What is Micro Four Thirds?

Panasonic and Olympus have announced a bold new digital camera technology called Micro Four Thirds. What is it? And what does it mean for the future of digital photography?
By , Last updated on: 5/18/2014

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This fall, Panasonic announced their G1 camera, a stylish and unique gadget that got digital photography enthusiasts buzzing. Olympus also had a number of prototype cameras available that used the same technology as the G1. These new designs represent a new frontier in digital photography and perhaps the biggest change to the market since its inception: the Micro Four Thirds system.

Understanding the History

Before you can understand the significance of Micro Four Thirds, you must first know what the original Four Thirds system is. Four Thirds is a standard used to dictate how lenses are created for digital SLR cameras so they are optimized to fit digital sensors and allow for smaller, lighter cameras. The Four Thirds system is used primarily by Olympus and Panasonic, and together they have created the Micro Four Thirds system.

Micro Four Thirds is also a standard for the creation of interchangeable lenses to fit digital cameras, except unlike the Four Thirds system, it does away with the need for mirrors or prisms, previously required for digital SLR cameras. In essence, it provides SLR-quality without the elements of SLRs that add bulk and weight to a camera.

Panasonic and Olympus hope to make their Micro Four Thirds cameras strong competition for high-end point-and-shoot cameras and low-end SLRs. They intend for their Micro Four Thirds cameras to be affordable, high-quality, and lighter and smaller than ever before. Imagine the power of a dSLR the body of a point-and-shoot. A Micro Four Thirds camera can be about half the size of a Four Thirds dSLR.

Micro Four Thirds and Four Thirds Cameras Compared

Right now, only the Panasonic G1 has been announced as using the Micro Four Thirds system, but more cameras are sure to follow. The G1 provides a nice example of the power and potential that this new technology has, especially when compared to an earlier Panasonic SLR, the Lumix L10, which used the older Four Thirds system.

The Panasonic G1 measures in at 4.8 x 3.3 x 1.7 inches, while the L10 measures in at 5.3 x 3.7 x 3 inches. Those depth measurements (1.7" vs. 3") give you some indication of how much more compact these Micro Four Thirds cameras can get.

Though the technology is still in its nascent stage, we're going to keep an eye on any and all Micro Four Thirds cameras that become available. Stay tuned to Digital Camera HQ for the latest news on this exciting new trend in digital photography.

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