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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)
Street
Price
1.
 
Olympus E-1 141 mm 104 mm 81 mm 738 g 750 Y Jun 2003 1,699 i
2.
 
Olympus E-300 147 mm 85 mm 64 mm 624 g 750 n Sep 2004 799 i
3.
 
Olympus E-500 130 mm 95 mm 66 mm 479 g 750 n Sep 2005 599 i
4.
 
Olympus E-330 140 mm 87 mm 72 mm 637 g 750 n Jan 2006 999 i
5.
 
Panasonic L1 146 mm 87 mm 64 mm 606 g 750 n Feb 2006 999 i
6.
 
Olympus E-400 130 mm 91 mm 53 mm 435 g 500 n Sep 2006 699 i
7.
 
Leica Digilux 3 146 mm 87 mm 77 mm 606 g 750 n Sep 2006 1,499 i
8.
 
Olympus E-410 130 mm 91 mm 53 mm 435 g 500 n Mar 2007 699 i
9.
 
Olympus E-510 136 mm 92 mm 68 mm 538 g 750 n Mar 2007 799 i
10.
 
Panasonic L10 135 mm 96 mm 78 mm 556 g 450 n Aug 2007 599 i
11.
 
Olympus E-3 142 mm 116 mm 75 mm 876 g 750 Y Oct 2007 1,699 i
12.
 
Olympus E-420 130 mm 91 mm 53 mm 440 g 500 n Mar 2008 599 i
13.
 
Olympus E-520 136 mm 92 mm 68 mm 535 g 750 n May 2008 699 i
14.
 
Olympus E-30 142 mm 108 mm 75 mm 701 g 750 n Nov 2008 1,299 i
15.
 
Olympus E-620 130 mm 94 mm 60 mm 521 g 500 n Feb 2009 699 i
16.
 
Olympus E-450 130 mm 91 mm 53 mm 440 g 500 n Mar 2009 499 i
17.
 
Olympus E-600 130 mm 94 mm 60 mm 535 g 500 n Aug 2009 449 i
18.
 
Olympus E-5 142 mm 117 mm 75 mm 873 g 750 Y Sep 2010 1,699 i
Notes: 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
DXO
Overall
1.
 
Olympus E-1 Four Thirds 4.9 2560 1920none...... ..
2.
 
Olympus E-300 Four Thirds 8.0 3264 2448none...... ..
3.
 
Olympus E-500 Four Thirds 8.0 3264 2448none...... ..
4.
 
Olympus E-330 Four Thirds 7.4 3136 2352none...... ..
5.
 
Panasonic L1 Four Thirds 7.4 3136 2352none...... ..
6.
 
Olympus E-400 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736none...... ..
7.
 
Leica Digilux 3 Four Thirds 7.4 3136 2352none...... ..
8.
 
Olympus E-410 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736none21.110.0494 51
9.
 
Olympus E-510 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736none21.210.0442 52
10.
 
Panasonic L10 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736none21.310.8429 55
11.
 
Olympus E-3 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736none21.610.5571 56
12.
 
Olympus E-420 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736none21.510.4527 56
13.
 
Olympus E-520 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736none21.410.4548 55
14.
 
Olympus E-30 Four Thirds 12.2 4032 3024none21.310.4530 55
15.
 
Olympus E-620 Four Thirds 12.2 4032 3024none21.310.3536 55
16.
 
Olympus E-450 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736none21.510.5512 56
17.
 
Olympus E-600 Four Thirds 12.2 4032 3024none21.510.3541 55
18.
 
Olympus E-5 Four Thirds 12.2 4032 3024720/30p21.610.5519 56

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)
Built-in
Image
Stab
1.
 
Olympus E-1optical Y 1.8 134 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0 n n
2.
 
Olympus E-300optical n 1.8 134 fixed n 1/4000s 2.5 Y n
3.
 
Olympus E-500optical n 2.5 215 fixed n 1/4000s 2.5 Y n
4.
 
Olympus E-330optical n 2.5 215 tilting n 1/4000s 3.0 Y n
5.
 
Panasonic L1optical n 2.5 207 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0 Y n
6.
 
Olympus E-400optical n 2.5 215 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0 Y n
7.
 
Leica Digilux 3optical n 2.5 207 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0 Y n
8.
 
Olympus E-410optical n 2.5 215 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0 Y n
9.
 
Olympus E-510optical n 2.5 215 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0 Y Y
10.
 
Panasonic L10optical n 2.5 207 swivel n 1/4000s 3.0 Y n
11.
 
Olympus E-3optical Y 2.5 230 swivel n 1/8000s 5.0 Y Y
12.
 
Olympus E-420optical n 2.7 215 fixed n 1/4000s 3.5 Y n
13.
 
Olympus E-520optical n 2.7 215 fixed n 1/4000s 3.5 Y Y
14.
 
Olympus E-30optical Y 2.7 230 swivel n 1/8000s 5.0 Y Y
15.
 
Olympus E-620optical n 2.7 230 swivel n 1/4000s 4.0 Y Y
16.
 
Olympus E-450optical n 2.7 215 fixed n 1/4000s 3.5 Y n
17.
 
Olympus E-600optical n 2.7 230 swivel n 1/4000s 4.0 Y Y
18.
 
Olympus E-5optical Y 3.0 920 swivel n 1/8000s 5.0 Y Y

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)
Street
Price
1.
 
Olympus E-1....+o.. Jun 2003 1,699 i
2.
 
Olympus E-300....+o4.5/5 Sep 2004 799 i
3.
 
Olympus E-500..76/100+ +.... Sep 2005 599 i
4.
 
Olympus E-330....+o.. Jan 2006 999 i
5.
 
Panasonic L1..85/100+..3.5/5 Feb 2006 999 i
6.
 
Olympus E-400..85/100..4/54/5 Sep 2006 699 i
7.
 
Leica Digilux 3.......... Sep 2006 1,499 i
8.
 
Olympus E-410..86/100+ +4/54.5/5 Mar 2007 699 i
9.
 
Olympus E-510..89/100+ +3.5/54.5/5 Mar 2007 799 i
10.
 
Panasonic L10..85/100+3.5/54/5 Aug 2007 599 i
11.
 
Olympus E-3..88/100+ +o4/5 Oct 2007 1,699 i
12.
 
Olympus E-420..85/100+ +4/54.5/5 Mar 2008 599 i
13.
 
Olympus E-520..87/100+ +4.5/54.5/5 May 2008 699 i
14.
 
Olympus E-30....71/1004.5/54/5 Nov 2008 1,299 i
15.
 
Olympus E-6203/588/10072/1004.5/55/5 Feb 2009 699 i
16.
 
Olympus E-450......4/54/5 Mar 2009 499 i
17.
 
Olympus E-600........4.5/5 Aug 2009 449 i
18.
 
Olympus E-54/5..75/1004/54.5/5 Sep 2010 1,699 i
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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