Photokina 2002: In a press release issued today Olympus and Kodak has confirmed the new 'common standard' for digital cameras. Called the Four Thirds System (4/3 System) it is designed to be a new standard for digital SLR cameras with interchangeable lens mount capability. Interestingly the press release also mentions that Fujifilm has also agreed to participate in the new 4/3 System standard. While it's encouraging to receive such news it's a real shame that neither company has yet announced a product considering that we first heard about this alliance 19 months ago.

Kodak / Olympus alliance to date

Press Release:

The Olympus and Kodak 4/3 system digital SLR camera standard

Kodak KAF-5101CE 4/3" type 5.1mp CCD

Olympus and Kodak announce the future for professional digital cameras

Olympus and Kodak announce the launch of a new common standard for digital cameras. The new universal digital interchangeable lens system called the Four Thirds System (4/3 System), will be a new standard for next-generation digital SLR camera systems that ensures interchangeable lens mount compatibility.

The two companies have resolved to aggressively implement this new standard in their respective product lines, and to establish the Universal Digital Interchangeable Lens System Forum, an industry forum that will promote acceptance of the Four Thirds System by other camera manufacturers. Fuji Film has already agreed to participate in the new standard.

System Overview

The Four Thirds System is not based on existing standards for 35 mm film SLR camera system lenses, but instead establishes a new common standard for the interchange of lenses developed exclusively to meet the optical design requirements of digital SLR cameras.

4/3-Inch Image Sensor Size

The Four Thirds System uses a 4/3-type CCD or other image sensor, and will facilitate the development of dedicated digital camera lens systems that maximizes the image sensor performance to ensure outstanding image quality while also being smaller than 35 mm film SLR camera lens systems.

Lens Mount Standardisation

By establishing an open standard for camera body lens mounts, the new system will make it possible to standardise lens mounting systems, something that has been impossible to achieve with digital SLR cameras that are based on existing 35 mm film SLR lens systems. At the same time, the new system standard will set a rule for both the image circle size (the diameter of the area in which the subject is resolved) and the back focus distance (the distance from the lens mount to the image sensor).

Development Background of the New Standard

Current digital SLR cameras with interchangeable lenses are essentially based on conventional 35 mm camera systems. As a result, they must be equipped with image sensors that are comparable in size to 35 mm and APS film. However, because the imaging characteristics of these large CCDs are fundamentally different from those of film, a number of issues can prevent them from achieving their full performance potential. These include the following:

  1. Although film is capable of responding to light striking the surface at a high angle of incidence, a high angle of incidence can prevent sufficient light from reaching sensor elements at the periphery of a CCD and result in reduced colour definition, particularly when shooting with wide-angle lenses.
     
  2. To achieve the resolutions required by the micron pitch of today's CCDs, the demands of optical design tend to result in the use of larger and heavier lenses.

Moreover, manufacturers of the digital SLR camera systems have until now adopted the mounting systems used in their own respective 35 mm film SLR cameras, making bodies and lenses produced by different manufacturers incompatible with one another.

In light of these circumstances, the new Four Thirds System standard was conceived to facilitate the design and development of digital SLR cameras and lenses that maximise the performance potential of digital imaging sensors, and provide users with product advantages such as compact size, handling ease, and enhanced functionality.

Benefits

The major benefit of Four Thirds System is that it will allow the design of dedicated, high-performance digital camera lens systems that are more compact than their 35 mm film SLR camera lens counterparts. The impact of the more compact lens size will be especially marked on telephoto lenses, making it possible to produce a Four Thirds System 300 mm telephoto lens, for example, that offers performance equivalent to a 600 mm lens on a 35 mm film SLR camera.