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You are hereHome > News > Four Thirds System

The Four Thirds System

November 1, 2002

In September, Olympus and Kodak announced they were proposing a new digital SLR camera standard for all digital SLR camera manufacturers to consider. Olympus dubbed it the Four Thirds System (4/3 System) based on the aspect ratio of the image sensor proposed. We welcome this new standard and the fact that Olympus is trying to forge an agreement among the major camera manufacturers to come up with digital SLR standards.

Smaller Interchangeable Lenses
Current lenses are optimized for the 35mm film size of 24x36 mm and there is some resolution loss when applied to digital image sensors (read Olympus' announcement for the reason). Also, to obtain higher resolution (equivalent to 35mm film quality and above), Olympus maintains that larger and heavier lenses will be required. They therefore propose new lenses "designed for digital." Adopting the new 4/3 System will result in much smaller lenses and -- with an established open standard for camera body and lens mounts -- lenses that are interchangeable across all manufacturers subscribing to the 4/3 System. For example, how would you like to have a 4/3 System 600mm telephoto lens for the size of a 35mm 300mm lens? Impressive, to say the least. The main selling point for 4/3 System is therefore smaller, interchangeable lenses that fit any digital SLR camera subscribing to the standard.

Conceptual Stage
The 4/3 System is currently at the conceptual stage. There is no prototype camera that has been built using this system yet. It is interesting to note that one of the co-signors of this 4/3 System, Kodak, has already started using full-sized 24x36 mm CMOS sensors rated at 14 Megapixels resolution in its professional SLR cameras. If the 4/3 System is such a great idea -- and it is no doubt a sensible one -- then why are the other camera manufacturers not jumping on the bandwagon? Control. The question is simply, Who is going to get to dictate how the 4/3 System evolve? There is no doubt that Olympus will have a major say in it and that may be a problem.

Will Others Follow?
Digital photography is at a critical stage in its development. Each camera manufacturer would like to be in control of its own destiny and set the standard for others to follow. To win, they need to be able to make quick decisions, hide research of future technology and models from their competitors, and devise systems that give them a technological edge over their competitors. They would each like to set the standard -- not leave it to one manufacturer to do so. Who knows, maybe they are already well ahead into developing their own "designed for digital" systems.

YES to Standards!
We, here at Photoxels, support the development of standards for digital cameras. To date, only Olympus, Kodak and Fuji are signors of the 4/3 System. We encourage other camera manufacturers to take a serious look at the 4/3 System and start a dialogue with one another for the development of this and other digital standards.

And why stop at image sensor aspect ratio only? There are advantages to having standards of image sensor aspect ratio, of memory storage media, of interchangeable lenses, etc. For example, with the 4/3 System, we can safely invest in lenses and different manufacturers' digital SLR cameras with full confidence that the lenses will work perfectly in each camera! (In a lifetime, one can easily invest a few thousand dollars into lenses, flash units, filters, etc.) Imagine if the same applied to memory storage media, filters, flash, etc. I know what "system" I would be spending my money on: the one following industry standards.

Though we would prefer the standards to apply to all digital cameras, we would settle for an "APS" type compromise (where the Advanced Photo System spawned a whole new generation of compact and fun-to-use 35mm cameras).

We believe Olympus has started a good thing with the 4/3 System proposal and encourage it to keep the discussion open and honest so all digital SLR camera manufacturers can participate on an equal footing in the development of the 4/3 System. Chalk one up for Olympus. The ball is now in the other camera manufacturers' courts.

The Editors







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