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Olympus going even more retro with OM-D camera

It looks like the OM brand will ride again, as the Japanese camera maker trademarks "OM-D" and teases about a launch event soon.

Olympus applied for this trademarked logo in Germany.
Olympus applied for this trademarked logo in Germany. Deutsches Patent- und Markenamt

Olympus looks set to debut a new compact, high-end camera model whose OM-D name capitalizes on the company's old camera brand.

Olympus teased about an "OMG" camera in recent ads, emphasizing the O and M letters, 43 Rumors reported. And it more recently trademarked OM-D, the site said, adding a February 8 launch, a $1,100 price tag, and a March date for worldwide shipping.

In the film days, Olympus' OM line was one of the majors in the SLR (single-lens reflex) world--indeed, I learned photography with my first camera, an OM-10 I used for many years. With the digital-SLR revolution, Olympus started over with a new brand, the E series line, that came with the Four Thirds sensor and corresponding lenses. That sensor is significantly smaller than a frame of 35mm film and also than competing SLRs from the likes of Nikon, Canon, Sony, and Pentax.

Olympus touted its Four Thirds system as being designed for digital from the start. That may have been true, but it wasn't enough to make it competitive.

More promising of late has been the Micro Four Thirds revamp that packages the Four Thirds sensor inside an interchangeable lens camera (ILC) body that lacks an SLR's mirror. Olympus has shown a deft touch with the retro look since its first Micro Four Thirds model, the Pen E-P1, even if the cameras haven't been home runs.

This general category, therefore, seems the likely destination for the OM-D. In particular, Olympus may be finding it easier to introduce a higher-end category than the Pen family, now that Fujifilm, Sony, and Panasonic are pushing ILC designs well above $1,000. And with Canon, Nikon, and Pentax looking ill at ease in the ILC market so far, Olympus' ILC early-mover advantage looks worth something.

43 Rumors offered these unconfirmed features for the OM-D: a 16-megapixel sensor with top sensitivity of ISO 25,600, weatherproof body, in-body image stabilization, width of 121 millimeters (4.76 inches), and a weight of 425 grams (just less than a pound). It'll reportedly come with an integrated electronic viewfinder--a key part of mirrorless lenses that may make discriminating photographers miss their optical viewfinders.

It's not clear if Olympus will be deep-sixing its E series of more traditional SLRs, but given recent years' performance, it wouldn't be a bad idea. Canon and Nikon continue to dominate the SLR market with broad product lines, while Olympus' newest model, the top-end Olympus E-5, is from 2010. The E-30 and E-620 are even older, introduced in 2009.

It wasn't a big surprise when electronics powerhouses Panasonic and Samsung dumped their bulky SLR camera lines in favor of smaller, mirrorless ILCs closer to their gadgety roots. It would be more of a departure for Olympus to forsake its SLR roots and go that direction, but to update Donald Rumsfield's view, you go to market with the technology you have, not the technology you might wish to have.