Menu Close

CP+ 2023: Nikon interview – ‘Everybody can become a content creator’

Keiji Oishi, Manager, UX Planning Department, Imaging Business Unit

After the recent CP+ expo in Japan, we traveled to Nikon headquarters in Tokyo to meet with Keiji Oishi, Manager of Nikon’s UX Planning Department (Imaging Business Unit). We learned about the design process for its Z9 flagship camera, how its transition to mirrorless is progressing, and why video is vital to Nikon’s future.

This interview was conducted through an interpreter and edited for clarity and flow.

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

In 2022, the world economy was greatly affected, and Nikon was no exception. We were certainly affected negatively by the supply chain issue. Operationally, we were able to stay in line with our plan and were not greatly affected by this. Of course, in 2023, we still need to be careful, and we will continue our efforts to ensure no negative influence on our customers.

In terms of the camera industry as a whole, especially with regard to the mid to high range, we’ve seen the trend bottoming out. And our strategy is right there, with the middle to high-range mirrorless cameras and lenses.

I can say in short that everybody can become a content creator, whether that means still photography or video.

In recent years, especially among the younger generation, anything related to visual capture is becoming a daily thing. It’s in our everyday life. In other words, I can say in short that everybody can become a content creator, whether that means still photography or video. With this trend deepening and widening, we see that smartphone users are now looking for something of higher quality to differentiate themselves from the crowd.

Particularly, I noticed with the social networking trend, especially among the younger generation, there’s so much demand for videos. When you look at those who utilize video functionality, there are so many young people. That ratio is very high.

How is the transition from DSLR to mirrorless cameras progressing? Has the adoption rate of Z-mount cameras and lenses met Nikon’s expectations?

In terms of Z-mount sales volume, it’s very good. In our evaluation, the shift from DSLR is smooth and in line with our expectations. A lot of consumers are choosing Nikon mirrorless cameras. That shift isn’t only because of our flagship, the Z9, but because of the entire lineup, including the Z fc and Z30.

Of course, we have also established a full lineup of lenses, including teleconverters. We have 36 lenses now. Those 36 lenses are already announced. Moreover, we have license agreements with lens manufacturers, and they have been steadily announcing new products. With such a wide variety of lenses in the lineup, covering needs from entry-level to professional photographers, we have solidified the foundation for our mirrorless system.

At the same time, we recognize that a reasonable portion of users still like DSLRs, so we will continue to support them as well.

The Nikon Z7 was one of Nikon’s original Z-mount cameras. Nikon says adoption of the Z system is meeting its expectations.

The Z9 is a very impressive camera and was DPReview’s Product of the Year in 2021. What was the most challenging part of developing such a complex product?

First, I’d like to thank DPReview for such a notable recognition. We’re very happy to have been given this award.

The Z9 is really symbolic of what Nikon thinks a flagship camera should be. Everybody at Nikon who was involved in developing this product had the high goal of designing a camera that went beyond the D6.

The design of this camera started from scratch. The first thing we did was wipe everything and work from a blank sheet of paper. The very foundation, the basic functionality and design, was the process that required the most time and effort. We had to decide on many specifications as it was our brand-new flagship. Throughout the design, it was a process of build and scrap and rebuild, and that same process so many times. So many times!

When I say build, scrap and rebuild, it was really in the spirit that even if something we had in front of us was more advanced than what we already had on the market, if it wasn’t good enough to be a Nikon flagship, and it wasn’t good enough to impress our fans, then we weren’t afraid to go back to a blank sheet of paper and do it again.

Throughout the design, it was a process of build and scrap and rebuild, and that same process so many times. So many times!

So, we didn’t yield to any compromise, and we’re very happy that we continued our efforts because, to this day, everyone evaluates this product highly.

What’s the most common feedback you’ve received about the Z9 from professional users?

There are four things that photographers are telling us are innovative. The first is the lack of a mechanical shutter. The fact that it’s shutterless means it’s suitable for shooting scenes that require quietness, and we knew there was a demand for this, and there’s merit to having no [mechanical] shutter for durability.

