There’s been a big lull in Micro Four-Thirds (MFT) camera news as of late – whether it be because of Panasonic’s commitment to the L Mount Alliance, Olympus’s spinning off of their camera division, or simply because full-frame mirrorless has captured the attention of consumers (and the market) – if you’re a fan of the system, you probably have a lot of questions about the future of the format. Over the past few weeks, MFT has been making news with new camera announcements and even a few products people can actually purchase today! But what does this, if anything, mean for the future of MFT.
Panasonic Updates Their Perennial Workhorse and Announce a New Flagship
In late May, Panasonic announced an upgrade to the much-revered LUMIX GH5 – a hybrid photo/video camera that punches well above its weight that’s loved by content creators of all stripes. The LUMIX GH5 Mark 2 (GH5M2) boasts the inclusion of the newer Venus Imaging Processor found in the LUMIX GH5S and LUMIX G9, V Log (included without a separate purchase as was the case with the original GH5), and direct-from-camera livestreaming capabilities. The GH5M2 also boasts an improvement to available color profiles like Cinelike V2 which struggled with skin tones in the GH5. Rounding out the pros list is the inclusion of USB-C PD – a must for any camera in 2021.
But is this compelling enough to upgrade now or hold out for the LUMIX GH6, which was announced at the same time as the GH5M2. The new GH6 flagship is expected to boast a new, yet to be named, MFT sensor and Venus Imaging Processor that will be able to record 4:2:2 10-bit DCI 4K/60p recording and provide unlimited recording times (as long as things don’t get too hot). On the slow/quick motion capture side of things, the GH6 provides a 10-bit 4K 120p High Frame Rate (HFR) and Variable Frame Rate (VFR) for high resolution slow/quick motion video and 10-bit 5.7K 60p video, without further cropping the image.
A Familiar Face
In 2019, Olympus announced it was no longer in the camera business and spun off its consumer digital imaging division into a new company called OM Digital. Recently, a new Pro lens was announced by OM Digital using the old Olympus branding in the Olympus M. Zuiko 8mm-25mm f/4 PRO lens. This MFT mount lens covers a video-friendly, ultra-wide zoom range (16mm-50mm full-frame equivalent) with Olympus’s MSC Auto Focusing system, Manual Focus Clutch system, a constant f/4 aperture (wide open), Programmable L-FN function button on the lens barrel, and the tested weather-resistant construction that Olympus’s pro line delivered.
On the camera body side of things, OM Digital announced their first post-Olympus body in the Europe-bound Olympus PEN E-P7 and its smaller US cousin, the Olympus PEN E-PL7. The former boasts a 20-megapixel MOS sensor, TruePic VIII image processor, 5-axis image stabilization, a 3-inch TFT flip-down screen, and retro styling done right. The smaller, US-bound PEN E-PL7 sports a 16-megapixel sensor, TruePic VII image processor, and 3-axis image stabilization with the same flip-down screen and retro aesthetics.
While US MFT fans may feel a bit spurned by the omission of the 20-megapixel sensor in the new E-PL7, both cameras provide a preview of what OM Digital Solutions can produce. If there was a question about their ability to produce a solid camera that speaks to the legacy that Olympus built – there’s little question that they have the look that fans of the system are looking for – which gives me hope for what could be the next E-M camera body if they keep the system alive.
Looking to the future
While the long-term future of MFT cameras may be questionable, there’s no doubt that killing off an entire camera system would be a detriment to consumers. There is a real need for an in-between camera: your smartphone sucks for anything that isn’t confined to a small screen and a full-frame camera can be a pain to lug around. MFT cameras offer a lot of the must-haves for travels (lightweight, compact systems with interchangeable lenses with better-than-your-phone video) and offer variety in form-factor (because all the full-frame cameras are just reiteration of the DSLR) and design (the PEN cameras really did nail that retro look). Lastly, for video-centric content creators, the MFT mount and Panasonic’s offerings specifically provide a great entry point with very few compromises – a wealth of lens options, high-performance video capture output, and tools that pros need. The loss of MFT will most certainly be a net loss for all consumers hopefully the recent announcements from OM D Solutions/Olympus and Panasonic mean that there’s still more life in that smaller sensor.