(FT5 -> patent) Olympus patent discloses a modular camera concept!

Let’s start with the bad news first. The same sources that told us that Olympus was working on a modular camera now told us that Olympus is keeping on hold the project. Olympus is focusing their resources on the development of new Micro Four Thirds cameras and lenses. The good news is that we can finally show you a REAL proof that our sources were telling us the truth. Olympus filled a new patent (Click here to read it at freepatentsonline) that shows 8 different modular bodies! Every single concept has three different parts (camera body, sensor unit and lens). It looks like a more advanced concept compared to the Ricoh GXR design were lens and sensor do part of a single unit.

Let’s start with the official patent description:

There is known a camera capable of exchanging an imaging element with another imaging element of a different size according to the purpose (refer to Patent Document 1). This camera has a horizontally-long box-like camera body and a photographing lens for silver salt single-lens reflex camera. As the camera body, a camera body for silver salt single-lens reflex camera is used without modification. As a back lid, one for silver-salt camera and one for digital camera are prepared. When the back lid for digital camera is attached to the camera body, this camera can be used as a digital camera. Further, this camera has a configuration allowing exchange of a CCD substrate and thus different types of digital cameras can be realized by one camera body.

One of the most interesting apsects of the patent is the “conversion optical system” (On picture the part number 4): “The conversion optical system is an optical system that forms an intermediate image (primary image). Thus, even when a subject image is enlarged, an aberration-free image can be obtained.

The third modular camera variant (Figure 3) shows “the optical unit 21 includes an imaging optical system 22, the optical path division means 8, and the moving mechanism 9. The optical unit 211 through the attachment/detachment portion 2 and thereby a subject image is formed on the imaging element 3 through the imaging optical system 22 and the conversion optical system is connected to the imaging body 4

Feel free to add your thoughts about the patent by commenting on this post. As usual keep in mind that patents are not a guarantee that there will really be a product like that.

  • Tom

    honest to god, why do people like micro 4/3rds so much??

    • Henrik

      Because its usually a smaller package that delivers good image quality? How can you fail to see that or are you just trolling?

    • greg

      (That’s a hairy one ain’t it?…)

      I like micro 4/3 so much because I envision photographic pleasure neither with a 1kg piece of equipment around my neck nor with a compact that will take all the decisions for me, be slow to react and unable to work indoor.
      Canon G11? Seems to be very capable, but you’re stuck with one lens, have to do with a 3′ shot to shot time aginst 0.8′ for the GF1.
      Nex? No thanks I need mechanical interaction knobs and the like. An actual camera not an electronic toy.
      Samsung NX? Could have been if it had more lenses onboard and had lived its promises of high ISO performances.

      How was that for an answer? Seriously, have you ever had a GF1 in hands?

    • Because I have a crap load of gear to lug around for work and a precision bass for gigging in the evenings. Add that to 35 degrees of heat and 95% humidity. m4/3 is just about doable.

      Want to add 1.5 kg of Nikon body + lens to that? No, me neither.


    • Mike

      Honest to God, why are you on a rumors site that features it if you don’t want to read about it?

    • Ahem

      Lighter and less cumbersome than my APS-C kit with almost the same IQ. I just came from a 3-week backpacking trip, and I fit my MFT kit (camera, 3 lenses, full-size tripod) in my 35 liter backpack – including clothes and other misc. electronics. I would have needed a separate daypack just for my APS-C kit, and it would have weighed a ton.

      Thinking of selling my APS-C kit after that trip, didn’t miss it at all.

    • Duarte Bruno

      Why do people like m43 so much????

      What about this: because it provides something that no Optical system can ever do? WYSIWYG.

      How’s that for workflow enhancement?

  • Ulli

    very interesting !

  • JOHN

    no kidding Tom the E-5 is rated as the third best camera out there and all thats talked about is inferior micro four thirds

    • MIKE

      I would talk about it if I was the queen of england and could afford it. 3rd best camera? Since we aren’t considering anything except our own biased opinions, I’d like you to consider my opinion and see if these options might produce better pictures for you than a E-5: Pentax 645D, Hasselbad H3D-39II, Miyama DL33, Hubbel Space telescope.

      • occam

        None of those cameras cost $1,500. Both cameras rated “above” the E-5 cost multiples of $1,500, so in value terms, the E-5 is the best. So “best” is context-sensitive. If those camera systems work better for you (or the CaNikon systems) then go for it. Presumably, ou have the most informed opinion of your own needs. Use your opinion to get what you need.

  • Looks like a way of getting the Image circle of fourthird lenses onto a 35mm size sensor. Conciderable added bulk and loss of illumination, ie less light reaching the sensor (-2stop??), makeing the whole thing pointless unless the larger sensor can provide an substantial benifit in noise reduction.

    This may be more than a retro nod towards the Maitani modular system form factor. I think this would be one of those wonderfully inventive departures for olympus.

    • Ulli

      how if they kept the focal lenght intact during this conversion, that would mean no loss in f-stops right?

