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Micro Four Thirds Discuss the newly announced Micro Four Thirds addition to the Four Thirds system family here.

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Old 20th June 2009
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Zuiko Zuiko is offline
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So What Next For Olympus Micro Four Thirds?

We now have the E-P1 and it's attracting enormous interest but I think it's fair to say that the design, style, feature set and functionality are not to everyone's taste. Olympus appear to be committed to releasing further MFT cameras in the not too distant future and the big question seems to be whether these will follow the format of the digital Pen concept or offer a totally different design solution. If they stick with the Pen concept in what way will the new model(s) be different enough to win the hearts and minds of the present doubters? Alternatively, what other design could they embrace without straying into the territory already established by the successful Panasonic G series?

My personal opinion is that Olympus will broadly stick with the Pen concept but incorporate different features and maybe adopt a less radical style with more universal appeal. The big question is can this concept be developed to attract existing compact users wishing to “step up” and DSLR users seeking a more portable alternative in the numbers needed to underpin the future success of the company? I think they can.

Style is no problem. The present silver/black and white/tan combinations make a bold statement that is certain to get the new camera noticed and raise it's profile but, for this very reason, is bound to deter many would-be purchasers. This can easily be remedied in future models by providing an all black alternative.

Design is a potential problem, in that it may limit the number of features that can be incorporated due to space constraints. However, Olympus have an excellent tradition of problem solving and miniaturisation which leaves me optimistic that these issues can be overcome.

Price I see as rather more of an issue. I think it is unrealistically optimistic to assume that many compact owners wishing to upgrade will be prepared to stump up the kind of money for which the E-P1 is set to retail and even serious enthusiasts more accustomed to investing larger sums of money in their hobby are likely to bulk at the price of adding a more portable system to their kit bag. The dilemma for Olympus is that they need a fairly high profit margin per unit to recoup the R&D, initial production costs and marketing campaigns, yet to make MFT truly successful they need to sell it in far greater numbers than their existing E-System DSLR range. It is a very fine balance which ultimately may prove incompatible.

So what can Olympus do to overcome these issues? I guess that if you asked one hundred photographers this question you would get one hundred different answers but, for what they are worth, here are my thoughts.

Many on this forum see the lack of a viewfinder as a serious omission but let's not lose sight of the fact that the real target audience are existing compact users who are accustomed to composing on the LCD screen only. Indeed, many would consider using a viewfinder quite alien! However, Olympus would be foolish to spurn the not inconsiderable number of “serious” photographers (I hate that term; I regard myself as a “serious” banker, photography I do for fun) who regard this feature as mandatory and the lack of it as a deal breaker. The solution would appear to incorporate this feature into some models, albeit with a size penalty if this cannot be avoided) whilst omitting it from others. A possible solution to the size and bulk conundrum might be to have an articulated screen that in the flush position obscures a viewfinder. Swinging the screen out would reveal the viewfinder for those that wish to use it. This compromise might avoid the need for a pentaprism type hump and still allow a large screen to be incorporated.

Another solution might be the provision of an accessory shoe viewfinder, but of the electronic type utilised by the Ricoh GX100 rather than the simple fixed view optical finder currently offered for the E-P1. That would still leave the issue of using flash unresolved but I can't see why accommodating a small built-in pop-up unit should be beyond the wit of the Olympus design team. If this really cannot be achieved, why not resort to a dedicated flash unit that clips on the side as in the XA film compact series?

The provision of more lenses, particularly tiny, high quality primes would also make the system far more appealing to enthusiasts. I'm sure Olympus is aware of this and is developing these as quickly as possible but typically it is all cloak and dagger and shrouded in secrecy when what is really needed is a clear roadmap of planned releases to remove the uncertainty of anyone wishing to invest in the system.

Whilst experienced enthusiast photographers regard the lack of a viewfinder as a serious drawback but the lack of a built-in flash only a minor annoyance, the average compact user is likely to think exactly the opposite. What's the point in having a cool retro styled camera to wow your friends at parties and night clubs if it doesn't even have a flash! A possible solution, without increasing the size of the camera, might be to build a ring flash into the lens, around the front element. This may, of course, prove too costly but it probably wouldn't be needed on every lens, just the 14-42mm zoom which I would guess is most likely to be used by the casual snapper.

