By Chris Nicholls

TOKYO: Olympus and Panasonic look set to create an entirely new digital camera segment with the announcement of their new Micro Four Thirds system.

The new system, which follows the original Four Thirds lens mounting standard, allows for DSLRs half the depth of current models by altering lens element positioning and eliminating the traditional SLR mirror.

As a result, any Micro Four Thirds system cameras will only come with either a Live View viewfinder or body-mounted display.

While no photography purist would dream of giving up the optical viewfinder on a camera, it appears the new slimmer, lighter DSLRs will be aimed squarely at those looking to move up from compact cameras.

“As mentioned at yesterday’s press conference, digital compact camera users who are thinking about moving up to a DSLR find today’s models large and heavy. We feel this system will eliminate those concerns,” said an Olympus Japan spokesperson.

“We hope this system will help shift more of the current 100 million compact camera users worldwide to DSLRs.”

While the spokesperson said the company had yet to confirm where the new models will sit in relation to the current E-Series DSLRs, the comments above suggest the optical viewfinder-equipped models will remain in a higher price position for the more serious DSLR user.

The move also means Panasonic will enter the DSLR market with much greater force, with the company saying it will “develop a new generation of compact, lightweight, interchangeable lens type digital camera system products, including ultra-portable camera bodies, interchangeable lenses, and related system accessories”.

With Micro Four Thirds lens mounts 6mm smaller in diameter than current models, users who wish to switch between the two will have to use an adaptor, though.

And it seems unlikely standard Four Thirds lenses will be able to take advantage of the additional features promised by the two new electrical contacts on Micro Four Thirds bodies.