Olympus Debuts New Fourth Thirds Cameras

The annual Photokina trade show is set to launch tomorrow, which means camera manufacturers are (and have been) trying to jump ahead of the PR onslaught by announcing their new products early. Among them is Olympus, which has announced two new Four Thirds-based cameras in the works, including a capable mid-range DSLR and a retro-styled micro Four Thirds system that may help the format break into the consumer marketplace.

First up, Olympus has announced it is developing a new DSLR camera in its E-System lineup that will fall between the existing E-520 and the high-end E-3 DSLRs—a gap in Olympus’s lineup that has been the subject of much speculation (and frustration) for some time. Although Olympus doesn’t name the model specifically, reports have the new E-System camera named the E-A1, and the camera will carry a number of the E-3’s high end features, including an advanced 11-point autofocus system, a mechanical image stabilization with up to 5 stops correction, and an improved housing that better resists dust and moisture. Olympus hasn’t offered any pricing or availability information, but expect to debut the camera in the first quarter of 2009.

Olympus also revealed it’s working on a new micro Four Thirds camera, which enables cameras to capture images of the same quality as Four Thirds cameras but in a much more compact body while still offering the ability to work with interchangeable lenses. Although Olympus has offered no pricing or availability information for its new micro Four Thirds camera, the unit is being displayed under glass at Photokina and it bears retro styling reminiscent of rangefinder cameras from the 1940s and 1950s, which dominated photography until the development of the single-lens reflex (SLR) camera in the 1950s. If nothing else, the size of the prototype speaks well for the ability of camera manufacturers to make consumer-friendly micro Four Thirds cameras, and the styling may mean the normally staid Olympus still has a surprise or two up its sleeve.

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