Monday, October 12, 2009

Is Size a Matter of Perception?

The word out there is that m43 cameras are point and shoot size with the powers of dSLRs. It is true that the latest m43 are styled very similarly to PnS rather than dSLRs and when compared to conventional dSLRs such as 500D and the D3000, the m43 cameras look considerably smaller.

However, we need to take things into perspective here. These are cameras with a 4/3" sensor inside and thus are already supposed to be smaller to begin with. To see a fair comparison, we need to compare the m4/3 to the classic 4/3 in order to know what kind of miniaturization have been achieved with these cameras.

With the arrival of the m43, everyone seems to have forgotten the beautifully engineered e-4x0 (namely the e-410, e-420 and e-450), which was wearing the crown of the 'world's smallest dSLR' before the arrival of the micros.

I have done a patch-work image, putting together the GF-1, the E-420 and the G1 to show just what kind of achievements have been made with the m43 in terms of miniaturization. You can click on the image for a larger version.


From the front, you can see that the e-420 is very similar in size to the G1/GH1 series. The GF-1 is effectively the G1 with the grip and the EVF shaved off. Do note that if you were to mount the EVF on the GF-1 the sizes would be much more similar. From the top view, the GF-1 is notably thinner but being an interchangeable lens system, variations in the length and size of the lenses would reduce the impact on the thinner profile.


My conclusion? I suspect that functionally, the slight saving in terms of size may not make too much a difference in everyday usage. Although it is impressive that m43 cameras pack video, more AF points, image stabilization, evf and full live view into a package that is smaller than e4x0, it does lose some very important features of the dSLR - the optical viewfinder and the phase detect AF system. To some users like myself, these two features define the dSLR experience. No doubt Panny did achieve some engineering marvel with its lightning fast contrast detect AF, but at about 0.34s-0.4s, this is 2x-3x slower as compared to the 0.13-0.14s focus speed of the e-4x0 series.

Lets see, a full featured dSLR at a price of about US$400 (inclusive of kit lens) vs a slightly smaller m43 at double the price... I may just go for the e-4x0 series. Sorry, I just can't live with cameras with grainy EVF and sub-par AF speed at double the price of a perfectly usable dSLR. Especially when the reduction in size is somewhat short of being truly dramatic.


I think Olympus has a great product in the e-4x0. They could have done so much with it but didn't. What went wrong? It may have something to do with product positioning. Since the e-4x0 is aimed at new dSLR users, ladies as well as PnS upgraders, they should have taken the path that Panasonic took when it created the G1. They gave it chic colors are market it to the yuppies and PnS users.

Since Olympus is not planning a G1/GH1 type of camera, they can squeeze more out of their current offerings by transforming it a little. Some suggestions include:

- Streamline the design, add more colors and turn it into a desirable chic gadget.
- If possible, they can shrink the whole package a little more to be in line with the G1/GH1
- Add in video
- Add more AF points
- Use the same 12mpx LiveMOS sensor as the rest

This would inevitably increase the price of the e-4x0. Alternatively, Olympus can continue to sell this excellent camera at current price points and make the appropriate enhancements to it.

EDITED 15-Oct-2009:

Added some more photos. Credit: Olyigel on Flickr

The more I look at it, the more I feel that the size differences is not very wide.


  1. There is no comparison in terms of size. A M43 body is so much slimmer than any dSLR. When I have the convenience of carrying something this small and light I am willing to compromise on AF performance. The EP1 or GF1 make perfect street/walkabout cameras. You would never dream of using them for fast action like F1 or sports! I cannot wait to see what the E-P2 will be like!

  2. m43 is definitely slimmer. It is just that when I compare the E-P1/GF-1 to the E-450, I think the difference in size is not as dramatic as advertised. Just wanted to keep the expectations in check. I was surprised myself when I see the E-P1 displayed in the same showcase as the E-450 and noted the similarity in size.