Dirk Jesper is Product Manager for Professional Products and Product planning at Nikon Europe, holding the Coolpix S800c - Nikon's first Android-powered camera. Photo: Barnaby Britton

When we spoke to Dirk Jasper, Nikon's Product Manager for Professional Products and Product Planning, at Photokina, we ended up having a pretty long conversation. In this interview - the second of two - Barnaby Britton spoke to Dirk about the development of the Nikon 1 System, as it marks its first anniversary, and the challenges of creating a hybrid 'connected camera'. 


Dirk, the Nikon 1 System was unveiled about a year ago - we had a few concerns about it when we reviewed the cameras, what sort of feedback have you had from customers?

The feedback was pretty good. Our approach was to make a speedy, compact system which looks nice, so the J1 and V1 really fulfilled all of those things, and fulfilled all the expectations. We were one of the last manufacturers to come to the mirrorless segment, but nevertheless, within less than half a year, we became number one in Europe.

Of course there might be systems that have aspects that are superior to the Nikon 1 but our idea of the 1 System at the beginning was to have a full package that delivers on the experience of the joy of photography and that's what the J1 and the V1 definitely did, and that's why they've been so successful.

We had a certain idea, a certain concept, and it worked. There are systems that are more professional, but we never aimed to make a professional mirrorless system, that was never our goal.

How many people actually bought additional lenses for their 1 system cameras?

I don't have those figures, but we have an attachment rate that's higher than one, definitely.

Well that's good! What position does the Coolpix P7700 occupy, then, in relation to the 1 System cameras?

The P7700 is made as a second camera. You see this with pros, when you see them working they do first impressions, location shots and so on with compact cameras, and the P7700 is a perfect companion for this, for someone that is experienced with photography, who can handle the manual settings.

The J2 is Nikon's latest 1 System offering, and provides a low-cost entry point into the system. Designed to be as easy as possible to use, the J2 doesn't offer much in the way of customization but does boast some impressive technology, including hybrid AF. 

Is there room in the 1 System for that kind of consumer, in the future? Or if someone buys a V1, and wants to develop their photography further, should they just jump systems and go for a D3200?

Well the V1 already offers a lot - you can do serious photography with that camera. You may have seen that we have a spokesperson here at Photokina, a South African photographer, he's doing motorsports with the Nikon 1 System. He used to work with professional DSLRs, now he's working with the 1 to shoot professional motorsports, motocross, things like that, due to the incredible speed and the autofocus. The V1 can offer a lot, especially with other lenses, we have an adapter that lets you use other Nikon DX and FX lenses, and there are more than 70 million out there.

Has the adapter been a popular product?

Yes, definitely for users of the V1. Less so for the J1 users.

The 1 System cameras have a hybrid AF system that automatically switches between contrast and phase-detection AF depending on light levels. Is it your intention to give 1 System users the ability to use the faster phase-detection AF in lower light than they can right now?

The range of feedback we've received over the years from customers who are not that experienced in photography is that they hate it when they miss a situation, so when their children are playing or something is happening and they want to take a picture.

Compact cameras are not always the fastest compared to SLR equipment and non-experienced users want a compact system that could capture that kind of subject. That was the idea for the Nikon engineers when they created the Nikon 1 - to create a system that just - click - does it. And you will end up with the picture you desire, not just almost. We were not originally thinking about sports photographers, we were thinking about people who take pictures of events, and children and so on.

In my experience, it was precisely those situations - indoors, with kids running around, where the 1 cameras often fail because the light might be too low for the faster phase-detection AF.

Well that depends on the situation. But yes, it's not a 100% solution for everything, I agree.

So is this something that you're working on?

We're constantly trying to improve the technology, and it has a future, for sure. This is the first generation and there's a lot of potential for the future.

Do you think there's room for a product like the Fujifilm X100 or Sony RX100 in the 1 System lineup? Compact, a nice sensor, but a fixed lens?

There are a few cameras like this around, but to me it looks like manufactures are testing the water, seeing what they can do. But we have a very clear idea with the 1 system and a clear message that we're delivering with our products.

But of course everyone is trying to find the extra Euro, the extra dollar, because compact cameras are a declining market. Cameras with fixed lenses are not as popular as they used to be in the past, because, in part of cameras like the J1 and V1 but also the DSLR market is still growing. In the compact sector, many manufacturers are trying to do something new to keep their market share.

The Nikon S800C, your recently-released Android camera is getting a lot of interest. How long ago was the idea for that camera born?

I can't say. But of course it didn't happen overnight.

I spoke to Samsung in Seoul, in spring, before they officially unveiled the Galaxy Camera, and one of the executives said that in his opinion, in the future a non-connected camera would be meaningless. What would you say to that?

Well he definitely has a point. One of the things about connectivity is sharing. Sharing your images. And this is even more popular in the US than in Europe, people like to share an image as soon as they've taken it. But people are often very disappointed by the performance of their smartphone's camera. With the S800c we tried to bring a camera which offers the connectivity, but it's a camera, with very good image quality, and standard camera functions. But still, it's very compact. You can Skype on it if you want to, but it's not a telephone, it's a camera.

The Coolpix S800c is a 16MP compact camera which uses the Android operating system. Connectivity comes courtesy of built-in WiFi. Here you can see the standard Android 'homescreen'.

What was the hardest thing about introducing a hybrid camera like this?

It's a new market for us. If you compare Nikon with some other manufactures, who are more tuned into this area, they're also in the phone market, the connected device market, for Nikon this is something new. Our strength is that we have a lot of knowledge about cameras. We know about optics, we know what people need and desire from a camera. That is something that we bring, and with the S800c we want to combine it with a good, open, widely-used mobile operating system.

One of the biggest differences between the Nikon S800c and the Galaxy Camera is the lack of 3G/4G connectivity in your product.

Yes, and of course come people will criticize this. But we are not a telephone company. You might see products with this connectivity in the future, but it's something we need to develop. It's very complex too, to provide this connectivity and for it to work worldwide. If you're already in the market, and you sell products all over the world already with 3G/4G connectivity…

Like Samsung…

Yes, like Samsung, then it's easier to go all the way. Because you've already done the R&D, and you have the contacts and everything already.

But I've had my hands on the Galaxy Camera and to me it doesn't feel like a camera. It's just not what I would call a compact camera. It's a smart device and it has a huge lens on it, which makes it very handy, and it's brilliant technology, but we have brilliant technology as well. We're just focussed on photography and the performance of the camera. We have decent, good connectivity, whether you use WiFi or you make your smartphone a hotspot and send images that way.

How will you generate feedback from S800c buyers?

We constantly do reviews, of course, we ask users for feedback, what they like and don't like… we do that for all products, whether it's a Coolpix or a D4. We do it constantly. We get the feedback, and send it to the engineers in Japan. If you want your products to be successful in the market, you have to meet the needs and desires of your customers. And sometimes you can bring something to the market that no-one has thought of before, something that everyone wants but did not know that they wanted. The Nikon 1 was such a product.