Nikon interview: Charles- André Wamberque, Assistant Manager, Product Planning and R&D Department
By Jernej Burkeljca, Alan Orlič, Matjaž intihar
Oct 17, 2006, 06:43


Nikon interview: Charles- André Wamberque,
Assistant Manager, Product Planning and R&D Department

Matjaž Intihar: Photokina is a great opportunity for us to meet with Nikon representatives.

Charles- André Wamberque: Absolutely. It’s a nice opportunity for you to meet people from different departments within the company like product planning.

Jernej Burkeljca: Since you mentioned product planning... Do you have a plan to introduce a digital Nikonos or something designed with the spirit of Nikonos in mind?

Charles-André: As you can imagine I'm not in a position to reveal future products. Furthermore, Nikonos was aimed at the professional market which I'm not responsible for so I can't really say what is being developed.
I'm not really convinced there's a big enough market for it especially because of all the different underwater housings for dSLRs like D70, D200 as well as compact cameras.

Jernej: The main problem with compact cameras when used underwater is lack of wide angle lenses. They simply don't go wide enough. Plus the auto focusing and everything else is usually way too slow for demanding subjects.

Matjaz: In the film era I owned a Nikon 35Ti as a backup for my SLR. In those days many companies had higher end compact cameras in their lineup and a number of people bought them. These days however, all we have are compact cameras with 8 or 10 megapixels on a small sensor. You're giving us more pixels rather than better quality. It would be really nice to have a compact camera with an excellent lens and image quality.

Charles-André: I agree. APS-C sized sensors are getting cheaper all the time and maybe, someday we'll make a compact camera that will have the same sensor as our dSLR cameras. The problem is that every company, not just Nikon, is looking for profit. We need a market for our cameras and we cannot afford to fail. In the days of 35Ti and 28Ti Nikon was more an engineering company than marketing company. In 2006 we're half engineering and half marketing. Luckily engineering is still going strong and we're quite capable of surprising everyone but we have to make sure there's a potential market for our product. Maybe one day, why not.

Alan Orlič: How would you comment recent developments at Pentax? They introduced some very competitive products at very competitive prices.

Charles-André: As you know we have sold over 35 million lenses. Canon is also over 30 million. So we feel we can still retain our position when it comes to dSLRs. It’s unlikely that people will suddenly sell all their lenses and switch to another system. Especially with a camera like D200 which supports all AI lenses and a lot of older lenses. People don’t want to sell them and change everything.
Of course Pentax can be nice for some people. Especially in the entry level category but still – the K10D will sell for around 1000€ and that’s not exactly cheap either. So far we also haven’t seen any reviews.
We know D80 is good and the reviews so far have been very positive. D80 has one of the best AF systems ever, the best metering, the best photo processing, we know how to manage the sensor… as you know we have basically the same sensor as Sony and Pentax but the way they are processing the signal from that same sensor is different. That is what the end customer will see. We have done a great job with D200 and the D80 won’t be any different. There are also many other improvements like red eye reduction, D-Lighting etc.
Dust removal system is nice but we have yet to see how reliable it is. How long will it last? We haven’t really emphasized this feature but with the D80 we’re introducing a new anti-dust coating on the sensor.
With the new 17-135mm kit lens you can cover most situations so there’s really no need to constantly change lenses. Most professionals and enthusiast know how to clean their sensors and others don’t change lenses very often. We’re very confident with our new products.
Pentax is nice but it’s not really a big threat. It’s not like the war between Canon and Nikon which has been going on forever. Our market share has improved in Europe and the US.
We’re battling the megapixel wars now. Last year Canon was introducing 8mp cameras while we were still at 6mp. This year we’re balanced at 10mp. It may sound stupid but consumers are still asking for more megapixels. But the body will always be very important and our D80 is very good. We’re getting many orders for it already.

Matjaz: We all know that Nikon was always about quality. The body, the viewfinder, the shutter etc. What I find interesting is that these days nobody questions the quality of the shutters. Years ago we were testing for accuracy and durability but nowadays nobody does that anymore. You remain in a good market position because you have good products.

