JM: Hi Sally. Thank you so much for taking time to speak with us at the Nature, Wildlife and Pet Photography Forum Community.
SS: No problem, James. It is a pleasure.
JM: Can you tell us a little bit about who you are at Olympus?
SS: Sure. I came to Olympus 13 years ago (1998) as a technical representative and am currently a Product Manager at Olympus. I serve as the product spokesperson for all of our consumer products and provide technical assistance to the press and public.
JM: There have been a lot of rumors and teeth gnashing that the E-5 may be the last digital SLR to be developed by Olympus. Can you talk a bit about that?
SS: Sure. I will be glad to help put those rumors to bed and take away any anxiety that people have that Olympus is planning on discontinuing its dSLR Four Thirds system. First things first. I want to make sure that we convey the strong sense of responsibility that we feel towards people who’ve adopted our Four Thirds system. We believe in the Four Thirds system – not just as a precursor to Micro Four Thirds, but in the Four Thirds System itself.
Olympus has devoted a large amount of research and development in establishing the Four Thirds product line. It is an important and relevant part of our business. We now have a large array of optics from 16mm to 600mm (thinking in 35mm format). We feel that it is fully matured in that aspect – which is why product releases for Four Thirds have been slower than Micro Four Thirds. There is still quite a lot of room to grow Micro Four Thirds in order to catch up with the Four Thirds System in terms of both product capability and breadth.
JM: I have heard rumors that Olympus has dropped some of its prime lenses from the 4/3 roadmap. Is this true? Why?
SS: Our focus of late has been to expand the line of Micro Four Thirds lenses in order to establish a true system. User feedback on available optics interests us. We’ll continue to evaluate the market needs for both systems going forward.
JM: Does Olympus plan on producing more mid and low end 4/3 bodies?
SS: Ultimately, the market will dictate what cameras are introduced. i.e. Olympus will place focus on cameras that satisfy the larger market demands. Having said that, we believe that the market for most of the compact dDSLRs, such as the 420 and 620, is best met by the Micro Four Thirds System. People who are looking to purchase entry level cameras are looking for something more than a point and shoot but not to the level of a pro body, such as the E-5.
With the advances that have been made in bodies, such as the greatly improved single shot focus of the E-P3, we believe that is better able to match their requirements in terms of size and weight. The area which remains in question for some people is the mid range category, such as the E-30. We believe that if they were given a choice, these people would really prefer an E-5. For those customers who are not looking for a pro camera , the Micro 4/3 system would suffice.
JM: That is a very interesting distinction. Can you talk more about that?
SS: Sure. The first thing is that it is important to get beyond the idea of ‘which system will Olympus support and develop.’ Ultimately there is only one system – Four Thirds. While Micro Four Thirds and Four Thirds differ in some aspects, they are ultimately the same thing in terms of image quality and sensor format. Four Thirds is Four Thirds, whether or not it is a dSLR or Mirrorless camera body.
One thing that I think is very important to talk about is the assumption from some that Micro Four Thirds is somehow less sophisticated or of lesser capability than Four Thirds products. This is not the case. In fact, much of the technology that embodies the Micro Four Thirds cameras has migrated down from the Four Thirds system. As mentioned earlier, they both share the same size image sensor. For example, the same low pass anti alias filter technology that we introduced with the E-5, which offers increased sharpness per pixel and a greater resolving power from the optics, has migrated into the PEN E-P3.
Once we get beyond the format issue, we need to then think about form. As we discussed earlier, many of the people who were purchasing Four Thirds dSLRs were really looking for smaller, lighter and more compact cameras. Micro Four Thirds allows us to do this. People who purchased Four Thirds cameras can now purchase the professional E-5 dSLR or a Micro Four Thirds body – and still use all of their former Four Thirds lenses without any loss of ability as long as they have an adapter. The one area where there may be some difference is in terms of continuous autofocus. Because the Micro Four Thirds system is optimized to function using the LCD for focus, contrast detection focus system, as opposed to the viewfinder, phase detection focus system, the Micro 4/3 optics have also been optimized for contrast detection AF. The MSC (Movie/Still compatible) lenses in the Micro 4/3 system use internal focus and function silently to enhance performance when focusing and shooting using the LCD for both still and video.
JM: Do you feel that the Micro 4/3 System will soon meet the needs of all 4/3 users?
SS: Not at this time. There are some things that the Micro 4/3 system does not offer at this moment - like a full weather proof construction. As mentioned earlier, this brings up the important issue of application. While most 4/3 users needs are able to be met by a Micro 4/3 camera, there are those who have needs that are beyond the current capabilities of Micro 4/3. The faster frame rate (fps), full swivel LCD and vertical release on the E-5 are a few functions that may determine which product best fits the user application.
JM: There are some who would say that if Olympus has only one dSLR that it will need to be updated more frequently – as current models are only being replaced about every 4 years.
SS: That is a point that is noted. However, given that the E-5 was just released in October, I hope that it is seen as a sign of our continued dedication to the 4/3 System as a whole – not just Micro 4/3. We may be focusing on increasing the Micro 4/3 Line, but we are committed to both systems.
JM: Thank you very much for taking time to clarify some of the Olympus roadmap for 4/3 and Micro 4/3 cameras.
SS: It was my pleasure. Olympus is very much interested in user feedback. We feel we offer two strong solutions within the Four Thirds space and hope no one feels like they must abandon what is perhaps the only 100% from the ground up digital component system for another brand or for another model within the system.
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