Keiji Oishi and Jarred Land on Nikon and RED


Nikon completed its acquisition of RED Digital Cinema on April 8, 2024. A barrage of breathless blogoshere bavardage betided.

RED Fire Chief Jarred Land called. “I’m flying to Las Vegas. Can we meet with Keiji Oishi?”

Geoffrey Coalter at Nikon Inc, Frank Fusco at RED, and probably a squadron of others organized our meeting at 2pm on April 15 in a conference room at NAB.

Jon: Can you please tell us the background to the acquisition of RED by Nikon?

Keiji Oishi: The first point I want to emphasize is that by combining the competencies of the two companies—Nikon and RED, we aim to develop a distinctive product in the fast-growing professional digital cinema camera market. The second point is that there is a precedent for this—the excellent synergy we at Nikon have with MRMC (Mark Roberts Motion Control), a company we acquired in 2016. The third reason is that we would like to leverage the expertise of all three companies—Nikon, RED and MRMC, to provide new value and experiences to cinematographers and to the market. That is the answer from Nikon’s side.

This reminds me of Rashomon, the same story told from different points of view. Unlike the Kurosawa film, I suspect we will arrive at the same conclusion. Let me add two more questions: when did the idea first begin and why did you do it?

Jarred Land: I’ll take a swing at the background. We obviously knew who Nikon was and they knew who RED was. Over the years, a number of companies were interested in buying RED. We’re a high-level company that a lot of people know about, but when we were in negotiations, Jim Jannard had a chance to talk to Hiroyuki “Ike” Ikegami Executive Vice President, General Manager of Imaging Business Unit at Nikon Corporation.

It was really interesting because when we first met Nikon, we didn’t think there was going to be that much synergy—just very different cultures, very different companies, different camera markets and we didn’t know about the Z 9 and the Z 8. Jim and I immediately went out and bought Z 9 cameras to see what it was like. And we were like, “Wow, this is a whole new top of the line camera.” And Keiji was responsible for both the Z 9 and the Z 8.

We were very impressed. Jim’s talks with Ike went very well and he could feel the passion.

Keiji, you were the product planner? Congratulations. Those are amazing cameras.

Keiji: Thanks so much. Yes. I was in charge of the product planning section and the product strategy section as well.

Jarred: We thought this could be a really good idea for these two companies to come together. In our eyes it was a new kind of Nikon, that we saw a lot in ourselves: the hunger, drive, passion and people who know about cameras. We saw that.

This almost brings us back to 2005, when you first started with the idea building a cinema camera that acted like a still camera at 24 frames a second, so this feels almost full circle.

Jarred: Absolutely. DSMC stands for Digital Still Motion Camera. Jim and I were both still shooters. That’s where we came from, and cinematography too, but we knew that’s all movies were—24 images a second. It was amazing to us that nobody was putting those concepts together.

Anyway, we developed a synergy with Nikon. The patent discussions were kind of pushed aside. It really had little influence because we found a new kind of union, not a romance, but a passion together and then we said, why don’t we talk about this? Jim flew to Japan and I flew there in July, so this happened very quickly. Nikon executives came to visit me at RED Studios and the rest of the team in August 2023. It all just worked together so well.

Keiji: From Nikon side, we have a similar answer. I would like to add a few words. Of course, as Jarred mentioned, the lawsuit led us to learn more about the RED company and its history as well. We had the opportunity to speak with RED founder Jim Jannard and President Jarred Land at that moment. We saw that the high-end professional market and the creator market were both part of the overall professional digital cinema camera market. Most important, we saw the growing market for content creators and its need for video, which we addressed with our announcements of the Z 9 and Z 8 as Jarred mentioned.

On the other hand, we recognized that it would take time for us to expand into those markets on our own. We were looking for a solution from our point of view, and then the lawsuits allowed us to learn more about RED and its product as well. We realized that our respective companies’ competencies were complementary. Our opportunity to speak with founders Jim and Jarred confirmed that we shared the same passion and goals, which led to the story that Jarred explained.