Charles-André: It’s not a coincidence that Fuji decided to enter into a partnership with us and not some other company. They wanted the best body and they chose Nikon. We provide the D200 body for their S5 pro. It’s made for a different target user and at a higher price. They’re looking at photographers with different expectations like studio photographers and a lot of them are using Nikkor lenses. It’s good for us, it’s good for them and good for the end users. We’re happy with the arrangement otherwise we wouldn’t be involved in it.

Matjaz: Two years ago at Photokina we learned that Nikon is still thinking about the full frame sensor. Any news on the issue?

Charles-André: We never said we abandoned the full frame. But then again, we never said when we will introduce a camera with a full frame sensor. As you might have read in the Canon white paper – full frame sensor is still six times the price of an APS-C one. That has a big impact on the retail price. 5D costs 3500€ and it’s not easy to sell such an expensive product. We have to be careful not to make the full frame idea too popular. We’re definitely still thinking and working on it but I cannot tell you when it might happen.
DX lenses are only four years old and they are still very popular. The quality is still very good and the users know it. But sometimes the full frame is necessary.

Jernej: What is your comment on the OpenRAW iniciative?

Charles-André: Unfortunately RAW is not really my area of expertise but I can tell you that, even though we launched Capture NX, we’re still working with Adobe and other developers to be compatible with their software. We’ve always done that. But as far as OpenRAW is concerned I’m afraid I cannot tell you much since I’m not an expert on the issue.

Alan: In the last couple of Photokina shows you always had a new pro camera ready for display. Why not this year?

Charles-André: That’s not entirely true. In 2002 we haven’t launched any pro cameras during Photokina. We launched the Coolpix 3500, 4300 and the F75. It’s not true that we launched a pro camera at every Photokina because lifecycles of professional products are very long. Even Canon hasn’t introduced a new pro camera this year. We cannot launch a new camera every 6 months and I don’t suppose professional photographers would like it either. We need some consistency. We need to ensure there are enough innovations to justify a new product.

Matjaz: Research is probably very expensive?

Charles-André: R&D is very expensive but it also takes a lot of time. You need enough innovation to justify the next product.

Matjaz: With all the new VR lenses you’re becoming a good competitor to Canon.

Charles-André: And with aggressive pricing. We’re doing well.

Matjaz: But that’s not good for image quality.

Charles-André: Actually I disagree. Image processing is constantly improving in tandem with increasing pixel count. Even though the pixels are getting smaller the processing engine can make images look better than in the previous generations.
If you compare outputs from older cameras using the 1/2.3" 8 megapixel sensors and current ones with 1/1.8" 10 megapixel sensors, you will see that the new cameras produce a better image. Sensors themselves have improved, low-pass filters have improved, everything around the sensor has improved so the end result is much better than before.

Matjaz: I disagree. My tests show that this isn’t true. Coolpix 5200 that I tested two years ago makes better images than current 10 megapixel cameras.

Charles-André: But Nikon doesn’t have any 10mp cameras at the moment. We’re always looking for ways to control the sensor before we implement it. From the marketing point of view it would be great to have a 10mp camera but we prefer being able to control the output before introducing new cameras. Therefore, unlike others, we don’t have the new 10mp sensors in our cameras.

Matjaz: That was always the way Nikon operated. Quality was always first.

Charles-André: We’re not late to the party. We just want to make sure that we’re on the right track. That is why it took a long time to develop and finalize the D200. It was great when we introduced it, it is still great and it won all the awards imaginable. It is among the top 3 best selling dSLR cameras of 2006.

Matjaz: How much work goes into improving technologies like the AF, metering, shutter etc. compared to image processing?

Charles-André: With the D2x we actually introduced a new 11-area AF engine and in the D200 you can find another version of the same engine. Multi-Cam 2000 and 1000. The engine in D80 is a little bit different.
Auto focusing is actually very important to us. We believe we’re the best in AF and metering systems and that’s why we have a huge R&D department working on both. We plan on doing that in the future because we know that as a pro photographer you depend on AF and metering to work in all conditions.
I suspect that our main competitors are also investing a lot of money into these systems because pro photographers depend on it. If you take a look at Olympus E1 you will see that it isn’t a bad camera overall but AF and metering are its major drawbacks. It’s so bad compared to Canon and Nikon that nobody wants to use it.

Jernej: Are you working with DxO Labs and their embedded systems in any way?

