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Where is Micro Four Thirds headed?

Discussion in 'Open Gear Talk' started by soundimageplus, Jun 6, 2011.

  1. soundimageplus

    soundimageplus SC Top Veteran

    578
    Jul 6, 2010
    With the upcoming GF3, heavily leaked this weekend, Panasonic seem to be slowly coming towards a coherent product line that will provide different models for different kinds of photographers. With a range that includes the GF3, G3 and GH2 there are now cameras that will provide for both point and shoot upgraders and DSLR users wanting to downsize without loosing quality.

    Though there are still inconsistencies, such as when you add a kit zoom to a GF3 it suddenly gets a lot bigger (though this doesn't seem to be a problem for the Sony NEX), this does seem to be settling down into a more balanced selection of cameras. Panasonic also seem to be quite ruthless in their determination to succeed with this, with the axing of the only recently released GF2.

    From all available information, it seems Olympus may be going the same route too.

    So we have a range of cameras, and between the two companies a pretty decent set of lenses. The soon to be released 25mm f/1.4 from Panasonic and the probable? 12mm f/2 from Olympus will add more high quality primes to the collection of (mostly) very capable zooms. Panasonic have also proved that they can get excellent results from a 4/3 16MP sensor.

    All of this is good news. When the system first appeared, there were basically several versions of the same camera. In a month or two I suspect we will see much more choice, from the very small and pocketable to the more well-specified, but all retaining the idea of small and light without compromising on image quality.

    I don't think anyone as yet is in a position to know where this is going to go next. Panasonic and Olympus no longer have the field to themselves. Sony and Samsung are already taking a slice of the market, and others may be preparing to give it a go as well.

    To a large extent this will depend on the answers to some questions.

    Can Panasonic push the sensor even higher? Sony are obviously ambitious to get their MP count higher for APS-C, and whether they succeed, we'll see soon. So can Panasonic keep up pro-rata? If Sony do produce the rumoured 24MP APS-C can Panasonic come up with a 20MP 4/3 sensor?

    Will cameras like the GF3 and the rumoured Olympus "Mini" make serious inroads into the compact point and shoot market? Will Panasonic / Olympus keep the "enthusiasts" happy with their ever diminishing camera design?

    If the answer to these questions is yes, then we may expect a bright future for the system. If no then we may get a marginalised product line similar to what 4/3 has become.

    Both the m4/3 companies are now in a very real game of leap-frog with their competitors, and they can surely no longer just go their own way. They have to respond to what other manufacturers bring out. This competition will hopefully push them to better products for us all to enjoy. Ultimately, unless we're shareholders in the companies, we can just select what's best for us from whatever is available, and to a certain extent it may not matter whether the system survives or slowly fades away.

    If its m4/3 or APS-C does it really matter?
     
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  2. ZDP-189

    ZDP-189 Twitter: <a href="http://twitter.com/#!/ZDP189">@Z

    64
    Apr 18, 2011
    I remember having this conversation with Amin, back when he first introduced himself. I think m4/3 are in early mid-life crisis. They started out thinking that they would take the world by storm, then competition by Sony and Samsung took the wind out of their sails a bit. Now they have released several bodies and lenses, but people still compare them to Canon and Nikon, saying their line up is weak and patchy. Their new models are less well received than their first cameras were due to the competition. The market compares their bodies to NEX, DSLR form factor CSCs and even super compacts simultaneously. They feel the need to reduce the size of their bodies and compromise on control input. Their video is compared to the 5DII and NEX, their image quality to every camera with a larger sensor. People imagine image quality differences that are abstract and subjective. In short, as I said, it's a crisis.

    Seeing as the format is set in stone with a 4/3 sensor and short base length, contacts that invade the throat of the bayonet and such, then they will always have a smaller sensor than NEX/NX. They should emphasise their core competences: almost universal compatibility and relatively smaller size. They should make smaller, slightly optically compromised lenses to fit the pocket form factor. They should push out a couple of halo products - bodies and lenses that are expensive and bulky, but show they can outperform. They should refocus their marketing, target new markets and core markets alike. They should aggressively pursue every good quality third party lens and accessory maker and tie them in. They need to develop adjunct lines like compact non interchangeable versions of m4/3. They are doing all that.

    They should also work on core technologies. They need a better sensor with higher dynamic range, like the Fujifilm's backlit CMOS based EXR. They need to take back the IQ edge from Sony. They need to shine where Sony and Samsung won't go: dedicated knob-based direct control over exposure and image characteristics and direct coupling of manual focus rings on an AF lens. They need to stop offereing Pentax-esque gender-patronising colours. They need to go back to making absolutely stunning imagers for enthusiast amateurs. Essentially, they need to make an interchangeable lens version of the X100 before Fujifilm does.
     
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  3. soundimageplus

    soundimageplus SC Top Veteran

    578
    Jul 6, 2010
    Well some might but many don't.

    Well in Panasonics case they come out of that pretty well.

    I don't understand what that means.

    Not everybody is interested in putting cameras in pockets.

    Presumably to put their "optically compromised" lenses on.

