Mirrorless they may be, but not all mirrorless cameras are Micro Four Thirds. Only when you buy mirrorless cameras from Panasonic or Olympus (and more recently Kodak, with the Kodak Pixpro S-1), are you really buying into the system conceived to unify all cameras under one standard. Something it never achieved, but that’s another story altogether.
To better understand how cameras are segmented today it is important to look at what happened in recent years. For this we need to travel a few years back in time and explore how things changed. It helps to understand how we’re faced, today, with multiple choices and a lot of confusion.
The Micro Four Thirds system is the child of a previous system, named Four Thirds, created by Olympus and Kodak with the intention of defining an industry standard that all manufacturers would use. The open standard concept never really worked, as every manufacturer kept doing their own bayonets, sensors and cameras, so in 2008 Olympus presented the Micro Four Thirds system, which removed the mirror-box, and created the mirrorless concept.
4/3 and Micro Four Thirds
When Olympus moved from the initial Four Thirds system mount to the Micro Four Thirds system mount they managed to reduce the outer diameter of the lens mount by approx. 6 mm. This allowed to create smaller lenses, but meant that an adapter was needed to use Four Thirds lenses, a bit of a contradction for a system presented as an open universal standard.
The number of pins for contact between lens and body increased, already preparing the way to the implementation of movie capability, which was not available in first generation models. This change, which suggests the involvement of Panasonic, that had experience in the field of video, allowed for an improvement in the processing speeds of the entire camera system including accessories and the provision of a basis for manifesting stable control capabilities.
In the review of the signal contacts, accessory sequences, as well as the signal exchange between the lens and body, were also reviewed in order to improve the data exchange speed by creating a more rational flow.
The Micro Four Thirds system is not an open standard, contrary to the Four Thirds (which almost no one besides Olympus used, anyway), and only two companies appear promoting it at launch: Panasonic and Olympus. The new system uses the same sensor (with a 2x crop in relation to 35mm) and the goal is to create smaller cameras able to compete directly with DSLRs. While the Four Thirds was geared towards smaller DSLR cameras, the Micro Four Thirds goes towards the design and development of mirrorless interchangeable lens digital cameras and camcorders.
The Micro Four Thirds sensor helped to open the Pandora’s Box of sensor formats. To the APS-C in different sizes from Canon (1.6x crop factor) and Nikon, Pentax, Samsung, Konica Minolta, Sony, Fujifilm, Epson, Sigma (1.5x crop factor), and the 35mm sensor already available, Olympus and Panasonic added their Micro Four Thirds. Then the fever caught everybody, and soon Leica had their sensor, with a crop of 1.33x, Foveon created their 1.7x crop, Nikon designed their 2.7x crop sensor for the CX format and Pentax created the 4.55x crop factor sensor for their Q7. No wonder it is hard for users to know what’s inside each different camera model…
These days, many people classify as DSLR cameras that are technically very different, like the mirrorless systems. This add to the general confusion ans does not help users to choose. Besides different sensors, also different lens mounts abound, sometimes even in the same manufacturer. Olympus changed their bayonet from the Four Thirds to the Micro Four Thirds, and Sony created a confusion when they dropped the name NEX for some systems and at the same time introduced a new mount, FE, besides the original E. Samsung, has the NX and NX-M, Nikon has a 1-mount for their 1-series and even Canon managed to create a EOS M mount to add to their EF and EF-S. Pentax has the Q-mount for Q. Confusing, isn’t it?
Choosing a camera is, obviously, not an easy task either. In film days most photographers had only to choose between two types of cameras, compacts or Single Lens Reflex, both using 35mm emulsion. Because the emulsion was the “sensor” at the time, no one needed to buy new cameras when a new “sensor” was out. Even older models could use the technology of the newest emulsions, so it was an easy choice for everybody. In terms of cameras, many professional photographers and advanced amateurs would use medium-format film or larger, but for most people, professional photographers included, 35mm was the market reference. There were some other film formats throughout the years, but none was as popular as the 35mm film. Then in the 90’s, for a brief period, there was a smaller emulsion called APS, which became the base for the APS-C sensor. Then digital exploded and everything changed forever.
