Last month we had the extraordinary opportunity to join Nikon in Tokyo for the global launch of its first full-frame mirrorless camera system, the Nikon Z7. In addition to spending time with the new system, we toured the Nikon Sendai Factory where Nikon employees machine Z mounts and assemble Z7 camera bodies.
Welcome to Sendai, Japan
The capital city of the Miyagi Prefecture in Japan, Sendai is a quick two and a half hour bullet train ride from Tokyo. There, about twenty minutes away from the Sendai train station, you’ll find Nikon Sendai directly across the street from a large Sapporo brewery. (Alas, we did not get a tour there.)
Seven years after suffering severe damage in the Great Japan Earthquake of 2011, Nikon Sendai is the heart of the Nikon Z7 assembly process (the Z6 is being produced at another facility). Unfortunately, while we were given full access to specific areas of Nikon Sendai, we were not allowed to take notes or photographs. As such, Nikon provided us with every photo in this post.
How It’s Made: Making the Nikon Z7 at Nikon Sendai
Watching a Z7 come to life is a bit like observing someone hand-building an automobile… in the operating room of a hospital. Lighting is somewhat dim. Temperatures are wonderfully chilly compared to the humid August heat outside. The employees, most of them women, are decked out in scrubs-like jackets, gloves, masks, and a hat or hairnet.
The assembly line itself is more of a circle. There are several stations, some manned by humans, some by Nikon-made robotics. Each station features a separate task. Assembling the OLED EVFs over here. Testing the mechanical shutters over there. Laying the image sensor into the circuit boards right there. Wrapping all of the electronics in the magnesium alloy body and weather sealing. And so on.
Most fascinating? How many screws it takes to build a camera. Nikon designs their stations so each employee knows exactly which screw to place where and when and what driver to use. It’s efficient and seems effortless, but left me with one realization. Designing a camera is (obviously) complex, but one of the biggest challenges must be designing the assembly process to save time and effort while minimizing any potential for injury.
I could have watched the Nikon employees and their robots for hours.
The final station is an obvious one: testing the assembled camera for imperfections. Was it built correctly? Do the displays work? Is the firmware correct? Does the autofocus system work with the new Z mount lenses and the FTZ Mount Adapter?
Here’s a condensed version of what we saw, courtesy of Nikon:
Making the Z Mount
Nikon also machines the Z mount — both the body and lens iterations — right at Sendai. Nikon uses stainless steel for higher-end camera and lens mounts, brass for lenses and more entry-level camera systems, and plastic for entry-level lenses (we didn’t see them making any plastic Z mounts).