News from PMA, Las Vegas
Olympus to show real Four Thirds DSLR prototypes
Story update - click here
As I write up this story, I haven’t yet been to the PMA 2003 show floor, which is open to visitors today for the first time, but here is some very interesting news. Olympus says it will be showing real prototypes of their much discussed (and to some, much criticised) Four Thirds digital SLR system.
I’ve been rather out-spoken regarding the evolution of the digital SLR. My feeling is that digital SLRs based on 35mm bodies and lens systems are only really appropriate to the well-heeled or professionals. This is because a full frame sensor will always be extremely expensive and cheaper, smaller, sensors compromise optics designed for full frame cameras.
There has been some excitement at the £1499 Canon EOS-10D pricing and there are some hints that Pentax may price its *ist-D for as little as £1,000, but probably, as with the Canon, that price does not include a lens and both cameras suffer the familiar 35mm system lens focal length shift compromise.
Olympus is doing what I think is logical, designing a new DSLR system from scratch , without any legacy compromises. Of course, we won’t know if it’s any good until final product ships, but at least Olympus is demonstrating progress since the showing of a non-working mock-up at Photokina, last year.
Olympus has also released further information on the new range of lenses it is building into its system (see press release below).
I’ll be checking out the Olympus booth today and as soon as I have more information and pictures, I’ll add them to the news coverage.
In the mean time, here is the Olympus UK press release on the subject:
Olympus exhibits the Four Thirds system digital SLR prototypes at PMA 2003.
Las Vegas, 02 March 2003, 08:00 a.m. – Visitors to this year’s PMA have the chance to witness a defining moment in the development of professional digital SLR photography. Between 2 and 5 March, Olympus will unveil, for the first time ever, prototypes of the new Four Thirds system digital SLR camera, lenses and accessories.
The Four Thirds system is a new open standard for digital SLR cameras with interchangeable lenses that utilise a 4/3 inch image sensor. In addition to facilitating the development of camera lens systems specifically designed to maximise digital image sensor performance – without being bound by the design conventions imposed by 35mm film camera SLR systems – the Four Thirds system establishes a common standard for lens mounts, ensuring compatibility between lenses and bodies even if they are produced by different manufacturers. Furthermore, the Four Thirds system interchangeable lenses are much smaller and lighter than 35mm and APS SLR lens systems.
Olympus is currently developing a line-up of Four Thirds system bodies, interchangeable lenses, and accessories that offer professional-quality ruggedness, performance and system expandability.
The interchangeable lenses, developed and manufactured by Olympus, are exceptionally bright and compact, and deliver high quality images that only digital lenses can provide. The new Olympus lenses are (figures in parentheses indicate 35mm film camera equivalent):
• 300mm, f2.8 (600mm)
• 14 – 54mm, f2.8 – f3.5 zoom (28 – 108mm)
• 50mm, f2.0 macro (100mm)
• 50 – 200mm, f2.8 – f3.5 zoom (100 – 400mm)
The camera prototype is sure to impress, with its design tailored to meet the demands of all professional photographers. Its magnesium alloy body provides the protection needed for use in the field and on other rugged assignments, while the power battery holder enables firm and secure holding even when shooting in portrait format. Flash connection is supported via a dedicated hot-shoe. As the professional would expect, manual and automatic adjustment of the aperture, shutter speed and focus is all possible.
The first Four Thirds prototypes will be revealed at this year’s PMA in Las Vegas. Prototype models will also be presented at CeBIT, in Hanover, Germany, between 12 and 19 March, and at Photo Expo in the Tokyo Big Site, Japan, between 14 and 16 March.
Four Thirds system prototypes to be exhibited
• Camera body
• Four lenses
• External flash unit
• Power battery holder
Development background of the new standard
At present, there is no standard in the Digital SLR field. Manufacturers of these camera systems have until now adopted the lens mount used in their own respective 35mm or APS film SLR camera, so bodies and lenses from different manufacturers are incompatible with one another. Also, to use these lenses, manufacturers have increased the size of the image sensor. This means sensors do not reach their full potential.
For example, unlike with film, the light needs to hit the sensor at a high angle of incidence. If not, the periphery of the chip may receive insufficient light, resulting in reduced colour definition, particularly when shooting with wide-angle lenses. Furthermore, with such relatively large sensors, bigger and heavier lenses are required to achieve the resolutions required by the micron pitch of the chip’s individual sensors.
With the Four Thirds system no compromise has been made. It is solely dedicated to the needs of digital image capture and, as an open standard, it also paves the way to cross-manufacturer lens interchangeability. The use of a 4/3-type image sensor size has allowed the dimensions and weight of the lens to be reduced considerably, enhancing handling and mobility. The advantage is particularly clear to see in telephoto lenses. For example, a Four Thirds system 300mm telephoto lens will offer performance equivalent to a 600mm lens on a 35mm film SLR camera. And another benefit: it also impresses with great light gathering power.