    Go back? When did they stop? Are you saying their cameras are getting worse in terms of image quality?

    With or without the X100 menu system?
     
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  4. Armanius

    Armanius Bring Jack back!

    Jan 11, 2011
    Houston, Texas
    Jack
    WITHOUT PLEASE!!!! This is how I feel about the X100 menu ... :dash2:
     
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  5. Briar

    Briar SC All-Pro

    Oct 27, 2010
    Scotland
    Karen
    :confused: I really don't have a problem with the X100 menu. I'd understand the moans and groans if it was a war and peace styled/length menu that required tom tom to help you find your way around it, but really, there's not that much to it. I love the simplicity of the X100 menu.

    I'm still very happy with my e-pl1 and e-p2, and all the oly and pan micro four third lenses I have. I'm not really looking for anything to add to that kit just now but its good to see that micro four thirds development has still got plenty life in it.
     
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  6. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Jul 3, 2010
    Making a Fuji X100 with interchangeable lenses should not (IMO) be a major priority for Panasonic. The Fuji X100 gets tons of press and huge interest within our echo chamber, but the market is very, very small.

    Panasonic needs to compete with Sony and Samsung for the money of all the people out there who want to document their lives with better image quality and greater versatility than offered by the increasingly high quality and versatile cameras in their smartphones.

    I hope that the GF line, in its current direction, will allow them to succeed in competing in that huge market. The other piece to Micro 4/3 success will be having the most comprehensive and compact lens lineup in this space. So far they have succeeded, and I don't see much coming from Sony or Samsung that is going to challenge the size advantage of the Micro 4/3 system. You can be certain that Panasonic is working on bringing out a considerably smaller, video optimized kit zoom.

    The GF line will sell in the highest numbers, the G line will appeal to core enthusiasts, and the GH line will be the high end. I think it's a good approach.

    Olympus' direction is less clear than Panasonic's. I'm most interested to see what Olympus brings out this month.

    As for an X100-like Micro 4/3 camera, there surely is an opportunity there, but in the scheme of things it is a relatively small opportunity. I'm guessing that if it happens, we'll be surprised who it comes from - something like the Seiko Epson and Cosina Voigtlander partnership which brought us the RD1.
     
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  7. ZDP-189

    ZDP-189 Twitter: <a href="http://twitter.com/#!/ZDP189">@Z

    64
    Apr 18, 2011
    In short the primary differentiating factor of the M4/3 is that they take the widest range of legacy lenses. I see no other reason to buy it over the competition.
     
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  8. pictor

    pictor SC All-Pro

    Jul 14, 2010
    - more native lenses
    - lighter native lenses
    - several of the native lenses are better than those of the competition
    - smaller size due to the smaller sensor
    - ...
     
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  9. Armanius

    Armanius Bring Jack back!

    Jan 11, 2011
    Houston, Texas
    Jack
    IMO, the GH2's CDAF is the most accurate AF system I've used so far in any camera that has AF capability.
     
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  10. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Jul 3, 2010
    I don't agree with this. The biggest market demographic for MFT isn't interested in adapted legacy lenses. Outside of our echo chamber, people see Canon/Nikon entry level DSLRs as one grouping, small sensor compacts as another, and are beginning to see MFT/NEX/NX as a "tweener" grouping. Within that tweener grouping, NEX currently has nothing with a viewfinder, neither NEX nor NX have an ultrawide or supertelephoto zoom, NEX has no "normal" prime, neither NEX nor NX have a macro (although NEX will have one announced this month), and the list goes on.

    There are a lot of us that appreciate specific options that specific MFT cameras have. Some who work with adapted lenses like the fact that the Oly bodies have sensor stabilization. Others like the AF or video-specific capability of the GH2. There's plenty of technology which is unique to each system. Lots of personal reasons to pick one over another.
     
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  11. Pelao

    Pelao SC All-Pro

    Jul 11, 2010
    Ontario, Canada
    Stephen
    Good summary.

    I don't have a great deal of brand or system loyalty, though I am sensitive to the financial impact of changing systems. So I keep an eye on the competition. The CSCs with APS-C sensors certainly boast certain advantages in some aspects of image quality possibility. I use 'possibility' deliberately, because from a gear perspective, there is much more to achieving what I want than sensor capability.

    Lenses are essential to this, and so far MFT is way ahead in native lenses. Then there are factors such as ergonomics, accessories, total cost etc.

    Finally, I am always interested in what system is best for my output: primarily print, with web as secondary. A well made MFT image with the better native lenses stands up very well for me, especially given that I rarely shoot over ISO 800. In my view, no other CSC system yet comes close to MFT for total capability.
     
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  12. Andrewteee

    Andrewteee SC All-Pro

    Jul 8, 2010
    The system seems pretty solid at this point. It is certainly the most complete compact camera system on the market. Ricoh is niche and limited, Sony is lacking lenses and an EVF, Samsung has a limited system and does not seem to have much presence.