      • simon

        They couldn’t. Consider this: if they kept the focal length intact, the lenses would magically become twice as wide. This isn’t possible, because they’re not designed to transmit an image at those wide angles anyway.

        From these images (haven’t read the patent yet) it really looks like they were considering building a 2x teleconverter into the camera. Interesting idea, but really only useful to achieve low-noise, high-DR ISO50 and ISO25.


  • Just had a few thoughts about the modular sensor element – IR back anyone.

  • Marq

    Tried toread the patent.

    Gave up half way.

    What is being suggested is an interchangeable sensor and lens camera with a 0.5x conversion element built in.

    If this indeed was to come out, it would be a very interestin solution to ff.

    Does olympus have such faith in their lens and the future of sensor technologies?

  • bilgy_no1

    “As the camera body, a camera body for silver salt single-lens reflex camera is used without modification. As a back lid, one for silver-salt camera and one for digital camera are prepared. When the back lid for digital camera is attached to the camera body, this camera can be used as a digital camera.”

    Are they talking about a revival of film? Or is this in fact a 15year old patent when they were researching how to transition into a nascent digital market while not completely abandoning film? Or are they talking about a seriously large frame were film may still have some use?

    • simon

      That’s in the section describing prior art and related inventions. It’s referring to a patent from 2000.

  • Mal

    Alan, this certainly leaves the door open to larger sensors, but it could also be used for the reverse. There have been comments made of a pellicle lens that can behave like a 0.5x converter. This would reduce the image circle from a full format lens down to a 4/3rds sensor size but still utilising all the captured light, effectively achieving up to 2 stops extra on the 4/3rds sensor.

    I think Kodak have the patent but it might have some loopholes if built into the camera. I have my OM 50mm f1.4 (maybe soon f0.7) ready and waiting…

    • Stig


      My 180mm f2 Zuiko becomes a 360mm f1, or thereabouts. ;-)

      • Mal

        Hi Stig, actually the way it works is to return the lens to its original focal length, which means my 50mm f1.4 is either 100mm f1.4 on 4/3rds or 50mm f0.7 using the converter. Depth of field is also the same as f1.4 on full frame.

        So your lens would be 180mm f1. That would be amazing for shooting concerts and indoor sports.

  • Mal I cannot see the extra optics feeding a smaller sensor when the flexibility offered by a larger one would offer many more choices in sensor supplier and technologies as well as future proofing the system as sensor technology develops. it could also offer a range of multiple formats and a pro video capture modules even from third parties. It could be the first open source sensor DSLR.

  • Gene

    I read a rumor that Kodak might be for sale. Any chance that Olympus will buy Kodak? What about their deal that they were talking about?

  • Alex

    One qestion regarding mentioned 0,5 converter for legacy lenses how would DOF tranlsate?

    Also modularity may be production proces – to speed up developnet – it may be modular but does not mean that camera itself is modular.

    • you know my name

      “One qestion regarding mentioned 0,5 converter for legacy lenses how would DOF tranlsate?”

      0.5x would make a lens 2 stops faster. For instance an F4 lens would become F2, or an F2 lens would become F1

  • winfried wüstefeld

    It seems to me that this patent is the answer on two questions:
    1. “How to get one camerasystem for 4/3 and m4/3 lenses?”
    2. “How to get rid of the eternal comment on 4/3 sensor being not big enough?”
    So they came with a fullframe (24x36mm) modular design.
    For a “back-lid for silver-salt camera” is mentioned and I think that has to be a 24×36 a film-back and so also a changeable sensor.
    The “intermediate image” (4/3) is converted it in a full-frame image.
    Very clever idea. Large sensor, still small lenses
    You can keep using 4/3 and m4/3-lenses – on different modules with or without mirror-, and still have a full-frame sensor with all its advantages.
    There will be no change in focal length, for I as far I understand the descriptions, the image projected on the sensor will be equal in content and will not be different from the “intermediate image” – only in size.
    High iso can compensate for light loss, with a four times larger sensor.

    • spam

      It seems to me that this wont solve anything. Olympus is good at making small system cameras and lenses – when the want to. A modular design like this will make the camera bigger, more complex, more expensive and built in lenses will affect image quality to some extent.

      They’ll also increase the chance of heat problems from the sensor/stabilsiation like Sony get on the A33/A55 when they put optical elements right in front of the sensor. The only good news here is that the project is on hold.

      • Tropical Yeti

        I have got exactly the same impression from this patent. Big, complex hardware, you end up with 4/3 camera in something like Hasselblad body (big and clunky). No wonder they have retired this concept.

        Progress in cameras goes in direction of more and better electronics, and less mechanics.

  • Doesn’t this bring to mind the RED Camera modular approach?

  • LOL. OLy – FF sensor? LOL

    Could that be the solution to the sensor supplier problem Oly has right now?

    For I do not see any other reason why they would want to do it. Theoretically that should allow them to use APS-C sensors too.

    I winder how all that would work in real life.

  • andrew

    olympus produced a modular system prototype in 1969

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