In a perfect world, when digital SLRs first became feasible, the major manufacturers would have all got together to produce the perfect camera system. It would have had the 4/3 sized sensor and retained the 4:3 aspect ratio. Canon and Nikon would have worked on the focusing, sensor IQ, noise control and shutter mechanisms. Fuji would have been responsible for optimizing the dynamic range of the sensor. Olympus would have provided the innovation for dust reduction, live view, in-body image stabilization, articulated screens and wireless flash. Olympus would also have been responsible for for the build quality, weatherproofing and, of course, designing and manufacturing all the glass. Sony and Panasonic would have joined at an early stage to provide the budget and resources for accelerated R&D with all parties working jointly and in harmony.

If that had been the case we would have had a range of cameras which incorporated the strengths of all the various systems we have today with non of the weaknesses – and arrived at that point several years ago. It is not unrealistic, given the current state of all the separate technologies, to suppose that with these companies working in harmony, pooling expertise and resources, we could today have a 4/3 sensor populated with 17.28MP, allowing 16x12 inch prints at 300ppi native resolution, with clean images up to ISO3200 and acceptable ISO6400.

That, I suggest, would more than satisfy the requirements of 99% of professionals and serious amateurs. O.K. It wouldn't have the really high resolution required by those who shoot ads for billboards or the extraordinarily high ISO capabilities that have opened up a whole new realm of photographic possibilities for those with nocturnal inclinations. The former would be better served by a Phase One medium format digital camera or similar and the latter just about justifies a niche for a “Full Frame” D3 type DSLR.

Of course, that did not happen and never could, because we have an industry motivated by self interest to the point where the major players cannot even agree on a common raw standard. So that leaves us photographers all having to make a compromise in at least one area in order to get the features and performance that really matters to us. We have to make a choice, balancing what we are prepared to sacrifice against what we need most in a camera system.

Reflecting on this hypothetical musing, it leads me to conclude that, as imperfect as the current Four Thirds format and Olympus E-System is, and lagging behind the competition in certain respects, it still has the overall edge in what is really important, at least for the type of photography I do. Sure, I look over the fence from time to time and suffer temptation but, so far, the things that I really value most are still only possible with Olympus.