CP+ 2023: OM Digital Solutions interview


Shigemi Sugimoto, President and CEO, and Eiji Shirota, Chief Profitability Officer

We were in Japan recently for the annual CP+ show in Yokohama, where we had the opportunity to sit down with senior executives from several camera and lens manufacturers. One of these was OM Digital Solutions, where we spoke with:

  • Shigemi Sugimoto: Representative Director, President and CEO
  • Eiji Shirota: Chief Profitability Officer

This interview was conducted with multiple people via an interpreter. As such, it has been edited for clarity and flow, and some responses have been combined.

How would you describe the overall health of the camera industry?

With the restrictions of the past few years no longer in place, people are now able to venture out and capture the world, and as a result, the overall health of the camera industry has improved.

Of course, it’s not immune to other impacts like global economic conditions, which may have some short-term impact as well.

Can you tell me about the move from Olympus to OM Digital Solutions? What was the experience like?

The transition from Olympus to OM Digital Solutions was an incredibly busy and intense period for the business, but it was decided that it was the best course of action. In becoming an independent business, it would allow us to build a business that met customer expectations and create value for the imaging market.

At Olympus, the governance and resource allocation were built around the medical business, which was not quite appropriate for the imaging business, and it had become difficult to change within that framework. The pace of business and responsiveness to change was particularly challenging, given the differences in the business model for an imaging business.

The OM-5 is the first camera to feature the OM System branding on its body.

What, if any, adjustments did you have to make to your business as a result?

As a new company, we’ve had to evaluate the market needs and develop a more compact and flexible organization in line with the size of our business.

This process was challenging and required reform on many levels, including organizational, process and business infrastructure, all while pivoting our internal culture significantly to build a forward-looking business that is now running smoothly.

Did the move to OM Digital Solutions result in any unexpected opportunities?

OM Digital Solutions was reborn as an imaging business with a focus on developing new business opportunities based on imaging technologies.

OM Digital Solutions was reborn as an imaging business…

Thus far, the application of these technologies to new industries has resulted in increased opportunities with several business partners, expanding the market potential for our imaging technologies. The initial focus for this activity is on the Japanese market.

The Olympus brand was associated with cameras for decades. How do you build a new brand around OM System that leverages this history?

Our focus is to develop the OM System brand to meet the needs and expectations of adventurous photographers who are passionate about the outdoors, where the benefits of our system can be most advantageous.

For the past two years, we have focused on the mindset of adventure, as our compact and lightweight camera system can enrich the lives of people who enjoy spending time outdoors, capturing the world around them and sharing their passion with their community.

In the future, we will transform the business to deliver not only products but also new value and experiences centered around outdoor photography and its contribution to society, to make OM System a unique brand.

By becoming an independent company, OM Digital Solutions is better able to focus specifically on photography customers, according to Mr. Sugimoto. Above: The OM System OM-5 and the Olympus E-M5 Mark III.

The first product announced in the OM System was the OM-1. What has the response to that camera been like?

Excitement and demand for the OM-1 has been more than we expected, and it has especially resonated with photographers who take photos of nature, landscapes and wild birds.

As a result of the launch of the OM-1, purchases of lenses also increased, especially our telephoto lenses.

Is there still a demand for sub-full-frame professional cameras?

We’re seeing increased utilization of camera systems and formats, such as Micro Four Thirds and full-frame, based upon [the needs of] the shooting scene and subject, rather than one in place of another.

Excitement and demand for the OM-1 has been more than we expected

It’s our belief that there will continue to be demand for systems like Micro Four Thirds that deliver performance advantages for photographers.

What advantages does a small sensor camera like the OM-1 have over full-frame models?

The greatest advantage of the OM-1 is the portability of the system, matched with the performance capabilities to deliver an overall photographic experience and imaging output for the photographer. The most obvious example of this is when the camera is paired with a telephoto lens that enables shooting at a focal length of 1000mm (equivalent, in full-frame terms) at F5.6 with the size and weight of the M.Zuiko 150-400mm F4.5 with 8EV steps of image stabilization. This is ideal for photographers who walk around in the field looking for subjects to shoot.

Another example is in the world of macro photography due to its deep depth of field and 2x subject magnification. The recently announced M.Zuiko 90mm F3.5 (180mm in full-frame terms) offers 2x magnification, AF and IS-sync for handheld macro shooting like never before.

It is the combination of a camera like the OM-1 with lenses like these that deliver unparalleled advantages.

According to the executives, demand for the first camera in the OM System, the OM-1, has exceeded the company’s expectations. They say it has resonated well with adventurers, bird photographers, and other users focused on outdoor pursuits.

One of the criticisms of Micro Four Thirds is that sensor resolution has not increased for several years. Do you expect this to change? How will you appeal to consumers who want higher resolution?

Our priority is to increase the number of pictures that can be captured with fewer mistakes and to increase the quality of those pictures at the same time. After all, image quality is not just about resolution, is it?

