Describing the 4:3 digital camera standard

All photography geeks have heard some rumors about the 4:3 digital camera standard, and frankly, we’re all curious to see the result. Nevertheless, until we shall se what will come out of these rumors; let us fill our knowledge with more information in regards to this particular subject.

The beginning lies at Eastman Kodak and Olympus Optical, which thought of a new way to standardize the design for lenses and sensors. To this day, we face major differences between companies such as those listed above, without having to mention the huge differences existing between mainframe digital camera producers Nikon and Canon. Fuji, Kodak and Olympus have all joined into developing this new standard called the Four Thirds Standard (3/4 or 4:3).

For better understanding of the subject, it would be wise to understand where does the term four thirds first came from. Well, back in the old days (and I mean really old days, like something around 1950s), the television industry set the standards based on the diameter of the tube. In other words, there is no actual connection between the size of the image and its diameter, this particular relationship being totally incidental.

Nevertheless, nowadays image sensors are set accordingly to those tubes (Yes, I know it is a shock to hear that you camera undergoes a standard set somewhere in the 1950s). Video cameras come in with image sensors that can be even as ½ inches, however, not all the surface captures information. For example, for a typical 1/3 inches chip, the actual sensitive area of the chip is about 0.19 (roughly, but it can go lower or a bit higher than that). A small marketing trick to make people believe some chips are simply more sensitive than others.

However, many people asked “why this new standard – what’s it purpose”. Aside from the fact that progress is essential to a dynamic existence, this new standard has real purpose. By imposing this particular standard on lens manufactures it means that lens design will not vary as much.

Most end users find it troubling to buy a certain camera body (of a certain brand) because the lenses of a certain vendor are cheaper, but the body is more expensive and vice-versa. By imposing this standard, interchangeable lenses will become available and you will be able to swap your Nikon lenses with your friend’s Canon lenses (now that will really be the day).

This means that body manufacturers will have to aim towards building more powerful sensors, that are capable of returning greater quality.

The aim: improved performance

This particular standard is built for standardizing the size of chips used in different digital cameras. The sensor area of the chip will be modified in such a way that the number of pixels will be increased both on the width but also on the length of the frame. The result? Nearly four times more pixels, all this translating into improved performance.

The thing is, the image sensor sized is fixed, therefore the engineers had to consider each pixel at one quarter of its size in order to compensate and obviously this leads to some issues in regards to light sensitivity.

On any digital camera sensor, we have pixels that are just as sensitive as others are, while some of them are less sensitive. The more pixels one has, the higher the resolution, the greater the quality, however, lower light sensitivity which translates into an even lower ISO.

This is an issue that will be resolved soon enough (do not forget that we are at the beginning of the path with this particular new standard)

Lower prices? Maybe soon enough

Another great thing about the 4/3 standard is that since their aim is a smaller chip that will do a better job than the already existing ones, it means less manufacturing tasks. The price of a chip goes down if its size goes down.

It may not be true in all areas, however with photography, the smaller the chip gets, the smaller the manufacturing prices therefore cheaper cameras. Now, if all the resolution and light sensitivity issues will be removed from the table, then soon enough we should be able to find cameras at incredibly cheap prices. At least compared to what we can find on the market nowadays.

How will the market take this?

This new 4/3 standard is likely to bring cheap cameras with improved performance, less weight on one’s back (due to smaller lenses and cameras). Moreover, a series of other advantages, not to mention the fact that as soon as this standard comes to light several manufacturers will be able to build interchangeable lenses for different types of camera bodies (as discussed above – again, can you see the silver lining?).

Probably the only real downside of it all is that if you are both a digital and film photographer you will not be able to swap lenses between your digital camera and you film camera and you will have to buy one set of lenses for each of them. This will probably be one of the setbacks that will make a series of photographers be rather reticent to the idea of the 4/3 format.

Not to mention the fact that market forces most probably will draw us towards the new format, making it impossible to find old-standard lenses.