2008 Photokina Tradeshow
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Olympus and Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds logo. Courtesy of Olympus, with modifications by Michael R. Tomkins. Olympus, Panasonic announce Micro Four Thirds standard
By Michael R. Tomkins, The Imaging Resource
(Tuesday, August 5, 2008 - 04:07 EDT)

Olympus and Panasonic have today jointly announced a new lens mount closely related to the existing Four Thirds format.

The Micro Four Thirds format has been designed to allow for reduced size and weight of camera bodies and lenses. The sensor size of a Micro Four Thirds camera remains identical to that of existing Four Thirds models, but with a roughly 50% decrease in the distance between the lens mount and sensor, known as the flangeback distance. The Micro Four Thirds mount also has a diameter that is reduced by some six millimeters, and two additional electrical contacts for a total of eleven.

The reduction in flangeback distance (and the reduction in size and weight that this allows) have been achieved by removing the mirror box from the camera design - meaning that Micro Four Thirds cameras will not have a true TTL optical viewfinder. Now that live view is fairly commonplace from current digital SLR designs,though, it will be possible to provide for an electronic viewfinder that would serve much the same function. This is a tradeoff many users will likely be happy to make, in exchange for the reduction in size and weight of their photographic equipment. The extra electrical contacts meanwhile will allow for future expansion of the system to add new features or functionality.

No new products based on the Micro Four Thirds system have been announced at this time. Olympus and Panasonic have noted that they will continue to develop new products going forwards for both the existing Four Thirds format and the new Micro Four Thirds format.

Original Source Press Release:

Olympus Imaging and Panasonic announce new Micro Four Thirds System standard

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% 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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