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Olympus / Panasonic announce Micro Four Thirds

Aug 5, 2008 at 05:02 GMT

Olympus and Panasonic have announced a new, mirrorless format / lens mount based on (and compatible with) Four Thirds. The Micro Four Thirds system uses the same sensor size (18 x 13.5 mm) but allows slimmer cameras by removing the mirror box and optical viewfinder. The new format has three key technical differences: (1) roughly half the flange back distance (distance from mount to the sensor), (2) a smaller diameter lens mount (6 mm smaller) and (3) two additional contact points for lens-to-body communication (now 11 points). Removing the mirror mechanism allows this shorter flange back distance, meaning lenses for the new mount can be considerably smaller than current Four Thirds designs. The format will require framing to be carried out using Live View on either the LCD monitor or an EVF. Existing Four Thirds lenses can be used on Micro Four Thirds cameras using an adapter. Neither company is as yet making product announcements (we expect some more news in this respect closer to Photokina).

Phil: This is without doubt the most exciting digital photography announcement this year. It's fair to say that this "extension / addition" to the Four Thirds standard is finally able to deliver on the original promise of that format; considerably smaller and lighter lenses and bodies. Olympus are however keen to stress that this in no way replaces Four Thirds which will continue with new Four Thirds bodies and lenses in the future.

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Micro Four Thirds facts and features

Micro Four Thirds illustration

Joint Olympus / Panasonic press release:

Olympus Imaging and Panasonic announce new
Micro Four Thirds System standard

Tokyo, 5 August 2008, Olympus 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 percent 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

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

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.

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