Things m4/3 Still Needs

Date originally written: 10/10/2011   Update: 11/20/12    Update 5/10/13   Update 7/1/2014  Update 1/25/2016

The m4/3 mount is the oldest of the mirrorless cameras (notwithstanding the Leica M8/9, which are really rangefinder cameras). Thus, after more than a dozen cameras and two dozens lenses making it to market you'd think that we had everything we needed by now. 

Not true. The m4/3 user base is still waiting for:

  • A high-end body. Weathersealed, built-in EVF, no controls that get easily dislodged, all essential controls at button/dial level (without FN buttons), bigger buffer, faster frame rate. No m4/3 body to date quite fulfills the photo enthusiasts' "dream camera" status. OM-D added most of these. E-M1 basically adds all of this.
  • Faster zooms to match the above camera. Specifically, something like a 12-35mm f/2.8 and 35-100mm f/2.8 would be a good start (f/2 would be better, but size matters more than DOF equivalence and lens speed, I think). The 12-35mm f/2.8 and 35-100mm have been released by Panasonic. Olympus released the 7-14mm f/4, 12-40mm f/2.8, and 40-150mm f/2.8.
  • Peaking for manual focus. Accurate manual focus is still too difficult and slow to dial in, even with magnification. Sony and Ricoh did it, why can't Panasonic and Olympus? Just add it to the magnification options that are already there. Olympus has demonstrated peaking on new cameras, likely to eventually be across the lineup. Panasonic says they're working on it.
  • Better sensors. If we graph sensor performance, the m4/3 sensors to date tend to be at the bottom of the performance charts. Put another way, if Sony took it's 16mp sensor technology and put it in an m4/3 sensor, it would likely best the current m4/3 sensors, even as Sony reduced the photosite size to allow 12-16mp on the m4/3 crop size. Since all the m4/3 cameras use Panasonic sensors, this problem is squarely on the Panasonic engineering team. The OM-Ds, E-PL5, and E-PM2 were a step forward. The 20mp sensor in the Pen-F takes us another step forward.
  • More active partners. Panasonic and Olympus are iterating away, but the other partners in the group are less active. Where are the Sigma lenses? Third party lenses now appearing more regularly, but the bigger makers like Sigma still only testing the waters, though with relatively good first options (e.g. Sigma 19mm and 30mm).
  • Better battery life. I know it's a bit contradictory to keeping the size/weight down, but we need 2x the battery performance, especially with built-in and optional EVFs.
  • Better continuous autofocus performance. Still the Achilles heel to using the m4/3 cameras for fast moving subjects, as best case due to buffer, focus, frame rate is that we usually get one in focus picture where DSLRs will get multiples. Claimed by the OM-D, but still not anywhere close to DSLR capability. The E-M1 gets very close to DSLR performance.
  • GPS support. Panasonic and Olympus don't seem to care where they are. Some m4/3 users do.  

Those that know me and my writing probably are expecting: add communicating, programmable, and modular. That's a complete rehash of camera design, though, and not something that we'd expect without a complete rethink of m4/3. That said, the PenPal accessory was a complete and utter disappointment from Olympus. Make PenPal the add-on equivalent of Eye-Fi and something magical starts to happen. But the current Bluetooth implementation is basically not worth anyone's investment (the engineers, the manufacturing resources, the marketing time, or the user's dollars).

The list is actually not particularly long considering all the updates. There must be some engineers with some free time somewhere in Japan, right? Okay, so let’s try these things:

  • Fix the WiFi connectivity. The basics are there, but look at what Nikon is doing with Bluetooth and what they now call SnapBridge. Arguably better.
  • Fix the menu system. Probably the number one drawback of the Olympus system, but the Panasonic menus have some issues, too. First up there’s terminology. Too much engineering and acronym voodoo without enough clear explanation. Second—especially on the Olympus—is the problematic issue of finding what you need in the menus quickly. 
  • Faster and larger EVFs. Not that the current 2.36m dot ones aren’t bad, it’s that others have shown that better is possible. 
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