Now that we’ve set the background, it is time to look at some the best models available for videographers. Although there are earlier Micro Four Thirds cameras offering video options, we center here in the most recent models, as it is those that users will look for, as they offer the best options. In total, according to the charts in the Micro Four Thirds official website, there are 17 models of Micro Four Thirds cameras launched by Olympus (11) and Panasonic (6). The website needs to be updated, it seems, but from all models on show there we picked the most recent and those able to do at least 1080p, and added some more. This will give you an idea of the choices available if you want to use Micro Four Thirds cameras for video. This list is not exhaustive but shall give you an idea of what is available.
This camera is the top of the line when it comes to Micro Four Thirds. The world’s first mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera with 4K video capture, the GH4, presented in February 2014, is used by a growing population of cinematographers, being an affordable solution offering a variety of options when it comes to video.
Presented by Panasonic as a Digital Single Lens Mirrorless (DSLM) camera, another acronymn to learn besides the ILC (Interchangeable Lens Camera) applied by Sony to all cameras with interchangeable lenses, and Sony’s own SLT, for the single-lens translucent models they make/made, the GH4 reflects the experience Panasonic had previously in the video area, and as such is a power-house in terms of specifications.
The information from Panasonic at time of launch stated that “one of the most prominent advances is unlimited 4K video recording (Cinema 4K: 4096×2160 / 24 fps and QFHD 4K: 3840×2160 / up to 30 fps) in MOV/MP4. The GH4 is also capable of recording Full- HD video with ultra high bit rate at 200 Mbps (ALL-Intra) or 100 Mbps (IPB) without recording time limit. Users can freely choose the format from MOV, MP4, AVCHD Progressive and AVCHD at a variety of frame rates according to the usage. For professionals working globally, the system frequency can be easily selected between 59.94Hz (23.98Hz) / 50.00Hz / 24.00Hz.”
The GH4 is also capable of real-time image output to an external monitor via an optional micro HDMI cable simultaneously while recording video. For more unique video expression, VFR(Variable Frame Rate) or Time Lapse/Stop Motion Animation can be produced with GH4 without post production processing. In addition, a variety of practical functions required for professional video recording are newly integrated.”
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3
Available since November 2012, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 is still a camera that many cinematographers will buy, especially because its price has come down since the launch of its successor, the GH4. At launch it was the first DSLM able to record videos with a bit rate of up to 72 megabits per second, significantly higher than the specification of AVCHD 2.0 of up to 28 megabits per second, which was released in July 2011 and was used for similar cameras and camcorders at the time.
With the Lumix GH3 Panasonic intended to push the boundaries of video quality and options from an interchangeable lens camera. The GH3’s sensor advances meant that it was possible to, as the press-release stated, “take complete control of stunningly clear 1080 50p Full HD AVCHD video with a video bitrate of 28 Mbps or you can shoot MOV1 videos with 72Mbps in ALL-I.”
With Full-time AF, AF Tracking and Face Recognition AF are all available in video mode, allowing users to ensure the focus stays on a subject or face, even if they move around, the GH3 can be used between ISO 200 to ISO 12800 as standard, or even between ISO 125 to ISO 25600 with an extension function.
The camera handles the wide variety of recording formats, frame rates, and bit rates that are used by broadcasting stations and production studios (see chart), meaning it is a versatile tool for those wanting to tackle multiple tasks for clients.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G6
In April 2013 Panasonic announced a new addition to their Digital Single Lens Mirrorless lime, with the DMC-G6, a model featuring full HD 1920×1080, 60p (60 Hz) / 50p (50 Hz) smooth, high quality video recording in in AVCHD Progressive (MPEG-4 / H.264) with stereo sound.
The practical full-time AF and tracking AF is available in video recording, too. The DMC-G6 also supports 1080/24p native mode with 24 Mbps in AVCHD format. In addition, the P/A/S/M mode also lets users enjoy professional-like expressive video recording. The full-HD 1920 x 1080 60p (60 Hz) / 50p (50 Hz) video can also be recorded in MP4 at 28 Mbps, to play it back directly on the PC or other portable electronic devices without a need of conversion.
High quality sound can be recorded with Dolby Digital. A Wind Cut function is also available to block out most of the noise from background wind. In addition to the built-in stereo microphone, the DMC-G6 is equipped with a 3.5mm terminal for an external microphone to comply with serious sound recording.
