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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.

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

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
Model
Sensor
Class
Resolution
(MP)
Horiz.
Pixels
Vert.
Pixels
Video
Format
DXO
Portrait
DXO
Landscape
DXO
Sports
DXO
Overall
Camera
Model
Olympus E-1 Four Thirds 4.9 2560 1920-----Olympus E-1
Olympus E-300 Four Thirds 8.0 3264 2448-----Olympus E-300
Olympus E-500 Four Thirds 8.0 3264 2448-----Olympus E-500
Olympus E-330 Four Thirds 7.4 3136 2352-----Olympus E-330
Panasonic L1 Four Thirds 7.4 3136 2352-----Panasonic L1
Olympus E-400 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736-----Olympus E-400
Leica Digilux 3 Four Thirds 7.4 3136 2352-----Leica Digilux 3
Olympus E-410 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736-21.110.049451Olympus E-410
Olympus E-510 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736-21.210.044252Olympus E-510
Panasonic L10 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736-21.310.842955Panasonic L10
Olympus E-3 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736-21.610.557156Olympus E-3
Olympus E-420 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736-21.510.452756Olympus E-420
Olympus E-520 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736-21.410.454855Olympus E-520
Olympus E-30 Four Thirds 12.2 4032 3024-21.310.453055Olympus E-30
Olympus E-620 Four Thirds 12.2 4032 3024-21.310.353655Olympus E-620
Olympus E-450 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736-21.510.551256Olympus E-450
Olympus E-600 Four Thirds 12.2 4032 3024-21.510.354155Olympus E-600
Olympus E-5 Four Thirds 12.2 4032 3024720/30p21.610.551956Olympus E-5

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
Model
Viewfinder
(Type or
'000 dots)
Control
Panel
(yes/no)
LCD
Size
(inch)
LCD
Resolution
('000 dots)
LCD
Attach-
ment
Touch
Screen
(yes/no)
Shutter
speed
(1/sec)
Shutter
flaps
(1/sec)
Build-in
Flash
(yes/no)
Build-in
Image
Stab
Camera
Model
Olympus E-1optical Y 1.8 134 fixed n 4000 3.0 n n Olympus E-1
Olympus E-300optical n 1.8 134 fixed n 4000 2.5 Y n Olympus E-300
Olympus E-500optical n 2.5 215 fixed n 4000 2.5 Y n Olympus E-500
Olympus E-330optical n 2.5 215 tilting n 4000 3.0 Y n Olympus E-330
Panasonic L1optical n 2.5 207 fixed n 4000 3.0 Y n Panasonic L1
Olympus E-400optical n 2.5 215 fixed n 4000 3.0 Y n Olympus E-400
Leica Digilux 3optical n 2.5 207 fixed n 4000 3.0 Y n Leica Digilux 3
Olympus E-410optical n 2.5 215 fixed n 4000 3.0 Y n Olympus E-410
Olympus E-510optical n 2.5 215 fixed n 4000 3.0 Y Y Olympus E-510
Panasonic L10optical n 2.5 207 swivel n 4000 3.0 Y n Panasonic L10
Olympus E-3optical Y 2.5 230 swivel n 8000 5.0 Y Y Olympus E-3
Olympus E-420optical n 2.7 215 fixed n 4000 3.5 Y n Olympus E-420
Olympus E-520optical n 2.7 215 fixed n 4000 3.5 Y Y Olympus E-520
Olympus E-30optical Y 2.7 230 swivel n 8000 5.0 Y Y Olympus E-30
Olympus E-620optical n 2.7 230 swivel n 4000 4.0 Y Y Olympus E-620
Olympus E-450optical n 2.7 215 fixed n 4000 3.5 Y n Olympus E-450
Olympus E-600optical n 2.7 230 swivel n 4000 4.0 Y Y Olympus E-600
Olympus E-5optical Y 3.0 920 swivel n 8000 5.0 Y Y Olympus E-5

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
Model
cameralabs dpreview ephotozine imaging-resource photographyblog Camera
Launch
(announced)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(USD)
Used
Price
(USD)
Camera
Model
Olympus E-1-Recrevrev- Jun 2003 1,699- i Olympus E-1
Olympus E-300-Recrevrev4.5/5 Sep 2004 799- i Olympus E-300
Olympus E-50076/100HiRec--- Sep 2005 599- i Olympus E-500
Olympus E-330-Recrev3.5/5- Jan 2006 999- i Olympus E-330
Panasonic L185/100Rec-rev3.5/5 Feb 2006 999- i Panasonic L1
Olympus E-40085/100-4/5-4/5 Sep 2006 699- i Olympus E-400
Leica Digilux 3----- Sep 2006 1,499- i Leica Digilux 3
Olympus E-41086/100HiRec4/5rev4.5/5 Mar 2007 699- i Olympus E-410
Olympus E-51089/100HiRec3.5/5rev4.5/5 Mar 2007 799- i Olympus E-510
Panasonic L1085/100Rec3.5/5rev4/5 Aug 2007 599- i Panasonic L10
Olympus E-388/100HiRecrevrev4/5 Oct 2007 1,699- i Olympus E-3
Olympus E-42085/100HiRec4/5rev4.5/5 Mar 2008 599- i Olympus E-420
Olympus E-52087/100HiRec4.5/54/54.5/5 May 2008 699- i Olympus E-520
Olympus E-30-71/1004.5/5-4/5 Nov 2008 1,299- i Olympus E-30
Olympus E-62088/10072/1004.5/5rev5/5 Feb 2009 699- i Olympus E-620
Olympus E-450--4/5-4/5 Mar 2009 499- i Olympus E-450
Olympus E-600----4.5/5 Aug 2009 449- i Olympus E-600
Olympus E-5-75/1004/5-4.5/5 Sep 2010 1,699- i Olympus E-5
 

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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