Translation of interview with Ogawa Haruo about M4/3 (part I)

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Translation of interview with Ogawa Haruo about M4/3 (part I)
Aug 12, 2008

(Quick translation of interview with Ogawa Haruo, originally published in Japanese by DC Watch; the translator takes no responsibility for the accuracy of this translation)
(Original: http://dc.watch.impress.co.jp/cda/dslr/2008/08/11/9015.html )

Last week, Olympus and Panasonic announced “Micro Four Thirds” as “an extension of the Four Thirds Standard.” By reducing the flange-back distance to 1/2 that of previous standard, and reducing the mount diameter by 6mm, it represents a branch out from the Four Thirds standard (which is being continued as before), that makes it possible to reduce the size of camera and exchangeable lenses.

We spoke to the head of Olympus Imaging’s SLR division, Ogawa Haruo (interviewer is Honda Masakazu).

■ The Four Thirds Ideal does not change with Micro Four Thirds

Before entering the main theme of our interview, Mr. Ogawa said he wanted to appeal once more to the strengths of the Four Thirds standard. “We’ve heard rumors that ‘this announcement means Olympus is going to abandon 4/3.’ But we are already scheduling to announce multiple 4/3 bodies within this year, and we have absolutely no intention of abandoning the 4/3 standard. So here, I first of all want people to stop thinking that the announcement of Micro 4/3 (hereinafter M4/3 ) means that 4/3 fans have been betrayed.”

Mr. Ogawa was originally a technician and spent 20 years occupied in research. During his time in the labs, around 1996 research was progressing quite nearby regarding the issue of “the optimum SLR system for digital cameras.”

“During the film era with manual-focus cameras, we at one time abandoned the OM mount and withdrew from the world of SLRs. So we thought, if we didn’t consider the past, and started out from zero, what kind of design would produce the ultimate balance of high image quality (equivalent to the 35mm SLR system) and portability? It was in response to that question that the 4/3 system was born.”

Ogawa contined with conviction, “At that point back in 1996, we were already thinking that lenses needed a minimum MFT of around 200 lines—that’s about five times the resolution necessary for film lenses, which were okay with 50. Naturally, there were also issues about light falloff at the edges, degradation of resolution, moire, and false color [CA, etc.]. We said, wow, that’s a tall order. Conventional thinking and common sense won’t be enough here. 4/3 was announced in September, 2003, but that kind of step-by-step research lay in the background to that announcement. In short, 4/3 was our answer to the question of what kind of format would be optimum for producing sufficient resolution while preserving portability, so we’re not about to throw that out and redefine another format.”

He added, “I want to say something about the issue of telecentricity. It’s often said that the reason for seeking telecentricity is because ‘light won’t reach the bottom of “deep wells” if it doesn’t enter at the perpendicular. But in fact, there are a lot of other issues involved. Will (the sensor) resolve all the way to the borders? Can you aggressively create the images you want? For example, the depiction of the deep sky color sometimes called ‘Olympus blue.’ We can achieve that kind of color because we are bring the ideal light to the sensor.”

We often hear the knee-jerk response that “image quality is bad because the sensor is small,” but excellent images cannot be produced except by excellent imaging produced by excellent lenses. Lots of manufacturers are heading toward 35mm full-frame sensors, but they have to be facing considerable issues, such as light falloff at the peripheries, MTF degradation, and chromatic aberration.

“Needless to say, if you produced lenses for full-sized sensors that were 4x the size of 4/3 lenses, you could produce the same image results with full-sized sensors. And there are opinions to the effect that some of the shortcomings of lenses can be made up for by electronic means. But at Olympus we didn’t want to digitalize the SLR by such short-sighted tactics.”

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