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The Four Thirds System
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.