Table of Contents
a history of Micro Four Thirds part V - the E7 dSLR and the potential end of further development of the Four Thirds system
© Copyright Khen Lim, 2013. All Rights Reserved.
The E-7 has been a long-time coming but it was expected in the latter half of 2013 or early 2014.
There is much to be said about how significant the E-7 is going to be at this juncture of the company’s FourThirds tenure.
Even as we stare down the end of the road for FourThirds, the need to keep its DSLR line alive is predicated by how well the OM-D line can deliver full HG/SHG lens performance.
The development of the E-M1 with it's new phase detection AF capability for Four Thirds lenses which probably almost matches the autofocus capability of the E-5 dSLR, at least in good light, means the need for an E-7 dSLR is now much reduced.
If the E-7 becomes a reality, it will very likely be the final DSLR to come from the company.
There has been a lot of hype about what the E-7 is and isn’t. And for that matter, it hasn’t been an easy time at Olympus as they attempt to balance the needs of two systems coexisting at the moment. Needless to say the company would have felt far better to see the backs of its FourThirds system but right now, that is not possible. Without a fully working solution at hand, the E-7 would have to take a bow and fight another day and for that, there is a rush to see what it is that it has that would make it a worthwhile successor to the E-5. Theories are aplenty here. Some say that the E-7 is purely FourThirds with no ability to interface with the company’s ‘M’ lenses and they may be right. But they also believe that even while they use the classic FourThirds lenses, the instant-return mirror and optical viewfinder could be missing this time. If that were the case, it certainly would be interesting to see how phase-detection AF (PDAF) will work sans the mirror. And if PDAF works with this arrangement, there will not be a need for the E-7 – simply put, Olympus would just graft the technology into its new premium-grade OM-D camera and be done with it. Not just that – the company would then be ready to call it a day with its FourThirds camera line-up. History would be served and mirrorless moves on to a brand new era.
Same heart, different brain
At the heart of the matter is its sensor and everything is pointing to the use of the E-M5’s 16-megapixel Sony sensor. The chances of the older 12.3-megapixel Panasonic sensor re-emerging are at the very least, improbable. Equally so the chances that the E-7 would have a newer sensor (than the E-M1) aren’t very good either – it would be foolish for Olympus to upstage its own future by confusing its customers. In its case, we’re talking about the E-7 being equally at home with PDAF as it is with CDAF.
There is no question that the E-7 would also inherit the latest TruePic processor. It may be an evolution of the E-M5’s but all the same, there will be changes. These changes are to enable the new dual-core processor to function as intelligently in PDAF as it must in CDAF. The key is to operate its FourThirds lenses without the reflex mirror but at the same time, to provide the same degree of autofocusing performance in CDAF as the E-M5. This is, by the way, no small matter.
(edit by GA:)
Now that Olympus has demonstrated sensor based Dual AF system with the E-M1, if they were to make an E-7 dSLR, they have 3 main options using this same sensor:
- keep the optical viewfinder and mirror as with the E-5 and have a faster AF in Live View using Four Thirds lenses but no compatibility with Micro Four Thirds lenses, or,
- essentially make a larger E-M1 with electronic viewfinder, no mirror, but full compatibility with Micro Four Thirds lenses, or,
- develop a complex new hybrid mount system to allow optical and EVF modes
In reality, although many Four Thirds users would love option 1, none of the above would make commercial sense now that the E-M1 can address most of the issues of Four Thirds users whilst providing a smaller, more versatile body.
Unchanged footprint - the E-7 as an optical dSLR
We don’t see anything economically beneficial to Olympus to make wholesale changes to its external appearance. In other words there is little chance that the E-7 would adorn new clothes other than inheriting the E-3/E-5’s body structure and much of its outer panels. Certain physical parts may change but in the most part, the E-7 will be hard to distinguish from its predecessor. This means that the same battery grip for the E-5 is usable with the E-7.
Even so we’re yet to know if the E-7 will or won’t continue to support CompactFlash cards. There’s an equal chance that it could remain CF/SD or purely dual-SD from this point onwards. However one thing will continue – the E-5’s weatherproofing will remain. On the other hand we believe that its video capabilities will receive some improvements. Epson’s technology will spread from the company’s mirrorless system to the E-7 now that we’re increasingly confident that an EVF will be built-in. It’s probable we’ll see the E-M5’s version replicated here although there could be some minor tweaks. Another thing that may make its debut will be the Application Port or AP2 slot. Now a staple feature in Olympus’ Pen and OM-D cameras, it is seen for the first time on an E-series DSLR. This would allow it access to its growing range of accessories – a sense of commonality that doesn’t hurt its appeal and win it friends.
Support for Micro FourThirds lenses
It’s very hard to see any reality in the E-7 providing direct support for the use of the company’s ‘M’ lenses. Exactly how can this be achievable within reason? Despite the many rumours and allegations, the first thing to be reminded of is that ‘M’ lenses are of a smaller diameter. In other words there is no way of mounting any of them on to the E-7. Secondly they are not designed for PDAF operations. All ‘M’ lenses are made to work with contrast-detection AF systems. Thirdly the electrical interfaces don’t work the same way as their bigger FourThirds cousins. They may look identical but their signalling characteristics are different.
Given all of these, the only way Olympus can get its ‘M’ lenses to work with the E-7 is to create yet another MF adaptor. That may or may not be technically possible but the key question is whether or not the company will benefit from spending the time to engineer one.
go to next instalment a history of Micro Four Thirds part VI - predicting the future