What is the strategy going forward?

Keiji: May I go first?

Jarred: Please.

You gentlemen really do get along nicely.

Jarred: This is really fun, I love this.

Keiji: It’s a good solution for us, so yes. From our point of view, as the entire Nikon group, we will continue to support RED’s excellent product lineup, including like V-RAPTOR [X], launched this January, and KOMODO-X. Support includes marketing, sales, product updates and service. This means there is no change in sales, or support or warranties as they are now. Because we know customers may be worried about the health of the future lineup, we want to say that we will keep the RF mount in the product line.  So please choose RED cameras with confidence.

We would like to introduce RED cameras with a Z Mount as one of the options in the future. It will be in addition to the RF mount currently offered, but it could take a couple of years. We also will look forward to the synergies with MRMC mainly in the cinema and broadcast fields.

There are a number of things we need to consider.

Jarred: Electrical connections and communication between the lens and the camera. Metadata.

Keiji: We will continue to provide service for the RED brand because it is very important, not only for us but also for the customer. All the current RED products will continue to be sold and serviced. Warranty work will also continue under the RED brand name. There will be no change to the current product lineup, partnerships and distribution.

Going forward, Keiji, are you going to dress like Jarred, hat backwards? And Jarred, are you going to wear a sports jacket?

Jarred: We’ll do that.

Keiji: For five months?

Jarred: For Halloween, maybe. Once a year. We’ll trade. I love that idea.

Getting back to the question was about strategy moving forward…

Jarred: Lens mounts are important. We’ve adopted the RF mount because that’s what we knew at that time. But if you remember, the RED One had a Nikon F mount. That was before the Z mount was available, and the data communication was much simpler. Then we had EF mounts.
We’re not going to take away people’s Canon mounts, because that would be unfair to the customer.

Nikon glass is legendary. Can we ask about lenses?

Jarred: Oh, Keiji has heard a lot about lenses from me. Nikon lenses are amazing. A lot of high-end people realize a lot of very expensive cinema lenses for the last 50 years have been rehoused Nikon, NIKKOR glass. Panavision lenses, ARRI lenses. Some of the best lenses that have shot some of the most incredible images. I would love to see Nikon bringing back some of those.

Can you imagine the romance, the feeling and the expertise of those classic cinema lenses with all of Nikon’s optical ability and some of the expertise that RED add? Don’t you love this?
Nikon has character and emotion. I get very excited about the thought of Nikon cinema lenses.
No promises, that’s a lot of work for these guys to figure out. But I think that it is a very big opportunity.

Keiji: If we talk about the current Z lens lineup, what we do we have so far in the market? The Nikkor Z lens series is designed for our mirrorless cameras. But these lenses have a great capability to shoot video as well because there is minimal focus breathing and the motors are silent. They also have a great optical advantage—high resolution, with a beautiful look thanks to the Z mount’s shortest flange focal depth (16mm) and widest inside diameter (55mm) of any Full Frame mirrorless interchangeable lens camera.

But we know, as Jarred mentioned, that there are a lot of the people who love our old lenses. The nice vintage Nikkor lenses have their own unique look which has been appealing to cinematographers and photographers alike. We understand those requirements. However, our current Z lens series has been designed for higher resolution and precise image reproduction. In the future, we would like to take these different approaches into consideration for an additional cinema lens lineup if we have a chance. We do understand the market requirements.

Jarred: I love that answer. I’m so excited to know that.

Will the new products combine technology of both companies?

Keiji: Yes. May I talk about the camera body first? The answer is yes from Nikon. But again, it’ll take at least a few years to release products with new combined technology. For example, Nikon’s competence, product development, and exceptional reliability of the product is based on our more than 100 years’ history and know-how in image processing, as well as optics technology and user interface. But we also welcome leading knowledge of the RED’s cinema cameras, including unique image compression technology and color science. So again, it will take a couple of years to be launched, but it will be something utilizing this kind of RED technology together with Nikon’s, and it will make the customer happy. This is what we want to state at the moment.

