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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
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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.

Camera Body Specifications
Camera Camera
Width
Camera
Height
Camera
Depth
Camera
Weight
Battery
Life
(CIPA)
Weather
Sealing
(y/n)
Camera
Launch
(year)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(amazon)
Used
Price
(ebay)
Olympus E-1 141 mm 104 mm 81 mm 738 g 750 YES 2003 1,699discont. check
Olympus E-300 147 mm 85 mm 64 mm 624 g 750 no 2004 799discont. check
Olympus E-500 130 mm 95 mm 66 mm 479 g 750 no 2005 599discont. check
Olympus E-330 140 mm 87 mm 72 mm 637 g 750 no 2006 999discont. check
Panasonic L1 146 mm 87 mm 64 mm 606 g 750 no 2006 999discont. check
Leica Digilux 3 146 mm 87 mm 77 mm 606 g 750 no 2006 1,499discont. check
Olympus E-400 130 mm 91 mm 53 mm 435 g 500 no 2006 699discont. check
Olympus E-410 130 mm 91 mm 53 mm 435 g 500 no 2007 699discont. check
Olympus E-510 136 mm 92 mm 68 mm 538 g 750 no 2007 799discont. check
Panasonic L10 135 mm 96 mm 78 mm 556 g 450 no 2007 599discont. check
Olympus E-3 142 mm 116 mm 75 mm 876 g 750 YES 2007 1,699discont. check
Olympus E-420 130 mm 91 mm 53 mm 440 g 500 no 2008 599discont. check
Olympus E-520 136 mm 92 mm 68 mm 535 g 750 no 2008 699discont. check
Olympus E-30 142 mm 108 mm 75 mm 701 g 750 no 2008 1,299discont. check
Olympus E-620 130 mm 94 mm 60 mm 521 g 500 no 2009 699discont. check
Olympus E-450 130 mm 91 mm 53 mm 440 g 500 no 2009 499discont. check
Olympus E-600 130 mm 94 mm 60 mm 535 g 500 no 2009 449discont. check
Olympus E-5 142 mm 117 mm 75 mm 873 g 750 YES 2010 1,699discont. check

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.

Sensor Characteristics
Camera Sensor
Class
Resolution
(Megapixel)
Horiz.
Pixels
Vert.
Pixels
Video
Format
DXO
Portrait
DXO
Landscape
DXO
Sports
DXO
Overall
Olympus E-1 Four Thirds 4.9 2560 1920 no - - - -
Olympus E-300 Four Thirds 8.0 3264 2448 no - - - -
Olympus E-500 Four Thirds 8.0 3264 2448 no - - - -
Olympus E-330 Four Thirds 7.4 3136 2352 no - - - -
Panasonic L1 Four Thirds 7.4 3136 2352 no - - - -
Leica Digilux 3 Four Thirds 7.4 3136 2352 no - - - -
Olympus E-400 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736 no - - - -
Olympus E-410 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736 no 21.1 10.0 494 51
Olympus E-510 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736 no 21.2 10.0 442 52
Panasonic L10 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736 no 21.3 10.8 429 55
Olympus E-3 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736 no 21.6 10.5 571 56
Olympus E-420 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736 no 21.5 10.4 527 56
Olympus E-520 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736 no 21.4 10.4 548 55
Olympus E-30 Four Thirds 12.2 4032 3024 no 21.3 10.4 530 55
Olympus E-620 Four Thirds 12.2 4032 3024 no 21.3 10.3 536 55
Olympus E-450 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736 no 21.5 10.5 512 56
Olympus E-600 Four Thirds 12.2 4032 3024 no 21.5 10.3 541 55
Olympus E-5 Four Thirds 12.2 4032 3024 720/30p 21.6 10.5 519 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.

Core Features
Camera Viewfinder
(Type or
'000 dots)
Control
Panel
(Y/n)
LCD
Size
(inch)
LCD
Resolution
('000 dots)
LCD
Attach-
ment
Touch
Screen
(Y/n)
Shutter
speed
(1/sec)
Shutter
flaps
(1/sec))
Build-in
Flash
(GN)
Build-in
Image
Stab
Olympus E-1 optical YES 1.8 134 fixed no 4000 3.0 no no
Olympus E-300 optical no 1.8 134 fixed no 4000 2.5 11 no
Olympus E-500 optical no 2.5 215 fixed no 4000 2.5 13 no
Olympus E-330 optical no 2.5 215 tilting no 4000 3.0 13 no
Panasonic L1 optical no 2.5 207 fixed no 4000 3.0 13 no
Leica Digilux 3 optical no 2.5 207 fixed no 4000 3.0 13 no
Olympus E-400 optical no 2.5 215 fixed no 4000 3.0 10 no
Olympus E-410 optical no 2.5 215 fixed no 4000 3.0 10 no
Olympus E-510 optical no 2.5 215 fixed no 4000 3.0 12 YES
Panasonic L10 optical no 2.5 207 swivel no 4000 3.0 11 no
Olympus E-3 optical YES 2.5 230 swivel no 8000 5.0 13 YES
Olympus E-420 optical no 2.7 215 fixed no 4000 3.5 12 no
Olympus E-520 optical no 2.7 215 fixed no 4000 3.5 12 YES
Olympus E-30 optical YES 2.7 230 swivel no 8000 5.0 13 YES
Olympus E-620 optical no 2.7 230 swivel no 4000 4.0 12 YES
Olympus E-450 optical no 2.7 215 fixed no 4000 3.5 12 no
Olympus E-600 optical no 2.7 230 swivel no 4000 4.0 12 YES
Olympus E-5 optical YES 3.0 920 swivel no 8000 5.0 13 YES

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.

Review scores
Camera camera
labs
.com
dp
review
.com
ephoto
zine
.com
imaging
resource
.com
photography
blog
.com
Camera
Launch
(year)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(amazon)
Used
Price
(ebay)
Olympus E-1 - Rec reviewed reviewed - 2003 1,699discont. check
Olympus E-300 - Rec reviewed reviewed 4.5/5 2004 799discont. check
Olympus E-500 76/100 HiRec - - - 2005 599discont. check
Olympus E-330 - Rec reviewed 3.5/5 - 2006 999discont. check
Panasonic L1 85/100 Rec - reviewed 3.5/5 2006 999discont. check
Leica Digilux 3 - - - - - 2006 1,499discont. check
Olympus E-400 85/100 - 4/5 - 4/5 2006 699discont. check
Olympus E-410 86/100 HiRec 4/5 reviewed 4.5/5 2007 699discont. check
Olympus E-510 89/100 HiRec 3.5/5 reviewed 4.5/5 2007 799discont. check
Panasonic L10 85/100 Rec 3.5/5 reviewed 4/5 2007 599discont. check
Olympus E-3 88/100 HiRec reviewed reviewed 4/5 2007 1,699discont. check
Olympus E-420 85/100 HiRec 4/5 reviewed 4.5/5 2008 599discont. check
Olympus E-520 87/100 HiRec 4.5/5 4/5 4.5/5 2008 699discont. check
Olympus E-30 - 71/100 HiRec 4.5/5 - 4/5 2008 1,299discont. check
Olympus E-620 88/100 72/100 HiRec 4.5/5 reviewed 5/5 2009 699discont. check
Olympus E-450 - - 4/5 - 4/5 2009 499discont. check
Olympus E-600 - - - - 4.5/5 2009 449discont. check
Olympus E-5 - 75/100 4/5 - 4.5/5 2010 1,699discont. check

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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