Nikon interview: “State-of-the-art technology needs to be embedded in our products”: Digital Photography Review


Yusuke Adachi
Section Manager, UX Strategy Section, UX Planning Department, Imaging Business Unit

Photo: Dale Baskin

“State-of-the-art technology needs to be embedded in our products because that’s what customers expect.” says Yusuke Adachi, Nikon’s Section Manager for UX Strategy and Planning at Nikon’s Imaging Business Unit.

Adachi was speaking to us at Nikon headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, shortly after this year’s CP+ Expo. In an exclusive interview, he addressed a range of topics, including the current state of the camera market, the impact of AI on photography, and the importance of video.

State of the market

“The 2023 global market for digital cameras has been back in the recovery phase from the pandemic,” Adachi tells us. “This has allowed more people to go out and enjoy taking photos. During this period, more younger users chose Nikon as their creative work. So, all these contributed to an increase in shipments of our products, and it’s almost coming back to the same level as pre-covid.”

He calls out two specific product areas that are driving this growth. “Specifically, we have seen success with the Z8, which we rolled out last year. On top of that, Nikkor Z lenses have performed very well. When it comes to the lens lineup, the large-diameter lens mount and lenses like the Plena and super telephoto lenses have been received very well.”

Looking to the future, we ask Adachi what types of customers he expects will have the most significant influence on the camera market over the next five years.

Adachi credits the Z8 for helping drive Nikon’s recent success, along with strong performance from Z-mount lenses.

“I believe there are two types of customers,” he says. “The first is small groups or individual content or image creators. Often, these customers operate and shoot videos of themselves or with a small team. They want to have downsized, compact systems or cameras. These customers have become very discerning thanks to video streaming platforms such as Netflix or Amazon Prime, where they see beautiful content and want to live up to that high level of expectation. Such customers want to have better capability to create high-quality and impressive imaging.”

“The second type,” he explains, “is the younger generation. Those people are not only looking for quality but also for design capability. They would like to capture images in a more emotional way and are looking for a camera that enables them to do that. For us, these are cameras like the Zf and Z fc. This lineup is considered the heritage of the company, and we would like to have customers who can relate themselves to our heritage.”

“Customers have become very discerning thanks to video streaming platforms such as Netflix or Amazon Prime, where they see beautiful content and want to live up to that high level…”

Are there customers who are being underserved by the industry today? we ask.

“Yes, of course. We have been expanding our lineup of high-spec cameras and lenses for customers who are seeking to pursue imaging expression. But maybe one underserved group is first-time camera purchasers. Maybe we haven’t been able to offer the [right] options to them. We can’t share information about our product development, but one of the factors we consider very important for this underserved but significant group of people is connectivity.”

AI in photography

As our conversation shifts toward other market changes, we wanted to know what Mr Adachi thinks was the most important trend in imaging over the past year.

“The key word would be generative AI,” he says. “We believe that generative AI can leave a positive impact on both cameras and the industry as a whole, but at the same time, it’s been causing issues such as fake images or fraudulent use of images, which leads to the issue of credibility and confidence. So, in order to grapple with these issues, we’ve been working on technology to record histories of captured images [ie Content Authenticity Initiative]. Right now, we’re in the demonstration phase to verify and validate the efficacy of these functions we’re trying to deploy together with AFP (Agence France-Presse).”

Continuing down the AI path, we discuss the importance of AI and machine learning in camera development. Mr Adachi believes customers are pleased with the advancements these technologies have delivered, particularly for subject recognition and tracking, but tells us there are more opportunities ahead.

Adachi cites the Auto Capture feature on the Z9 (and Z8) as an example of leveraging AI and machine learning technologies to deliver more benefits to customers.

“I believe there is further room for improvement or evolution using AI or computer vision. The point is that, of course, state-of-the-art technology needs to be embedded in our products because that’s what customers expect. For us, it’s very important to consider what benefit we can provide to our customers and what expectations they place on us.”