Will you co-brand RED plus Nikon, or will the brands stay separate in the future?

Keiji: I think it’s not decided yet officially. But, because the RED brand is very important not only for us but also for the customer, the RED brand stays the same. But we may have the opportunity to do some additional co-branding together with RED.

Jarred: I think co-branding is great. RED and Nikon are two premier brands in cinema, equal opportunities, where you don’t need to do it, but if you do, it’s beautiful to think of it as empowered by both. There are so many options are available, but it’s not trying to elevate one at the expense of the other. I think that’s very important.

And it looks good on the RED and Nikon T-shirts you already have in your booths here at NAB.

Jarred: Think about how powerful RED cameras are in the sensor design, and then look at the EXPEED 7 image processing engine that Nikon creates. It is about 10 times more powerful than the last one, and way more powerful than what we have. So you think about the capability of taking the Nikon processor, for example, and putting it inside a RED camera, and all of these things can make the RED cameras better.

Will you combine the R&D and engineering teams of both companies, or will you keep them separate?

Keiji: From our side, yes, we will keep them as they are now—separate, but communicating with each other. After the acquisition was finished just a few days ago, our team has already stopped by the RED R&D facility to talk to each other about the future possibilities, and they already shared each other competencies in terms of technical knowledge and future direction.

Jarred: This is important, because it is a great example of how things will work. I like what you’ve just said, Keiji, because it’s what I noticed. I visited RED headquarters in Irvine, CA on Friday. Everybody was a little bit nervous, and we have these conference rooms that are like a big warehouse with things hanging down from the ceiling and large shipping crates all around. You’ve been there…

Not your typical corporate conference room.

Jarred: I was kind of nervous going in there, and I had my dog with me. Then I looked inside this conference room where the Nikon and RED engineers were meeting and talking. I’m not kidding, it looked like they had been working together for 10 years.

It was not one side of the table Nikon, other side RED. They were next to each other, looking at each other’s stuff, working on things. The moment I saw that, I was so happy. Because all of this doesn’t matter if the product isn’t good, and the engineers are responsible for the product. So if the engineers are happy, and working together, then we just figure out what to ask them.

Will manufacturing be combined as well? Because you both have impressive, big manufacturing facilities.

Keiji: We will not combine and keep it as is for now, of course. We are considering the possibility of injecting Nikon’s production technology into RED’s at some point. There is no big change so far, in terms of integration, but we will inject something new into the RED manufacturing.

Jarred: It’s about different techniques for very large scale and small scale production.

Keiji, can you tell us about your background? How did you get started at Nikon? What have you been doing. You seem like an interesting, cool guy.

Jarred: Yes, he is.

Keiji: You think so? Thanks so much. I started my career with Nikon in 2008. When I got my job at Nikon, I was a product manager for the cameras. My first product was the D5300. This DSLR was the first camera with built-in Wi-Fi capability. The next one I was in charge of as a product manager was D5500. It had a more composite body with a thinner size. Next, I was in charge of the D500. It was a high-end APS-C DSLR camera. After that I was sent to Nikon Inc, the sales subsidiary in the U.S. based in New York.

 Long Island Expressway Exit 49? I visited often.

Keiji: Oh, you know it. So, I spent four years there, from 2015 to ’19. I was in charge of the sales and budgeting for the entire U.S. market. Then I returned back to my original team in Japan as manager of the entire imaging business unit’s product planning, and also for the product strategy side. I spent another four years in that role, then now I moved here. This is my career.

Were you responsible for the Z Mount camera development?

Keiji: Actually, the Z Mount started in 2018 when I was still in New York. After the first two products, Z 6 and Z 7, were launched, I moved to my position in Japan. I was in charge of developing Z 9, Z 8, and Z 50.

