The second interview we held at Photokina was with four Olympus managers, three of whom we’d had the pleasure of meeting a year ago at Castle Leslie: Toshiyuki Terada (Deputy General Manager), Jörn Fandrey (Department Manager, Marketing Communications), Michael Guthmann (Product Manager), and Martina Beckmann (Group Leader Public Relations and Events / Consumer Products Division). We touched upon a variety of topics ranging from the success of the E-M1 since its release in late 2013 to the possibility of video upgrades on Olympus cameras. As with our interview last year, all our questions were answered in great detail and with honesty, which we greatly appreciated.
Be sure to give the interview a thorough read–we think you’ll find the answers very interesting!
Note: the interview have been updated in regards to the Service Plus support. We apologise for the inconvenience.
MirrorLessons: What is the process behind designing a new camera and how difficult is it to balance users’ needs, marketing demands, and Olympus’ vision.
T. Terada: Of course it is a little bit different between the OM-D and Pen products because the target audience is different. We know very well about the typical DSLR users. They like to customise many things, and they like a nice touch and feel. We have to keep consistency with the menu and button layout. Somehow we know their mindset, and on top of that, we have to implement some new things in the product, such as new features. We are always considering how to target our users. We can imagine what the users want and then implement it. For the DSLR users, we know the difficulties of the film era, and what they like to take pictures of but can’t take. Now we can have these kinds of features. For example, the Live Bulb or Live Composite or long exposure. In the past, it would have been an occasional shot but we want everyone to be able to take this kind of shot today. We know the demand from the film era. I think to meet the demand, we like to create new features.
The OM-D line is somehow easier. We can imagine what we should and should not do in the future, but the Pen is different. With the Pen product, we like to create a new market. Now Europe is following the Asian countries with the lifestyle approach, and a focus on female products. But actually to understand their photography demands is a bit difficult. Trial and error is necessary, or research and interviews. That kind of thing is the method we are using to create new value for the cameras.
MirrorLessons: The Pen E-PL7 with its selfie features is a way of giving users an alternative to smartphones. Do you think there is the possibility of winning back a segment smartphone users and get them using traditional cameras again?
T. Terada: Yes, I think so because in the past the entry class interchangeable lens camera users were targeting compact camera users but nowadays, the number of smartphone users is huge. However, they are struggling to take a nice shot with their smartphone, especially in dim conditions. They want to take a nice photo but they know there are limitations. And according to research, many people are using smartphones. Some are interested in interchangeable lens cameras, not compact cameras, because they already have a compact camera in their smartphone. This is a big potential to upgrade then to an OM-D and interchangeable lenses. I think we have huge potential. Can we get back the users? My answer is yes. It can be an upgrade from a smartphone.
MirrorLessons: How important has the success of the E-M1 been for Olympus so far?
T. Terada: We created the professional field, and once we introduced this category of camera, we get a lot of demand. We were able see their demand and the direction in which we should go once we introduced this.
MirrorLessons: Is it more successful in Europe or in Asia?
T. Terada: I think the same level worldwide, not specific countries. It is very uniformly appreciated.
MirrorLessons: A lot of users are still wishing for video improvements in Olympus cameras. Are you considering to expand the video capabilities for these cameras?
T. Terada: As I mentioned in Ireland, we are still concentrating on still images but the situation is a little bit different, but not dramatically so. Our main target is still photographers. But photographers nowadays are also interested in video capabilities. That’s a reason we cannot ignore this kind of demand. The mindset has changed in the last year. Maybe 4K or new technology is something that stimulates our photographic users, and we should follow the market I think.
MirrorLessons: We heard a lot of rumours regarding a possible 4K upgrade. I know you can’t say anything, but ideally, would such an upgrade be possible via a software update or would it require a hardware update?
Terada: It depends on the product. For 4K, the image sensor would need to be adapted to get that fast reader speed, and also the processing power is necessary and the management of the heating inside the body. It is much more related to hardware than software.
