Olympus and Panasonic rolled out a new standard for interoperable lenses and camera bodies today in Japan, which means we could see yet another new camera category smashed in between consumer, pro-sumer, con-fessional, and all the rest. The Micro Four Thirds system is basically a slimmed down version of the two companies' Four Thirds system, which allowed member companies to build lenses and bodies that were digital-only and interoperable between brands. And while the new Micro version may not sound like much, it could result in the revival of an all-digital, Leica-like quasi rangefinder system with tons of high-quality lens choices.
The idea behind the original Four Thirds system was a noble one—it theoretically allowed small(er) fries like Olympus and Panasonic to throw together a lens and body system that rivaled those of Canon and Nikon, using specialised, digital-only lenses and a smaller sensor. Four Thirds never quite managed to offer anything that you couldn't get with a Nikon or Canon body, so it struggled.
Why Micro Four Thirds is exciting is that it calls for a new category—smaller bodies without an optical viewfinder (and the mirror box they require), but still retaining interchangeable lenses and the same sensor size as before (albeit about one-third smaller than the standard APS-C size found in other SLRs). With optics-master Leica in the fold, you could build up a system resembling the classic rangefinders of the film era without plunking down huge cash for the Leica M8. No specific products were announced along with the system yet, but we should see things start to roll in later in the year.
The boys at DPReview are also pretty excited:
Phil: This is without doubt the most exciting digital photography announcement this year. It's fair to say that this "extension / addition" to the Four Thirds standard is finally able to deliver on the original promise of that format; considerably smaller and lighter lenses and bodies. Olympus are however keen to stress that this in no way replaces Four Thirds which will continue with new Four Thirds bodies and lenses in the future.