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The 'Four Thirds System' logo. Courtesy of Olympus Optical Co. (Europa) GmbH and Eastman Kodak Company. Three new manufacturers support Four Thirds System
By Michael R. Tomkins, The Imaging Resource
(Friday, February 13, 2004 - 15:18 EST)

A press release today distributed by Olympus Corp. announces that three new Japanese digicam manufacturers have thrown their support behind the Four Thirds System standard for single-lens reflex digital cameras.

Until now, only Olympus has actually released products based on the Four Thirds System standard which it co-created with Kodak. The company's impressive E1 digital SLR is the first Four Thirds camera, and available alongside it are a range of Four Thirds System lenses. As well as Kodak and Olympus, Fujifilm has long been linked to the Four Thirds System standard - although the company has not sold any Four Thirds products nor detailed any specific plans for future products.

Now, three more Japanese manufacturers have joined the alliance - Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd., and Sigma Corp. Of the three, each has significance for different reasons.

Matsushita, whose products are sold under the Panasonic brand name, currently offers quite a range of "Lumix"-branded digital cameras. The company has formed an alliance with Leica to co-create cameras, and past product announcements have focused on image quality, camera control, unusual features such as long-zoom lenses - a fact that, coupled with product endorsements from professional photographers, suggests to us that Matsushita is serious about making inroads into the higher end of the digicam market. With no history of manufacturing SLR cameras, and hence no ties to any particular lens mount, it makes sense for Matsushita to support a more open lens standard if it has decided to create a Panasonic-branded digital SLR.

Sanyo Electric Co. has likewise no history of manufacturing SLR cameras, but could be relevant for an altogether different reason. Whilst Sanyo digital cameras - in the US at least - are not very common due to rather limited distribution, the company actually manufactures a significant number of cameras for third-party companies to sell under their own brands. Whilst it is possible that Sanyo could be intending to create a digital SLR, it seems rather unlikely given their current distribution limitations and the lack of brand awareness outside of Japan - but the company could potentially be intending to create a digital SLR design that it could market to other companies to sell either as-is, or with modifications to fit their own requirements.

Yet another possibility is that both Matsushita and Sanyo could just be intending to offer image sensors compatible with the Four Thirds System, since both companies manufacture a significant volume of CCD sensors.

Finally, we come to Sigma Corp. Of the three companies, Sigma is the only one with any history of making SLR camera bodies and lenses, both for film and digital. Whilst it is possible that Sigma could decide to offer digital SLRs with the Four Thirds mount, it seems perhaps a bit unlikely given that Sigma has its own competing lens mount. Much more likely, given the fact that Sigma manufactures lenses for a wide range of lens mounts from other manufacturers, is that the company is intending to manufacture lenses compatible with the Four Thirds System. Given Sigma's reputation for producing good quality optics at very competitive prices, this would doubtless be good news for owners of Four Thirds-based cameras.

Obviously there's no guarantee that any of these manufacturers are intending to make any products based on Four Thirds, and we'd certainly not expect to see any announcements in the near term given the time required to get new products designed and ready for market. It could be that some or all of these companies are signing up without plans to immediately create any Four Thirds products themselves, with the intention of getting their foot in the door should the Four Thirds standard take off later, as Fujifilm has perhaps done.

Hopefully that won't be the case and all three companies will quickly make their involvement in Four Thirds known, though. Either way, it is definitely important news for all involved that three more large manufacturers have thrown their support behind the standard.

Original Source Press Release:

Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd., Sanyo Electric Co., Ltd., and Sigma Corporation to Support Four Thirds System Standard for Dedicated Digital SLR Camera Systems

Olympus Corporation (President:Tsuyoshi Kikukawa) is pleased to announce the addition of three more firms to the roster of companies supporting the Four Thirds System standard for digital SLR camera systems. The three firms (in alphabetical order) are: Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd.* (best known for its "Panasonic" brand products), Sanyo Electric Co., Ltd., and Sigma Corporation. The Four Thirds System standard continues to be open to all, and the participation of additional firms is being encouraged.

The Four Thirds System standard defines a standard for the design and development of an entirely new generation of digital SLR camera systems and was established in an effort to fully realize the potential user and performance benefits offered by modern digital imaging technology. The Four Thirds System uses a four-thirds-type image sensor, making it possible to design extremely compact lenses that also have the optical characteristics needed to maximize sensor performance. In addition, the system defines an open standard for lens mounts that provides consumers with a wider range of choice by assuring compatibility between Four Thirds System bodies and lenses produced by different manufacturers. In October 2003, Olympus introduced a range of Four Thirds System products that included the E-1 interchangeable-lens-type digital SLR and other Olympus E-1 System components.

The Four Thirds System standard was announced in September 2002 by Olympus Corporation and Eastman Kodak Company of the United States, and has been supported since its inception by Fuji Photo Film Co, Ltd. In the future, we will continue to promote industry-wide participation by encouraging other manufacturers to join in developing this open standard to the benefit of all.

* Image sensor standard support

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