Two things. One, we love micro four thirds but we aren’t impressed by the new Nikon mirrorless cameras — the V1 and J1 . Two, here’s an in-depth look at the Chinese factory that makes Nikon’s mirrorless cameras.
Here’s one fact you need to know before judging the build quality of the Nikon mirrorless camera. Today it makes no difference if your camera is made in Japan or Thailand or Malaysia or China. Because at any similar price point it no longer matters.
The Nikon 1 Factory
Built during 2002, the Nikon 1 factory is located in Wuxi, east China, approximately 130 Km (80 miles) due west of Shanghai. Just in case you haven’t heard of Wuxi, the province actually boasts a huge purpose-built business park, serviced by its own freight airport that is home to over 1,5000 manufacturing companies, many of them foreign enterprises engaged in hi-tech operations. Most importantly, Wuxi is one of the 15 economic centers and 10 important tourist cities of China. So, the Nikon factory in Wuxi is one of three Nikon factories in China; the others at Hangzhou and Guangdong are responsible for the manufacture of Coolpix models.
The Nikon site at Wuxi covers a land area of approximately 97,000m² with a factory floor space of around 54,000m². The factory commenced production of Coolpix compacts in 2004, starting with the 4200/5200 models and most recently the S8200 and P300. The factory began gearing up for the production of the Nikon 1 system since April 2011, which is now in full swing, along side manufacture of the new Coolpix models. Today, the Nikon One range represents Nikon China’s most complex product to date.
What’s inside the factory?
There are two-lane corridors connecting the four main buildings that comprise the two-storey factory. At various points along each corridor there is a staff rest room and small kitchen area for preparing hot drinks. The various production lines are housed in a series of huge rooms, lit by glaring fluorescent lighting and, festooned with overhead ventilation hoses that feed to virtually every workstation. Aside the noise of machinery and the occasional conversation, work is carried out in an atmosphere of quiet, earnest endeavor.
The factory was particularly revealing. Nikon invited journalists to tour the factory and see what goes on behind the scene in terms of manufacturing the Nikon V1 and Nikon J1 cameras and their associated Nikon 1 Nikkor lens series and accessories. Apart from discovering that the factory is a major facility that not only assembles cameras but also manufactures many of the components, including lens elements, the facility employs 8,292 workers, and a fleet of 130 coaches is used to bring many of them to work each day, operating over 7 different daily shifts.
Interestingly, 80 percent of the factory workers are female. They work in two shifts: a day shift from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm and, a night shift lasting from 8:00 pm to 8:00 am. Each shift takes an hour-long meal break and a number of 15-minute rest breaks. Perhaps the most interesting part is that a coloured hat system is used to differentiate between the hierarchies so that people can more easily recognise their superiors! This hat system is quite useful since there are so many employees on every floor space (54,000m²). What’s more, each worker is assigned their own identical mug to drink from, labelled with a unique number, while the massive locker building is three floors in height. Awesome.
The Making of Nikon V1 and J1
Did you know that almost every part of the Nikon 1 camera is pieced together by hand? The journalists who got invited to tour around the factory are shocked to see a surprising amount of work is done by hand rather than by machine – for example, every Nikon logo on the front plate of the V1 and J1 is painted in an indelible, oil-based paint using an ultra-fine spray pen. The reason why the work is done by hand because it apparently gives better quality and colour than a machine could produce.
The journalists saw many examples of this meticulous and labour-intensive approach throughout the tour of the Nikon One production line, for example, individual workers place the white button and dial marking stencils on separate camera parts prior to their assembly.
What’s more amazing is that the V1 camera is made up of 195 separate parts, the J1 183 parts, the 10-30mm lens 172 parts and the 3-110mm lens 165 parts, with most of them sourced from within China. The coolest thing in the factory is the production of each lens element.
The Production of Lens Element
Each lens element passes through five stages in its production, commencing with the grinding of the glass blanks by the workers using water flushed sanding machines. Next, the elements are polished by spinning brushes mounted in machines, followed by the application by hand of lens coatings. The fourth stage involves workers who combine the individual elements of a single camera lens, centering them, before they are cemented in place, before finally, the optical sub-assembly is positioned in the plastic lens barrel sections to complete the construction process.Once final assembly is complete each lens is checked and tested against large black and white test charts that adorn the walls, before passing on to quality assurance and the packaging section.
Recently, Nikon’s Thailand factory, which produces most of the firm’s consumer and advanced digital SLRs, has been shut down due to the recent flooding in Thailand. It’s good to see Nikon outsourcing the production of the firm’s mirrrorless cameras to their factory in China. Under the right management, Chinese factories can put great quality goods, and as far as we know, the factories moved into China are typically near-exact duplicates, with the same equipment and processes and standards, as used in Japan. The only difference is the people watching the production lines. Local management is Japanese. And in fact, Nikon would outfit their factories (regardless of locale) with the finest in optical equipment and that the standards would meet or exceed the lenses of the past. Here’s one thing you must know about Nikon: A Nikon is a Nikon is a Nikon. Origin of manufacture should not be an issue. Just look at the D70 – Nikon’s best selling camera EVER is NOT made in Japan. And with respect to lenses, all 50/1.8D are made in China (the older non-D was made in Japan). Anyway, we think each manufacturer and the competitive marketplace works long and hard to ensure that whatever you get is as good as it can be for the price.
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