Olympus and Panasonic: New Micro Four Thirds Standard

News Olympus Panasonic Uncategorized

Olympus Imaging and Panasonic Announce
New Micro Four Thirds System Standard

Micro Four Thirds StandardOlympus Imaging Corporation (Olympus Imaging) and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. (Panasonic) today announced joint development of technologies and devices for the “Micro Four Thirds System standard,” a new standard that extends the benefits of the Four Thirds System standard for interchangeable lens type digital camera systems by enabling dramatic reductions in size and weight. Under the terms of an agreement between the two companies, they will work jointly toward commercial production of significantly lighter and more compact interchangeable lens type digital camera systems.

The global market for interchangeable lens type digital SLR cameras is growing steadily, but still only accounts for a 7% share of the total digital camera market. Considering the much larger share held by interchangeable lens type SLR camera systems when film was the dominant imaging medium, it seems that there is still ample room for sales growth in the category. But compact digital cameras continue to offer an expanding range of features and performance, and market surveys indicate that customers choose compact models because they find digital SLR cameras to be “big, heavy, and difficult to operate.”

Recognizing this market trend, Olympus Imaging and Panasonic have introduced products based on the Four Thirds System standard, and have led the industry in bringing features such as Live View and contrast-detection autofocusing systems to interchangeable lens type digital camera systems.

Now, Olympus Imaging and Panasonic are expanding the potential of the Four Thirds System standard even further, enabling the development of radically more compact and lightweight interchangeable lens type digital camera systems based on the Micro Four Thirds System standard. Together with the existing range of Four Thirds System products, the new range of Micro Four Thirds System products will enable customers to enjoy true interchangeable lens type digital camera system performance.

When compared to the Four Thirds System standard, the primary distinguishing characteristics of the Micro Four Thirds System standard are:

  1. Approximately 50% shorter flangeback distance (mount-to-sensor distance)
  2. 6mm smaller lens mount outer diameter
  3. Electrical contacts in mount increased from 9 to 11

The Micro Four Thirds System enables users to enjoy the high image quality benefits of the Four Thirds System’s 4/3-type image sensor in a much more compact camera body, and also take advantage of significantly more compact lenses, particularly in the wide-angle and high-power zoom range. The Four Thirds System offers compact, lightweight performance, and the new Micro Four Thirds System will take this even further by making it possible to develop ultra-compact interchangeable lens type digital camera systems unlike anything seen before. The new Micro Four Thirds System also incorporates a greater number of lens-mount electrical contacts, enabling support for new features and increased system functionality in the future.

In addition, users will be able to mount their existing Four Thirds System lenses on Micro Four Thirds System bodies via an adapter.

Moving forward, Olympus Imaging and Panasonic will jointly develop relevant technologies and devices for both Four Thirds System and Micro Four Thirds System standards, and will develop and introduce standards-compliant products in accordance with their respective business strategies.

While continuing to develop Four Thirds System interchangeable lens type digital camera system products, Olympus Imaging will also develop a range of Micro Four Thirds System lenses and accessories, and Micro Four Thirds System camera bodies that are even smaller and slimmer than the light, compact, and widely acclaimed Olympus E-410 and E420.

While continuing to develop Four Thirds System interchangeable lens type digital camera system products, Panasonic will also develop a new generation of compact, lightweight, interchangeable lens type digital camera system products, including ultra-portable camera bodies, interchangeable lenses, and related system accessories.

About the Four Thirds System Standard
The Four Thirds System standard defines design and development standards for interchangeable lens type digital camera systems that fully realize the performance potential of digital technology. Four Thirds System cameras utilize a 4/3-type image sensor that delivers the high image quality expected of interchangeable lens type digital camera systems in a form factor that assures outstanding mobility. The Four Thirds System standard is an open standard that enables bodies and lenses produced by participating manufacturers to exchange information and be used interchangeably with one another.

* Image sensor diagonal dimensions are the same for both Four Thirds System and Micro Four Thirds System standards.

Related Content:
Olympus & Four Thirds Cameras Forum
Olympus Four Thirds DSLR Reviews
Panasonic Four Thirds DSLR Reviews
All Digital Photography Forums

Official Olympus Cameras Web Site
Official Panasonic Digital Cameras Web Site
Official Four Thirds Web Site

About the author: Photo-John

Photo-John, a.k.a. John Shafer, is the managing editor of PhotographyREVIEW.com and has been since the site launched back in 1999. He's an avid outdoor enthusiast and spends as much time as possible on his mountain bike, hiking or skiing in the mountains. He's been taking pictures for ever and ever, and never goes anywhere without a camera.

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  • Patia says:


    Are Olympus and Panasonic related?

  • Photo-John says:

    Olympus and Panasonic are partners in the Four Thirds System group. I believe Leica, Kodak, and Sigma are also members. Panasonic also makes Four Thirds DSLRs, although they don’t have the built-in image stabilization like the Olympus E-System cameras.

  • Patia says:

    I was just looking at the Four Thirds website. If I am understanding it correctly, the concept is similar to web standards. Consistent design across platforms. Is that right?

