonic L10optical n2.5 / 207 swivel n 1/4000s 3.0/s Y n
11.
 
Olympus E-3optical Y2.5 / 230 swivel n 1/8000s 5.0/s Y Y
12.
 
Olympus E-420optical n2.7 / 215 fixed n 1/4000s 3.5/s Y n
13.
 
Olympus E-520optical n2.7 / 215 fixed n 1/4000s 3.5/s Y Y
14.
 
Olympus E-30optical Y2.7 / 230 swivel n 1/8000s 5.0/s Y Y
15.
 
Olympus E-620optical n2.7 / 230 swivel n 1/4000s 4.0/s Y Y
16.
 
Olympus E-450optical n2.7 / 215 fixed n 1/4000s 3.5/s Y n
17.
 
Olympus E-600optical n2.7 / 230 swivel n 1/4000s 4.0/s Y Y
18.
 
Olympus E-5optical Y3.0 / 920 swivel n 1/8000s 5.0/s Y Y
Notes: *) Information refers to the mechanical shutter, unless the camera only has an electronic one.

Expert reviews

Four Thirds cameras received a mixed reception by professional reviewers. While the systems advantages in terms of size and weight, the inclusion of many advanced features, and the availability of high-quality lenses were appreciated, the lower than average image quality of the small FT sensor often resulted in a downgrade relative to the competition. Nevertheless, some FT cameras managed to obtain a "Highly Recommended" or equivalent mark.

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Review Scores
    Camera
Model
camera
  labs  
dp
review  
ephoto
  zine  
imaging
resource
photography
  blog  
Camera
Launch
Launch
Price (USD)
1.
 
Olympus E-1......+o.. Jun 2003 1,699ebay.com
2.
 
Olympus E-300......+o4.5/5 Sep 2004 799ebay.com
3.
 
Olympus E-500..76/100..+ +.... Sep 2005 599ebay.com
4.
 
Olympus E-330......+o.. Jan 2006 999ebay.com
5.
 
Panasonic L1..85/100..+..3.5/5 Feb 2006 999ebay.com
6.
 
Olympus E-400..85/100....4/54/5 Sep 2006 699ebay.com
7.
 
Leica Digilux 3............ Sep 2006 1,499ebay.com
8.
 
Olympus E-410..86/100..+ +4/54.5/5 Mar 2007 699ebay.com
9.
 
Olympus E-510..89/100..+ +3.5/54.5/5 Mar 2007 799ebay.com
10.
 
Panasonic L10..85/100..+3.5/54/5 Aug 2007 599ebay.com
11.
 
Olympus E-3..88/100..+ +o4/5 Oct 2007 1,699ebay.com
12.
 
Olympus E-420..85/100..+ +4/54.5/5 Mar 2008 599ebay.com
13.
 
Olympus E-520..87/100..+ +4.5/54.5/5 May 2008 699ebay.com
14.
 
Olympus E-30......71/1004.5/54/5 Nov 2008 1,299ebay.com
15.
 
Olympus E-6203/588/100..72/1004.5/55/5 Feb 2009 699ebay.com
16.
 
Olympus E-450........4/54/5 Mar 2009 499ebay.com
17.
 
Olympus E-600..........4.5/5 Aug 2009 449ebay.com
18.
 
Olympus E-54/5....75/1004/54.5/5 Sep 2010 1,699ebay.com
Notes: (+ +) highly recommended; (+) recommended; (o) reviewed; (..) not available.

Further Reading

You can find a compendium of all native FT lenses on a separate page. Also, if you would like to directly compare two FT cameras or see how they stack up to the competition (legacy or current), you can move across to the CAM-parator app, or just enter your choice of cameras in the search boxes below.

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