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Old 25th August 2008
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Zuiko Zuiko is offline
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Micro Four Thirds Their Vision, Our Future

Recently my 9 year old daughter took a surprisingly good selection of photographs on an old Canon compact handed down from me. Keen to encourage her, I showed her my old E500 (I've since acquired an E510 and E3 in quick succession) and told her she can have it as soon as her little hands are big enough to hold it properly. Naturally, she wanted to play with it straight away and, as she clumsily lifted the enormous (by her standards) camera to her eye I noticed that she instinctively tried to view on the LCD screen. She was quite disappointed when I told her that this particular model doesn't have live view! As far as she is concerned live view is what she wants and the viewfinder could be dispensed with altogether.

This led me to think about the new m4/3 format. All the reservations expressed on this forum are from existing DSLR users accustomed to using a viewfinder probably 90% of the time in most cases, despite the advent of live view. Now, when my daughter and her generation get their first DSLRs they will not just expect live view, they will take it for granted. And, as things stand, they are going to be pretty disappointed because the first thing they will notice is that live view on a DSLR is not the same as they are familiar with on a compact.

Enter Micro Four Thirds. This new standard promises to be the springboard that unleashes the full potential of live view and act as the catalyst for vast improvements in current technology. As well as improvements to match the characteristics of live view in a compact we can expect better daylight viewing capability to the point where the viewfinder, whether optical or electronic, becomes all but redundant. Without the slapping mirror we can look forward to significantly faster frame rates, lower hand holdable shutter speeds even with IS and top of the range camcorder video quality.

Imagine - a minute, lightweight camera that replaces the need for a separate DSLR, compact AND video cam!

But does the market it will be aimed at require interchangeable lenses?

Most emphatically, Yes! A big plus point over current bridge cameras will be not only a massive gain in quality due to the larger sensor (much is made about the 4/3 sensor being small, but in reality it is not significantly smaller than the APS-C sized sensor used in the vast majority of DSLRs) but the added flexibility to tailor the lens fitted to the occasion. Imagine, you are going to a safari park specifically to photograph the animals. Obviously you will want a long range zoom fitted to the camera most of the time. The next day you are going to the coast with the family and, although much of the day will be spent playing with your children on the beach you still hope to find time to wander around the old fishermen's huts and beached boats at the other end of the bay. For this you want a high quality, but pocketable camera so off comes the tele-zoom and on goes an ultra compact short range zoom from the new M4/3 stable or the pancake 25mm prime. Or, hopefully, one of several other fast, diminutive primes that Olympus should be considering to realize the full potential of the new system!

Sounds great, but will the potential market be big enough to make it a success?

Undoubtedly yes! Of course, many of the current dyed-in-the-wool DSLR users, a significant number of whom used film in pre-digital days, will prefer to remain part of the 7% of camera buyers who at present choose a DSLR. The other 93% will be fair game! Many compact and bridge camera owners will be attracted to the new system with its added flexibility and extra quality. But significantly it will also appeal to the next generation of togs, like my daughter. She is going to want a DSLR sooner rather than later (she wants one now!) and so will her peers. And they will see the undeniable and decisive advantages of a truly miniature fully specified system with high quality video capability and viewing technology appropriate to the Digital Age. They will leave the current crop of Canons and Nikons to the dinosaurs! Without doubt, if a m4/3 body and lens combination was available now I would be under intense pressure to buy one!

The other significant group to whom the new system may very well appeal is women. At the Kensal Green meet a couple of weeks ago we had an interesting conversation over breakfast (we had to pass the time somehow whilst waiting for Andy's bacon sandwich) about why so few women are serious photographers when often they have a more creative eye than men and in theory would be better suited to the hobby. Amongst the reasons we came up with was that women see photography more as technology rather than art and look upon serious cameras as toys for boys, or male jewellery. If that is the case then maybe a less ostentatious, smaller, lighter, simple and user-friendly interchangeable lens camera system with the characteristics and quality of a DSLR but without the complicated, noisy and space wasting mechanics of a mirror box might just win them over.

I've already mentioned my daughter; the other person in my family who is currently becoming increasingly interested in photography is my wife, Debbie. She loves using my E510 but, light and compact though it is, doesn't always want the bother of carrying it around. If m4/3 can significantly reduce the proportions she will certainly want one too. In me, Olympus have already captured the existing market in our household. With m4/3 they could overnight create a whole new market within that household, double the size of the existing one!

So to me the future looks bright – the future looks Olympus.

Here's a picture taken by my 9 year old daughter, a promising talent representing a whole new potential market for m4/3.

And here's a picture taken by my wife, herself a talented artist and representing another whole new potential market for m4/3!


"A hundredth of a second here, a hundredth of a second there even if you put them end to end, they still only add up to one, two, perhaps three seconds, snatched from eternity." ~ Robert Doisneau
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