Nikon was the first camera manufacturer to introduce HD-video recording capabilities in a digital SLR four years ago, with the D90. But, weeks later Canon introduced the EOS 5D Mark II, gaining unprecedented and unexpected attention from the filmmaking industry. Now, Nikon is fighting back with its D4 and D800 cameras, even though, Nikon UK's marketing manager Jeremy Gilbert admits, it still has a lot to learn to stay in front.
Ever since the launch of Canon's EOS 5D Mark II, Nikon has been trying to catch up in the videography world. A few months after it released in 2008, the camera gained iconic status in the filmmaking industry when directors such as George Lucas expressed a strong interest for Canon's digital SLR. Suddenly, the camera was used across television and film sets, with an entire episode of the hit US show House filmed with the 5D.
Now, Nikon is fighting back with the release of its D4 and D800 cameras, with features, such as a clean and uncompressed HDMI video feed, that have been requested for the past four years by filmmakers looking to benefit from the aesthetics that a HDSLR can offer.
But, says Jeremy Gilbert in an interview with BJP, Nikon has still a lot of learning to do. "We are now in a position where we can learn as a brand," says the group marketing manager for Nikon UK. "We need to learn and understand more on who is going to be buying and using these products."
Back in 2008, when Nikon first introduced a high-definition video recording option in its D90, the intended target was very different. "The original brief when we launched the D90 was to offer video capabilities for newspaper and print journalists," says Gilbert. "They wanted to be able to record news and events and put it on their websites. For that, the brief was for simple video - not too high quality, no big files. But what happened was that, actually, newspapers didn't really need that. They were still relying a lot on print. Of course, their online presences were growing, but they were getting their videos from other organisations that have proper video-gathering capabilities."
What did happen, however, was that these HDSLRs, as they are now called, received a lot of interest from "videographers and people that are doing shorts, movies, advertising," Gilbert tells BJP. "If you look at all great movies, they have their directors of photography, and of course, their background comes from still photography. These people understood the range of lenses that we have and what they could achieve visually with them. From the D90 to the D3s, and now with the D800 and D4, we've just been trying to listen to as much input as possible."
Gilbert admits that Canon built "a great deal of respect" with the EOS 5D, he says. "We had to look at that and listen to what people were asking for, and also we had to cater to different markets - how someone in the US shoots his movies? What standards do they use? What are the differences between Europe and Asia? We needed to get all that feedback in and try to create a product that is right for photographers - because ultimately, we make cameras for photographers - but also for videographers because this sector is growing and the two are merging."
Nikon believes it has achieved this goal with its most recent launches, and especially with its D800. But, Gilbert is quick to point out, "being in the lead now may be a temporary position, so what we do and what we learn when we're in that position, who we talk to, is important. For me, we need to get a group of leading users, whether they are photographers or videographers, and work closely with them, monitor their usage and making it work for them. It's about staying in front."
What Gilbert is sure about is that the D4 and D800 will open new doors for the brand. "I think that's the important thing," he tells BJP. "People are interested in us as a brand now, and, actually, what's happened is that people are now contacting us with ideas and requests. They would have perhaps traditionally gone somewhere else - they are now knocking on our door, and we'll be working with as many people as we can to try to establish content to show what can be done with the D4 and D800."
He adds: "I think it's a fantastic time for us to learn because it's not our traditional marketplace. We are trying to cater to all areas of the market. We're building up a new relationship with new clients and customers," while continuing to focus on the still photography side, Gilbert tells BJP.
So far, the reaction to the D4 and D800 has been "unprecedented. It's the best word I can use," he says. "The last three to six months have been very interesting for the business - right from the launch of the Nikon 1 to the D4 and D800. Pre-orders for the D4 have been impressive, and for the D800 it has been absolutely manic."
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