The second innovative point being cited is the ‘Real-Live Viewfinder’. Removing the blackout that occurs in between shots during continuous shooting is something we thought was necessary for professional photographers to feel comfortable with mirrorless. In other words, everything can be seen in a real, live way. This is a merit that surpasses DSLRs since, with DSLRs, you have image loss due to the mirror.

The third point is subject detection. We took 3D tracking from our DSLRs and went beyond. It’s an entirely new generation of 3D tracking that recognizes nine types of subjects. It lets photographers focus on the composition and timing of when to hit the shutter.

And the fourth thing is the enhanced video capabilities. We’ve heard a very loud, affirmative reaction to the video capabilities in addition to positive feedback relating to still photography.

Our concept is to ensure that we continuously enhance the product over time with updates. Post-launch, we’ve already done large-scale firmware updates twice, adding updates with autofocus, pre-capture, 8K60p RAW features, etc. If you compare what we launched in the market and after two firmware updates, it’s almost two different things. Our aim is to continue to provide excitement and surprise to those who are fans of our products.

Mr. Oishi says the design of Nikon’s Z9 flagship camera required a process of ‘build, scrap and rebuild,’ repeated many times to get it right.

Nikon has made a significant effort to design compact, affordable telephoto prime lenses. Who is the target market for these lenses?

Telephoto demand was conventionally for high quality. At the same time, there was a clear segment who voiced that they would like to have more compact lenses, even if they had to sacrifice a little bit of the f-stop range (especially with the improvement of camera high-sensitivity performance), and at the same time, be more affordable. The 500mm F5.6 PF for F-mount was this type of lens and was well-received. Based on feedback and demand, we built the 800mm F6.3 and the 400mm F4.5 for the Z-mount.

The target market for this type of lens tends to be for photographing birds, motorsports or airplanes. But since these lenses are lighter and can be carried to different places, we believe they can be used in a wider variety of scenes for shooting varied subjects.

What’s the most challenging part of designing these compact telephoto lenses? Are there any tradeoffs you had to make?

We didn’t want to sacrifice the lens’s optical performance when aiming for a more compact size. To do that, we had to consider the design of the lenses very closely, optimizing the positioning of the lenses and the selection of materials to be used.

We didn’t want to sacrifice the lens’s optical performance when aiming for a more compact size.

Also, through efforts such as considering ways to make the lenses thinner during the manufacturing process, as well as adopting lightweight materials such as magnesium and molded plastic for mechanical parts, contributed to making the products lighter. Additionally, by utilizing a simulation for structural strength, we were able to optimize the thickness and shape of parts, resulting in lightness.

Nikon wasn’t historically known as a leading company for video. Why was it so important for Nikon to make the Z9 such a capable video camera?

Looking at our conventional customer base, we recognize that a portion of our customers are hybrid photographers, shooting both photos and video. We’re seeing the number of hybrid users increasing not just in the professional or amateur categories but in all categories.

So, it was very important for us to enhance the video specifications with mirrorless cameras, especially with the Z9. It’s a brand-new engine and a new sensor, and we wanted to make sure it had video capability suitable to a flagship design.

I think many people still think of Nikon as a still photography company, so we went through many surveys and interviews with video shooters to learn which specifications they look for. As a result of that effort, we’ve come up with this.

The Z 400mm F4 VR S is one of two compact, high quality telephoto primes Nikon has released for the Z system.

Are people coming from other systems to use the Z9 for video?

While Nikon has always had a reputation for durable cameras, even from the days of SLRs, I’ve heard customers comment that the Z9 has the durability that is suitable for documentary filming in harsh environments.

Are the Z9’s video capabilities a preview of Nikon’s intent to be a serious player in the video market?

We indeed intend to enhance our presence in the video market.

But we know that camera body development alone won’t achieve that. We understand there are other necessary aspects, such as a lens system that considers video recording needs, a more comprehensive accessory system, and the editing process afterward. An entire ecosystem needs to be developed.

Since they were first introduced, NIKKOR Z lenses have taken quietness and focus breathing into account. As for accessories, we have established partnerships with accessory brands and released our own grip accessory, the MC-N10.

We recognize that the video market is full of opportunities. It’s a large market, and there are a lot of needs out there of various kinds. We’ll keep our ears open and will try to respond to such needs, so please look forward to our future developments.

