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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 While mFT quickly superseded FT, all FT-lenses can be operated on mFT cameras with full aperture control when using an FT to mFT adapter.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.

Headline Specifications of Four Thirds Lenses
Wide-angle Focus
System
(type)
Filter
Type
(size)
Weather
Sealing
(y/n)
Lens
Dimensions
(dia x len)
Lens
Weight
(net)
Product
Launch
(year)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Used
Price
(ebay)
Olympus ZD 7-14mm f/4 ED AF no YES 87 x 120 mm 780 g 2004 1799 check
Olympus ZD FE 8mm f/3.5 ED AF no YES 79 x 77 mm 485 g 2005 799 check
Samyang 8mm f/3.5 Aspherical IF MC Fisheye MF no no 75 x 80 mm 428 g 2009 299 check
Peleng 8mm f/3.5 Fisheye MF no no 73 x 66 mm 370 g 2010 229 check
Samyang 8mm f/3.5 UMC Fish-Eye CS II MF no no 78 x 80 mm 430 g 2012 329 check
Olympus ZD 9-18mm f/4-5.6 ED AF 72 no 80 x 73 mm 275 g 2008 599 check
Samyang 10mm f/2.8 ED AS NCS CS MF no no 87 x 111 mm 610 g 2013 599 check
Sigma AF 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM HSM 77 no 84 x 86 mm 495 g 2008 479 check
Olympus ZD 11-22mm f/2.8-3.5 AF 72 YES 75 x 93 mm 485 g 2003 799 check
Samyang 12mm f/2.8 ED AS NCS FISH-EYE MF no no 77 x 78 mm 530 g 2014 499 check
Samyang 14mm f/2.8 ED AS IF UMC MF no no 87 x 101 mm 560 g 2010 399 check
Samyang 16mm f/2.0 ED AS UMC CS MF 77 no 83 x 95 mm 600 g 2013 399 check
Samyang 20mm f/1.8 ED AS UMC MF 77 no 83 x 94 mm 530 g 2016 599 check
Standard Zooms Focus
System
(type)
Filter
Type
(size)
Weather
Sealing
(y/n)
Lens
Dimensions
(dia x len)
Lens
Weight
(net)
Product
Launch
(year)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Used
Price
(ebay)
Olympus ZD 12-60mm f/2.8-4 SWD SWD 72 YES 80 x 99 mm 575 g 2007 999 check
Olympus ZD 14-35mm f/2.0 SWD SWD 77 YES 86 x 123 mm 915 g 2005 2299 check
Olympus ZD 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 AF 58 no 65 x 61 mm 190 g 2006 249 check
Olympus ZD 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 AF 58 no 71 x 87 mm 285 g 2005 299 check
Panasonic-Leica 14-50mm f/2.8-3.5 OIS AF 72 no 79 x 103 mm 490 g 2006 999 check
Panasonic-Leica 14-50mm f/3.8-5.6 OIS AF 67 no 75 x 93 mm 434 g 2007 699 check
Olympus ZD 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 AF 67 YES 74 x 88 mm 435 g 2003 499 check
Olympus ZD 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 II AF 67 YES 75 x 89 mm 440 g 2008 599 check
Olympus ZD 17.5-45mm f/3.5-5.6 AF 52 no 71 x 70 mm 210 g 2005 199 check
Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX DC Asp. IF AF 67 no 74 x 84 mm 445 g 2006 449 check
Sigma 18-50mm f/3.5-5.6 DC AF 58 no 68 x 68 mm 270 g 2004 149 check
Super Zooms Focus
System
(type)
Filter
Type
(size)
Weather
Sealing
(y/n)
Lens
Dimensions
(dia x len)
Lens
Weight
(net)
Product
Launch
(year)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Used
Price
(ebay)
Panasonic-Leica 14-150mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS XSM 72 no 79 x 90 mm 520 g 2007 1699 check
Sigma 18-125mm f/3.5-5.6 DC IF AF 58 no 77 x 107 mm 405 g 2004 349 check
Olympus ZD 18-180mm f/3.5-6.3 AF 62 no 78 x 85 mm 435 g 2005 499 check
Standard Primes Focus
System
(type)
Filter
Type
(size)
Weather
Sealing
(y/n)