The issue of price is seemingly much harder to resolve. It is unlikely that any amount of marketing hype is going to persuade the average compact user to switch to a camera costing upwards of £700 for the basic package and still not have flash capability. Somehow Olympus will have to find a way to drive down the price, but how can they possibly do that?

The E-P1 appears to be built to a very high standard, much better than what the average compact user is accustomed to. Surely there is room for compromise here with a plastic body and lens mount on a budget model. Another option might be a fixed, non interchangeable zoom. Ultimately, though, if Olympus are serious about establishing this as a mainstream format that eclipses the DSLR market they may have to pitch the price at a point where they initially make little, if any, profit in anticipation of a far better return once economies of scale on large volume sales eventually kick in. In the meantime of course, they can continue to retail a high end model at a premium.

But what would I like to see next if Olympus allowed me to order a bespoke model? I would like an even smaller version, more like the original Pen EE rather than the Pen F. If that means a smaller screen then so be it and a built in non interchangeable lens of around 20mm f2.8 would suffice, particularly if this helped keep the cost down. Hopefully a fixed lens would allow a leaf shutter rather than focal plane, to make it even quieter. Assuming the lens and body were properly sealed the SSWF wouldn't be necessary but I would like to keep IS. Forget about an EVF or flash, I don't need them, so the hot shoe can also be dispensed with. No point including video, I doubt I'd use it and I'm sure the art filters wouldn't offer anything I couldn't do in Photoshop. Despite being quite charmed by the silver and white versions of the E-P1, for long term practicability and discretion I'd opt for a matt black all over finish with no brand logo.

Well, that's my order submitted – what's yours?
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Old 20th June 2009
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Re: So What Next For Olympus Micro Four Thirds?

I am one of those who would prefer a real viewfinder. I was able to handle the G1 that Ian brought along on the Epping Forest outing and, even though the EVF was a lot better than I expected, it was lacking in comparison to, say, the E-3 or even the E-1.

I understand that the MFT standard necessitates an EVF because the smaller lens flange to sensor distance does not leave room for an instant return mirror of the flip-up type to direct light to a normal viewfinder. I can think of two solutions.

1) A mirror that falls to the floor of the mirror box a bit like early Zenza Bronica 6x6 cameras. The downside to this would be how to stop light from the eyepiece affecting the exposure.

2) Utilise a fixed pellicle mirror as employed by Canon in the Pellix, EOS RT and EOS-1N RS. Patent issues might get in the way of this solution but it would be a neat idea if possible.

I have an EOS RT and it is a lovely camera to use; when you have been used to normal SLRs it is a revelation not to lose sight of your subject when you press the shutter release, really useful when photographing children. I could be really tempted by a MFT camera with a "proper" viewfinder and pellicle mirror. Combine the fixed mirror with that wonderful E-1 shutter and you'd have a very unobtrusive and compact camera. I also agree with the desirability of some fast MFT primes and a comprehensive system to underpin the cameras and lenses.

I have no idea if my suggestions are feasible, I'm not an engineer However, it doedn't hurt to dream

Cheers,

JohnGG
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Old 20th June 2009
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Re: So What Next For Olympus Micro Four Thirds?

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Originally Posted by JohnGG View Post
I am one of those who would prefer a real viewfinder. I was able to handle the G1 that Ian brought along on the Epping Forest outing and, even though the EVF was a lot better than I expected, it was lacking in comparison to, say, the E-3 or even the E-1.

I understand that the MFT standard necessitates an EVF because the smaller lens flange to sensor distance does not leave room for an instant return mirror of the flip-up type to direct light to a normal viewfinder. I can think of two solutions.

1) A mirror that falls to the floor of the mirror box a bit like early Zenza Bronica 6x6 cameras. The downside to this would be how to stop light from the eyepiece affecting the exposure.

2) Utilise a fixed pellicle mirror as employed by Canon in the Pellix, EOS RT and EOS-1N RS. Patent issues might get in the way of this solution but it would be a neat idea if possible.

