Will Nikon be out of business in 5 years?

Started 6 months ago | Discussions thread
Jeff
Veteran MemberPosts: 4,470
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Re: I wonder about computational imaging
In reply to Eamon Hickey, 6 months ago

Eamon Hickey wrote:

bobn2 wrote:

The other thing that people forget is that it's quite possible for optical companies to be successful, outside the consumer camera business. For instance:

http://global.topcon.com

It's funny you mentioned that, Bob. I was going to make a post about Topcon to say the same thing. I did, in fact, believe that Topcon -- once Nikon's only real rival in cameras/optics in Japan -- had disappeared 40 years ago until an opthamologist noticed some spots on my retina recently.

He then added to my already too large store of baleful knowledge by informing me that nature or God -- take your pick -- had decided that approximately 7,481 horrible ways to die was not enough, and one more was needed -- to wit, eyeball cancer (choroidal melanoma, officially).

In order to make sure it wasn't cancer, the doctors would need to photograph my retina -- intra-eye photography, as you undoubtedly know, is called fundus photography -- and track the size of the spots over time. So I went in to get the photographs and the fundus camera, to my astonishment, was a Topcon. (My spots never got bigger, knock on wood, and so it seems are just freckles, more or less.)

Switching gears, having worked for Nikon, I knew that they think of themselves not as a camera company but as an optical company -- a lensmaker, basically. And I have some knowledge of the vast field that optics really is -- that, in fact, there are many, many optical companies that do a big business without ever making a consumer product at all.

But I was thinking last night about the posts that Jeff and I made on this thread yesterday, and it occurred to me that computational imaging may be a significant threat to Nikon. Nikon is a precision optical manufacturer -- their value proposition revolves around making high-precision lenses and machines. And I wonder if the rise of computational imaging may have a big impact on the market for high-precision, and consequently costly, optics. I'm speaking here, not just of consumer imaging but also of industrial and scientific imaging. Will the bulk of the market shift to much lower cost, lower quality lenses whose images are then fixed with image processing techniques? I don't think Nikon has any advantages in the low-cost optics game. That's not their strength.

Now, of course, not all optics are used for recorded imaging, per se. Some are used for direct observation, some for metrology, some for printing (including stepper lenses, as you know) and much else. But even some of those uses might be vulnerable to computational imaging encroachment -- I can imagine computers instead of doctors and biologists, for example, examining biological slides. It may already be happening, for all I know.

I don't know the answers -- I'm far from an engineer -- but it got me thinking.

Switching gears once more, in the discussion of Nikon specifically, it's also important to remember that Nikon possesses a whole raft of high-precision competencies (many of them adjuncts to the stepper business). Not just optics but also metrology and ultra-high precision motion control. There's a market for that expertise.

My doctor wants an appointment to cram some Olympus optics up my butt for a routine look at my colon. Computational imaging can't come soon enough, if you ask me.

Great points, Eamon. The irreducible elements of photography are lens, sensor, processing, and communication, and systems integration.  But maybe that, too, is changing.

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