Photokina 2016 gave us a chance to speak to Nikon about the models it's showing, where the market is going and the challenges it faces.

It was a relatively quiet show for Nikon, with three KeyMission lifestyle cameras taking up as much space as the recently announced D3400 and 105mm F1.4 lens. We took the opportunity to speak to Naoki Kitaoka, Department Manager, Marketing Department and Masahiko Inoue, Group Manager, Marketing Group 2, to see how the company sees the market. Please note the following interview has been slightly edited for clarity and flow.

What's the key mission of KeyMission?

We started by asking whether they foresaw DSLRs and other dedicated cameras returning to being the niche product they were at the end of the film era and where KeyMission fits in:

‘We don’t want to change our policy,' said Kitaoka: ‘We will keep offering the best DSLR to the customer. On the other hand, smart devices are getting popular: almost everyone has one or two or three devices in their pocket. In the mobile era, we have to offer new solutions that are fit for the mobile era. We want to be the end to end solution for consumers. The KeyMission is one of our solutions I think.’

The KeyMission range, including the KeyMission 360 are aimed at 'immediate immersive storytelling,' the company says.

KeyMission, then, is intended as a way of bringing Nikon’s expertise to new customers, Inoue explains: ‘Our competence is high quality imagery. So we will continue to keep that our core competence and apply it into the KeyMissions.’

‘For instance, the lens in the KeyMission 360 has a very wide angle of view. But this kind of category needs the size to be wearable. Using our competence and some new techniques, we managed to keep the quality and realize the miniaturization.’

‘It’s a very wide-angle view. Very fast lens: F2.0. Very bright and very wide, normally that kind of lens is larger optical design but we try to do the miniaturization.’

As well as image quality and size, simplicity is another aim for the camera, says Kitaoka: ‘It is not just an action camera. With the KeyMission series, we are bringing to market the ultimate tools for immediate immersive storytelling. They also demonstrate the role Nikon technology can play in the exciting new field of VR.’

‘The concept is about sharing your beautiful experience.’ Inoue concurs.

This means making it easy to share a wide variety of content types, Kitaoka says: ‘We believe every single model, every single customer has a different image of sharing. We have expanded the categories we cover to include KeyMission so you can find your best camera, from KeyMission to DSLR. Additionally, different types of consumers with different purposes need different types of cameras for every mission. We don’t want to interrupt your adventure.’

The value of sharing

This need for simple sharing underpins the company’s plan to introduce a version of its SnapBridge sharing system across its entire model range: ‘Easy means setting up between camera and smartphone,' says Kitaoka: 'We launched the WMU app so we had kind of experience for this setup process. We tried to improve, to make the setting easier. But still some of you might feel it’s quite difficult. Now three or four steps are needed to connect camera to mobile phone. We are trying to reduce steps from four to one, and finally zero.’

'Now three or four steps are needed to connect camera to mobile phone. We are trying to reduce steps from four to one, and finally zero'

The company has chosen the technology it thinks will help. ‘We use Bluetooth Low Energy so it can realize smart link,’ says Kitaoka. There’s a benefit to this technique, despite its low bandwidth, he explains: ‘If we use Bluetooth you can use Wi-Fi at the same time. Once you can shoot your story and then camera automatically sends your story to smartphone. Your Wi-Fi can stay connected to the internet: you don’t need to switch Wi-Fi from the camera to Internet. We wanted to make your steps easier.’

Inoue is confident that SnapBridge is a step in the right direction: 'after you purchase a Nikon camera, you do the pairing once: after that it's automatic.'

The future of Nikon 1

Moving on, we asked about the future of the Nikon 1 series and what role it now plays in expanding Nikon’s audience. Despite a dearth of releases, the cameras featured prominently on Nikon’s booth and both men spoke positively about the system’s future.

‘The Nikon 1 concept is fit for some customers,’ says Kitaoka: ‘For now we’ll keep Nikon 1 as usual.' The sudden focus on KeyMission doesn't take away from this, he explains: 'as I told you before, the action category getting popular. [The] market [is] always changing so we launched KeyMission series to expand our customers.’

It's been nearly two-and-a-half years since Nikon last released a Nikon 1 V-series body but we're told the system is still part of the company's plans.

Inoue elaborates: ‘Some manufacturers have tried to enter the DSLR market with their mirrorless camera or something. Our standpoint is different. Because our product mix covers full-frame and APS-C DSLR and the Nikon 1, these three product categories mean we offer to the full lineup and we receive each customer’s good reactions.’

