Nikon Distributor Event Coverage: Interview with Vice President of Nikon Europe We talk to Mr. Naoki Onozato of Nikon (Feb 2020 Tel Aviv Event)

Last week a new local distributor (4H) for Nikon in Israel conducted a well-orchestrated event, we were invited and had a chance to talk to Mr. Naoki Onozato, Vice President of Nikon Europe and ask him some questions. We bring you a taste of this event and the interview that we conducted as well as a few notes.

Local distributor events are nothing too exciting but whenever we have a chance to talk to a senior member of one of the big manufacturers things become a little more interesting and this is especially true now when things are more sensitive than ever in the photo industry and companies are less eager to share (and trade shows are canceled one after another).

A photo from the event in Tel Aviv (credit: Merav Itzhaky)

For this interview, Nikon asked us to send our questions in advance and preferred to do the interview in writing rather than face to face like we normally do. You can see Mr. Naoki’s answers below:

Q: We have just finished a video looking at what happened to the photography industry in the past decade: 2010-2020 [which should be published in the near future; I.G.], going from record high camera sales of over 120 million units in 2010 to under 15 million units last year. What is Nikon’s take on this industry change and is it all the fault of smartphones or is there more to this giant change in the photo market?

A: We have indeed seen a huge change in the camera market with the introduction of smartphones, but we have also seen that there is still a need for better quality images and videos from users that smartphones won’t be able to deliver. These demands typically come from the mid-level and high-end users and that is where our focus lays in the future.

Q: In more detail, how did this affect Nikon specifically and what have you been doing as a company to stay relevant and profitable given this change (restructuring, changing focus etc.)?

A: We expect the still camera market will decline, and we always keep this situation in mind as we develop our business. However, there is still a demand for still photography and video that smartphones simply cannot meet. Those demands are particularly strong in the mid and high-level segments. We can see there is a huge potential here and we’re increasing our focus in that area. Furthermore, as we have announced, we have changed our company structure in line with this trend.

Q: Looking forward, do you have an estimate on when the decline in camera purchases will stop and does this leave a big enough market for all the major players to work with, especially given the high R&D costs associated with developing new camera technologies?

A: It’s difficult to anticipate the timing and market size in future, however, we predict that the enthusiast and professional market won’t disappear. We will continue to develop new innovative products and by using technologies from high-end products within others, for example, we can reduce R&D costs.

Q: Moving to another type of setback, how did the Coronavirus affect Nikon? Three years ago, you closed your factory in China, do you still manufacture in the country? How heavily are your supply chains dependent on products made in China?  Are we going to see shortages in camera gear due to the outbreak?

A: As we are currently investigating its effects, we cannot comment in detail. As some components and accessories are produced in China, there may be some impact.

Q: Let’s talk a bit about technology and your products. You recently released your new D6 flagship camera which received quite a bit for criticism online for not being innovative enough (especially compared to the competition like the A9 II and the EOS 1D-X III). Maybe if your intention was only to do an evolutionary upgrade, naming the camera D5S would have made more sense (just like you have done in the past) and not bring in so much fire?

A: We only make a major model number update when the performance has greatly improved. The D6 has the best AF system among Nikon cameras. Furthermore, the image processing engine and operability have been updated and new connectivity functions like Wi-Fi and GPS have been newly added. Considering the many updates, we decided to name this camera the D6. The D6 has a high reputation especially among sports, wildlife, and press photographers because of its improved speed and AF precision powered by the new AF system.

Q: Talking about innovating, before the actual release of the camera there were rumours about in-body stabilisation for the D6 – these were of course false. What is the challenge here and why you can add image stabilization for the small mirrorless Z6/Z7 cameras but not to the much larger body of the D6?

A: The main target users of the D6 are sports, wildlife and press photographers, who use the Optical viewfinder in most cases. Generally, image sensor stabilization leads to a gap between the optical viewfinder and the image sensor. This gap becomes more noticeable when telephoto lenses are used. With this in mind, we believed that image sensor stabilization was not a requirement for the D6 and decided not to implement it.

Q: With the D780 you took the live view AF technology from the Z6/Z7 and put it into the DSLR body (we haven’t tried it yet but it should be able to track subjects much better than all your other DSLRs from what we understand), why didn’t you do this with the D6 as well?

A: The main target audience of the D6 is sports, wildlife and press photographers, and in most cases, they use the optical viewfinder. Our priority was considering how to bring those users the best performing camera. As a result, we decided to improve the AF with the optical viewfinder.

Q: Although Snapbridge is still one of the most advanced apps of any of the major camera manufacturers, it is still way behind what you can easily do with the most advanced smartphone camera apps. More importantly for many users, you still need the phone to upload images to social networks – don’t you think that in 2020 it is about time that there will be a way to send an image directly from a camera to Facebook/Instagram/Twitter etc. with a press of a button (maybe add pre-programmed text or use in-camera voice to text technology)?

A: We recognise there is a strong demand to close the gap between the camera and the smart device.

The SnapBridge app has been updated regularly and now has the highest rating among camera manufactures’ apps. We’ll never comment on specific product developments, but you can be assured that we will tailor our product line-up through careful observation of market trends and meet our customer requirements as much as possible.

Another studio shot from the event (Credit: Iddo Genuth)

Some post-interview notes:

We will be the first to admit that there is very little new information in these answers. We feel that Mr. Naoki was even more compelled than usual to be careful about what he was saying given the Corona (COVID-19) Virus outbreak and its effects on China, the photography market and global economy as a whole. People need to understand that even a small seemingly insignificant piece of information in an interview by a high ranking company official might be interpreted the wrong way, especially in a time when stocks are plummeting and potential supply shortages are discussed by the media almost every day.

In our face to face meeting with Mr. Naoki, we did learn one surprising thing. We tried to understand why Nikon did not include the same Live View AF system included in the D780 (which supposedly originated from the Z6/Z7 cameras). The answer that we got was that since the D6 are aimed (at least partially) at pro-level sports photographers (think Olympics coverage) there are some regulations and broadcast rights that have to do with stills and video coverage (i.e. a stills photographer working for an agency might not have the rights to shoot video at the event). This sounds plausible until you think about the 1D-X III which is the direct competition of the D6 and doesn’t have these limitations (and is actually a very advanced video shooting machine). So we are still not sure what is going on here.

We hope to bring you some more Nikon gear coverage later this year as we have plans for more camera and lens reviews by the company very soon.

Talking to Mr. Naoki Onozato, Nikon Vice President in Europe (right) and Mr. Roni Sofer from 4H (center)

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