Wednesday, March 9, 2011

History of Nikon's European digital imaging division

History of Nikon's European digital imaging division

In January 2011, almost by accident, I came across the website of Alan Bartlett, who founded Nikon's European digital imaging division in 1988 - the same year as Nikon introduced their first filmless camera, the QV-1000C.

I sent him an e-mail, asking for general information about Nikon's early electronic cameras (Nikon SVC and QV-1000C) and wire transmitters (NT-1000A being Nikon's first such device). Very soon - and exceeding all my expectations - Alan sent the following account, which he has kindly agreed to share on A few editorial comments are added for clarification. These are shown as [italic text inside brackets].

Alan is now running a marketing consultancy agency based in Oxford, England. You'll find his website at

Text by Alan Bartlett

I started working with Nikon in 1984. My job was to market the new products that Nikon was just starting to roll out as a prelude to a new generation of digital cameras and business imaging products.

I built up the business in the UK and in 1988 was given the responsibility for marketing the products across all of Europe, Middle east and Africa. At that point we were known as the Electronic Imaging Division. By the time I left in 1994, EIE Division (called EIP division in Europe) had grown substantially in terms of people and turnover. Unfortunately, I destroyed all EIP literature I had after I left.

[Nikon's Electronic Imaging Division was later merged back into the photo division. More details below.]

The first product I worked with was the NT-1000A telephoto transmitter which was first shown to the press at the media centre at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. Actually the very first machine shown was an NT-1000, a model set up for Japanese (Kyodo Tsushinsha aka Kyodo Press) wirephone standards which were slightly different from the NT-1000A that used CCITT wirephoto standards). There was another version that used AP wirephoto standard that was intended for use in North America.

The very first NT-1000A used by a newspaper in the UK was purchased by The Sun for use by Arthur Edwards to cover Prince Charles and Princess Diana's visit to Italy in 1985. This was delivered in April two days before the Royal Tour began. I trained Arthur Edwards in a matter of hours just prior to him flying out to the start of the tour which was in Sardinia.

Kelvin McKenzie was the Sun's editor at the time and wanted to score against the Daily Mirror. At the time, the Sun was based in Bouverie Street just off Fleet Street. The purchase caused a dispute between the NGA [National Graphical Association - a British trade union] and the Sun proprietors which resulted in industrial action. After talks the NGA, whose members were responsible for the operation of the wirerooms, the paper agreed to pay the wiremen for each picture transmitted by Arthur Edwards.

Arthur Edwards was the first photographer in the UK ever to have transmitted pictures that were published in a UK newspaper. Until then, all pictures used by newspapers were sent by wiremen or from news agencies.

Arthur's pictures were sent directly from his hotel room in Sardinia, whereas all other press photographer's covering the tour had to travel to Rome to get their images sent by Reuters or AP from their Rome bureaus. As a result Arthur's images were received 6 hours ahead of the other newspapers and made the following day's editions with ease. No other UK paper had any comparable coverage.

As a result of this ALL UK national newspapers bought NT-1000As between 1985 to 1987. There were no exceptions - 100% market share which was an incredible result but was largely as a a highly competitive newspaper market and a result of an industry hungry to adopt new technology. In contrast, only 2 NT-1000s were sold in North America.

Having been stuffed by the Sun on the Italian Royal Visit, the second newspaper group to buy the machine was the Mirror Group for use by the Daily Mirror and the London Daily News who bought 12 units. They first used a machine to cover the Royal Tour of Australia and competed head to head with the Sun. I remember negotiating this deal with Robert Maxwell!

[Maxwell was a Czechoslovakian-born British media proprietor who rose from poverty to build an extensive publishing empire. Died in 1991.]

Following this, the Daily Mail bought 10 machines and the other Murdoch titles bought further machines. Other non-press purchasers included the MOD [Ministry of Defence], who bought 3 machines for use by the Army and the Royal Navy for PR and damage control use. Michael Hesseltine, the then Minister for Defence, saw the NT-1000A and took the decision to buy them.

In total, 55 NT-1000As were sold in the UK, far more than in any other country, with the exception of Japan where a slightly higher number were sold.

[2 or 3 NT-1000A transmitters were sold in Norway.]

Mainly as a result of the launch of Eddie Shah's Today in 1986, the UK news market was rapidly converting to colour. Nikon followed up the NT-1000A with a complex and expensive colour wirephoto transmitter and digital scanner called the NT-2000. Since these were late to the market (Hasselblad and Leaf had started to deliver colour versions of their wirephoto transmitters) and the machine

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