Discussion with Mr. Terada

During Photokina I had a meeting with Toshiyuki Terada, Manager and Group Leader of the Product and Marketing Planning Group from Olympus Imaging Corp. Present at the meeting were also Julia Rauther, Communications Manager from Olympus Europe and Henrik Tanabe, Product Manager from Olympus Finland. Our meeting was not really an interview, because as such interviews seldom lead to any new information beyond company FAQ, but a somewhat crisscrossing discussion on various issues and backgrounds on mFT and also FT when the latter had relevance with mFT. That's why this text is also written in the form of my synthesis of discussion. 

We started by looking at some of my images, shot with PEN and OM-D bodies and various lenses. Mr. Terada was most interested in seeing OM-D images. These images led into comments on several usability issues.

One of them was of course the present ability to use FT lenses only with quite restricted AF capabilities with mFT cameras. We agreed on the great value invested in FT lenses, both for Olympus and for owners of FT lenses, me included. I have been using mostly 12-60 mm zoom, 50 mm macro and 150 mm tele lenses but also tested various lenses from 9 to 300 mm plus tele extenders. A few weeks ago I met Mr. Akira Watanabe from Olympus Imaging and he told me that there will be new bodies with which FT lenses will have their real AF performance. Now Mr. Terada gave me a similar, very strong assurance for the future usability of FT lenses. The words were different as Mr. Watanabe told me exactly how he sees FT lenses´ AF capabilities  being integrated with future bodies. Because of confidentiality I can't write more on this. Now the situation was more official and Mr. Terada was not as candid on how this integration will be implemented and used more words like "investigate", "research", "discuss" and "no decision (on particular implementation) yet". Even so the message was clear

Thinking about expansion of OM-D series, there are two directions. One is filling the obvious gap between latest PENs and EM-5. And the other is the need for a (more) professional OM-D body. Which one of these will be coming first was not answered. Also filling the gap between these two series may come from either direction, as a more advanced camera belonging to PEN series or as a less advanced camera belonging to OM-D series. I would go for the first option, but that's just my hunch.

As a sensor issue I asked why there is no ISO 100 in OM-D as it has a Sony sensor. Mr. Terada replied that he can not discuss where the sensor is from. What he told is that they chose a sensor design which has image quality emphasis on higher ISO values rather than having a low base ISO. Lack of ISO 100 is not based on the programming of the sensor but comes from sensor's actual qualities and its base ISO is at 200.

One thing which I sort of sensed during our conversation was that life has been tough at Olympus R&D. There are problems created somewhere else, and I read between the lines that some features or lack of them in products have been born rather out of necessity to deliver products now than out of a longer term continuum and plan. Olympus has been struggling and stretching their resources to survive. Now, a week later, we know that sensor technology from Sony is part of the new agreement between Olympus and Sony. Already during our discussion Mr. Terada told that technologies like PDAF (phase detecting auto focus) on sensor and focus peaking are available for them, although "no decision yet" about usage.

I, personally,  am not too sure of either. I have used Sony NEX-7 and tried Leica M. Focus peaking is not reliable in either of them unless you use magnification and then peaking is not really needed. PDAF elements on sensor are dead pixels for the actual image. To make PDAF fast and reliable you need lots of PDAF pixels, eventually lots of areas of pixels on sensor, which means dead areas in actual image. All these must be filled in with interpolated data from surrounding pixels. The better PDAF on sensor you make, the more it affects image quality. The more and the smaller focusing points you want, the more you suffer in image quality. Mr. Terada agreed on my concerns but obviously there is a strong demand for both of these features because of marketing reasons. However, it is not widely realised that some present PDAF on sensor systems like the one in Canon EOS-M (and EOS D650) can only give the initial direction in which to start focusing to and CDAF (contrast detecting) system takes care of the rest. I would still guess that both, PDAF on sensor and focus peaking, will be seen in future Olympus bodies, although this was not said explicitly.

(Another short term solution - while not actually discussed here - with the same basic aim would be a Sony style lens adapter with traditional PDAF elements. It also has limitations like e.g. in Sony's case the PDAF sensors, because of the size of adapter, are smaller, less sensitive and accurate, than the sensors Sony has inside camera bodies. Also this kind of adapter must have a fixed mirror which takes away one third of light from sensor.)

To support a real professional OM-D system, a pro service network is needed. That's something which is not cheap to set up. For a plain "pro" features body such service is, of course, not needed. Among features discussed was ETTR, exposure to the right.  I would like to see a system based on the actual and native ETTR exposure information directly from sensor or raw file, instead of what now is possible only by using demosaiced "jpeg" values and lots of menu tweaking. Technically there is nothing preventing such a system, and Mr. Terada wrote many things down in his notebook. I also understood that showing live view exposure warnings before exposure is an Olympus patent, which would mean that Olympus has monopoly to the most accurate exposure indication there is. Another feature discussed was tethered shooting and camera control from computer. Mr. Terada was aware of the importance of this feature in studio photography. We went on discussing video features and the lack of IBIS while shooting video with 3rd party lenses. He explained it by the problem of camera not knowing the real focal length especially with 3rd party zoom lenses. I saw the responsibility being on the user just like it is in still photography and wished for firmware update. Again, also this was written into his notebook. The possibility of using DNG format as a pro raw format was also discussed among other smaller details.

Regarding lenses, I expressed the wish of many users to have more black lenses. Mr. Terada told that silver lenses (with no weather sealing) come from PEN design and they are the first option for general photography now. I was surprised and confused with this reasoning and still am as "silver" OM-D has different gray finish from PEN silver. Is the silver 75mm f/1.8 lens meant for PEN and not for OM-D? And how about the 45mm lens with cheaper finish which matches better OM-D? As a matter of fact he was surprised that I am not at all distracted by the difference in shades between my silver OM-D and the 12mm f2.0 lens. I found all of this strange, and somehow I was not able to understand his logic nor express my confusion to him. Anyway, according to Mr. Terada, there are no product categories based on image quality among Olympus mFT lenses. Well, I'm fine with the upcoming new 17mm lens having PEN silver finish and no weather sealing, as long as it is as good as a moderate wide angle as 75mm f/1.8 is as a short tele. Again, like  others before him, Mr. Terada was promising high image quality for the new 17mm lens. About future lenses, there is no roadmap for lenses available to be published.

One hour, that's the time Mr. Terada had for me. It went too fast and I'm not going to list here every little detail mentioned. I had asked previously my readers to send me questions. There was too many topics to be discussed with Mr. Terada but Olympus has promised to read every question and comment.

As the last thing, I asked Mr. Terada what would a single OM-D cost if modified into a dedicated monochrome body. It would be expensive he said, and from my offers of 2000 or 20000 euros he chose the latter with laughter.  It is not just about taking Bayer filter off. Everything regarding image (including exposure and focusing) should be re-done and programmed and he was not too sure about the suitability of this particular sensor either. With smiles we parted while sharing my silly idea of a monochrome technology demonstrator of OM-D - just for the fun of it.