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The Photoimaging Manufacturers and Distributors Association (PMDA) presents its 2006 Technical Achievement Award

Established in 1939, PMDA is an American organization comprised of camera manufacturers and distributors that plays a central role in promoting imaging and charting the future of the photographic industry.  PMDA annually awards outstanding individuals and services in the photographic industry.  We spoke with Mr. Naoki Tomino, Vice President, Imaging Company, Nikon Corporation, and recipient of the 2006 Technical Achievement Award.

Managing Director, Member of the Board & Senior Executive Officer
Vice President, Imaging Company, Nikon Corporation
Naoki Tomino's first assignment upon being hired by Nikon Corporation in 1975 was with the camera division's design department, where he led the team that designed the NIKONOS IV-A underwater camera and later participated in designing the F301 and F501 autofocus single-lens reflex cameras.  He was also the chief designer of the F801, which offered the most advanced autofocus SLR camera technology for its time and subsequently set the standard for Nikon SLR cameras.  For the decade or so spanning the latter half of the 1980s to through the 1990s, Tomino played a major role in a five-company project that standardized the Advanced Photo System (APS).  Tomino was then assigned the role of project leader for development of the D1 and has since been an outstanding figure in the history of the digital camera industry with participation in development of the D100, D2H, D2X, D70, and D200 digital-SLR cameras.

The D1 marked the full-scale launch of the digital age.
Our ability to develop the D1 in just two and a half short years was due to the exceptional skill and support of all those involved in its development.

Congratulations, Mr. Tomino, on receiving the prestigious PMDA award!  Would you care to share your thoughts on receiving this award with us?

PMDA award ceremony, Florida, February 2006.

TOMINO, Naoki:

In short, I am extremely happy.  As an engineer, it is truly an honor to receive this type of recognition for the work to which I've dedicated my professional life.  However, and please forgive the cliché, I am keenly aware that I must accept the award on behalf of a great many others.  I am so grateful to the exceptional skill of all those I have had the privilege to work with, the support of my company, and a variety of opportune conditions, without which I never could have achieved such recognition.

This award has great significance for Nikon as well.  How do you feel about that?

This may prove to be a major milestone for Nikon.  I am truly grateful for any benefit this award has for Nikon as well.

You have received this award for your contributions to the digital camera industry, which is advancing by leaps and bounds, through the development of numerous cameras including the D1.  Of all those that you helped to develop, has any particular camera left a significant impression on you?

Naturally, I have a special fondness for both the NIKONOS, the first camera for which I lead development shortly after being hired at Nikon in 1975, and the F801, the last camera for which I lead development.  However, with so many obstacles to overcome in the development of the D1, that is the camera with which I feel the deepest attachment.  Although I spent roughly ten years from the latter half of the 1980s participating in the project to standardize APS, in 1996, just before the project was completed, I was appointed leader of the team established to “develop a camera worthy of becoming Nikon's flagship model within two years.”  At that time, we were already seeing the conversion of film cameras to digital cameras and, feeling the pressure of these advances, Nikon felt very strongly that we must hurry to convert our best SLR camera to digital.  Therefore, the project was placed under the direct authority of Nikon's president, vice president, and senior managing director at the time, Mr. Ono, Mr. Yoshida, and Mr. Tsuruta, respectively.  These impressive men were so well known in their respective fields—Mr. Ono was known as “the camera god,” Mr. Yoshida internationalized the stepper industry, and Mr. Tsuruta was an eminent authority in optical technologies—that I remember actually shaking at the thought of answering directly to them.

Two years seems like a very short period of time.

It sure is!  I asked to have the period extended to three years, but Mr. Ono replied, “The digital era will not wait for us.”  However, we all realized that a certain amount of time and preparation was required to develop a digital-SLR camera, so we finally decided to launch our first compact digital camera, the COOLPIX900, in two years (1998), followed by our flagship digital-SLR camera in three years (1999).  With release in September 1999, we actually ended up spending two and a half years developing the D1.  One of the first things I learned with my initiation in the development of digital cameras was the extreme importance of collaboration with other companies, much more so than in the development of film-based cameras.  In my search for reliable partners, I actually visited about two thousand companies in a single year!

Two thousand companies?

It would have been impossible for Nikon to supply all of the components necessary to successfully develop and manufacture the camera in such a short period of time.  By explaining our aspirations regarding the kind of product we wanted to create or the value we wanted to offer customers to just about anyone who would listen, began development of the camera by expanding a network of those who shared the same vision.  Take the CCD for example.  When I began looking for a partner to help in its development, no one would have anything to do with it.  So I began explaining our perception of photography culture and attempting to pass along our passion until they were as eager as we were to see us succeed.  Though the process was often tedious, it allowed us to create something that is truly great.

