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Interview with Olympus senior R&D managers Toshifumi Nakano and Masaharu Hamada

Avtor:Matjaž Intihar
07.10.2004 19:41

From left: Miha Klepac, Olympus Slovenija, Toshifumi Nakano (general manager BCT R&D department), Masaharu Hamada (manager BCT R&D department), Matjaz Intihar and Aleš Borlak.



Our first interview was with Olympus. Representative of Olympus Slovenija, Miha Klepac, made a great effort and made it possible we could talk to two Olympus senior R&D managers. After obligatory exchange of business cards, Miha introduced ourselves and then Olympus experts from Tokio were introduced by the lower-ranked of the two.

Mac: My name is Masaharu Hamada and I am a manager of BCT R&D department. My colleague here is my boss, Toshifumi Nakano, who is a general manager of BCT R&D department. You can call us Mac and Toshi. I used to work for Olympus in New York, but now I have returned to Tokio.


Matjaz: Because of some historical facts, untill the introduction of a new DSLR camera E-300 I wasn't sure whether the E system will be successful or not. However now I know that you are here to stay and E-300 shows that E system is evolving.

I am very curious why you decided to use a new concept for this camera, without pentaprism and with mirrors instead?

Mac: E-1 was released one year ago and was meant for professional market, where pentaprism is almost compulsory. From a professional camera one expects it to be made in a certain way. The new E-300 is built for a lower, consumer class and we believe that such a camera needs to be special. In the near future, Sony and Panasonic will probably launch their lower-end DSLR cameras and when that happens, we will have to respond, perhaps with an EVF and different design also.


With that in mind we developed a new technology, which makes it possible to use a new design while still keeping the optical viewfinder. Looking at the cameras to come from Sony or Panasonic we are aware that we will need a new design.


Toshi: I would like to add that we started with a vision of the deconstruction of the traditional camera designs with pentaprisms, but because of that it was very difficult to keep the optical viewfinder. With pentaprism it is impossible to include some of the new digital features that we have in compact cameras like in model 8080. One such feature is a rotating LCD, which is impossible to be made in SLR cameras. There are some other things like that. So we were forced to forget about the traditional design.


Matjaz: From the users of lower-end cameras point of view, that is an interesting comment. They are used of the design of 8080 type of cameras and so they will be more comfortable when upgrading. There will be only one major difference for them and that is interchangeable lenses.


Mac: Despite the changes in the design of the cameras in this class, we will mantain a more traditional construction for professional cameras such as the E-1 and its successors. We will have two different design for two types of users.


Matjaz: I think that users of higher-end compact cameras will like the familiar design very much.


Mac: We get many requests for including digital technologies from compact cameras into DSLR cameras and we will try to take them into account.


Borlak: What will your cameras offer in the future?


Mac and Toshi: [laughing...] Top secret. We are developing new technologies even as we speak, but they must remain a secret.


Borlak: Do you think that in majority of consumer DSLR cameras there will be an EVF or an optical viewfinder? You metioned that Sony and Panasonic will introduce DSLRs with EVF and I am curious if Olympus will follow the same path?


Mac: For cameras like 8080 the EVF is very suitable, however with DSLRs we will stick to optical viewfinders.


Borlak: What are the main obstacles in the development? Is it more difficult to write software or to develop hardware such as CCD?


Mac: The most important thing is sensor development as it consumes a lot of time. Of course market analyses are important to determine what is the demand in the DSLR market, but the development of the sensor is more critical.


Borlak: Where do you put the majority of the marketing investments? In the consumer or in the professional E system?


Mac: Professional E system is very important to us. However this doesn't mean that we neglect other things.


Borlak: What are your plans regarding image stabilization, do you intend to put it in the body or in the lens? Furthermore, can we expect bigger LCD monitors on DSLR cameras?


Mac: We can't say when we will have image stabilization available, we are considering various ways to do it. Despite what Minolta just made, we think that at the moment image stabilization should be in the lens. In the near future we will be working on in-the-lens stabilization, however in five or six years we expect this technology to move into the body of the camera. We have some advantage here as our sensors are smaller than APS size and hence it is easier to move..


Borlak: We expect a successor of the E-1 next year. How many megapixels will it have?


Mac: The number of megapixels is not something we worry about. Our main concern is compromise between the speed of operation and the quality of the image.