I have an EOS RT and it is a lovely camera to use; when you have been used to normal SLRs it is a revelation not to lose sight of your subject when you press the shutter release, really useful when photographing children. I could be really tempted by a MFT camera with a "proper" viewfinder and pellicle mirror. Combine the fixed mirror with that wonderful E-1 shutter and you'd have a very unobtrusive and compact camera. I also agree with the desirability of some fast MFT primes and a comprehensive system to underpin the cameras and lenses.

I have no idea if my suggestions are feasible, I'm not an engineer However, it doedn't hurt to dream

Cheers,

JohnGG
Hi John,

As you say, it doesn't hurt to dream and you never know, one day ........
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Old 21st June 2009
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Re: So What Next For Olympus Micro Four Thirds?

A viewfinder is a big omission for me.

Not sure it matters what the average compact user thinks, as I can't see them being attracted to this camera or its likely siblings.

At the moment video doesn't seem to be attracting a lot of people here, but I think this will change – not because people want to make holiday movies, but because I think any serious photographer has to start working with social media.

GPS is also likely to become much more than a gimmick.

Art filters? Not sure they fit in.

Price? Would make me think twice, be interesting to see what it ends up at, but the company seem bigger on promotions such as freebies rather than price cuts.

I'll certainly look seriously at the EP-1 – a good carry round camera is my most desired piece of kit.
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Old 21st June 2009
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Re: So What Next For Olympus Micro Four Thirds?

View finder + built-in/pop up flash + 2-3 more lenses + black option = done deal for me.
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Old 22nd June 2009
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Re: So What Next For Olympus Micro Four Thirds?

Quote:
View finder + built-in/pop up flash + 2-3 more lenses + black option = done deal for me.
Here Here! - along with multi spot metering

Cheers, Steve.
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Old 24th June 2009
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Re: So What Next For Olympus Micro Four Thirds?

I've got to disagree with you there John, I don't see much interest at all, what I see and what I predicted is that we had 6 months of hype and then nothing when the EP-1 turned out to be exactly what Olympus suggested (rather than what people convinced themselves it would be), an overpriced Point & Shoot that's too expensive for the sector that Olympus claim it's aimed at and under specced for the people most likely to shell out £700 for a camera that isn't a DSLR.

For me it needs a built-in EVF positioned in such a way that it isn't an afterthought, it has to be considered the main VF rather than an alternative to the LCD screen and a built in flash, why flash? well if I'm choosing m4/3's because it's compact I don't want to carry an extra flash gun.

Lets face it, the G-1 can now be had for under £500 with the 14-45OIS and it does have all the required features. Olympus aren't going to release anything better for less.
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Old 24th June 2009
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Re: So What Next For Olympus Micro Four Thirds?

Quote:
Originally Posted by R MacE View Post
I've got to disagree with you there John, I don't see much interest at all, what I see and what I predicted is that we had 6 months of hype and then nothing when the EP-1 turned out to be exactly what Olympus suggested (rather than what people convinced themselves it would be), an overpriced Point & Shoot that's too expensive for the sector that Olympus claim it's aimed at and under specced for the people most likely to shell out £700 for a camera that isn't a DSLR.

For me it needs a built-in EVF positioned in such a way that it isn't an afterthought, it has to be considered the main VF rather than an alternative to the LCD screen and a built in flash, why flash? well if I'm choosing m4/3's because it's compact I don't want to carry an extra flash gun.

Lets face it, the G-1 can now be had for under £500 with the 14-45OIS and it does have all the required features. Olympus aren't going to release anything better for less.
I think the problem for us, and indeed for Olympus, is that what we want from MFT is different for each of us. It's going to be impossible to please all of us and difficult even to please most of us.

My initial reaction to the E-P1 was "oh, it's too big and too expensive." Your reaction was obviously "Where's the viewfinder?"

Personally I'm not bothered about the lack of a viewfinder. I've been using a Canon compact for years and have no problem using only the screen, in fact I rather like it. What I yearn for is a smaller, cheaper, fixed prime lens (around 19 or 20mm) camera with the same sensor retailing at around £300.00. However, if money was no object I'd settle for the E-P1 with the 17mm lens.
Having said that I fully understand why some consider a viewfinder to be essential.

Let's hope Oly satisfy a few more with the next release, although it rather sounds that Panny have already met your criteria. I'm glad that Oly didn't copy that design because it's nice to have the choice.
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