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Panasonic and Olympus have joined hands to co-develop new digital SLRs using technology from both companies, according to a press release issued on January 13, 2005. The cameras will be based on the Four Thirds system spearheaded by Olympus and currently found only on the Olympus 5MP E-1 Pro and 8MP Evolt E-300 DSLRs. Both of these cameras feature a Four Thirds system CCD sensor made by Kodak, an innovative ultrasonic dust removal system, and a Four Thirds system lens mount that accepts several Olympus and Sigma lenses. Will the new partnership have Olympus switching over to Panasonic-brand imaging sensors in its cameras instead of Kodak’s? And will Olympus finally be able to offer image stabilization (borrowed from Panasonic) in its future DSLR and compact cameras?

Only time will tell, since camera design is in its earliest stages and no new models based on this partnership will be shown till February 2006. One thing is for certain: Panasonic hopes this agreement will establish it as a serious contender in the rapidly growing DSLR market currently dominated by Canon and Nikon. While Panasonic has been selling compact and EVF digital cameras for many years, it’s been absent from the digital SLR arena, which approached 2 million units worldwide (nearly two billion dollars) in 2004.

Olympus certainly welcomed Panasonic’s shot in the arm for its Four Thirds system, and hopes that shared technology will help increase the features found on its SLRs, as well as demand for Four Thirds system lenses and accessories. Sigma should also benefit by having more camera bodies from both manufacturers compatible with its own Four Thirds system lenses. The big question mark is still Kodak, which is rumored to be working on an affordable, 11MP Four Thirds system SLR. This could turn into a DSLR marathon.