Smaller, Better, Faster.

Well, perhaps not the second two, but the first for sure — Olympus and Panasonic have jointly announced the new Micro Four-Thirds format. Basically, they took a standard Four-Thirds sized sensor, shrunk the lens mount, removed some old mechanical fluff holdovers from the film days (mirror and prism), and left with a small, interchangeable lens camera design that seems poised to make us rethink our digital SLRs.

You may not remember or be familiar with the Sigma DP-1, announced way back in 2006 (though it didn’t make it to market until this year), but it met with considerable excitement and was heralded as the first pocketable camera with the image quality of a DSLR. That’s because the largest contributing factor to the difference in image quality between that monster hanging around your neck and the sleek compact in your pocket is the physical size of the sensor: bigger pixels make better pictures. Unfortunately, while the DP-1 did feature a large sensor, many found it lacking in just about every other area — it was slow, focused poorly, and for all the sensor hype, the images really didn’t pop. Widespread disappointment ensued.

But now we have a second chance at the holy grail — and that alone is exciting — but Olympus has already upped the ante before they’re even out of the gate. Not only will the cameras be small, but they’ll feature interchangeable lenses, and you can even use your existing Four-Thirds lenses (if you have any; with an adapter). In addition, they’ve hinted at a movie mode in future models, which will put them a step beyond current DSLRs and level the playing field with existing compact digital cameras. (Personally, I know of people who have staved off a DSLR purchase for that very reason.)

And while the camera is all theory for now, what’s not is that Olympus, with their existing Four-Thirds lineup, has proven themselves a competent digital camera manufacturer, was the first to bring “Live View” to the DSLR market (which these new cameras are sure to rely on), and has shown that they can get good, if not great, image quality from their sensor format. Looks to me like the Micro version has a lot more than a fighting chance.

3 Comments so far

  1. andrew on August 8th, 2008

    One horrible thought just popped into my mind — that Olympus might shoot themselves in the foot and endow these models with an XD slot, rather than the de facto SD cards (at least for smaller cameras). That would put a horrible damper on these cameras.

  2. Matt on August 9th, 2008

    Huh, I was just about to comment that making the sensor smaller wasn’t going to help anything… And then I noticed that they actually kept the same sensor size. That’s nifty.

    xD is dead. My old camera used it. Nothing else did. You’re right: using it would be a horrible idea.

    Glad to see they ditched the mirror assembly!

  3. andrew on August 9th, 2008

    Yes, same sensor size, but a smaller lens mount and shorter mount-to-sensor distance. The illustration appears to show a viewfinder, but I’d be surprised to actually see one.

    Olympus, for some reason, grabbed on to xD and won’t let go. Even my 410 (which I still haven’t blogged about!), purchased this year, has an xD slot — albeit in addition to a CF slot, thank goodness. They’re almost as bad as Sony in that regard (can we say Memory Stick?), although they don’t go around making up their own formats willy nilly.

Leave a Reply