Olympus mFT: interview with Haruo Ogawa

The following is an interview with Mr Ogawa (head of DSLR development in Toyko) at Photokina 2008, discussing Olympus‘ take on mFT. It’s reproduced here in its entirety and is pretty candid. I really don’t know if it has been posted or published elsewhere (I'm sure it will have, as I've sat on it for months) but I’m grateful to Olympus UK for sending this to me.

Was mFT part of the original Olympus 4/3 strategy and if not, when and why did it become important?

No hard and fast answer to that but the overall concept of size certainly been a key component of 4/3 development so this in many ways is a logical step. Let’s say that these things are often on paper but timing depends on technology.

How does mFT fit in with the overall product strategy of the existing 4/3 system?

It is an addition – a branch if you like, a whole new potential market – complimentary but also separate. Surveys have suggested that up to 25% of the 100 plus million people who bought compacts in the last year worldwide would consider an SLR if it was smaller and easier to use. That is one commercial angle. Others include additional cameras for SLR owners of all brands who want a serious “pocketable” camera. Naturally, we also expect many users to prefer a conventional system – think how conservative most designs are at the moment and the uproar when things like EVF’s are proposed. So a twin strategy makes a lot of sense.

Some people have voiced a little concern with the almost lacklustre Photokina launch with only a mock up of the Olympus mFT camera, while the Panasonic G1 will be hitting the shelves this month – what are your comments on this?

We are taking our time to ensure we can deliver what we believe the system is really capable of. Can’t really comment of the direction of the other product but let’s just say Olympus is committed to delivering something really exciting. Look on the bright side – you all get to have a voice in what you would like to see over time. The mock up shows what can be done in size terms, everything else is open to suggestion in theory.

Does Olympus foresee some mFT cameras having non-traditional body shapes - for instance like the E-300/330?

Some might, some might not. We would prefer people to imagine what could be rather than judge purely on the past. In this electronic age there are some who might be surprised that a mirror is used at all and yet DSLR’s still have them. Think 5 years from now, put aside any prejudices and imagine what you would like to see that would let you take superb images whenever and wherever you like.

Do you plan to build bodies for the advanced amateur/pro market in addition to the beginner/bridge market for the mFT?

No firm news but as above – just imagine. It does not all have to happen on day one.

How long have you been working on mFT with Panasonic for and is the partnership of technology sharing likely to continue and why?

No information released on this but as you may imagine many technology partners in Japan work long term on many projects depending on their expertise.

It has been suggested that Panasonic see two lines of mFT cameras, a) point/shoot and b)video recording type. Does Olympus have a similar distinction planned in their roadmap for mFT body systems?

Again – we can’t say one way or the other right now but as you can probably guess: if it is possible and there is a demand then why wouldn’t we consider it?

On the lighter side, does Olympus intend on out doing Panasonic in the fashion colour department? (More colours....colour coordinated lenses....)

See above!

Does mFT impact in any way on the future development and support for the original 4/3 system? Either at lens or body level?

In a negative way? We do not believe so – in fact we believe the opposite. After a long Photokina with this kind of question we had a variety if ways of looking at this and my analogy of the week is cars. A one range company has limitations in potential business and therefore in long term investment.

Think certain luxury car makers in recent years. Those that have done best have several ranges aimed at different sectors. They can develop in stages and invest more. Some aspects are shared, new technology used in all. This is true to an extent with the differing ranges of conventional SLR’s and compacts but if you can expand your market reach further, so much the better.

And before anyone points out what happened to some of the car companies we would ask you to consider USP’s. Optics are the hardest (longest lead time) part of cameras to develop. Not many companies have the resources and expertise to do this part with appropriate quality – Olympus do. Remember that E System is the only designed for digital range started from scratch so we are already ahead. Have a look at the very recent review of the 50mm macro on a certain large review site if you need some confirmation. Have a look at feedback on our low cost kit lenses – they are superb.

We are often asked about the impact of camera phones on digital cameras and our European Marketing Director said (I paraphrase) – “look camera phones are for instant sharing. Photography comes from the heart, getting the best results you can whether for your pleasure or because you want to capture an image, a memory, to keep. Photography companies have the edge here and optics are the key. We excel in that area, it is our heartland and the stronger we get the more we can do with it” Is that positive enough?

When can we expect to see the first mFT Olympus camera on the shelves?

Nothing more precise just yet.

Any other pieces of ‘red hot’ information you would like to share with us?

Next year [2009] will be exciting.

Size comparison between FT (left) and mFT bodies, courtesy of Olympus UK. Without the quick-return mirror, the dimensions of mFT bodies can be greatly reduced.


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