Olympus remains bullish about its camera business, despite growing competition in its key markets and months of indecision over a possible tie-up with another company following a financial scandal.

And the firm does not feel threatened by camera giant Canon which entered the compact system camera (CSC) battleground in July, a senior official from Olympus Japan has told Amateur Photographer (AP).

Though Canon’s EOS M boasts a larger imaging sensor than Olympus’s own micro-four-thirds models, Akira Watanabe, manager of the SLR Planning Department at Olympus in Tokyo, sees Canon as targeting the ‘consumer’, rather than the serious enthusiast.

Far from being viewed as a threat, Watanabe said he welcomes new entrants because they raise public awareness of CSCs in general.

In an interview with AP, held before photokina which opens in this week, Watanabe (pictured) added: ‘I haven’t tried the Canon M, so I cannot clearly evaluate that model, but as far as I hear from reports they are going mainstream… It seems a bit conservative, not a big challenge [to Olympus].’

The relatively small sensor on Olympus models is an advantage, insisted Watanabe, as this allows the firm to keep down camera and lens size.

‘Performance wise I have no concern [about Olympus models],’ he said during a recent meeting in Frankfurt, Germany.

Honing a competitive edge would seem a vital ingredient in the increasingly cutthroat changeable-lens camera arena of 2012 and beyond.

Olympus has had to deal with almost a year of speculation over whether it will join forces with another company to raise cash in the aftermath of huge accounting irregularities and widening group losses.

In the past few days press reports have suggested Olympus is on the verge of completing a £400m deal with Sony which, like Olympus, makes medical equipment as well as cameras. Neither firm has so far commented.

Despite the corporate tie-up talk it seems that, as far as its camera division is concerned, the firm remains clearly focussed.

Asked if the speed of Olympus camera development been slowed by uncertainty over whether the firm will strike an alliance with another company, Watanabe replied: ‘It is, at the moment, a management issue and there is no negative or positive impact on development or planning – no impact.’

While, Watanabe was guarded over future developments, he said new system camera technology, to be rolled out in the ‘short term’, would be ‘trickled’ down to future ‘high-end compact cameras’.

A key focus, he added, will be improvement of continuous AF in mirrorless system models.

‘We have a roadmap and there are some key technologies but I can’t disclose… Basic technology development-wise, we will focus on high-end models and mainly compact system cameras.’

Yet, Watanabe hinted at a ‘very big jump’ in the performance of electronic viewfinders (EVFs) over the next three years. ‘At a certain point most people will be satisfied with replacing their optical finder with an EVF,’ he predicted.

As we reported last month, Watanabe said Olympus is working on a new camera body to ‘fully utilise’ the focusing performance of its Four Thirds DSLR lenses after years of speculation over the future of its E-system.

It is unclear whether the new model will be a DSLR, or a mirrorless camera, but it will be designed to give full functionality with E-system lenses.

Though Watanabe signalled Olympus’s intention to launch a brand new body, he was cautious not to suggest that the new model would serve as a replacement for the flagship DSLR.

Watanabe said Olympus will ‘accelerate development of high-grade lenses for MFT systems’.

However, he admitted that Olympus still has work to do to win over consumers in countries such as the United States, where the CSC take-up is low compared to the near-‘50%’ share [of interchangeable-lens cameras] in Japan.

What is also clear, in light of the smartphone revolution, is that Olympus plans to shift its focus away from low-end compacts.

This will be ‘mainly based on price point’, said Watanabe, pointing out that 70% of the compact market consists of models ‘below €150′.

‘For us they are not high-end compact cameras.’

However, Watanabe said Olympus has not set itself a ‘definitive’ price cut-off point below which it would seek to pull compact camera production.

Olympus will know today what other competition it is likely to be up against as the biennial photokina kit fest kicks off in Cologne.

For details of Olympus cameras announced at photokina, click HERE

[Picture credit: C Cheesman]

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  • Miss Biljana Tesic, artist

    Olympus’ ultimate vision in innovative photographic evolution, and being rather a leader than a follower in the field has never faltered, and I am always eager to learn about their next move.

    Yesterday I was taking photos at a Falconry Day (static and flying display of birds of prey) with my Olympus Pen E-1 and so many spectators with their rather large and cumbersome cameras approached me about my very compact but powerful Olympus E-P1 and its interchangeable lenses. I was more than pleased to offer them an opportunity to have a go and try it out… However my friend’s Olympus OM-D camera has attracted equally huge interest. I always carry my camera as I use my photography in my art/etching and it is paramount that features on my camera are as versatile as much as possible, and Olympus has provided that.