MirrorLessons: Is there any chance of Olympus developing a premium compact camera with a MFT sensor and a fixed lens?
T. Terada: At this moment, we have no plan. I think we can give the same kind of value with the Pen product, but let’s see the market. If we can see a lot of interest in the market, why not, but at the moment, we are concentrating on the MILC system, and the demand we can create from the Pen product or the small size of the OM-D.
MirrorLessons: We’ve seen an increasing interest from professional photographers in the MFT system, especially in the E-M1. In fact our most successful article so far is about 10 photographers who use the E-M1 for work. When you start to deal with professionals, they have different demands to enthusiasts, so we were wondering about professional support. Is this something Olympus is considering if more professional photographers decide to switch to the E-M1?
T. Terada: I think that if professional photographers are increasing continuously, we have to consider this point. But this is the issue of each region. For example, in Japan, we already have professional support and it is very easy to manage because it is concentrated in Tokyo. We can take care of the photographers from there. In the case of Europe and America, geographically, it is more difficult to support. We have to consider how to do this. But let’s say we have already started in Japan.
M. Guthmann: The first step for the E-M1, we introduced the service plus in Europe where you get special treatment if you register your E-M1, and you get a fast-lane repairman, so we guarantee a certain time by which you get the camera as fast as possible back from our side.
MirrorLessons: Is it available in all countries in Europe?
M. Beckmann: It is available in all countries that are handled by Olympus itself and not by a distributor (*). There is a special hotline for these people, so you wouldn’t be in the normal crowd. So, the people that are answering phone calls from E-M1 service plus customers are specially trained to their needs and also to the products. And as well there’s a pick-up service, so the advantage is that Olympus is one of the very few companies that own the service. We have a centralised system, which means we can react very fast. I think we implemented this service plus system in only two months time and this wouldn’t be possible with third parties. We have a logistics partner, which is DHL, so when you have an E-M1 and you call because something need to be done, you will get a phone call asking when and where to pick up the camera, and this is also very convenient. On the Internet there are some quotes from people who experienced this and they said it was so easy for them, and after seven days they had their equipment back. And as Michael said, we have this priority service in the repair lane, but there are already a couple of things in place that really answer the requests and demands of the professional user.
J. Fandrey: And all this is basically for free. You just need to register your camera and you have access to the service.
MirrorLessons: And also lenses or just the E-M1?
M. Beckmann: It’s going to be extended but at the moment it’s under discussion. But basically it is not for a camera but professional users, so naturally the more professional products we have, the more this is extended. And as I said, we have a centralised repair service, so it’s very easy for us to control and also answer very quickly to the needs of our customers.
MirrorLessons: Can we have a sneak peek of what’s to come in 2015? We have to ask!
T. Terada: M.Zuiko lenses, and of course OM-D and Pen and compacts. *laughs*
M. Guthmann: And we can also disclose that there will be the 300mm f/4 and the 7-14mm f/2.8 next year.
M. Beckmann: So we will have four Pro lenses from 7mm to 300mm.
T. Terada: It’s a really attractive professional line-up, as a starting point. And of course we try to enhance the professional line, the premium line, and also the Pen line.
M. Guthmann: The size of the 300mm is so small. I was really surprised at how small the 7-14mm f/2.8 could be because it’s much smaller than our own 7-14mm f/4 (Four Thirds lens) which is really amazing.
T. Terada: One of the big benefits of MFT compared to FT is the flange back distance, which means the distance between the mount and the sensor face. You skip the mirror. This gives a lot of help to make the small size of the wide angle zoom lens. It’s much much smaller than the f/4 lens. I think it’s amazing.
MirrorLessons: Thank you for your time!
(*): Service Plus is only available in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and United Kingdom. Other countries like Italy, which are handled by a distributor don’t have access to Service Plus yet. More information on Olympus website.