Photo Review had an opportunity to hear presentations from and speak with members of the OM-D design team on a recent trip to Japan, sponsored by Olympus Imaging Australia.


 Hirofumi Imano, Divisional Manager of the Olympus Product & Marketing Planning Division, welcomes the Australian visitors.    

Divisional Manager of the Product & Marketing Planning Division, Hirofumi Imano, welcomed the Australian visitors and provided an overview of the company’s history and current profile. He said Olympus was originally founded by Takeshi Yamashita in 1919 to design and manufacture microscopes. That core competence in opto-digital technology remains in Olympus today in its four divisions, which cover imaging, medical, industrial and life science imaging technologies.

As of the end of the last financial year (March, 2013), Olympus had a total of 32,937 employees and consolidated net sales of 744 billion Yen (~US$74 billion). It is a world leader in endoscope development and manufacture, with the medical division representing 41% of total business. The imagine division represents about 15% of total business, with 47% of sales in Japan, 19% in North America and the rest spread worldwide.

The Imaging Division’s mid-term plan will see an increasing focus towards the ‘SLR’ business, which is represented by the OM-D cameras and accessories. Olympus wants to build sales to one million OM-D cameras with marketing focused primarily in 70 cities worldwide where disposable incomes are high.


Examples of early Olympus cameras, the Semi-Olympus I (vintage 1936) and Semi-Olympus II (1938) on display at the Olympus Museum within the Hachioji headquarters. These were the first cameras fitted with Zuiko lenses  and  laid the foundations of the company’s future role as a camera manufacturer.

A visit to the Olympus Museum was scheduled early into our trip and we were able to photograph the collection of cameras and early microscopes, although not the endoscopes and recent industrial microscopes. An area equivalent to several large meeting rooms is set aside on the ground floor of the Hachioji building to document and preserve the company’s technological history and visitors wind their way along narrow lanes that trace the developments of different product lines.


The display of 35mm film cameras released between 1948 and 1958.


This display is devoted to Pen cameras and accessories, including interchangeable lenses.
The first-generation Olympus Pen camera appeared in 1959, combining excellent performance with an affordable price. Subsequent generations introduced   programmable electronic shutters, automatic film advance and rewind, TTL exposure meters and built-in self-timers. The Olympus Pen F, released in 1963, was the world’s first and only half-frame system single-lens reflex camera.


A display of the popular OM 35mm SLR cameras and lenses, which were manufactured between 1973 and 1988.

With the launch of the Olympus FTL in 1971, Olympus provided its first SLR camera and targeted overseas markets for the first time. It was followed in 1973 by the OM-1, the first product in the OM Series, which earned wide acclaim as the world’s smallest and lightest 35mm single-lens reflex camera. The OM series continued until 1986, comprising a total of   nine models, the last being the OM101, which was introduced in 1988 and added a speed-sensitive dial-type power focus system to the previous OM707 model.

A subsequent OM-3Ti model was introduced in 1994, featuring a titanium exterior for added strength and reduced weight. The price was ¥200,000 (body, clip and leather strap). It was followed in 1997 by the OM2000, a manual focus SLR with a much lower price tag. By this time, Olympus had entered the digital market with the Camedia C-800L, which was released in 1996, followed by the Camedia C-900 Zoom in 1998. The first Olympus DSLR, the E-1 was launched in 2003. It was also the first Four Thirds System interchangeable-lens camera and introduced  a new range of Zuiko interchangeable lenses  dust and moisture protection, and a dust reduction system.

After visiting the museum, we returned to the meeting room for more presentations. First up was the President of Olympus Imaging, Haruo Ogawa, who stressed that the imaging business will be based mainly upon interchangeable-lens cameras with a focus upon brand loyalty, opinion leaders, training and support.


 Haruo Ogawa, President of Olympus Imaging Corporation.

The camera business, he stressed, involves excellent products, with three flagship models launched in 2013 (the OM-D E-M1, PEN E-P5   and Stylus 1) providing brand value, take-anywhere convenience and the best image quality in any environment.

Key technology initiatives introduced with these cameras include FAST AF, 5-Axis Image Stabilisation, large EVFs, Art Filters, Splash- Dust- and Freeze-proof bodies and O.I. Share Wi-Fi facilities.


 Setsuya Kataoka, General Manager of the SLR R & D Department, shown with preliminary mock-ups for the body design of the OM-D E-M10.
Speaking about the development of the new OM-D E-M10 camera, Setsuya Kataoka, the General Manager of R&D for Olympus Imaging, said it completed the line-up by providing an ‘entry-level’ model. At the same time, he added, it maintained the essential concept of a ‘super-premium small camera’ that typifies the OM-D range.
 Mr Kataoka explained the target market for the E-M10 is ‘advanced’ users who tend to prefer more highly-featured cameras. He said 90% of entry-level users look for cheap cameras and seldom if ever buy a step-up camera ““ or additional lenses. However, the ‘advanced’ users are motivated to look for higher quality and are likely to buy a step-up model and/or extra lenses.

Pointing out the advantages of the OM-D E-M10, he emphasised the benefits of the small, metal body, OM-D styling, larger dials and buttons and good grip. Positioning the tripod mount on the optical axis of the lens was another plus, he said, and the fusion of optical and digital features from the existing models made the new camera ‘easy to approach’. The 16-megapixel LiveMOS sensor is the same as the E-M5’s, while the TruePic VII  processor has come from the E-M1.