Charles-André: We know them and we haven't implemented any of their products yet but it's always interesting to know about the latest developing technologies and have connections with such companies. When you’re a big company like Nikon or Canon everyone is approaching you. Everyone from software companies to sensor manufacturers like Foveon. But in the end it’s up to the engineering department to decide what to do and where to go. I have full confidence in my co-workers in Japan to make the right decisions.

Alan: We know your sales have gone up in Europe but is that in both segments – compact cameras and dSLRs?

Charles-André: Mainly dSLR cameras.

Alan: What’s the situation like in Slovenia?

Charles-André: I’m afraid I can’t remember all the figures for the entire European market. I don’t have those figures with me so I can’t really comment on that and say something that may be wrong.

Alan: Is it possible to get those figures?

Charles-André: Those figures come from GfK so it’s probably best if you talk to them.

Matjaz: How big is your market share in Europe?

Charles-André: If we include both western and eastern Europe we have about 34-37%. Canon has about 40-45% and Olympus has about 7%.

Matjaz: How are you doing in compact camera market?

Charles-André: We’re improving, we’re doing very well in the entry level market with models like L4, L3 and L2 but we still have to improve in the upper class. We’re working on that with the introduction of the S series, which is very popular, but we have to continue in that direction.

Alan: Some companies regard the European market as more important as the US. What is your position on the issue?

Charles-André: Projections indicate that the European market will be the biggest from 2008 onward. It’s interesting to know that US and European markets are very similar today.

Matjaz: Unfortunately the pricing isn’t.

Charles-André: We are trying to coordinate both, especially in the pro segment, but VAT is different and many other things as well.

Thank you for your time

Nikon intervju: Charles-André Wamberque,
Assistant Manager, Product Planning and R&D Department

Matjaž Intihar: Photokina je odlična priložnost da se končno srečamo s predstavniki Nikona.

Charles-André Wamberque: Seveda. Za vas je to odlična priložnost da spoznate tudi ljudi iz različnih oddelkov znotraj podjetja, zlasti iz razvoja.

Jernej Burkeljca: Ko že omenjate razvoj... bomo podvodni fotografi kdaj prišli do digitalne verzije sistema Nikonos oziroma nekaj, kar bi vsaj spominjalo na ta sistem?

Charles-André: Verjetno ni težko razumeti, da nisem pristojen za razkritje prihajajočih produktov. Poleg tega pa je Nikonos namenjen profesionalcem kar pa ni moje področje zato vam žal ne morem razkriti kaj razvijamo.
Niti nisem povsem prepričan, da sploh obstaja dovolj velik trg za tak izdelek. Različna podvodna ohišja za D70, D200 in razne kompaktne kamere dokaj dobro zapolnijo trg podvodne fotografije.

Jernej: Problem pri kompaktnih kamerah za podvodno rabo je v odločno premajhnem kotu zajema. Objektivi enostavno niso dovolj širokokotni, poleg tega pa je AF in ostalo delovanje ponavadi prepočasno za zahtevne motive.

Matjaž: Ko sem še fotografiral na film sem imel za rezervo pri sebi Nikon 35Ti. V tistih časih smo imeli na voljo kar nekaj zelo kvalitetnih kompaktnih kamer, ki so se tudi razmeroma dobro prodajale. Zdaj pa ni drugega kot kompaktne kamere z 8 ali 10mp na zelo majhnem senzorju. Prodajate nam več točk namesto boljše kakovosti. Majhna kamera z odličnim objektivom in kvalitetno sliko bi bila že zelo dobrodošla.

Charles-André: Se strinjam. Cena za senzorje velikosti APS-C vztrajno pada in nekega dne bomo morda kaj takega uporabili tudi v kompaktni kameri. Problem je predvsem v tem da vsako podjetje, ne samo Nikon, razmišlja o zaslužku. Potrebujemo dovolj velik trg za naše produkte in napak si enostavno ne smemo privoščiti.
V časih, ko sta bila na trgu 35Ti in 28Ti je bil Nikon bolj inženirsko orientirano podjetje. V letu 2006 pa smo napol inženirsko in pol marketinško podjetje. Na srečo imamo še vedno močno inženirsko ozadje in smo povsem sposobni marsikoga presenetiti z našimi izdelki. Vendar mora za te izdelke obstajati določeno zanimanje. Mogoče, nekoč, zakaj pa ne.

