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Would-be digital SLR camera users often complain that it's the size and weight of DSLR's that keep them out of the market. For example, Nikon's new D90 weighs in at a hefty 22 oz. - without a lens... and their flagship D3 tips the scales at 43.7 oz. (over 2-1/2 pounds!) - also without the lens.
Enter the Micro Four Thirds system and the new Panasonic G1. The G1 looks and acts much like a digital SLR camera, but it has one major difference: It lacks the prism and mirror of an SLR. And this difference has allowed Panasonic to trim both the G1's size and weight. In fact, at less than 14 oz., the G1 is positively petite.
Micro Four Thirds is a collaboration between Olympus and Panasonic. It uses the same 4:3 aspect ratio - and sensor size - as a typical DSLR, but packs it into a smaller package. Here's how:
A traditional SLR (single lens reflex) camera uses a mirror-and-prism system to reflect light entering the lens into the viewfinder. When the shutter is fired, the mirror swings up and the light hits the film/sensor that sits directly behind the mirror. The mirror then swings down into place again.
The prism and mirror take up a lot of space - and add a lot of weight. Micro Four Thirds eliminates both by using an LCD viewfinder - the same system already in use with "ZLR's" - popular compact long-zoom models such as Panasonic's FZ-50.
But Micro Four Thirds retains the interchangable-lens aspect of SLR's, making it either the best or worst of both worlds, depending on your point of view.
For point-and-shooters who've been put off by the size and weight of DSLR cameras, Micro Four Thirds may be worth a look. It offers an oppportunity to break into "system" digital photography - and the creative world that system photography offers.
On the other hand, the optical viewfinder is one of the digital SLR's biggest advantages. And though early reports are that Panasonic's Live View digital viewfinder is very good - it still isn't an optical viewfinder. And that means at least a somewhat degraded image. (This may not be an issue for those accustomed to composing shots on their compact digital camera's LCD screen.)
Another downside consideration is lens availability. There are currently only two lenses available specifically for the G1: a 14 - 45mm zoom and a 45 - 200mm zoom. Both are relatively slow, as are the two lenses Panasonic has slated for release in 2009.
The G1 will accept existing Four Thirds system lenses, but because the lens mount on the G1 is 6mm smaller than the Four Thirds standard, you'll have to buy the optional adapter, and some functions may not work with all lenses.
Micro Four Thirds is in its infancy and your options - currently limited to the G1 - are few. But the format is aimed at a vocal niche market, and having Olympus on board does increase the its chances of success.
If you've been itching to expand your creative potential, but have been put off by the size and weight of digital SLR cameras, Micro Four Thirds may be just what you've been looking for.