This does not mean that we have stopped increasing image resolution or that high-pixel photos are unnecessary. We have also improved technologies like our Hand-held High Res shot by reducing the processing time, making it easier to take high-resolution photos when needed.

OM Digital Solutions has used AI to increase the AF capabilities of its cameras. Beyond autofocus, how else might AI help photographers take better photos in the future?

We believe that AI can be used to assist in a variety of situations. As mentioned, we have been using it for subject detection since 2019, and we believe it would be possible to expand its application further for scene recognition and other scenarios. Additionally, we believe it can also be applied to customizing image processing of Raw images.

The Micro Four Thirds lens system is pretty comprehensive. Are there still gaps in the lens lineup you want to be filled?

While we agree that the lineup is quite comprehensive, we believe that it is not complete yet.

This is because we believe the advantage and attraction of our system is that we can offer something that is not available in conventional interchangeable lens systems. Lenses like the M.Zuiko 12-100mm, 8-25mm and 90mm lenses are unique to the Micro Four Thirds system.

The [mFT lens] lineup is quite comprehensive, we believe that it is not complete yet

While we can’t provide any details at this point, we are continuing to study the needs of our customers and the potential for new lenses.

Mr. Sugimoto points to the OM System 90mm F3.5 Macro lens, which is relatively compact and delivers 2x subject magnification, as the type of unique product that makes the Micro Four Thirds system appealing to many users.

Historically, OM Digital Solutions (and previously Olympus) has provided ‘IP’ ratings for cameras and lenses instead of using descriptions like ‘weathersealed’ or ‘dust resistant’. Why is this important?

The terms’ dust-proof and splash-proof’ are merely phrases that alone do not indicate a level of durability a product has. As a result, the understanding of what this means will vary among users.

By providing standardized IP ratings, which test a product’s capabilities and benchmark it to standards, we believe that users will be able to fully recognize the benefits of our system and what level of protection is guaranteed. This allows photographers to adventure further with confidence.

What does the future look like for Micro Four Thirds?

It’s clear that Micro Four Thirds can deliver advantages to photographers shooting genres such as birds, wildlife, macro, nature, etc. We believe that we have a solid position in these market segments and that we must continue to provide value to users who want to enjoy photography with Micro Four Thirds.

The combination of the OM-1 and 150-400mm super-telephoto lens represents the pinnacle of the Micro Four Thirds system and has been well received and sold in higher volumes than we anticipated. This reaffirmed that the value we see in the system can be recognized by the market, and the recent announcement of the 90mm macro received a similar response, bringing new value to a genre of passionate photographers.

It’s clear that Micro Four Thirds can deliver advantages to photographers shooting genres such as birds, wildlife, macro, nature, etc.

We will also continue to develop technologies that take advantage of the compact and lightweight system, along with technologies like our computational photography features, as they bring new possibilities to the world of photography.

2023 is DPReview’s 25th year of operation. What have been the most important changes to photography in the last 25 years?

Shigemi Sugimoto: Of course, the biggest change is the change from analog to digital. But on top of that, what people seek in photography has also changed. I think that photography has become much more intimate, and what people are seeking is to use photography to enrich their lives. Photography adds value to their lives.

Eiji Shirota: The biggest change in photography is that the camera has changed from analog to digital, as Sugimoto CEO explained. Also, the emergence of smartphones has provided the opportunity for everyone to take pictures every day, at any time. This has made the photography experience more familiar. People share and communicate through photography instantly and enjoy their life through the camera.

Editor’s note:

By Dale Baskin

OM Digital Solutions occupies a unique position within the camera industry: it is the only major camera company to spin off from its parent company, a move that certainly comes with many risks, though arguably with opportunity as well. It has the challenge of developing awareness around an entirely new brand (it’s no longer using ‘Olympus’ branding) while operating in a market with an ever-increasing focus on larger sensor cameras.

Given those challenges, I got a sense of genuine excitement about being an independent company focusing solely on cameras and the photography market without playing second fiddle to medical devices or other products.

One thing that came through is an ongoing commitment to what OM Digital Solutions does best. The company is putting a stake in the ground and arguing that there’s a place for high-quality, smaller format cameras, and I heard a consistent message about reaching these users.

I got a sense of genuine excitement about being an independent company with a focus solely on cameras and the photography market

The word ‘adventure’ came up frequently throughout my conversation with Mr. Sugimoto and Mr. Eiji, and I don’t believe that was an accident. There’s a focus on users who want rugged, weatherproof products that are also compact and lightweight; additionally, on photographers who want compact telephoto lenses for wildlife or bird photography, along with class-leading image stabilization. It’s unclear how far this extends down the entire OM System product line, but it makes sense that the company would focus on its enthusiast and pro users.

OM Digital Solutions has its work cut out for it. In a market that continues to coalesce around full-frame sensors with increasing pixel counts, smaller sensors with lower resolution are becoming a tougher sell. In my opinion, the company is taking the right approach: find and own your niche. If it can build a brand around tough, rugged, go-anywhere systems that offer a real advantage in size and weight, there’s a market for that.


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