Alan Orlič: Kako komentirate razvoj dogodkov pri Pentaxu v zadnjem času? Imajo nekaj zelo zanimivih izdelkov po zelo zanimivih cenah.

Charles-André: Kot verjetno veste po svetu kroži že več kot 35 milijonov naših objektivov. Tudi Canon je nekje okrog številke 30 milijonov in po vsej verjetnosti se naš tržni delež na področju dSLR kamer ne bo bistveno spremenil. Malo verjetno je, da bi ljudje množično menjali vso opremo za prehod na drug sistem. Še posebej če imajo na voljo kamero kot je D200, ki podpira vse AI objektive in številne starejše objektive. Uporabniki jih ne želijo prodajati in menjati vsega.
Seveda ima Pentax zelo atraktivno ponudbo za določene ljudi. Še najbolj se bo verjetno poznalo v nižjem razredu ampak vseeno – K10D se bo prodajal za 1000€ kar le ni tako malo. Poleg tega zaenkrat še nismo imeli priložnost videti raznih testov.
Zavedamo se, da je D80 zelo dober izdelek in dosedanji testi so bili zelo pozitivni. Kamera ima enega najboljših AF sistemov, najboljše merjenje svetlobe, najboljše procesiranje slike in signala s senzorja... najbrž veste da imamo praktično enak senzor kot Sony in Pentax? Način procesiranja signala pa ni enak in tu prihaja do velikih razlik, ki jih uporabniki opazijo. Pri D200 smo na tem področju naredili zelo veliko in D80 ne bo nič slabši. Imamo tudi tehnologijo kot je odprava rdečih oči, D-Lighting itd.
Sistem za odstranjevanje prahu je zanimiva rešitev vendar zaenkrat še ne vemo kako zanesljiva je na dolgi rok. Ena od izboljšav na D80, ki jih nismo posebej poudarjali, je nov nanos pred senzorjem, ki odbija prah.
Z novim kit objektivom 17-135mm lahko pokrijemo večino situacij tako da tudi ni večje potrebe po rednem menjavanju objektivov. Večina profesionalnih fotografov in zanesenjakov si zna očistiti senzor, ostali pa objektive itak ne menjajo pogosto. Smo zelo prepričani v lastne izdelke.
Pentaxi so vsekakor zanimivi vendar ne predstavljajo večje grožnje. To ni tako kot večna vojna Canon – Nikon. Naš tržni delež se je povečal tako v Evropi kot ZDA.
Zdaj bijemo bitko megapikslov. Lansko leto je Canon predstavljal kamere z 8mp, ko smo bili mi še na 6mp. Letos smo izenačeni pri 10mp. Morda se sliši smešno vendar uporabniki od nas še vedno zahtevajo večjo ločljivost senzorjev. Toda ohišje bo vedno zelo pomemben del celotnega izdelka in tu je naš D80 v zelo dobri poziciji. Že zdaj dobivamo izredno veliko naročil.

Matjaž: Vsi vemo da je Nikon vedno poudarjal kvaliteto. Ohišje, iskalo, zaklop... Zanimivo je da nihče več ne dvomi v kvaliteto zaklopa. Pred leti smo redno testirali natančnost in zanesljivost zaklopa zdaj pa tega nihče več ne počne. Vi ste v dobri tržni poziciji ker imate dobre izdelke.

Charles-André: Ni naključje da je Fuji za svoje kamere izbral prav naše ohišje in ne kaj drugega. Želeli so najboljše ohišje in vzeli Nikona. Mi dobavljamo ohišje D200, ki je osnova za njihov S5pro.
Fuji je namenjen drugi ciljni skupini fotografov in ima višjo ceno. Predvsem ciljajo na studijske fotografe in veliko jih uporablja prav Nikkor objektive. Ta dogovor je ugoden za obe strani, v nasprotnem primeru se vsekakor ne bi odločili za sodelovanje.

Matjaž: Pred dvema letoma smo na Photokini slišali, da Nikon še vedno razmišlja o senzorjih polnega 35mm formata. Se na tem področju kaj razvija?

