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2008.08.06

On Tuesday, Panasonic and Olympus revealed the Micro Four Thirds standard. While this is basically a smaller version of the existing Four Thirds standard supported by Olympus and Panasonic, this variation is significant news for digital cameras as it enables a new class of digital cameras to exist.

The big news is that the Micro Four Thirds standards uses a smaller lens mount and brings it 50% closer to the imaging sensor. The implication is that there is no longer room for a standard mirror box in this design. As a result, the Micro Four Thirds standard will appear in non-SLR cameras with interchangeable lenses. This means smaller digital cameras with good image quality and interchangeable lenses are now possible. As the sensor itself has not changed from the full-size Four Thirds standard, image quality is expected to be similar to most cropped-sensor DSLR and at least as good as the latest Olympus DSLR models.

This is truly awesome as this brings the likelihood of having an interchangeable lens camera with an EVF much closer. Imaging have near-DSLR image quality, interchangeable lenses in a relatively light-weight body with a true exposure-priority WYSIWYG preview. The usual disadvantages of such a system still apply: hard to confirm exact focus and slight display lag. However, so do the advantages apply: accurate exposure-preview, accurate white-balance, enhanced low-light visibility, real-time histogram display and heads-up display of everything. No need to leave the viewfinder to change settings, use the menu system or review images anymore. Between the advantages and disadvantages of such a system, it is quite an acceptable compromise.

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The Micro Four Thirds standards also brings back the unfulfilled promise of the Four Thirds Standard which is to enable much smaller DSLRs. In truth, Olympus did produce the world’s smallest DSLR but its size was not significantly smaller than the smallest ones from Nikon. Another advantage of this new standard is that even smaller lenses are now possible. Already Olympus was able to produce brighter-than-average lenses across its lineup. This compensated nicely for slightly increased image noise due to smaller pixels. This time, the pixels are not any smaller but the lenses are, so we could get great absolute performance in terms of photo quality out of Micro Four Thirds cameras.

Speaking of lenses, Micro Four Thirds cameras are able to use Four Thirds lenses using an adapter. No word on the implications of using such an adapter on focal-length though. Using the existing lens lineup, Micro Four Third digital cameras already have access to some unique optics such as the only F2 zooms that I know of, the Zuiko 14-35 F2 and the Zuiko 35-100 F2.

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