    But at least here in the US micro four thirds really needs mass market success and so far I don't see that. I was recently at a local kids museum in Marin County and most parents had a camera with them. There were those with small P&S cameras, and then there were those with DSLRs. Nothing in between. Most had DSLRs and most of those were basic Canons or Nikons. A few, mostly guys, had serious DSLRs with serious lenses, more than was necessary for such an outing. Dads with Nikon D3s cameras and big, fast zooms taking pictures of their kids in the stroller. Things like that.

    I'm a passionate photographer and all I had that day was my iPhone, and I hardly took but a couple of pictures as I was too busy chasing my two year old around.

    But it go me thinking. Some people just want a camera and don't care too much about it (the P&Ss) and other may feel that a camera needs to look serious to be serious (the DSLRs). It is hard for me to imagine this crowd with a Pen or the GF2, for example. Separate EVFs would be too fiddly and the cameras don't look "serious". That is a typically American thing.

    So even though the m4/3 system is fairly solid, where does it fit into the large American market? I don't know. I know that other markets vary so perhaps they don't even need success here. Right now only the enthusiasts seem to know about them, and if that is their target market I think they could do a better job of designing cameras for them.

    But this speaks to the compact camera market in general. People either want small and cheap or they want serious. The CSCs fall oddly between those margins.

    As far as the systems go though, I really believe that Olympus needs a m4/3 cameras with built-in EVF so at least there is that option.
     
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  13. Djarum

    Djarum SC All-Pro

    Jul 10, 2010
    Huntsville, AL
    Jason
    Not sure where they are headed, but in short, I'm not sure if I like it. I like the fact that Panasonic is making improvements on its sensors. But touch screen does nothing for me. I really like the E-PL2 form factor. I like controls and dials. It doesn't need to be real small, but not GH2 size either. The GF3 looks like what the GF2 should have been. I'd like to see Panasonic make a GF1 replacement.
     
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  14. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Jul 3, 2010
    Andrew, I think it's a matter of pricing and availability. If you get the CSCs into Best Buy, Walmart, and Target, and their prices are similar to or cheaper than the low end Canon and Nikon DSLRs, we're going to see a lot of folks using them.
     
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  15. Armanius

    Armanius Bring Jack back!

    Jan 11, 2011
    Houston, Texas
    Jack
    Well ... I just want more lenses please!!! Fast and small preferably! And a Pen with buit-in EVF! That's the direction I want! :smile:
     
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  16. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin SC Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    Nic
    I don't believe that the ability to use adapted lens sells many m4/3 cameras at all, and the only main type of older lenses that will work on it and not on the Sony or Samsung cameras are the Cine lenses and maybe the Pentax 110s. Hardly a crucial deciding factor.

    I think that if you look at the price of entry-level DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, they are much less of an investment than they were even five years ago. As a result brand loyalty is disappearing because it is easier and cheaper to switch systems whenever something 0.5% better comes out. Lenses are still an investment but I would imagine that the proportion of users only ever use the standard kit lenses or one superzoom is quite large. When I bought my Canon 350D with twin lenses back in 2005 it was a big expense and there is no way I would have swapped it 6-12 months later for a Nikon D60 or somesuch. I'm at the point where I don't particularly care what Sony or Samsung or whoever else come out with. I don't feel restricted by my Micro 4/3 cameras in any way that buying into another system will improve upon.

    Micro 4/3 currently has a nice range of bodies and lenses and has evolved slowly but surely into a more complete system. Where to now for mirroless cameras is the big question; whether they continue to push up into DSLR territory, down into compacts, or if any manufacturer can afford to do both at the same time.
     
  17. dixeyk

    dixeyk Guest

    I respectfully disagree. My Panasonic G2 with 20/1.7 and 14-45 gives me great images, very good video and fits in about the same space as my old DSLR body by itself. I get the convenience something like a premium point and shoot size wise but MUCH better IQ. It's a great traveling companion. I got into m43 because I liked the fact that I could easily adapt my collection of legacy glass but I stay because I don't feel like I am missing anything form my old DSLR gear. Granted, there are some things for which a DSLR is likely a better choice but for my needs m43 is terrific.

    I bet I am not alone in that either.
     
  18. deirdre

    deirdre SC Top Veteran

    652
    Sep 26, 2010
    After looking at the rumored pics of the Panasonic GF3, I think what I like about the GF1 seems to be a forgotten niche, at least by Panasonic.

    The GF3 has fewer options than the GF2, which had fewer buttons than the GF1.

    I think I'll just get more GF1s. :(
     
  19. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin SC Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    Nic
    I should add as well that getting hold of some decent noise reduction software has removed the biggest (yet still minor) misgiving that I had about image quality in the original 12MP m4/3 sensors, even though they are now 2-2.5 year old tech.
     
  20. deirdre

    deirdre SC Top Veteran

    652
    Sep 26, 2010
    I've printed my MFT images as large as 12x16. They print fine at that resolution. MPIX recommends 250 dpi for printing, so they recommend one print no larger than 16" in the longest dimension (4000 pixels/250 dpi = 16"). You can print larger, but there will be some loss of quality. 12x16 + 2" mat border would be 16x20.