Posted by: David Vernon | February 9, 2010

Micro Four Thirds Cameras

Blue Winter by Craig Biertempfel

A few moments if you will on a different camera system – a system that until a few days ago I hadn’t given much thought too.

Folks – please say hello to Micro Four Thirds.

Now before things get too confusing I need to point out that there’s a difference between Micro Four Thirds and the older “Four Thirds” systems. The larger Four Thirds cameras have been around for a few years now. They look like slightly smaller versions of DSLRs and work essentially the same way (with a movable mirror). The idea behind the system, designed as digital only from the ground up, is that it follows a standard. So any 4/3 lens from any manufacturer will work on any 4/3 body. The sensors in these cameras are larger then in almost any point-and-shoot but smaller then the standard cropped sensor (APS-C/APS-H) that you find in most cameras from Nikon, Canon, Sony, Pentax, etc.

The folks at Wikipedia mention some nice advantages to the Four Thirds system:

  • The smaller sensor size makes possible smaller and lighter camera bodies and lenses. In particular, the Four-Thirds system allows for the development of impressive f/2.0 zoom lenses, which would be prohibitively heavy, expensive, and difficult to design for larger sensor formats.
  • Telecentric optical path means that light hitting the sensor is traveling perpendicular to the sensor, resulting in brighter corners, and most importantly improved off-center resolution, particularly on wide angle lenses.
  • Because the flange focal distance is significantly shorter than most mounts (such as Canon FD, Canon EF, Nikon F and Pentax K), lenses for many other SLR types, including the old Olympus OM System, can be fitted to Four Thirds cameras with simple mechanical adapter rings.
  • A smaller sensor makes it easier to achieve a deeper depth-of-field, when needed, reducing the risk of photos that are out of focus.

Now – what’s Micro Four Thirds? Well – imagine a 4/3 sensor inside of a camera body that does not use a mirror. This is Micro 4/3. Same sensor – even smaller cameras – and still a wide variety of interchangeable lenses. What other advantages are there in the micro line? I’ll again quoth from Wikipedia on Micro 4/3:

  • Smaller and lighter cameras and lenses
  • Shorter flange-focal distance means that practically all manual lenses can be adapted for use
  • Brighter electronic viewfinder in low light
  • Electronic viewfinder can provide real-time preview of exposure, white balance and tone
  • Absence of mirror eliminates “mirror slap” noise and vibration
  • Smaller sensor size allows for cheaper, smaller and lighter telephoto lenses
  • Shorter flange-focal distance allows for cheaper, smaller and lighter normal and wide lenses

Right now only two manufacturers are producing Micro Four Thirds cameras – Panasonic with it’s Lumix G series and Olympus with it’s PEN series. And these cameras are not cheap – coming in at around $1K. But they can do more then take a pretty picture. The Olympus PEN E-P2 can shoot in four different resolutions (16:9, 4:3, 3:2, 6:6) and all a fairly quiet (noisewise) 12.3MP.  The pixel density of these sensors comes out at over 5 MP/cm² – while the Nikon D90 and Canon 50D do significantly worse. They shoot lovely HD video, they perform relatively well at higher ISOs, they allow off-camera flash, and they fit in your pocket with an attached pancake lens. Take a look at the PEN and Lumix cameras compared to similarly priced Nikons and Canons.

In the end though it’s the images they create – I think they are seriously beautiful. A search on flickr reveals some lovely shots taken with Micro 4/3 systems. The photo atop this article was taken with such a camera – an Olympus E-P2. Let’s take a moment in fact to look at a nice little gallery from Pittsburgh, PA-based photographer Craig Biertempfel – who picked up his Olympus PEN E-P2 camera just a few weeks ago. I’m just smitten with the look and style (all images © 2010 Craig Biertempfel. Used with gracious permission).

Winter Wonderland by Craig Biertempfel

365 xmas by Craig Biertempfel

S.W. Randall Toys, Shadyside by Craig Biertempfel

Walnut Street, Shadyside by Craig Biertempfel

Stirred by Craig Biertempfel

Snowed In by Craig Biertempfel

Ease by Craig Biertempfel

Share the Road by Craig Biertempfel

Just love what I’m seeing from this platform. I think it’s a downright serious way to make images and to push forward your vision. If anyone in Central Illinois has any experience with this new Micro Four Thirds system – I’d love to hear about it in the comments. But what a way to walk around with a great camera in your pocket.



  1. Love the winter pics. Interesting space.

  2. great write up here, thnx for the good read
    and the E-P2 is one interesting camera, such good image quality, straight out of the camera or with one of the art filters, in manual or aperture priority it’s a dream to shoot with…one negative in my critique so far, the lack of a wheel to use, similar to the Canon wheel, no eye cup with new EVF…tons of good though, it just makes a fine photograph and with adapters you can use expensive German glass or something from Zuiko as well as well as many others

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