Setsuya Kataoka, General Manager of Olympus’s product and marketing planning division

According to Setsuya Kataoka, future OM-D cameras will be able to create multi-shot high resolution images in such a short time that photographers will be able to use the feature handheld. Mr. Kataoka, General Manager of Olympus’s product and marketing planning division and the man behind the R&D of the OM film cameras and the E system, spoke to us recently in the Czech Republic during a European event to demonstrate the features of the new OM-D E-M5 ll. He went on to explain that he expected the R&D team to make rapid progress in the development of the High Res Shot feature and that in time Olympus will be able to create a system will take less than 1/60sec instead of the current time of about one second.

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Mr. Kataoka says that the most important development of the OM-D E-M5 ll is not the High Res Shot mode itself, but the improvements that have been made to the 5-Axis image stabilization system that makes the High Res Shot function possible. The new system allows smaller and more accurate movements to be made to the sensor position so that it can be shifted by half a pixel in each direction to create the multi-sample image. He explained that the sensor has to be able to be moved and stopped so that each pixel is just 0.0002mm from its previous position – with a tolerance of +/-0.0001mm. Now that can be done, the next step will be to make the process of expose-shift-expose-shift happen more quickly.

Kataoka said that OM-D customers who buy small and light camera systems do not want to have to carry a tripod all the time, and that handheld photography is in the basic DNA of the OM-D system. It is essential, he said, to make this feature work without a camera support.

New higher resolution sensors

When asked how the technology will work should the company move to a higher resolution sensor, Kataoka said that they were currently investigating the process and determining whether the movements required to boost resolution needed shifts of half a pixel or the same 0.0002mm, and how many images would be needed to create enough detail. Working on the current system the R&D team had experimented with 2, 4, 6, 8 and 16-shot sequences, and found that beyond eight-shots the resolution added by further exposures was insignificant.

Kataoka said that Olympus’s tests had shown that the OM-D E-M5 ll High Res Shot system has a number of advantages over high resolution full frame camera systems. He said that users of sensors with a similar number of pixels to 40 million had to use a tripod all the time to make their images look sharp, but that OM-D users could switch between using a tripod and not, according to the resolution mode set on the camera.

Better image stabilization is better than just more pixels

The advantage that the improved 5-axis image stabilization system gives OM-D E-M5 ll photographers outweighs simply having more pixels because it produces better detail in images than a full frame DSLR can handheld, Kataoka claims. With no mirror action and no mechanical shutter in electronic shutter mode, the OM-D has no internal vibrations to contend with and so has a great resolution advantage. He said that resolution lost to camera shake in DSLRs reduces the advantage of having more pixels.

ISO and touch AF restrictions

When questioned about the lack of an ISO 100 setting in the OM-D cameras Kataoka acknowledged that to make the most of a wide aperture lens on a bright day lower ISO settings were needed. He explained that it is the limitations of the sensor that prevent Olympus from offering ISO 100, but that the company had increased the shutter speed range to 1/16,000sec in electronic shutter mode, and to 1/8000sec in mechanical shutter mode, to help compensate. Sensor manufacturers have concentrated mostly on providing high ISO settings that are not often used, he said, and had neglected low settings in their favor, but Olympus hopes this will change very soon.

Other restraints placed on the company by outside suppliers include the limited area in which touch AF can be used. Kataoka explained that their suppliers are working on making the touch function available right to the edges of the screen.

Further discussions on the touch AF are being held internally at Olympus about the system used in the E-M5 ll. Sometimes the current overrides the user’s desired point by selecting one that the camera thinks more suitable. A touch-selected AF point does not always remain in position as the composition changes between shots. Kataoka said that there may be a firmware update to address this, depending on the result of their testing. Whether the AF point is automatically adjusted or not may become another user option.

We discussed the menu and button system of the E-M5 ll and Kataoka acknowledges that the user experience can be quite complicated. He said it is always a question of finding a balance between including all the features that customers demand and maintaining an easy to use interface - while still making the camera fully customizable. When asked if he would like to make a digital version of the OM-4, with minimal buttons and no rear screen he said that he would love to and that he had been thinking about it for a long time, but he added that he’d have to concentrate on products that make a profit first!

Look for more from Olympus on DPR soon - we also spoke with senior executives at the CP+ tradeshow and will have a full interview coming in the near future.