Lens
Dimensions
(dia x len)
Lens
Weight
(net)
Product
Launch
(year)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Used
Price
(ebay)
Samyang 24mm f/1.4 ED AS UMC MF 77 no 83 x 103 mm 680 g 2008 669 check
Samyang 24mm f/1.4 ED AS IF UMC MF 77 no 83 x 103 mm 595 g 2011 599 check
Sigma 24mm f/1.8 EX DG Aspherical Macro AF 77 no 84 x 88 mm 520 g 2006 549 check
Samyang 24mm f/3.5 ED AS UMC Tilt/Shift MF 82 no 86 x 115 mm 720 g 2012 999 check
Panasonic-Leica 25mm f/1.4 D Summilux AF 62 no 75 x 78 mm 510 g 2007 1099 check
Olympus ZD 25mm f/2.8 AF 43 no 64 x 24 mm 95 g 2008 249 check
Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM HSM 62 no 77 x 59 mm 430 g 2006 449 check
Tele Zooms Focus
System
(type)
Filter
Type
(size)
Weather
Sealing
(y/n)
Lens
Dimensions
(dia x len)
Lens
Weight
(net)
Product
Launch
(year)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Used
Price
(ebay)
Olympus ZD 35-100mm f/2.0 ED AF 77 YES 97 x 214 mm 1650 g 2005 2499 check
Olympus ZD 40-150mm f/3.5-4.5 AF 58 no 77 x 107 mm 425 g 2005 499 check
Olympus ZD 40-150mm f/4-5.6 ED AF 58 no 66 x 72 mm 220 g 2006 279 check
Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 ED AF 67 YES 87 x 157 mm 1070 g 2003 1199 check
Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 ED SWD SWD 67 YES 87 x 157 mm 1145 g 2007 1199 check
Sigma 50-500mm f/4-6.3 APO EX DG HSM HSM 86 no 95 x 219 mm 1840 g 2005 1099 check
Sigma 55-200mm f/4-5.6 DC AF 55 no 72 x 93 mm 330 g 2004 159 check
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 II EX DG HSM Macro HSM 77 no 87 x 190 mm 1385 g 2007 799 check
Olympus ZD 70-300mm f/4-5.6 ED AF 58 no 80 x 127 mm 620 g 2007 399 check
Olympus ZD 90-250mm f/2.8 ED AF 105 YES 124 x 276 mm 3270 g 2005 5999 check
Sigma 135-400mm f/4.5-5.6 DG AF 77 no 84 x 189 mm 1280 g 2006 749 check
Sigma 300-800mm f/5.6 EX DG APO HSM IF HSM rear no 166 x 544 mm 5880 g 2006 7999 check
Tele Primes Focus
System
(type)
Filter
Type
(size)
Weather
Sealing
(y/n)
Lens
Dimensions
(dia x len)
Lens
Weight
(net)
Product
Launch
(year)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Used
Price
(ebay)
Samyang 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC MF 77 no 83 x 117 mm 720 g 2011 599 check
Olympus ZD 35mm f/3.5 Macro AF 52 no 71 x 53 mm 165 g 2005 229 check
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM HSM 77 no 85 x 74 mm 530 g 2008 499 check
Samyang 50mm f/1.4 AS UMC MF 77 no 82 x 80 mm 545 g 2014 499 check
Olympus ZD 50mm f/2.0 Macro AF 52 YES 71 x 62 mm 300 g 2003 499 check
Samyang 85mm f/1.4 Aspherical IF MF 72 no 78 x 80 mm 522 g 2008 299 check
Samyang 85mm f/1.4 AS IF UMC MF 72 no 78 x 80 mm 520 g 2013 399 check
Samyang 100mm f/2.8 ED UMC MACRO MF 67 no 73 x 128 mm 715 g 2015 599 check
Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro AF 58 no 74 x 95 mm 450 g 2006 799 check
Samyang 135mm f/2.0 ED UMC MF 77 no 82 x 127 mm 830 g 2015 599 check
Olympus ZD 150mm f/2.0 ED AF 82 YES 100 x 150 mm 1610 g 2004 2499 check
Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG APO HSM IF Macro HSM 72 no 80 x 137 mm 895 g 2006 729 check
Olympus ZD 300mm f/2.8 ED AF rear YES 127 x 285 mm 3290 g 2003 6999 check
Samyang 300mm f/6.3 ED UMC CS MF 58 no 65 x 81 mm 285 g 2013 299 check

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.