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Pricey Olympus E-P1 Shoots With Style

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Good photographers -- or those who aspire to be better -- have a new term to learn: Micro Four Thirds.

Camera and optics heavyweights from Sony (SNE) to Canon (CAJ) to Nikon -- and to a lesser extent Eastman Kodak (EK) -- saw that the old world of film would be replaced with digital image sensors, smart lenses that focus themselves and still cameras that take digital video. So a new market was born. Now it seems everyone has a digital camera, either a bulky-but-powerful DSLR (digital single lens reflex) model or a smaller, point-and-shoot unit with limited features.

The camera industry is moving to fill that gap with a new format called Micro Four Thirds. The original Four Thirds format was a standard Kodak and Olympus dreamed up several years back with limited success to try to get a leg up on market leaders Canon and Nikon. The Micro Four Thirds is the same idea, but smaller.

Courtside with the E-P1

Micro Four Thirds cameras have interchangeable lenses, plenty of image-processing features and powerful autofocus in a package that fits in your hand. I recently tested Olympus's E-P1 ($799 with 14-42 mm lens), the company's premier effort in this format, at the U.S. Open.

What you get: This stylish camera takes stylish pictures.

The E-P1 is a throwback to the Leica M series from the 1950s with its fabulous optics and bombproof construction. Its metal alloy body and size is reminiscent of the Kodak Instamatic.

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