"Convergence," Micro 4/3, "Full" Frame...2008 could be considered the year of any of the three. All three have been called "the future of digital photography" in various quarters. All three are so far only represented by a very limited number of products. No one's got a crystal ball, but with the arrival of global recession perhaps casting a pall over product development in the near future (and consumer purchasing starting a little while back), our bet's on Micro 4/3 to be significant over the next 1–3 years.
But that's not why we've chosen it. We've taken a real interest in the last few years over a modern iteration of what might be called Oskar Barnack's ideal...a small, portable "stealth" camera but with results good enough to stand side-by-side with those made with larger cameras. Micro 4/3 eliminates the mirror box and reduces the flange distance (the distance between the lens mounting flange and the imager plane) by half, allowing the whole system to be much smaller while still using a sensor that's much larger than those in conventional compacts.
There's nothing magic about the the Micro 4/3 standard, because there's nothing stopping other companies from making mirrorless cameras with APS-C sensors (indeed, Sigma was the first to this particular bar with its DP1, soon to be joined by a follow-up)—although the slightly smaller, less oblong rectangle of the 4/3 format does seem especially well suited to the task. And there's no telling (absent that crystal ball) whether Micro 4/3 will take off. It's likely to encounter some resistance from both above and below—that is, from enthusiasts who don't see why a small DSLR isn't preferable, as well as from compact digicam customers who don't understand the advantages of the larger sensor.
However, the new standard seems like a good idea to us, and the Lumix DMC-G1 seems like a smart, well-judged initial foray. It's a conservative application of the principles of the standard, and it's smart, well-made, usable, and has a fine brace of lenses. And, perhaps most importantly, it signals that Micro 4/3 is full of promise for the future.
Wherever he is, Oskar should be smiling.