What is the Micro Four Thirds system

Panasonic and Olympus are starting to produce cameras that offer the quality of an SLR with the compactness of a point-and-shoot.

Of course, depth of field is not the "end all, be all" of photography. If it were, all photographers would all use large format or medium format and 35mm would have gone the way of the dodo. Still, it is worth pointing out that there are a few relatively expensive digital SLRs on the market that use larger full-frame 35mm sensors rather than the smaller but more typical APS-C-sized sensors. It is these cameras -- for their depth-of-field facilities among other things -- that most of the pros I know lust after.

Meanwhile, for consumers and photography enthusiasts who want lighter, more compact digital SLRs, the first Micro Four Thirds cameras are starting to appear. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 is certainly smaller and lighter than the competition, and the media reception has been positive; the release price of US$800 was rather high compared to the alternatives, but has slipped down to a street price of around $500. A video-capable version, the Lumix DMC-GH1, is due out sometime this year.

A much brighter star on the Micro Four Thirds horizon is Olympus, which has been showing around a very buzzworthy prototype. It appears to be similar in size and shape to my old Leica, and if that is the case, it would certainly mark a significant change in digital SLR design.

Olympus says that camera will hit the market this summer, and if the size and weight are what the prototype suggests and the price is competitive, then even I might be convinced that smaller is the way to go.

Chris Walton is a writer, photographer and producer. He spent the last decade and a half working as a photographer and writer, and as photo editor for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. He now lives outside of Seattle.

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