Borlak: Will a new sensor be made by Kodak?


Mac: We are under no obligation to Kodak as our only supplier. Perhaps it'll be Kodak, but it can be any other manufacturer as well.


Borlak: So you will be buying sensors elsewhere and you don't plan to make your own?


Mac: Top secret, now Yoshi would like to ask you something... What do you think users of Olympus or let's say Canon wish to have? What features, what technologies in new consumer cameras?



You can feel the camera shakes when photographing?



Matjaz: Only the necessary functions, as few as possible. Each camera should be in its appropriate class of each manufacturer. Lower, middle, higher classes etc.


Mac: So your suggestion is that lower-end cameras should be more simple?


Matjaz, Borlak: Of course! These users don't need most of the current features.


Mac: What do you think about the size of E-300?


Borlak: My personal favourite design is that from Minolta, then Pentax. Size matters. You have small lenses and I think you could profit more with even smaller bodies. It seems Olympus has two different departments for design. You have small and beautiful compact cameras and I think your DSLR cameras should be more like them.


Matjaz: Well, I can't agree with that. There are many users who would be distracted by tiny and shiny cameras and they might not take them so seriously.


It would be best to have more classes of cameras, one for professionals which would keep the current design, then a class of E-300 like cameras, and finally a class of small and light cameras, which would be less expensive, but not cheap. Like you have done with compact cameras. Mju is from this mini compact high-end class.


Mac: We do have at least one advantage though. Most of users are not aware of the dust on the sensors, but Olympus is the only one who is actively working on it. We even included an indicator showing whether the filter is working or not. With it we also show customers that this is actually a common problem. Customers of other companies are forced to trust their company's technical support. At Olympus they can easily solve the problem by themselves and don't waste their precious time.


Borlak: How does this ultrasonic filter work?


Mac: The sensor is in an air-tight chamber so dust can never reach it. Infront of it is a special piece of glass that protects the sensor against dust and other things. Dust is then shaked off at 25KHz.


Matjaz: Believe it or not, I don't have any dust problem whatsoever. I have my EOS D60 for three years now and I never needed to clean the dust from it. I think that the biggest problem here are users who change lenses incorrectly, they put the camera with the lens mount side down and hence collect all the dust under it. Another problem are plastic lens mounts, which can leave small crumbles of plastic falling into the body.


Mac: That is correct. We too noticed that professional users have least problems with dust. That is just the reason we included ultrasonic cleaning system in the E-300 so that average users will not worry about it.


Matjaz: The most important thing for this camera to be a success will be its price. Besides it's nice that you used metal lens mount even for your lower-end cameras.



Japanese representatives are carefully listening to our suggestions.



Mac: We're glad you noticed.


Borlak: How many new lenses can we expect next year?


Mac: Wait a second. [Toshi is counting ...] 5.


Matjaz: Only zoom lenses or fixed too?


Mac: Fixed, too.


Matjaz: There's one thing with E-300 that bothers me. When the mirror moves aside, there's a noticeable camera shake. You could fix that with a more balanced mirror.


Mac & Toshi: [They are surprised and take the camera in their hands and are testing it.] Thank you for a warning.


Jernej: There's a small problem which might bother some users. Some buttons are too close to the viewfinder and it is difficult to operate them while looking through the viewfinder.


Everybody: For an average user that will probably be of no importance so it is not something to be worried about.


Mac: What price would you set for the E-300?


Matjaz and Borlak: Slightly lower than the Canon 300D. That's about 900EUR. This does not denote it is a less capable camera, but if you want it to be a hit, you will need an attractive price. Being similar to 300D is not enough, it has to have other advantages.


Borlak: Perhaps an impossible thing to do, but... it would be very good to put it in the stores till December when people will be buying gifts. January would be too late.


Mac and Toshi: [thinking about it, then they ask us] How many would we sell in Slovenia in December or in the next year?

From here on the conversation turned into a friendly chat with lots of laughing from Japanese representatives. Especially when they heard the number of the cameras that would be sold in Slovenia, which is almost completely insignificant for their company, which is making big bucks in other countries.


A nearly two hour inteview is summarized here. Less important details have been skipped, as well as a few minutes of private conversation between Matjaz and Toshi.


Everything that was told outside of the recording time will be used later when we will write reviews and explanations of new Olympus technologies.

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