Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds System

One of the big stories at Photokina this year is the advent of the Micro Four Thirds system. Panasonic, celebrating its 90th year in business introduced the Lumix G camera. Posters all through out the exhibit hall make reference to its small form factor, being shown as though it is being pinched between the thumb and forefinger of a large hand.

The concept of a smaller digital SLR comes from the need to capture sales of those people who want to “move up” to an SLR, but don’t like the weight or size. Panasonic’s market research says that this is a significant market they hope to capture.

The details on the Lumix DMC-G1:

In order to reduce the size of the camera the traditional SLR mirror system was removed and replaced by an electronic viewfinder. This reduced the distance between the back of the lens and the image sensor by half.

You take a chance when getting rid of the quality on an optical viewfinder system, so Panasonic beefed up the EVF with 1.44 million pixels that give 100% field of view and 1.4x magnification. The view through the viewfinder was impressive.

Since there is no mirror the swivel 3″ LCD is also live and shows the output from the 12.1 megapixel Live MOS image sensor. With the lack of a traditional AF sensor (no mirror no AF sensor) Panasonic’s contrast AF system, which derives focus information from the signal coming from the sensor comes into play. The camera I looked at on the floor seemed up to the task. Locking quickly on fairgoers trying to work their way through Panasonic’s booth.

One of the DMC-G1 benefits that Panasonic highlights is that they are able to bring many advanced compact camera features into an SLR. Options like live view and face detection to name a few.

The camera is being introduced with a 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom with optical image stabilization and a 45-200mm f/4-5.6 also with OIS. In 2009 they will be introducing a 14-140mm F/4-5.6 with OIS, a 7-14mm f/4 and a 20mm F/1.7.

Lastly, they have hinted at a Four Thirds camera coming in 2009 that will offer HD movie recording.

My brief hands-on with camera gave me the feeling of a solid camera. Though the size is small, given the pictures I’d seen on the posters I thought it might be smaller. The ability to put a “kit” together in a fraction of the size of what I travel with now is very attractive.