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 announces Micro Four Thirds plans (UPDATED)
By Michael R. Tomkins, The Imaging Resource
(Monday, September 22, 2008 - 01:00 EDT)

A little under two months ago, Olympus and Matsushita - the company behind the Panasonic brandname - jointly announced their new Micro Four Thirds standard.

Today, Olympus has announced the development of its first Micro Four Thirds product, which is being shown as a concept camera during the Photokina tradeshow. Partner company Matsushita is set to begin shipping its first Micro Four Thirds product - the Panasonic G1 - from mid-November 2008. While the G1 does better existing single-lens reflex digital cameras with its 4.9 x 3.3 x 1.8" (124 x 84 x 45mm) body, the unnamed Olympus Micro Four Thirds design makes its Panasonic sibling look almost bulky compared to a body size of just 4.7 x 2.5 x 1.2" (119 x 64 x 31mm). By way of comparison, that's somewhere less than half the volume of the current smallest digital SLRs, Olympus' own E-410 and E-420.

It bears repeating that this is currently a concept camera, and its quite possible that the eventual product could be larger. We understand that in its development of the Panasonic G1, Matsushita's designers were concerned about potential buyers - particularly in the US market - feeling that the camera body was actually too small. There's certainly a market out there for a really small "rangefinder-esque" interchangeable lens digicam though. Today's news suggests Olympus might have just such a product on the way.

Few details beyond the body size are currently available. We know that the unnamed Olympus camera will feature a Live MOS image sensor of unspecified resolution, and that the Micro Four Thirds standard uses the same sensor size as that of a full-sized Four Thirds camera. We also know that Micro Four Thirds cameras don't have a mirror box with which to provide an optical viewfinder or allow for phase detection sensors - and indeed the early information we have from Olympus is that the concept camera will feature a "High Speed Contrast AF system" with face detection. The only other detail we currently have is that the new camera will include a Shadow Adjustment function.

Watch our Photokina coverage for more on this once the show floor opens and we've had a look at the concept camera for ourselves.


Olympus Micro Four Thirds Concept
Olympus Micro Four-Thirds concept camera. Courtesy of Olympus, with modifications by Zig Weidelich. Click for a larger image.

Olympus Micro Four-Thirds concept camera. Courtesy of Olympus, with modifications by Zig Weidelich. Click for a larger image.

Olympus Micro Four-Thirds concept camera. Courtesy of Olympus, with modifications by Zig Weidelich. Click for a larger image.

Olympus Micro Four-Thirds concept camera. Courtesy of Olympus, with modifications by Zig Weidelich. Click for a larger image.

Olympus Micro Four-Thirds concept camera. Courtesy of Olympus, with modifications by Zig Weidelich. Click for a larger image.

Olympus Micro Four-Thirds concept camera. Courtesy of Olympus, with modifications by Zig Weidelich. Click for a larger image.


UPDATED 2008-09-24 12:50ET: Added images provided by Olympus.

Original Source Press Release:

OLYMPUS MICRO FOUR THIRDS SYSTEM-COMPLIANT DIGITAL CAMERA UNDER DEVELOPMENT

Making Smaller, More Portable Interchangeable Lens Solutions a Reality

COLOGNE, GERMANY, September 22, 2008 – Olympus today announces that it has begun development of an interchangeable lens type digital camera based on the “Micro Four Thirds System.”

Development of the camera will bring dramatic reductions in size and weight to the Olympus E-System, and will comply with the new Micro Four Thirds System standard jointly announced with Matsushita Industrial Co., Ltd. (Panasonic) on August 5. A concept mock-up of the camera will be exhibited September 23-28 at “Photokina 2008,” the world’s largest trade fair for the photographic and imaging industries held September 23-28 at the Cologne Trade Fair in Cologne, Germany.

The global market for interchangeable lens type digital cameras is growing steadily, but still only accounts for approximately 7 percent of the total digital camera market. Considering the much larger share held by interchangeable lens type digital cameras when film was the dominant imaging medium, it seems that there is still ample room for sales growth in this category. Market surveys, however, indicate that more than a few customers choose compact models because they find digital SLR cameras to be “big, heavy, and difficult to operate.”

The Micro Four Thirds System standard was established to meet this need by enabling the development of radically more compact and lightweight interchangeable lens type digital camera systems. The camera currently under development will be the first Olympus camera to comply with the Micro Four Thirds System standard, and interchangeable lenses that comply with the standard are also moving ahead. In addition, users will be able to mount existing Four Thirds System wide-angle, telephoto, and macro lenses on Micro Four Thirds System bodies via an adapter. Product name, launch date and retail price of an interchangeable lens type digital camera based on the “Micro Four Thirds System” are not determined.

Olympus Imaging is also committed to the Four Thirds System, and will continue to expand its lineup of digital SLR cameras to satisfy a broad spectrum of customer needs. This includes the professional photographer, aspiring artist, hobbyist, and everyday consumer.

Outline of the Micro Four Thirds standard
The Micro Four Thirds standard was designed and developed to maximize the performance potential of digital imaging technology, and to extend the benefits of the Four Thirds System standard for digital camera systems.

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

  1. Approximately 50 percent shorter flangeback distance (mount-to-sensor distance)
  2. Lens mount outer diameter approximately 6mm smaller
  3. Electrical contacts in mount increased from 9 to 111

The Micro Four Thirds System enables users to capture the same high-quality images of the Four Thirds System’s 4/3-type image sensor in a much more compact body. It also takes advantage of significantly more compact lenses, particularly in the wide-angle and high-power zoom range. The Four Thirds System offers the benefits of compact, lightweight performance, and the new Micro Four Thirds System takes this even further to enable development of 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 for the support of new features and expanded system functionality in the future.

###

1Image sensor diagonal dimensions are the same for both Four Thirds System and Micro Four Thirds System standards.

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