He cites the Auto Capture feature on the Z8 and Z9, which can take a photo or video when one or more specified criteria, such as distance, motion and subject detection, are met, as one example of a benefit Nikon can provide through technology.

“That means that if you’re a solo photographer at a scene, you can set a remote, fixed camera somewhere else. So, if you’re a solo photographer, you can capture one scene from multiple angles, which could lead to new types of imaging experiences for our audience. AI machine learning has been the enabler for us to make the auto-identification of objects or subjects or the auto-identification of scenes themselves.”

Smartphones and computational photography

Photographers frequently ask about the possibility of porting computational photography features, like those found on smartphones, to cameras. We ask Mr Adachi if that’s the right question or if the role of computational photography is different on a device where a photographer wants complete control of the creative process.

“When it comes to computational photography, smartphones and cameras are different in terms of the applications of this technology. I can’t share the details of the development we’re doing right now, but maybe what I could say is that we are actively engaged in technology development to not only prevent customers from making mistakes but also to expand the possibilities of expression in latest imaging, such as Nikon Creates.”

“When it comes to the latest in imaging, what the camera can render is very different from smartphone rendering using computational photography technology.”

“When it comes to the latest in imaging, what the camera can render is very different from smartphone rendering using computational photography technology.”

Of course, virtually every camera user is also a smartphone user, and consumers have come to expect integration between the two devices. What, we wonder, are the workflow challenges that need to be addressed to allow better integration between these devices?

“There are actually several factors,” Adachi explains. “One of the pain points for customers is the workflow of sharing a photo they take with a camera and loading it onto their social media accounts. There are multiple steps that a customer needs to go through: taking a photo, sending it to the smartphone, and then handing it off to a social media account are too many steps for them.”

“That’s the area where we can actually make an improvement and where we should make an improvement. And that’s just one example of a pain point customers have. We should really think about how we can improve the customer’s experience based on such use cases and identify what needs they have.”

The importance of video

When we interviewed Nikon executives in 2023, they told us video was vital to the company’s future, so we asked Mr Adachi about how this might impact the continued evolution of mirrorless cameras.

“When we interviewed Nikon executives in 2023, they told us video was vital to the company’s future.”

“When we talk about video, there are so many different types of customers – the Z30 for vlog and general customers, but the Z9 has been very well received even by broadcast stations. So, our customer base is really broad, and we should be able to appeal to a wide range of customers while incorporating the necessary evolution on the product side to catch up with the needs of this broader range of customers.”

“What kind of impact will video have on the camera itself? It’s hard to comment on that, but video has had a significant impact on still image functions like high-speed capture and high frame rates, so video functions can be leveraged for imaging solutions.”

As he points out, there is a wide range of video users, some of whom rely heavily on smartphones for video today. He identifies one improvement mirrorless camera makers could make to encourage more people to use their cameras for video.

Just a few days after our interview, Nikon announced its acquisition of RED Digital Cinema, reinforcing the importance of video to the company’s future.*

“We often receive feedback from customers who say that video takes more time for them to edit compared to pictures. So, we should make the entire video editing procedure much easier and a more casual thing for them. Otherwise, people won’t use their cameras for video.”

He also acknowledges that smartphones play a valuable role for video, albeit with limitations. “One of the major reasons for using smartphone video is to record everyday life,” he says. “But there is another reason for people to shoot video, and that is to render something creative through filming. If they want to do that, the smartphone has limitations. So, that’s the place where we can go further with a camera. What we can do is open up and expand our customer base and focus on customers who have a desire to pursue imaging expression so that people can render something unique and impressive with a mirrorless solution.”

*Editors note: This interview occurred a few days before Nikon announced its acquisition of RED Digital Cinema, a leading manufacturer of professional cinema cameras. We look forward to asking Nikon representatives more about this significant development in a future interview.



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