Jarred: The best ones. The Z 6 and Z 7 were good but the Z 9 and Z 8 are a totally different level.

Keiji: Because we had a lot of input from users after we launched the first ones.

Jarred: That’s the beautiful part about this: community feedback. A lot of what we do, and that has been most of my job, was really the community and feedback from customers.

Jon: Are you going to continue with community outreach and so on, Jarred?

Jarred: Officially, I’m an advisor. How would you define advisor?

Keiji: Actually, the meaning of advisor is different in Japan than in the U.S. It takes on greater importance because we always welcome Jarred’s great input all the time. Jarred’s input is very important for us to evolve our product and business. We always welcome his great input and insight, injecting into products and the business. So, his existence is very important for us. This is what I want to say.

If we think of the great cinema companies in the last 100 years, there have always been interesting characters who guided their companies. Going back to 1917, there were August Arnold and Robert Richter, two German classmates whose hobby was making movies. Fast forward to Panavision, started by Robert Gottschalk, who knew everybody. Jean-Pierre Beauviala started Aaton because he wasn’t satisfied with handheld cameras at the time and he was out there listening and talking to fellow DPs. Gabriel Bauer ran Moviecam because he wanted a quieter camera. And then you have Jarred and Jim who were the faces of RED for so many years. Do you think that can continue along with the enormous and large, loyal community?

Keiji: Yes, it is very important part for us. Also Jarred continues to meet users with his RED Studios business, which he still owns with Jim, and he’s in charge of every kind of touch point of the great customers, and he’s well-known person in this market. Most of the very important input comes through Jarred.

Jarred: It’s about finding that nice in-between. What I do naturally is basically advise: this is my vision and this is what we should do, and Keiji understands that’s the most important relationship. The community and marketing are things these two companies have to figure out how to combine together. They have a great marketing team as well, so there’s a lot of learning going on.

What happens to the studio?

Jarred: That’s still ours. Jim and I still own the studio. So that’s not part of the deal.

Remind us again how you and Jim started RED.

Jarred: Jim found me through my user forum. I had the DVX user, still have it. Jim was a member of DVX user forum for his VX 100 and HVX 100 cameras. We started talking and then I was kind of an advisor to him. But we created this community together and we started RED. We didn’t have real titles back then.

You had funny titles like Fire Chief.

Jarred: Yeah, my official title was Fire Chief. Jim’s was Madman. That was his kind of thing. We’re not a very structured corporation because we just were inventors and creators and artists at the beginning. And then we let other people do the business parts of it internally, of course, but we found whoever we could to help us with that. It’s very important to keep that, I think. That’s why we had the studio. Jim and I worked out of the studio because getting sucked into the day-to-day stuff takes away from the customer. And I’ve been very vocal. I honestly spent more time with the customers than employees.

We started RED with the customers as a community because we were one of them. We are shooters and we s created RED to make a camera. We wanted to shoot. That’s why it started. It wasn’t to make money or to change the world or anything. We just wanted to make a camera because nobody was making the camera that we wanted to shoot with.

Which is what all those other camera company founders I mentioned did as well.

Jarred: Absolutely. You make it for yourself and hopefully others will follow. Field of dreams.

Camera of dreams. So, what happens next? Where are you going from here? Especially as the two worlds of Stills and Cine are converging.

Keiji: Oh yes. We think RED technology and their engineers are all really outstanding.
It’s amazing. And we think RED sensor technology is also great in terms of dynamic range, global shutter, et cetera.

We think that RED has great color science as and we recognize that software development is efficient in RED. So there are a lot of advantages in RED technology and RED knowledge. Also, from our point of view, Nikon also has great competence in some things like ASIC engine development technology and purchasing procurement for larger volume production. We also have our own design and manufacturing technology at Nikon. Our software resources are also impressive. And of course, our optics technology is well known in the market. And so, by combining these two companies, we are sure that we can make great products in the future.






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