Camera makers aim to trim camera depth by half

Digital cameras that can use lenses from different vendors could be up to 50 percent smaller in the future, two camera manufacturers said Tuesday.

Digital cameras that can use lenses from different vendors could be up to 50 percent smaller in the future, two camera manufacturers said Tuesday.

Olympus and Matsushita Electrical Industrial, which makes Panasonic-brand products, will work together to produce smaller, lighter cameras with interchangeable lenses based on the "Micro Four Thirds System."

The companies already produce cameras based on the "Four Thirds System," so called for the shape of its image sensor, which has a width:height ratio of 4:3. Many high-end digital cameras still use the 3:2 ratio popularized by SLR (single-lens reflex) cameras using 35-millimeter film.

Olympus and Matsushita's Micro Four Thirds System will keep the same image sensor, 21.6 millimeters across the diagonal, as in Four Thirds System cameras, but reduce the distance between the flange of the lens mount and the back of the camera where the sensor sits, known as the flange-back distance.

The space savings come from removing an essential feature of SLR cameras, the mirror box that allows the viewfinder to show the same image that is caught by the image sensor. Micro Four Thirds System cameras will use the display screen on the camera back as a viewfinder.

To make the cameras still smaller, the diameter of the lens mount will be reduced by 6 millimeters, to 44 millimeters.

The changes mean that future interchangeable-lens cameras can be smaller, but still accommodate wide-angle and high-power zoom lenses that can outperform what's available in compact digital cameras, the companies said.

Olympus and Matsushita will develop interchangeable lenses and compact camera bodies adhering to the Micro Four Thirds System, but neither gave an indication as to when products could hit the market.

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Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
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