Charles-André: Nikoli se nismo odpovedali polnemu formatu, hkrati pa ne želimo napovedati kdaj bomo na trg poslali kamero s takim senzorjem. Verjetno ste brali informacije, ki so jih objavili pri Canonu, kjer piše da so senzorji polnega formata še vedno šestkrat dražji od senzorjev velikosti APS-C. To ima seveda velik vpliv na končno ceno izdelka. 5D se prodaja po ceni okrog 3500€ kar ni najbolj ugodno.
Biti moramo zelo pazljivi, da ne bi ideja o polnem formatu postala preveč popularna. Vsekakor še vedno intenzivno razmišljamo o tem in razvijamo naprej vendar vam ne morem zaupati kdaj se bo taka kamera pojavila.
Objektivi serije DX so stari le štiri leta a so kljub temu zelo popularni. Kvaliteta slike je kljub manjšemu senzorju še zelo dobra in uporabniki se tega zavedajo. Toda v določenih primerih je poln format nujen.

Jernej: Kako komentirate OpenRAW iniciativo?

Charles-André: Žal se na RAW format ne spoznam, vseeno pa vam lahko povem, da kljub prihodu Capture NX še vedno tesno sodelujemo z Adobe in ostalimi razvijalci zato da bi ostali kompatibilni. Vedno smo bili pripravljeni na tako sodelovanje. Kar pa zadeva OpenRAW pa na žalost ne morem komentirati ker tega področja ne poznam dovolj.

Alan: Na zadnjih nekaj Photokinah ste imeli vedno pripravljeno tudi novo pro kamero. Zakaj je letos drugače?

Charles-André: To ni povsem pravilno. Leta 2002 med Photokino nismo predstavili nobene pro kamere. Predstavili smo Coolpix 3500, 4300 in F75. Življenjska doba profesionalnih izdelkov je zelo dolga zato ne moremo vsakih 6 mesecev narediti nekaj novega. Tudi Canon v tem letu ni pokazal nobene nove pro kamere.
Poleg tega moramo upoštevati da tudi uporabniki niso najbolj veseli nad konstantnim menjavanjem opreme. Potrebujemo neko konsistenco, za vsak izdelek moramo imeti pripravljeno določeno število novosti in izboljšav drugače predstavitev novega izdelka ni smiselna.

Matjaž: Razvoj verjetno veliko stane?

Charles-André: Razvoj ni zahteven samo finančno ampak tudi časovno. Za vsak naslednji izdelek moramo imeti na zalogi dovolj novosti in izboljšav kar pa zahteva določeno časovno obdobje.

Matjaž: Z novimi VR objektivi postajate kar dostojna konkurenca Canonu.

Charles-André: In z agresivno cenovno politiko. Kar dobro nam gre. 

Matjaž: Ampak to ni dobro za kvaliteto slike.

Charles-André: S tem se ne bi strinjal. Kvaliteta procesiranja slike se izboljšuje vzporedno z naraščanjem števila točk na senzorju. Čeprav postajajo piksli vedno manjši nam z boljšim procesiranjem signala uspeva ustvariti boljšo sliko kot v predhodnih generacijah kamer. Če primerjate kakšno starejšo kamero z 8mp senzorjem velikosti 1:2/3˝ in eno od sedanjih z 10mp senzorjem velikosti 1:1.8˝ boste videli da novejša kamera naredi boljšo sliko.
Izboljšali so se senzorji, izboljšali so se low-pass filtri, izboljšalo se je vse okrog senzorja in končni rezultat so fotografije višje kvalitete kot kdajkoli prej.

Matjaž: S tem se pa jaz ne strinjam. V mojih primerjavah se to ne pokaže. Coolpix 5200, ki sem ga testiral pred dvema letoma naredi boljše fotografije kot trenutne kamere z 10mp senzorjem.

Charles-André: Toda Nikon v svoji ponudbi nima nobene 10mp kompaktne kamere. Pred uporabo določenega senzorja v praksi se želimo prepričati, da smo signal s senzorja sposobni ustrezno kontrolirati. Z vidika marketinga bi bilo povsem smiselno, da v kamere takoj vgradimo senzorje z največjim številom pikslov. Toda mi se prej raje prepričamo, da je kvaliteta še vedno na zadostnem nivoju. Prav zaradi tega v naši ponudbi še vedno ni kamer z 10mp.