The Time Lapse Shot automatically starts recording photos at time lapse sequence once the start time, interval and the number of pictures to shoot are set. The Stop Motion Animation function enables producing a stop motion (stop frame) video in camera with the pictures that are sequentially shot while moving the object by degrees. This effect makes the object appear as if it is moving by itself.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF6
A model from 2013, the DMC-GF6 is one of the first Lumix cameras to offer Wi-Fi connectivity featuring NFC (Near Field Communication) technology, allowing users to connect the camera to their smartphone/tablet anywhere at one-touch, which makes sharing images much easier. It is also possible to use a smartphone/tablet as a multi-capable remote shutter with a monitor.
The DMC-GF6 records 1920 x 1080 at 60i (NTSC) / 50i (PAL) full HD videos with full-time AF and high quality stereo sound in the AVCHD format which excels in both compression efficiency and compatibility with AV equipment for playback. With a dedicated video record button on the top, users can instantly start recording videos while shooting photos without any having to make any extra setting adjustments. In addition, the P/A/S/M mode also lets users enjoy professional-like expressive video recording. Videos can also be recorded in MP4 format for playback on a PC or other portable electronic devices without having to convert the files.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF7
Presented in January 2015, the DMC-GF7 (GF7) has, in fact, nothing new when it comes to video. The GF7 offers modern selfie shooting features – one of the world’s most powerful trends, it seems… – in a classic styled camera with its 180-degree flip-up monitor and a variety of creative functions.
The rear monitor is a 3.0-inch 1040K-dot touch screen LCD which tilts up to approx. 180-degrees and puts the camera into Self Shot Mode automatically. In the Self Shot Mode, a variety of functions for selfie – Face Shutter, Buddy Shutter and beauty functions – are enabled. The GF7 now integrates Jump Snap which lets users to photograph themselves jumping as if they are flying in the air using a remote control function via Wi-Fi. All things that cinematographers may well forget, I believe.
When it comes to video, the GF7 also features full HD 1920 x 1080, 60p (60 Hz) high quality video recording in AVCHD progressive and MP4 with stereo sound. The practical full-time AF and tracking AF are available in video recording as well. The cinema-like 24p video with the bit rate of max. 24 Mbps provides richly expressive afterimage with overwhelming image quality. The GF7 features a new video recording option called Snap Movie Mode which lets users record video in designated short period of time (2/4/6/8 sec.) as they shoot “moving photos”. This is most of what you need to know about this model, which is more geared towards the general public.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100
The LX100 from Panasonic is a good example of the reasons behind the popularity of Panasonic cameras. This is a real compact camera with a 13 million pixels Micro Four Thirds sensor, meaning it offers a sensor bigger that those usually present in compact cameras.
Launched in September 2014, the LUMIX LX100 is the 6th generation of Panasonic’s world-renowned LX high-end compact camera series, and inherits the DNA of the LUMIX LC1 – Panasonic’s first fully manual compact camera released in 2004. Featuring a 4/3-inch large High Sensitivity MOS Sensor – more than five times larger than the sensor in the LUMIX LX7 – the LUMIX LX100 boasts image quality you would expect from an interchangeable lens camera.
This is a compact able to deliver 4K video recording. The camera offers smooth, high quality video recording in 4K 3840×2160 at 30/25 fps in MP4, as well as high-resolution Full HD 1920 x 1080 50p videos in AVCHD Progressive (MPEG-4 / H.264) format. A dedicated button on the top of the camera’s body lets you instantly start recording videos while shooting photos, meaning you can always capture the moment as it happens. The LX100 also offers ‘4KPhoto mode’ which allows users to easily capture a still image from 4K video footage shot on the camera – meaning you’ll never miss that split second action again.
While an interesting option, the LX100 was not built to challenge the GH4, which offers professional features – from microphone input to external recording through HDMI, – that Panasonic kept out of this model. Still, in its compact size, there’s a lot to like about the LX100 when it comes to video. And as a stills camera the LX100 is one compact everybody will enjoy using.
Olympus on Video
Although Panasonic and Olympus shared technologies at the beginning of their Micro Four Thirds adventure, it seems that only the mutual use of the standard is common between them these days. The initial Olympus sensors were provided by Panasonic, but after Sony invested in Olympus, in 2012, sensors from both Panasonic and Sony seem to be used in Olympus cameras. The OM-D E-M5 used a Sony sensor, while the OM-D E-M1, has a sensor that’s made by Panasonic. This leads us to Olympus most recent and ambitious camera when it comes to video: the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II recently presented here at ProVideo Coalition.
