Photo Review was given the opportunity to interview Toshiyuki Terada, General Manager, Global Marketing Department, Olympus Imaging Division on the first day of the CP+ show in Yokohama, Japan.

Photographed on the Olympus stand at CP+ are Toshiyuki Terada, General Manager, Global Marketing Department, Olympus Imaging Division (right) and Yuka Iwasawa from Corporate Public Relations.

Given its dominance at the Olympus stand, the new OM-D E-M1X camera was a focus of the discussion. Toshiyuki Terada, General Manager, Global marketing Department, Olympus Imaging Division described the E-M1X as “a totally new category of camera” that has been introduced into the company’s existing line-up.

OM-D cameras featured prominently on the Olympus stand at CP+ this year.

Speaking of his company’s product development strategies, Terada-san added, “For professionals there’s the E-M1X and the E-M1 Mark II. Also there’s the E-M5 in the middle of the range and the E-M10 at entry level. That kind of framework we’d like to keep, so we are, of course, planning successors to the existing models.”

When we attempted to press him about when the third-generation E-M5 camera was likely to appear, given it would be the best match with the just-announced M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-200mm f/3.5-6.3 extended zoom lens, he was unable to reveal any details – although he would neither confirm nor deny that it was coming.

“I can’t say exactly when or what is prioritised but we are definitely keeping the existing line-up and there will be certain  ‘right’ timings for launching successors to existing models,” he stressed. “I know we’ve had requests for updates to the second-generation cameras.”

Interestingly, on 4 March, just after CP+ closed the American website Imaging Resource published an interview with Shigemi Sugimoto, Head of the Imaging Business Unit; Toshiyuki Terada, General Manager of the Global Marketing Department, Imaging Global Marketing Division; and Yuka Iwasawa of the Public Relations and Investor Relations Department that explained the delay in updating the E-M5 line-up. It was revealed that the company had spent the last couple of years moving their manufacturing facility from Shenzen in China to Vietnam. That change is ‘almost’ complete so photographers waiting for the latest E-M1 and E-M5 models may not have long to wait.

Having closed that area of discussion, we turned to the E-M1X, which dominated the displays on the stand. When we tested the E-M1X, we noticed a significant improvement in continuous AF tracking, thanks to the use of sophisticated algorithms that control subject recognition. These improvements are attributable to the ‘Deep Learning’ AF technology that underpins the three pre-configured shooting modes in the E-M1X.

The basis of the current system is to identify a single AF point or target point that can be used for subject tracking. The new system goes well beyond the normal tracking systems that can easily follow subjects that don’t move so quickly and have easily-predictable movement.

“Those kinds of subjects, I think, we can easily track by ourselves and don’t need special technology,” he added. “We are effectively considering what is necessary for tracking very precisely the precise autofocus where we cannot keep the subject in focus by ourselves.”

We asked whether Olympus was planning to add new ‘genres’ to the current motor sports, airplanes and trains modes. “We are just considering more subjects that could be detected by the camera,” he affirmed, although he was unable to specify particular subject types. “But now we are using this technology mainly for the autofocus targeting.”

Currently, the motor sports detection system in the E-M1X is capable of detecting the vehicle but it is being extended to recognise more than the car itself . “Once the camera recognises the automobile, then it can go on to find the driver’s helmet,” Terada-san explained. “That is really hard because it requires a very small sensor point for detecting the driver. That facility would be a very helpful use of this technology.”

We noted that this feature would be usable for motorcyclists and cyclist as well as rallyists and racing car drivers, a capability he was able to confirm.  Terada-san also confirmed that future extensions of the subject recognition and tracking modes could include settings for different types of sports and traditionally difficult-to-track subjects like birds in flight. The new additions, he said, would probably be provided by firmware updates, adding the developers would need to define what kind of subjects we should add on the basis of who will be using the camera and what they’ll be using it for.

We asked Terada-san, whether the E-M1X is being used for genres other that sports photography. “Yes,” he responded emphatically. “It’s now being appreciated by wedding and portrait photographers, where the combination of the wireless flash system with the easy-to-use flash gear is popular.”

For these photographers, Terada-san noted that the Handheld High Res Shot mode could provide the advantage of increased resolution, although it can be difficult to manage. “Because the subject might move during the multiple exposures,” he added, “even the blink of an eye can cause blurring. Sometimes it can be successful, however.”

Asked about Olympus’ aspirations for video, Terada-san replied, “Our plans are not changing at this moment. We are staying with stills cameras that can also be used for video. Video is important, but not the highest priority.”

Lenses appear to be at least as important as camera bodies and new lenses are being developed across the Olympus M.Zuiko range.

The latest Olympus lens roadmap, released concurrently with the OM-D E-M1X camera in February. (Source: Olympus.)

“When we introduced the E-M1X  we also introduced a new lens roadmap, which included the ED 150-400mm, the white lens  shown on the stand and also the current 12-200mm lens,” he explained. “Other lenses are in planning but I can’t provide a specific number or details of focal lengths and maximum apertures but we’ll continue to fill out the range of both PRO and M.Zuiko lenses, particularly for the telephoto area and zoom area and also the bright, fast lenses.”

The new M.Zuiko Digital 150-400mm f/4.0 PRO lens was shown in prototype format in a glass box on the Olympus stand.  Scheduled for release in 2020, it comes with an  integrated 1.25x tele-converter plus an optional M.Zuiko Digital 2x Teleconverter MC-20.

Asked whether Olympus will continue to extend stabilisation capabilities in its lower priced cameras and lenses, Terada-san’s response was quick. “We are the leader in this area and we’d like to keep that position,” he affirmed. “However, stabilisation depends on the focal length and also the price range. Our engineers have very strong convictions to make improvements possible.”

A demonstration of the image stabilisation system in the OM-D E-M1X camera on the Olympus stand at CP+.

On Panasonic’s move into full-frame cameras, Terada-san reaffirmed that Olympus would not follow. “Our commitment is definitely to Micro Four Thirds,” he responded. “We like to promote the benefits of our system very strongly.”

He also stressed that there are many lenses that can only be developed for the Micro Four Thirds category  because they can take advantage of its smaller sensor size. “Our equipment is both compact and lightweight and we provide high-resolution products with superior lenses and IS. We will continuously promote the benefits of our line-up. I think that’s kind of necessary.” he added.
Asked about the Tough camera range, in which Olympus is also a market leader, Terada-san admitted there has been ‘some demand’ for a larger sensor in these cameras. But he was reluctant to pursue this topic. “Right now,” he said,  “we are focusing upon the interchangeable-lens system. At this moment there is less interest in compact cameras. Of course, a lot depends on the marketing.”

Financially, the Imaging Division at Olympus is still clawing its way back from problems it faced in the past as well as costs associated with shifting its manufacturing facilities. Consequently, it remains partly dependent upon the Medical Division, which dominates the world market for endoscopes. However, this has a positive effect as the company encourages interactions between the engineers in both divisions to work together on product development and share valuable expertise.

“From the technology viewpoint, there are many cross-overs,” Terada-san concluded.