‘And then we're not seeing cannibalization between the DSLR and the Nikon 1: the customer is completely different.’

Totally different, but with an overlap

While this distinction is clear for the J and S models, we wondered whether this also applied to V series customers. ‘The J, S and V models are different categories, says Kitaoka: ‘the V series is sort of special, people they well know about DSLR, what is a photograph, they understand these ideas.’

The smaller size of the cameras provides a benefit for these customers, Kitaoka explains: ‘Sometimes you get work from a client that requires you to travel for the job and maybe go back to shoot more. In that kind of situation, sometimes the photographer doesn’t get enough money from their clients to carry their whole equipment because of the baggage costs of the airline.’

‘V3 helped them a lot. The telephoto lenses are smaller. Just in case, they use V series for second camera at the same time, so they can reduce the size of their systems.’

‘One of the most important features of the V series is the high frame rate and accuracy of autofocus. It's fit for professional photographers' demand. It’ll never be the main camera for a photographer but it can help them a lot.’

Neither man would be drawn on whether Nikon intends to concentrate on one of these 1 series user groups over the other. ‘We really recognize the mirrorless type of camera, the possibility and we always study [the market],’ says Inoue: ‘but sorry, we won’t be able to comment on future products.’

1V vs DL

On the topic of future products, we also weren’t able to get clarification on when to expect the much-delayed DL compacts, so we asked how these users were distinct from the Nikon 1 V series customer:

‘DL’s concept and target is users of the D800 series,’ says Inoue: ‘Of course the D800 is a very nice camera but the DL... Anytime and anywhere [you can] take a high quality picture by using the DL. It’s a very good second camera for that kind of user. Therefore the switching and the menu, the GUI, is in accordance with the DSLR equipment. That kind of DSLR customer can use the DL without any stress. Even the power switch is in the same position as on DSLR. Zooming dial right here.’

There's still no news on when Nikon's delayed DL series of 1"-type sensor compacts will arrive.

'[They] borrow technology from Nikon 1 and DSLR. Of course the one inch sensor, on-sensor phase detection autofocus and high frame rate continuous shooting, everything from the Nikon 1, but the high quality images and the user interface and the Picture Quality control from our D series. Also the lens quality. You know, the DL has fast lenses with the nano crystal coating, but in a compact type of camera. This is the first time we've used that kind of technology in a DSC.’

Who uses video?

Finally, and continuing the theme of making models for more than one type of customer, we asked about the importance and challenges of video for Nikon.

‘There are two types of high end users [using video]’ explains Kikaota: ‘those who started [their careers] shooting still pictures, but also there are a lot of customers who started with video. In our company we have two types of customer. It’s difficult to make one solution to fit for both of them.’

'I think that line between movie photographer and stills photographers has gone. The client wants to you to shoot the both of them at the same time to reduce costs'

Shooting video with current cameras can often be quite complicated, we suggested. ‘[This] complicated operation is fit for the customer they started shooting from video. On the other hand there are professional [stills] photographers: they are not yet used to using video, their demand is easy operation. So there are two types of people. It’s a big problem.’

‘We are trying to make a solution fit for both of them. One solution is Flat Picture Control. Flat Picture Control is well suited for the professional photographer, who started shooting pictures and now find they have to shoot some video, too.’

‘They are not necessarily so familiar with video editing or modifying video. With Flat Picture Control they can understand from stills point of view.'

'Now we have an exact solution right now, but we will keep considering [whether to make] a separate product or [if it should] go into the one product.'

Nikon recognizes the challenge of adding video features that both stills and video shooters will appreciate.

'I think that line between movie photographer and stills photographers has gone. The client wants to you to shoot the both of them at the same time to reduce the costs.'

Kitaoka then expanded on the demands they're hearing from customers: 'First of all, quality of the movie is a basic demand so we have to answer that, second frame rate, then lens quality and autofocus, also, [the challenges of] movie AF and still AF totally different.'

'Movie autofocus needs to be smooth, sometimes fast, sometimes slower, depends on the situation. Movie shooters want to [be able to] choose high speed autofocus or natural speed autofocus.'

'Actually we equip the autofocus system fit for the movie but a lot of people [are finding it difficult to use] autofocus between still photo and movie. But we keep trying to [provide the] best movie autofocus in [our] DSLRs and across every single category.’