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II
Presented as the world’s best interchangeable lens camera for “run and gun”, the OM-D E-M5 Mark II makes it possible to shoot smooth, handheld movies without a movie tripod, mini-jib, rails, or other specialized equipment. That’s what Olympus says to present their camera, heralded as a first sign of their intentions when it comes to video. The promise of cinema-quality recordings and amazing mobility is the basis for the OM-D Movie which Olympus wants to be a reference for cinematographers. The 4/3 Live MOS Sensor with 16.1 million pixels works together with an advanced in-body 5-axis image stabilisation, enabling stable movie recording even during active camera work.
Although the E-M5 Mark II is mostly a stills camera aimed at advanced amateurs and professionals, advanced movie features like variable frame rates, audio recording and monitoring options are available for the more advanced videographer. The camera supports a 60p high frame rate and a 50Mbps high bit rate (ALL-I: 72Mbps). Control for movie AF and AE has been reworked for smooth, high-resolution, Full HD movie quality. The camera is e equipped with Multi Frame Rate, High Bit Rate, ALL-Intra shooting, and able to set time codes, so professional level movie editing is possible.
First tests available suggest the camera is not a rival to the top line of video cameras in this segment, but nonetheless it is a bold move from Olympus and a suggestion of future developments within the brand. For those that already own a Micro Four Thirds system from Olympus, may well be the path for equipment renewal.
Olympus OM-D E-M1
The Olympus’ family flagship, the OM-D E-M1, is, according to the company, a ”compact system camera that surpasses SLR cameras, bringing portability and image-quality into the next dimension.”
In terms of video this camera does not differ from models like the compact Olympus Pen E-PL7. Different quality modes at the same resolution and frame rate are available, so the 1080p30 mode has two options, Fine at 24Mbps and Normal at 16Mbps. Likewise, there are two 720p30 modes at 12Mbps and 8Mbps respectively. Both have an aspect ratio of 16:9.
The camera registers sound in wave format (Stereo linear PCM/16-bit, Sampling frequency 48kHz) and offers users, besides a built-in stereo microphone, the option to attach an external stereo microphone.
Olympus Pen E-PL7
The 16 megapixels, 4/3 Live MOS sensor seems to be the base for recent models of Olympus cameras, so this model does not differ from others. One of the new trendy cameras that adopt the “importance of selfies”, the camera offers a Selfie mode for comfortable and enjoyable “Touch Selfie”. Now you know it!
Basic performance inherited from the OM-D series and premium PEN design carried down from the E-P5, which model PEN E-PL5 introduced the first touch-screen in Olympus cameras, allowing users to touch focus during movie recording, define the E-PL7.
When it comes to video, the Pen E-PL7 provides different quality modes at the same resolution and frame rate, so the 1080p30 mode has two options, Fine at 24Mbps and Normal at 16Mbps. Likewise there are two 720p30 modes at 12Mbps and 8Mbps respectively. Both have an aspect ratio of 16:9. Contrary to early PENs, that used AVCHD encoding, this model uses MOV (MPEG-4AVC/H.264) for FullHD and HD, with AVI (Motion JPEG) also available for 1280×720, 30fps and 640×480, 30fps.
Kodak Pixpro S-1
While Kodak did sign under the Four Thirds open standard created with Olympus, they never actually made a camera for it, even less or Micro Four Thirds. Still, the Pixpro S-1 is a Kodak camera, with the brand used trough a license to JK Imaging Ltd.
This Micro Four Thirds camera is presented here mostly for informative purposes, as its specifications when it comes to video don’t give it much market share in an universe where Panasonic and Olympus are the key – and almost unique, when it comes to cameras – players. The PixPro S-1 competes with models like the Olympus PEN E-PL5 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF6, and that kind of says it all.
The Kodak Pixpro S-1 captures video at 1920 x 1080 (30 fps), 1280 x 720 (60, 30 fps), 640 x 480 (30, 120 fps) saved as H.264, with a stereo microphone to capture sound. Movie mode is mostly automatic, what seems adequate to the target public of this camera. Users looking for some form of adjusting exposure or sound should look elsewhere.
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