Matjaž: Kvaliteta je bila za Nikon vedno na prvem mestu.

Charles-André: Dostikrat nam očitajo da zamujamo, toda želimo se samo prepričati, da smo dejansko na pravi poti. Prav zato je razvoj D200 trajal tako dolgo kot je. Bila je odlična kamera, ko smo jo najavili in še vedno je. Osvojili smo vse možne nagrade in je med tremi najbolje prodajanimi dSLR kamerami leta 2006.

Matjaž: Koliko se še poudarja razvoj tehnologije kot je samodejno ostrenje, merjenje svetlobe, zaklop itd. v primerjavi z digitalnim delom?

Charles-André: Skupaj z D2x smo predstavili tudi nov 11 točkovni AF modul, katerega izpeljavo najdete tudi v D200. To sta Multi-Cam 2000 in 1000. V D80 je AF malenkost drugačen.
AF je pravzaprav zelo pomembna tehnologija. Prepričani smo, da smo na področju tehnologije AF in merjenja svetlobe najboljši ker tudi zelo veliko vlagamo v razvoj. Enako nameravamo tudi v prihodnje saj se zavedamo, da je oboje izjemnega pomena profesionalnim fotografom in oboje mora delovati v vseh možnih pogojih.
Predvidevam da naši tekmeci počnejo isto. Če pogledate Olympus E1 je na splošno precej dobra kamera toda zaradi obupnega AF in merjenja svetlobe v primerjavi z Nikon in Canon kamerami jo uporablja zelo malo ljudi.

Jernej: Sodelujete tudi z DxO Labs?

Charles-André: Podjetje poznamo in pristojni ljudje iz našega razvojnega oddelka na japonskem so se z njimi tudi srečali. Situacije pa ne poznam dovolj natančno da bi lahko povedal kaj se dogovarjajo. Trenutno v naših izdelkih ni njihovih vgrajenih programskih rešitev je pa sodelovanje s podjetji, ki razvijajo nove tehnologije vsekakor zanimivo.
Veste, če ste tako veliko podjetje kot sta Nikon in Canon si vsi želijo sodelovanja z vami. Vsi od programerjev do proizvajalcev senzorjev kot je Foveon. Toda na koncu je odločitev v rokah našega oddelka za razvoj in mojim kolegom povsem zaupam da se bodo odločili pravilno.

Alan: Slišali smo da vam prodaja v Evropi raste. Velja to za oba segmenta – kompaktne kamere in dSLR?

Charles-André: Predvsem dSLR.

Alan: Kakšna je situacija v Sloveniji?

Charles-André: Žal v spominu nimam natančnih številk za vse države v Evropi. Ker jih trenutno tudi nimam s seboj raje ne bi odgovoril, da ne bi po neumnem izjavil kakšnih napačnih podatkov.

Alan: Bi lahko te podatke dobili?

Charles-André: Ker jih mi dobimo od GfK je verjetno najbolje, če se obrnete direktno na njih.

Matjaž: Kakšen je vaš tržni delež v Evropi?

Charles-André: Če upoštevamo zahodno in vzhodno Evropo skupaj se držimo okrog 34-37%. Canon ima približno 40-45% in Olympus okrog 7%.

Matjaž: Kakšna se držite v razredu kompaktnih kamer?

Charles-André: Situacija se za nas izboljšuje. Kar dobro nam gre v nižjem razredu z modeli kot so L4, L3 in L2, še vedno pa bi radi izboljšali položaj v višjem razredu. Z modeli trenutno precej popularne serije S upam da nam bo to uspelo. Kljub temu pa moramo nadaljevati v tej smeri.

Alan: Nekaterim podjetjem je Evropa že postala najpomembnejši trg, kako je to pri vas?

Charles-André: Projekcije nam namigujejo, da bo evropski trg postal največji od leta 2008 naprej. Zanimivo je, da sta ameriški in evropski trg trenutno dokaj enakovredna.

Matjaž: Na žalost pa cene niso.

Charles-André: Poskušamo koordinirati oba trga, še posebej v segmentu profesionalnih izdelkov. Problemi nastajajo predvsem zaradi različnih stopenj DDV in nekaterih drugih posebnosti.

Hvala za intervju

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Obnovljeno: Mar 9th, 2007 - 10:08:49