M4/3 – What’s The Big Idea?

M4/3 moves ahead so fast. For ages I wanted in body stabilization and an eye level finder in my carry-around camera and then along comes the GX7 with both. You had both 4/3 and M4/3 lenses and you wanted to get decent focus speed with both formats? Along comes the Olympus E-M1 and you can. You wanted an M4/3 camera that would genuinely fit in your pocket. Welcome the Panasonic GF1.

It all moves so fast in the M4/3 world compared to DSLRs which are still not a million miles in concept from their film counterparts. The DSLR is a mature product with certain limitations built in. That flapping mirror limits how small it can be. The larger sensor size means longer focus lenses for a given angle of view and the laws of optics dictate the lens must thus be bigger. Pentax with their range of pancake lenses like the 15mm f4 and 70mm f2.5 have gone as far as anyone can with miniaturizing DSLR lenses. I have wide experience of Pentax pancakes and I doubt that anyone could do it better. But, the lenses are relatively slow and even Pentax have found no way to similarly miniaturize a zoom.


Now look at M4/3. I have a Panasonic Vario X 14-42 zoom. It has no focusing or zoom ring, instead 2 sliders on the side. Thus, the lens can fold itself inwards when not in use bringing the size down to a pancake lens. Truly original thinking. A 28-84mm equivalent zoom with inbuilt stabilization, weighing 95g. Now we have a really, really tiny 12-32mm that weighs 70g, less than 3oz.

We now have built in wi-fi with full control of still and video functions on your phone or pad. High bit rate movies. Built in stop motion. Panorama, high dynamic range, to go. Silent electronic shutters. Focus peaking and manual focus assist. Electronic viewfinders that amplify dark scenes.

I’m currently looking for MFP format cameras with DPOF 2. It’s an extension to DPOF, the digital printing order format, called digital pizza order format -rather than prints it orders pizza.

Seriously, it is becoming harder to think of things, new tricks for MFT cameras. I have a couple of sensible ideas.

1.A curtain which encloses the sensor area when a lens is removed to prevent the deposit of dust and pollen on the imaging. Maybe the shutter curtain could be used for this?

2. An inbuilt bokeh function. An area in which the DSLR out-gun the MFT standard is in the ability to limit depth of field. It’s for technical reasons, of course and nothing can be done about it optically.

But would this fly? The camera by dint of focusing, knows the distance of the main subject from the camera. So, I set my Bokeh Blender to say, ‘Portrait 1’. It now knows that focus will be on the eye area because I have told it ‘Portrait’. It knows that a human head has a fairly standard depth from tip of nose to back of head. It assumes that anything outside of that range should be out of focus and applies lens blur to it. You could have Portrait 1, 2 and 3 for levels of blur. Or you could set a level. Say you shoot at f5.6 on a 25mm lens. Set to ‘Full Frame 105mm f2.8’ and your Bokeh Control will adjust the blur level to match the FF model set.

At a stroke you have solved one of the major criticisms levelled at M4/3 cameras. Could it be done? I don’t see why not. The objections would come from the more traditional photographers who used to consider software correction of lens distortion and chromatic aberration ‘cheating’. I can see their point but from mine, if it produces the results I want, that’ll do.

Anyway, I’ve told you my big ideas. Any clever functions you’d like to see added? Let me know.

8 thoughts on “M4/3 – What’s The Big Idea?

  1. Steve Hoge

    “Any clever functions you’d like to see added? ”

    I’m not sure why I’ve never seen a No Clip metering mode, where the camera picks an exposure, perhaps underexposed with respect to conventional criteria, which guarantees that no pixels ANYWHERE in the frame are clipping to white.

    Surely the camera could model the exposure to predict this; worst case there might need to be a test exposure at a model aperture.

    Has this feature been implemented in some camera that I’m not aware of?


    1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

      Interesting idea. The camera is already doing the work for this when it calculates optimum exposure, so it wouldn’t be too hard to implement in my (non-expert) opinion.

  2. Mark

    Hi David, really enjoying your comments and observations on M43. As regards the bokeh in software, in my “old” E-P3, the Diarama art filter applies selective blurring to make the scene appear as if it was a miniature set up. Still experimeting with it but It can make even the 14-42 kit zoom results look quite dreamy on some portrait shots. Worth a try!
    Cheers, Mark

    1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

      Hi Mark. Some of the best fun is using things for things they weren’t designed for. I think it’s called the toy filter on my camera but I must say I’d never thought to try it on portraits. Interesting, I’ll try that.

  3. John Kubler

    Very interesting, but disturbing story. I am sure that you have more stories working in your field. I am glad that you make good use of the m4/3 system, I can’t imagine carrying a FF system for such work around the world. Keep up with your interesting and well written articles.

    1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

      Thanks John. I see you worked on sensors – would they be camera sensors? If they were, can you answer a question I posed?
      Would it be possible to extract focus information off the chip at the time of capture, maybe with some sort of degree of blur readout, so that a selection could be made and stored with the image?
      My idea would be that it would facilitate changing the background of an image, especially a portrait. Maybe it would be a waste of resources? I’d be interested to hear your view.

      1. John Kubler

        I guess my comment was supposed to be for your article “A Near death Experience On A Transport Plane”, but anyway I have been involved with sensors for many years. They are used for measuring pressure, force and acceleration, no optical sensors, so I am not an expert in this field. However, you bring up an interesting concept and as we see the technological advances these days I am not surprised if we will see innovations like this. Look at the new Olympus E-M1 with the hybrid focus system. So, I am going for the ride, the m4/3 systems are developing nicely and every few month we see another new product.

        1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

          Yes, disturbing is the word for the Ilyushin experience!

          Like you, I’m fascinated to see what the M4/3 designers come up with next. In the core capabilities of the cameras and lenses they seem to have come on in leaps and bounds. The only area that you might say needs improving is the follow focus on sports and general focus for video, where every change leads to a bit of ‘hunting’ that doesn’t matter on stills but shows up badly on video. I presume the E-M1s hybrid system will be applied to M4/3 lenses at some point.

          I don’t fully understand why they didn’t do so on the E-M1 but obviously if they could have, they would have, so some technical impediment, I guess.


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