Olympus and Panasonic: New Micro Four Thirds Standard

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Official Micro Four Thirds Standard Press Release >>

Micro Four Thirds Standard I am an unrepentant fan of the Four Thirds System digital SLRs. The Four Thirds DSLRs by Olympus and Panasonic get a lot of criticism because of their smaller sensor and supposed inferior image quality. But most criticism misses the point – the smaller, lighter Four Thirds camera bodies and lenses offer real advantages that often outweigh any image quality costs. So today’s announcement from Olympus and Panasonic about the Micro Four Thirds Standard is very exciting to me. A new, even smaller changeable lens camera system means that serious photographers who value lightweight, compact camera equipment have even more to look forward to.

It’s hard to predict too much about the new Micro Four Thirds camera with the limited information available. But there are some key tidbits in the press release that are worth noting:

  • The Micro Four Thirds Standard uses the same size sensor as current Four Thirds DSLRs
  • The Micro Four Thirds lens mount will be compatible with current Four Thirds lenses
  • The shorter lens mount-to-sensor distance means no mirror
  • Electrical contacts in mount increased from 9 to 11

The most important thing to note is that the Micro Four Thirds cameras will not be SLRs. With no room for a mirror, you won’t be able to see directly through the lens via an optical viewfinder, mirror, and prism (or two mirrors). That leaves three possibilities. The camera might have only an LCD like most current compact digital cameras. I hope the LCD-only scenario isn’t the case as would make the camera unattractive to photography enthusiasts and professionals who rely on a real viewfinder for accuracy. The other possibilities are a rangefinder, or an electronic viewfinder (EVF) like compact superzoom cameras. The additional lens mount contacts could be used to communicate zoom information to a rangefinder or EVF. Either of those solutions seem like acceptable compromises to me. Although a single lens reflex camera is preferable for many types of photography, giving something up for a smaller, lighter camera is ok with me.

The Micro Four Thirds press release mentioned consumers who are intimidated by the size and sophistication of DSLRs. I would like to see two lines of Micro Four Thirds cameras – one targeted at the compact digital camera buyer and one for the serious photographer. The consumer camera would be an alternative to full-featured compacts and superzooms like the Olympus SP-570 UZ, Canon PowerShot S5 IS, and Panasonic’s Lumix FZ cameras. The other line would be a high-end Micro Four Thirds camera built for pros who need small, light camera systems that can capture professional quality images.

We’ll have to wait to learn more specifics about the Micro Four Thirds camera. But as an outdoor photographer who values professional quality camera systems that are compact, light, and packable, I am very excited about this announcement. I enjoy shooting with the Four Thirds cameras, when they’re available. They’re usually my first choice if I’m going to be on my skis or mountain bike. I’m currently testing an Olympus E-520 Four Thirds DSLR and look forward to even smaller and lighter cameras that can produce publishable images.

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

next pageOfficial Micro Four Thirds Standard Press Release >>

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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