Appeared in DIVER February 2011


Olympus E-PL1 Four Thirds camera.

The next generation

Compact size, high image quality and virtually no shutter lag make Micro Four Thirds camera systems a natural step-up, says Mark Koekemoer

hspace=5 IT’S ALWAYS EXCITING TO learn of new technological developments in the world of underwater photography. Although it has become clear over the course of this series that the compact camera can be a formidable component in the underwater photographer’s arsenal, there are some who may crave for more.
The new kid on the block stems from the Four Thirds concept, and it’s called Micro Four Thirds.

The biggest problems that typical DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) cameras faced in the past were the image degradation of peripherals, and the appearance of ghosts and flares.
Many DSLR cameras using traditional 35mm film-camera lenses are very susceptible to loss of sharpness, chromatic aberration, and shading of peripheral areas. Wide-angle lenses are especially problematic, because oblique light inclined at a large angle tends to enter these peripheral areas.
Ghosts and flares are produced when the light reflected on the sensor surface is reflected again on the lens surface. Light inclined at an angle cannot reach the sensor.

With the Four Thirds system, the diameter of the lens mount exceeds the sensor size, and the digital-dedicated lens design allows all the light to travel perpendicularly to the surface of the sensor. The result is a sharp, clear image.
The diagonal size of the Four Thirds sensor is about half that of 35mm film. This means that the focal distance required to obtain a given angle of view is half that needed for a 35mm film camera, so lenses can be made much smaller.
The first Four Thirds-based SLR camera, the Olympus E-1, was announced in June 2003. Panasonic later released the L1.

The biggest attraction of any SLR camera system is the ability to change lenses. Digital SLR cameras incorporate more components between the lens and the sensor than film SLRs, including the image stabiliser and dust-reduction mechanism.
Also, because the viewfinder of an SLR camera requires a mirror box for viewing the real image, the camera body needs to be thicker to accommodate it. Compact cameras have no mirror box.
If a digital SLR camera can be designed to use Live View exclusively for shooting, the mirror box becomes unnecessary. The camera can have a slim profile without compromising picture quality.
The Micro Four Thirds system is a new standard based on combining Live View shooting with the Four Thirds system, freeing users from needing a viewfinder and moving closer to an optimum balance between picture quality and compact size.
The outer diameter of the lens mount is reduced so that the lens size can be reduced as well. The lens mount of the Micro Four Thirds system has two additional signal contacts for smoother Live View shooting, with shorter time lags and faster communication speeds between the lens and the camera body.

If the Four Thirds system was born out of the Olympus Corporation, it is companies such as Panasonic and Leica that have gone on to embrace the Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds concept. Currently on the market are the Olympus PEN E-PL1, Panasonic Lumix GF1 and the just-announced Lumix GF2 Micro Four Thirds.
Useful lenses for underwater photography are the Panasonic 8mm fish-eye, 7-14mm wide angle zoom and 45mm macro. Because Micro Four Thirds is standardised, lenses from different manufactures are interchangeable. For example, the Panasonic 8mm fish-eye lens can be fitted to the Olympus PEN E-PL1 camera.

Image taken with a Panasonic Lumix GF1
So what does all this new technology mean for underwater photographers Simple, a compact interchangeable-lens camera system with the high image quality of an SLR.
If you started out with a compact, the next upgrade is usually to an SLR, but housings for these cameras are typically bulky and heavier than compacts, and more costly.
For the travelling photographer, strict airline policies on baggage allowance means more stress and hefty excess charges. So for compact users looking to upgrade to a system that produces SLR-quality images but without the bulk, or for those SLR users wanting to downsize without compromising on image quality, Micro Four Thirds is the answer.

Housings for Micro Four Thirds cameras are compact and easy to transport, and because the lenses are smaller, the ports are smaller too.
Manufacturers are slowly introducing Micro Four Thirds housings. Olympus makes its own for the PEN E-PL1, while INON and 10-Bar produce one for Panasonic’s Lumix GF1.
To give an idea of prices, a Nauticam NA-NEX5 housing £1199 without ports. Similarly, an Olympus E-PL1 costs £399 and its PT-EP01 housing £499.

Our online PhotoCall competition gives you the chance to upload your best work to, and to win not only wider exposure and monthly prizes but, ultimately, a wonderful fortnight in the Philippines.
Each month at we offer you a theme, and invite you to upload up to three images. Mark Koekemoer selects the winning image, reproduced both online and in DIVER.
hspace=4 Seaplane hits the spot
Placed top in Januarys PhotoCall Competition to suit the theme Wrecks was Dave Martins image of Jakes Seaplane in Palau, Micronesia.
Shot with an Olympus SP350 and Sea and Sea YS 25 auto strobe, Daves photo wins him a £300 INON UK voucher redeemable against lenses, flashguns or accessories.
This amazing prize is offered by Atlantis Dive Resorts, which has centres in two prime Philippines diving locations, Puerto Galera and Dumaguete, and runs the Atlantis Foto Festival (
The winner will join Mark Koekemoer on an INON UK group trip to the festival in summer 2011, and Diver will reproduce the results of his or her diving experiences.

 The theme for February entries is -
Big Animals.

Help on uploading your photos - PLEASE READ CAREFULLY

  1. You need to be registered on the Divernet Forums. If you are not registered and logged-in then you will be asked to do so when you click on ENTER above. Complete the registration form selecting your username and password. There may be a delay before your registration is confirmed while our filter checks that your registration request comes from a real person! As soon as you receive your confirmation you can proceed with the upload of your photos by going to the upload page. If you are already registered with the Divernet Forums you can go directly to the upload page.
  2. Select your photo file from your own computer using the Browse button. Make sure it does not exceed 600pixels in width or height.
  3. Give your image a title and CHANGE THE FILE NAME so that we can connect it to your entry details.
  4. Add a description - location, subject, your NAME if you want to take full credit for the photo, etc.
  5. Select the category you are entering - this will need to be the correct category for the monthly competition, such as March 2010 PhotoCall Competition - Peak of the Action for the March competition.
  6. Add some keywords which would help people find your photo (e.g. include your name, the location, etc.)
  7. Add your registered username so that we can identify you if your photo is selected as a winner.
  8. Hit the Submit button. You may submit up to 3 photos in each monthly competition.

Please study these terms & conditions:
  • Submitted images must be taken on a digital compact camera
  • Only images that have not previously won a place in a photo competition are eligible for the competition.
  • Images uploaded must have a maximum width or height of 600 pixels.
  • Entrants must have their own hi-res version of the image available in case of short-listing.
  • Entrants retain the copyright on their images, but by entering the PhotoCall competition automatically grant permission for Diver and Divernet to publish winning photographs.
  • The grand prize-winner must be available to travel at the times stipulated during the Atlantis Foto Festival, between June and 20 August 2011.
  • If the winner wishes to bring a companion and share a room, normal double-occupancy rates will apply to that second person.
  • The winner agrees to provide any images taken during the festival for subsequent publication in Diver and on Divernet and the Atlantis and INON UK websites.
  • The prize is strictly non-transferrable.
  • This competition is not open to staff, family or commercial associates of Diver Group, Atlantis Dive Resorts, Inon UK or associated companies.
  • In all judgments, the judges’ decision is final.