However the proposed micro Four-Thirds system takes the size of cameras (and perhaps also lenses), down another notch. We don't know anything and pricing yet of course.
The basic principle behind the micro Four-Thirds system is the elimination of the reflex viewing mirror (that's the "R" in SLR) and associated components such as the mirror box, pentaprism and optical viewfinder. This allows a much thinner camera body to be designed and also allows the lens to be much closer to the digital sensor. Being closer to the digital sensor has some optical advantages for wideangle lenses because it allows short focal length lenses to be used without requiring extreme retrofocus designs.
Though the flange to sensor distance of the micro Four-Thirds system is 20mm, since there is no reflex mirror to avoid, the rear element of wideangle lenses could project a significant distance into the camera. This would be similar to the way some wideangle lenses project inside the body of Leica rangefinders cameras (though the Four-Thirds sensor is only 1/4 the size of 35mm film).
Another advantage of the very short 20mm flange to sensor distance is the fact that all lenses designed for 35mm use have a longer back focus distance than this, and so in principle could be adapted for use on a micro Four-Thirds body without requiring any additional optics for infinity focus. Modern AF lenses of other brands (Nikon, Canon etc.) would not be electronically compatible and so would not autofocus or have any electronic aperture control and so wouldn't be very compatible. However manual focus lenses in just about every mount from Canon FD to Pentax-K should be usable if the right adapters were available.
I think the micro Four-Thirds system is a very interesting idea. It appeals to me as a "tinkerer" who enjoys putting odd lenses on cameras and who appreciates novel engineering. Whether it will be a success in the commercial market is another matter.
P&S digicams are getting better and better in terms of capability and their cost is falling. There are models with built in image stabilization, 30fps HDTV movie modes, high ISO settings, fast lenses and extreme zoom ranges. There are models which will easily fit in a shirt pocket too. The image quality of these cameras is easily good enough for most casual amateur use.
While the micro Four-Thirds system does offer a larger image sensor than most current P&S digicams, it also has the complexity and added cost of lenses. Many photographers chose a P&S because they don't want to be bothered changing lenses. P&S cameras have a sealed optical system and so are never bothered by dust on the sensor which has to be removed at some point (even with so called "self-cleaning" sensor systems).
On the other hand, really serious photographers want a system with the maximum possible image quality (APS-C or even full frame sensors), a wide range of available lenses and true reflex viewing (with no time lag, no power consumption) which provides a clearer view than any electronic viewing system). I've never yet seen an electronic viewfinder system on a digicam that I liked or which was a clear and sharp as a true reflex viewfinder. I'm also not a big fan of composing images on the rear LCD screen of cameras, and I suspect most serious photographers feel the same way.
So what does that leave for micro Four-Thirds? Well, there's certainly a niche market out there for a small interchangeable lens digital camera. It may be no coincidence that it was Olympus who developed the Olympus Pen 1/2 frame SLR camera with interchangeable lenses back in 1963. It became something of a "cult" camera, but it didn't take the photography world by storm. It would be nice to have a large sensor digital camera small enough to fit in a pocket - and in fact the Sigma DP1 is just such a camera. Again it's not a camera that has revolutionized photography. It has a small but faithful following as a niche product.
So overall I'm not really sure about the future of the micro Four-Thirds system as a mainstream photo system. There's certainly a market for a small and flexible digital camera if the price is right. In theory, since both the camera and lenses will be smaller than existing DSLR products, and use less and/or smaller components it should be cheaper than the cheapest DSLRs. You can get an Olympus Evolt E410 10MP Digital SLR Camera with 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 Zuiko Lens for $430, so will any future micro-Four-Thirds system )body and lens) be cheaper than that? If it's not, would there be a big incentive for the average photographer to pay more for a smaller camera? The E410 is pretty small and light itself.
I guess I'm going to have to give this one a "wait and see" verdict. As of right now there are no micro Four-Thirds cameras or lenses available. In fact there aren't even any announcements of anything specific being developed, though I'm sure that if something wasn't in the works Olympus wouldn't have released the information that they did. We'll have to wait and see what they offer and what the price is. I wouldn't buy futures in micro Four-Thirds technology myself right now, but who knows what the future holds?
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
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:
|*||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.
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.