So the success of D1 was due to the combined vision of Nikon and its collaborative partners?

Exactly!  When I said earlier that I was receiving the PDMA award on behalf of everyone, I was not referring only to everyone at Nikon.  No, I meant EVERYONE, including those who supported us from other companies.  I hope that this award allows us to establish greater variety in our partnerships and to fortify the network that we rely upon so much.

Whether film or digital, the technologies that support basic camera operation and performance are the same.  The optical technologies that form Nikon's foundation will never lose their significance.

Nikon's technological capabilities have been highly regarded since the film camera era.  As a leader, where do you believe these strengths lie?

Engineers have a tendency to want to open and examine every new product that hits the market.  They enjoy the sense of amazement that comes with finding new technologies or utilizations of technologies.  They also take pride in being able to amaze others with their own innovations.  At Nikon, we all feel a great sense of pride.  I was so impressed by the potential I found around me when I was assigned to the Design Department.  Regardless of their age, every single person wants to excel in ways that differ from others.  However, though we are all burning with the desire to exceed, we have a tendency to hide this desire as if obvious displays are below us.  Therefore, I think it will be important for our future to find ways to draw out the particular strengths of individuals and to find the best ways to apply these strengths to revitalize and increase cooperation as a whole.

Have there been any changes in the vision of technological development since the film camera era?

I believe there are three types of technologies that are essential in the world of cameras today. One is optical technologies, another is technologies specific to the production of cameras, and the third is digital technologies.  While an effective mix of these three types of technology is important, there is no difference in the application of a variety of technologies in the compact size required of cameras whether for film or digital.  In addition to mechanical technologies, the production of cameras requires technologies related to materials and surface processing, as well as optical technologies, including coatings, that maximize lens image formation.  Cameras represent archives encompassing a broad range of technologies that only begins with optics.  I think that the variety and importance of all of these technologies are just now becoming recognized, but this is something that Nikon has always been very particular about.  The difference between digital cameras and those that came before is that they make images themselves.  This in itself is a new technology.  Though we didn't begin with a whole lot of technologies for our development of digital cameras, I think that we have reached this point by accumulating know how acquired with development, and by making the most of our abilities to combine technologies and know how in cameras.

If you had to choose just one digital camera technology as the pinnacle and pride of Nikon technologies, which would it be?

Outstanding optical technologies at the heart of Nikon came together in the D1, renowned for leading standards and innovations in the burgeoning field of full-scale digital SLR cameras.

I guess that would be a technology that we have cultivated since the film camera era, namely the technology that allows our cameras to capture light so well.  There is little difference between film and digital photography in the fact that accurate exposure depends on the way shutter speed and aperture are controlled with the measurement of light, or in the way space is captured with focus utilizing light sensing technology.  At the heart of the digital camera is the analog technology that allows it to form an image on a CCD or CMOS image sensor by capturing an object as light.  Nikon has had this technology since before the introduction of digital cameras. Of course, optical technologies can never be underestimated.  Although the image sensor is an electronic device, no matter how high the electronic performance of the image sensor, that alone does not guarantee a good camera.  Image sensors can only fulfill their role with integration of a number of components, including a minute lenslet for each pixel, color filters, and optical filters known as low-pass filters.  In addition, optical technologies cannot be overlooked because quality imaging is only possible with maximum compatibility between the image sensor, which can also be called an optical component, and shooting lenses.  Therefore, the optical technologies that form Nikon's foundation will never lose their significance.

We are seeing the competitive force of camera manufacturers forming alliances with major electronics manufacturers.  What do you think about this trend?

I think the increase in new manufacturers that both energizes the entire industry and broadens the market is advantageous.  While it is true that this makes market competition very stiff, I am also confident that most will find it difficult to compete with our strengths, such as our optical technologies and the capabilities we have nurtured over the years spent specializing in the imaging industry.  I hope that we can strengthen our position in the market by continuing to offer products that satisfy and delight customers.

I understand research and development expenditure is currently running about 5% of total annual sales.  How do you feel about this allocation?

With the switch to digital, development expenditure has shifted dramatically.  We have had to increase the equipment used for development of digital and electronic systems, and software development has also proven quite expensive.  With these changes in particulars, it would be nice if we had a little more reserve to draw upon.

Do you think that the scope of research and development has increased??

Yes, I do. To add to that, collaboration with third parties has also increased. I think a major issue to be addressed is the way in which we apply core technologies developed in cooperation with third parties to suit our needs in the development of original and innovative new products.