Mr Kataoka said Olympus has tested the E-M10 against entry- and mid-level cameras from rival manufacturers (including the DSLR market leaders) and found its image quality was equal to or better than all of them. He also claimed the large EVF on the E-M10 was easier to use and provided a brighter view than Nikon’s D5300 or Canon’s EOS 100D as well as covering the full field of view of the sensor. Its latency was between 7 and 10 milliseconds, compared with 20-35 milliseconds for competing cameras from Panasonic and Fujifilm. AF speeds were also marginally better than those of entry- and mid-level DSLRs.

Some of the most interesting moments in our visit were the demonstrations of the testing facilities for Olympus cameras. Although we weren’t able to photograph the process, the drop-testing rig used for checking Tough cameras was particularly impressive. It can carry test cameras up to heights well above the specified 2-metre limit and drop them with precision so they land at a wide range of different angles.


 Ikko Mori, Manager of the SLR R & D Department and designer of the Tough camera series, shown with a lens unit from a Tough camera.


This close-up view shows a Tough camera lens unit being positioned in the camera body, with an additional unit on the bench nearby.
We also saw some tests of the 3- and 5-axis image stabilisation systems, including one that pitted the systems against each other.


Tomotaka Sawada   from the Olympus R & D Centre, demonstrates the equipment used for testing image stabilisation.

While both performed almost equally well at counteracting  left-right and up-down camera shake, the 5-axis module provided noticeably better steadiness with tilting, turning  and rolling movements. Unfortunately, there’s a price to pay for such capabilities: the 5-axis IS module is quite a bit larger than the 3-axis one, as shown in the illustrations below.


Side-by-side views of the IS modules in the OM-D E-M5   and OM-D E-M1 cameras.


The smaller and slimmer IS   module in the OM-D E-M10 camera.

In his presentation, OM-D camera and lens designer, Daisuke Tainaka, said his design philosophy centred upon ‘perfect control of light’ to bring the OM series into the digital era. He cited the importance of being able to set the camera to control everything ‘to reflect the creative thoughts of the photographer’ and provide ‘a sense of immersion’ in the creative process.


Daisuke Tainaka, designer of the OM-D cameras and lenses. pictured with the new OM-D E-M10 and 14-42mm kit lens.

“At a glance you want to touch it. Once you touch, you want to view it from the finder. Once viewed, you feel your heart pounding. You feel that you lose yourself in the pleasure of taking pictures. The camera will never let your heart go away. Changing lenses, expanding the system, and step by step you feel you are stepping into the world of creativity. That is the concept of the OM-D.”

He also explained the design keyword as ‘Delta Cut’ which meant removing unnecessary parts.

Mr Tainaka said that, unlike the entry models from some manufacturers, the OM-D E-M10 was not substantially de-featured. Instead, it contained a high level of innovative features and the latest technologies in a compact body with a high-textured design.


 Toshiyuki Terada, the Deputy General Manager of SLT-1 Product & Marketing Planning, pictured with an OM-D E-M1 camera.

We were allowed a one-on-one interview with Toshiyuki Terada, the Deputy General Manager of SLT-1 Product & Marketing Planning, at the CP+ show. Our first question was ‘What’s next?’ given the fact that Olympus now had OM-D products positioned at three distinct levels from entry through enthusiast to professional standard.

The response suggested Olympus was content to leave its product line-up unchanged, at least in the short term.  “We like to see three levels,” he responded, “to cater for different capabilities, from the professional level to the entry level. We also like to encourage people who are using a compact camera or smart-phone but like to have a nice photo with better quality. “

Asked how Olympus was encouraging customers to invest in lenses. Mr Terada explained, “Usually people buy cameras with the kit lenses. But once they realise they want better bokeh and control over background blurring they find they can’t get this capability with the kit lens. We are then able to offer one of our prime lenses, like our 45mm f/1.8, which is affordable and provides nice bokeh with very sharp images.”

He added, “Having a strong lens line-up is really important; not only the professional lenses but also the entire range. The other thing is to teach people which kind of lens is used for different purposes. In Japan, we have classes that show people not only how to use the lenses but also how to use the cameras as well. That’s important not only for selling the products but also for helping people to enjoy them.”

We were interested to know why Olympus doesn’t offer the universal DNG.RAW format as well its proprietary raw file format. His response was that Olympus believes its customers are looking for fast file conversion. “We are trying to give the very best image quality each camera can provide with our raw converters,” he added. “Third-party converters produce results that are a little bit different.”

When we pointed out that having to update preferred third-party raw converters with each new generation of cameras was expensive ““ and that we would prefer to have that money to invest in lenses, Mr Terada said he understood that point of view but he could make no commitment as to whether Olympus would include DNG.RAW as an option in future cameras.

Asked what areas of camera technology provided the greatest scope for improvement, Mr Terada said there was potential to improve every aspect: “image quality, autofocus, electronic viewfinder. Getting the balance is very difficult but I think OM-D cameras are well harmonised.”

Mr Terada added that Olympus is seeing increasing demand for expanded video capabilities, including increased frame rates and better sound recording. 4K video is also showing up as a potential demand, although Olympus will not move into this area until there is an agreed technology standard. Most camera buyers, he says, want video included, even though they may only use it occasionally.