    So, are all Four Thirds camera lenses currently interchangeable?

  • Photo-John says:

    Yes – all Four Thirds mount lenses will fit all Four Thirds cameras. Right now you can get Four Thirds lenses from Leica, Sigma, and Olympus. The Leica lenses use the Panasonic MEGA O.I.S. optical image stabilization system. It sort of defeats the purpose, mounting one of those lenses on an Olympus DSLR with built-in sensor-level image stabilization. The Leica lenses are also huge, which again – for me at least – defeats the purpose of the Four Thirds System.

  • I dunno John, we’ve talked about this before, but the “4/3rds is smaller/lighter” concept just doesn’t hold water for me. As you know I have favorably reviewed Olympus 4/3 cameras and do in fact like the cameras overall, I just don’t think 4/3rds cameras and bodies have really been that much smaller than APS-C cameras until the E-420 was recently introduced. Four thirds is a fine system in its own right, but it hasn’t delivered anything revolutionary in the small/lightweight department. I mean, just think: Canon Rebels, anyone? Nikon D40? The problem with those systems is the *lenses* and in that sense maybe 4/3rds can be said to have carved out their niche. (On the other hand even you’re admitting that some of the more desirable 4/3 system lenses are not exactly small or light!)

    But getting back to this announcement: what does Micro 4/3rds bring to the table?

    * Something for “intimidated consumers”? Well, that 4/3rds is even still around says something about the viability of the system in the overall marketplace, so I have to give Oly the benefit of the doubt on those folks. But, we already have great point-n-shoot, PHD cameras, don’t we?

    * Something to compete with Sigma’s DP-1? They may eat Sigma’s lunch if they move fast enough, but I doubt it will be on the basis of IQ alone. And on that point John and I (and probably everyone else) do agree: smaller and lighter with higher quality is a good trend. It would be great if it came from Oly/Panny and if it did in fact represent some revolutionary idea in camera design.

    And then there’s Reichmann’s thoughts (at Lum. Landscape) about still/video convergence…so who knows…

  • Photo-John says:

    Thanks for weighing in, Larry. You know I respect your opinions and experience as much or more than anyone else’s. I tried to be careful to use the word “system” in my editorial because you’re right about the Four Thirds camera bodies – they’re really not any smaller, with the exception of the E-420. It’s the lenses that make the difference. The smaller size and reach of the complete kit is what makes me tend to grab the Olympus when I’m going out on the bike, instead of the Canon. With the E-520, I’ve got a 600mm equivalent and the whole kit (2 lenses and body) weighs about the same as my Canon 70-200f/2.8L. The Canon lens is awesome. But I am willing to trade that performance for less weight and bulk – most of the time. The Tamron 28-300mm VC lens was a compelling alternative on the XSi. But it just wasn’t sharp enough for my taste.

    We will have to wait and see what happens. Whether or not the Micro Four Thirds cameras turn out to be something that works for me, I like watching them innovate and push things in unexpected directions.

  • Well thanks but you know what they say about opinions… However FWIW, I think it was great that so many Oly fans have chimed in with their viewpoints in past reviews. As a smaller part of the market, it doesn’t hurt to have more of them spreading their experiences around. Maybe some more of these “intimidated” folks will turn up!

    Oh I just thought of one potential scenario for Micro 4/3: semi-revolutionary point-n-shoot body with new micro 4/3 interchangeable lenses…and here’s the best feature: new small size means it only accepts xD memory cards! ha ha ha …

    Anyway, here’s hoping Oly and/or Panny pull a few rabbits (with cool lenses) out of their hats.

  • LC says:

    Dave over at IR really got busy on this one… deep analysis, and really very encouraging if it plays out as he thinks. The bit about autofocus is a major concern for me, however. So I still gotta say: show me, don’t tell me.

    Dave’s post:

  • al says:

    Interesting article link LC.

    EVF and autofocus are the biggest issues in my book, and how they perform will largely dictate whether I adopt micro 4/3 as my compact camera solution.

    However, I am not as pessimistic about the SLR 4/3 line as the IR article is. I don’t quite agree that Oly will somehow let 4/3 languish while it focuses on its micro 4/3 line. I also don’t quite understand why Oly wouldn’t be able to maintain a strong position in both 4/3 and micro 4/3, despite tight economic conditions. That would only be the case if micro 4/3 is, to put it simply, a failure. Otherwise, it would be like asking how could Canon or any other company maintain a strong position in both SLR and compact camera markets. Well, the article itself predicts that micro 4/3 will be targeted at a different market – users who are not interested in SLRs but have outgrown the standard compact camera. Assuming this is true, then the markets won’t cannibalize each other.

    But I suppose that is my worry. I agree with the article to an extent in that Oly may be attempting to create a market, or tap into one that is not big enough to sustain itself. The gap between compact digicam users and SLR users is narrow at best. If micro 4/3 is an utter failure, then that is when I will worry about the future of 4/3. However, I feel many enthusiasts (like me) will be interested in this, as well as even those with no photographic experience but want top-notch photo quality and capability in a near pocketable package, but I’m often wrong and who knows if Oly feels the same way…

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