The Z fc mirrorless camera evokes nostalgia for Nikon’s film SLRs. What types of customers are buying the Z fc? Nikon film shooters?

Let me take a step back and explain the initial concept we had for this product: a camera one can enjoy carrying around, something that could be enjoyed for its exterior design as well as the time spent using it to shoot images.

You can see that the historical Nikon FM2 has inspired its looks. We certainly felt this would appeal to film-era users and fans of Nikon. At the same time, we also thought this would appeal to the younger generation. And we thought young people would also enjoy its design.

Whenever we hear feedback from a young photographer that enjoys carrying this around, even if they never experienced those film days, it’s something that’s so rewarding to hear.

The Nikon Z fc sports retro looks similar to Nikon’s FM2 SLR. Mr. Oishi says it’s not only intended to be a fun camera to shoot, but an individual statement of style.

Is there a reason you built the Z fc around an APS-C sensor instead of a full-frame? Would you consider making a full-frame version?

In the name Z fc, ‘c’ stands for casual. As its naming symbolizes, we wanted users to casually be able to enjoy shooting with a camera that carries heritage. We wanted to appeal to a broader range of casual users who enjoy the product. For that, small size and price were important. Working from that end result, it became APS-C when we thought about design.

That was our first product, with the intention of offering a feeling of joy when users carry it. It’s also kind of an individual statement of style, and I think we’d like to continue to hear feedback from users and make additional efforts.

In the name Z fc, ‘c’ stands for casual.

In the past, we had the Df, and of course, we’ve received a considerable amount of feedback from our users asking for a full-frame version of the Z fc. While I can’t say too much today, we are aware of these voices and continue to closely consider how we may be able to respond to such voices.

Would you personally be interested in using a full-frame Z fc type camera?

[Laughs] Let’s say both have their advantages. It really depends on how you want to use the camera. Maybe both! Actually, I’m an owner of the DF as well. I bought the DF. I think a mirrorless version would be appealing.

Good ergonomics have always been a hallmark of Nikon camera design. Why are good ergonomics important, and what steps do you take to ensure good ergonomics in your products?

Thank you for recognizing that we keep that concept very keen when it comes to our philosophy.

Ergonomics is very important when it comes to photography. What I mean is [the need] for a professional photographer to capture ‘that moment.’ It’s just so quick; it’s just momentarily there. And if you miss the timing, it’s gone. The layout of all the buttons and functions, for it to feel almost like your skin—It’s so very important.

We’ve always synthesized the voice of professional photographers. Their feedback has always supported us, and we’ve always tried to give back to them. Historically, we’ve listened to those voices and accumulated feedback. That has become a guiding light in terms of designing our product.

One thing we did intentionally throughout the design of the Z9 was to invite professional photographers to try prototypes in their hands to get their feedback. This process went on until as late in the process as possible.

Mr. Oishi believes the Nikon D1 helped jumpstart the growth of digital photography thanks to its price of under 1 million Yen.

We’ve seen AI technologies improve autofocus systems. Beyond AF and subject detection, how else could AI help photographers in the future?

It’s not just subject detection and autofocus that AI helps. It defines the entire regime or any other information that might be useful to capture imagery, in an effective way, like exposure or white balance.

With enhanced automatic subject and scene detection, it could also contribute to further automating image capture., potentially realizing methods of image capture we can’t imagine today and enabling imaging experiences that are beyond our expectations. We continue to endeavor to develop our technologies so that photographers can further concentrate on composition and timing.

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

I think a lot of people agree with me that it’s the shift from film to digital.

If we go back in our history, in 1999, we launched the D1, contributing to the expansion of digital camera usage through its price point. At the time, DSLRs were very expensive. However, the price of the D1 was under 1 million Yen, which was also a key factor. By shifting to digital, the experience of capturing imagery totally changed.

With film, it was a regime for those who were skilled. While maintaining the value of experience for the skilled users, the barrier was taken away with digital, and the hurdle came down. It became something that anybody and everybody could casually enjoy. An extension of that is what we see with people enjoying smartphones to capture imagery in their daily lives.

This article comes from DP Review and can be read on the original site.

Related Posts