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Nikon factory visit in China
Posted 13-10-11 at 11:29 PM by Ian
We've been to see where the Nikon V1 (left) and Nikon J1 are made in China
To underline the importance to Nikon of its new Nikon 1 compact system camera platform, representatives of most of the UKís photography media have this week been invited to China to visit the factory in Wuxi (pronounced woo-shee) where Nikon 1 camera bodies and lenses are manufactured and assembled. DPNow is part of that delegation.
Apart from the factory tour I have been able to use the new V1 and J1 cameras and three of the lenses (10mm (27mm equivalent) pancake, 10-30mm (27-81mm equivalent) standard kit zoom and the 30-110 (81-297mm equivalent) tele kit zoom, at a variety of locations in and around Shanghai.
The factory was particularly revealing. We were the first party of journalists to tour the factory since the Nikon 1 launch last month. Apart from discovering that the factory is a major facility that not only assembles cameras but also manufactures many of the components, including lens elements, we learned that the facility employs over 8,000 people and a fleet of 130 coaches is used to bring many of them to work each day. The Wuxi factory also assembles a number of Nikonís CoolPix compact camera models.
We also learned that over 80 percent of the factory workers are female. The Nikon logos on the Nikon 1 camera bodies are hand finished, with skilled operators applying the liquid ink to the etched surface by hand. Some of Nikonís DSLR models get the same treatment too.
Outside the Nikon Imaging China factory, Wuxi, Yukiya Hirose, Masahiko Inoue (product planning engineer), Tomoji Kurosawa (Nikon Imaging China president), Masahiro Suzuki (Nikon Imaging R&D general manager and 'father' of the Nikon 1 system), Michio Miwa (Nikon UK managing director).
At a Q&A session during the tour, attended by some senior management from Japan, including the head of the Nikon 1 development team, Mr. Suzuki, some interesting facts about the Nikon 1 system were noted. Perhaps most surprising was the confirmation that Nikon is not sourcing the small 1 inch CMOS sensor for Nikon 1 camera models from the same supplier as its DSLRs, widely believed to be Sony. Nikon stresses that the Nikon 1 and DSLR sensors its uses are designed by them and are not the same as similar specification sensors used by competing brands. Nikon wonít say who does manufacture Nikon 1 sensors.
Asked why Nikon chose the smaller than average 1 inch sensor for its new compact system camera platform, the response was that a smaller sensor achieved a balance between the need for image quality and the ability to drive the chip fast, enabling some of the Nikon V1 and J1 key features, like high-speed shooting in the smart photo shot selector mode and motion snapshot mode, fast AF and high quality HD movie capture. The smaller a chip is, physically, the faster it can be read and refreshed. Meanwhile, the one inch sensor is at least twice as large as the larger sensors typically used in high-end compact cameras, ensuring comparatively good imaging performance.
I was interested to find out if Nikon applies optical corrections to in-camera JPEG images as part of the image-processing, including chromatic aberration (fringing), vignetting or corner-shading and optical distortion, all of which are being corrected in cameras from an increasing number of rival systems. Mr.Suzuki replied that only chromatic aberration (fringing) was corrected.
One surprising aspect of the V1 and J1 launch models is the lack of compact camera-style scene and effects modes like art filters and panorama shooting modes, for example. There is a mono mode, but little else to spice up your images in-camera. It was explained that this was a deliberate strategy in order to preserve a relatively simple and clean user interface, but that future models would almost certainly offer such features.
We were also given some information about the unusual combination of contrast detect and phase detect autofocus. To be honest, the impromptu demonstration of how the system works was not really very conclusive, but we have been invited to investigate the technology further with Nikon, which I will certainly be doing. But one thing is clear and that is that Nikonís engineers say their system is different to the similar sounding arrangement that Fujifilm has implemented in their X100 camera.
As I write this itís just a few hours before we head to the airport for the 11 hour flight back to London at the end of a fascinating and very informative and useful trip. Look out for our preliminary technical review of the flagship Nikon V1 model coming soon.
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