Addressing complaints from amateur photographers hoping to graduate to digital SLRs, Olympus and Panasonic today teamed up to develop a much smaller version of the Four Thirds lens system. The new approach is simply titled Micro Four Thirds and aims to significantly shrink the dimensions needed for an interchangeable lens system while making relatively mild sacrifices. While not a true SLR system in that it drops the use of a mirror, the system will purportedly generate the same image quality as the full-size offering and allow for compact, light cameras that would be more familiar to point-and-shoot owners. Removing the mirror allows the distance between the image sensor and the lens mounting point to be cut in half to as little as 20mm (0.8in), producing a more compact-like body depth; the design also has a significantly smaller 44mm (1.7in) outer lens mount diameter than the 50mm (almost 2in) used today and will result in lenses that are more compact for the same equivalent range and angle as a full Four Thirds lens. It especially lends itself well to wide-angle lenses and ultra-zoom lenses, according to the camera makers. Adapters will be available to mount regular Four Thirds lenses for those who already have an investment in the earlier system.

The new format will also make room for new technical features that aren't present on even the best Four Thirds cameras, according to the involved companies: as the number of electrical contacts has climbed from nine pins to 11, the Micro Four Thirds approach will allow for lenses with more power-dependent features than lenses available today.

Neither Olympus nor Panasonic has said when they expect to produce their own cameras using the new system, though the announcement is being made weeks before the Photokina expo and may serve as a prelude to further announcements. Both note that Micro Four Thirds is an open standard and that any camera designer can base their cameras and lenses on the technology. [via DPReview]