The long wait for the next generation of cameras for Four Thirds may soon be over, suggests Olympus' Toshi Terada, Manager, Product Planning SLR products. He also discusses the role the OM-D has played in increasing uptake of mirrorless cameras in the USA and the future of compact cameras now that smartphones have become many users' cameras of choice.
The progress of mirrorless in the USA
'Market share for mirrorless is increasing in the USA. It's not booming, but it's growing. Now Canon and Nikon have mirrorless products, that will help increase awareness of what mirrorless is and what the benefit is. In addition, the OM-D has become a really big topic of conversation in both the US and Europe. Those two factors are creating a better situation for the mirrorless market,' he says.
'We have three groups of people buying our cameras - OM-D users are mostly people who would have bought a DSLR, then you have users stepping up from compacts and buying PEN models. Then, finally, you have DSLR users who are buying PEN as a second camera. Other manufacturers aren't targeting all those people.'
'DSLR-type users are used to beautiful lenses but we also like to offer lenses for the step-up users - lenses like the 45mm. One of the main reasons for buying a DSLR or mirrorless is the good image quality, including shallow depth-of-field. The kit lens is versatile but to give the shallow depth-of-field you need a fast lens. The 45mm is positioned as a 2nd or 3rd lens, as is the body cap lens. We'd like to offer attractive lenses for both DSLR-type users and step-up users.'
'In Japan, the work to encourage people to buy a second lens has been a success. The 45mm lens has sold well world wide, and in Japan, not only DSLR-type of users, but also Step-up users have purchased it.'
The future of Four Thirds
Building on the promise Olympus has made about continuing to support Four Thirds users, Terada suggests the wait may nearly be over: 'Direction-wise, we'd like to produce products for Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds within this year. Because we have to provide a product for users with SHG and HG lenses. And there are people using E400, 500 and 600-series DSLRs, we have to provide products for them to keep enjoying their photography.'
'For those users AF speed is important and a suitable finder is necessary. And also it needs to be the right size - the benefit of Micro Four Thirds and Four Thirds is compact size. We have to provide those things to benefit those users. One of the benefits of DSLR is continuous autofocus. In this respect, we have to promise total AF performance in future.'
They can be confident about image quality, he says: ''They already know image quality from the OM-D. Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds sensors are the same size, so they can imagine that.'
Where now for compacts?
'Smartphones have had an impact on compact camera sales - especially for affordable compacts. We have to make some kind of differentiation from smartphones, whether that's in terms of image quality, optical capabilities or photographic control,' Terada explains: 'We've shifted to high-value products - long zoom, enthusiast compacts and TG-type cameras that have benefits to differentiate them from smartphones.'
'From a sensor aspect this can mean bigger, but a camera need optics. To have optics with an APS-C sensor, capability cannot be offered. Another format combination is something I can see happening - you need to have something that works size-wise as well as quality-wise. If you consider APS-C, you're never going to make a very compact lens. Maybe 1", 1/1.7" or some intermediate could exist in the future, I can't judge at this moment,' he says, and maintains there's some fight left in 1/2.3": 'the XZ-10 is still attractive - together with a nice lens and imaging chain it can offer a big difference from smartphones.'