STORIES

Pushing the limits of the photojournalism frontline — Part 2

Revolutionizing remote camera reliability and possibilities thanks to strong partnership between AFP and Nikon

Images from remote cameras let us see things from dramatic angles.
The technology behind them used to suffer from difficult setup and unreliable operation.
Developed from an AFP idea through Nikon engineering, the NX Field system is a problem-solving technology that will make a turning point in the growth of remote shooting.

Let a single photographer reliably operate 11 cameras from different angles — a new era begins with the NX Field

Reliable shutter release of up to 10 remote cameras (center) is possible from a master camera (left). The status of remote cameras can be confirmed from a tablet device (right) in real time.

Since the dawn of photography, enhancements in camera mobility have continuously opened up new points of view and diverse kinds of expression to explore. Photographs taken from unique angles bring the thrill of fresh perspectives. Advances in technology made it possible to trigger shutter release remotely and wirelessly via radio, and about 15 years ago photographers started using the technique to operate remote cameras. Now you can find this technique in the camera bags of many photographers. If you go to a large sporting event, you will find hundreds of remote cameras operated by the world's news agencies, aiming to capture the decisive winning moments of the 100-meter sprint from more unique, powerful angles.

Large events present photographers with various technical challenges. One of them is that all the photographers at the event venue triggering the shutter releases of hundreds of remote cameras all at once confuses the radio signals, leading to failed shutter releases. Even when release is successful, vast numbers of unwanted pictures prior to the winning moment are also transferred to the server, delaying delivery of the desired images. These are just a few of the conventional remote camera shooting problems.

Looking to break free from these limitations, AFP entered discussions with Nikon to develop a remote camera operation system that could accommodate two important technological requests. The first was to apply wired LAN cable for the system in order to reliably trigger shutter release of remote cameras and upload captured images to the server faster. The second was the use of a smartphone or tablet device as an interface to set up and operate the remote cameras. AFP and Nikon teamed up to develop, test, and keep improving the system until they finally arrived at the completed NX Field. Setup and operation of multiple remote cameras have taken a dramatic leap forward in ease and more reliability, enabling a single photographer to hugely expand their creative possibilities by capturing photographs from 11 powerful angles.

NX Field system configuration

You can reliably release shutters, change camera settings,
and send important pictures faster
— all remotely

The intuitive interface of NX Field allows you to control remote cameras as easily as a camera in your hands.

When designing the NX Field, AFP and Nikon aimed to achieve not only reliable remote shooting but also great operability for photographers. They felt it was important that photographers could operate multiple remote cameras as easily as a camera in their hands.

Conventional remote camera shooting can be stressful, as you could never be sure if your master cameras' radio signals were reliably reaching the remote cameras. Now, with the NX Field, you can be sure from your master camera's LCD that the multiple remote cameras are connected. Conventional methods limited you to manually pre-focusing your remote cameras by anticipating the positions of your target subjects in advance. With the NX Field, you can now use autofocus with to nail the shot more flexibly.

Sometimes you need to install remote cameras in places that are difficult to access — for example, catwalks near the stadium ceiling in order to shoot the field from above. In these instances, the ability to set up remote cameras using a portable smartphone or tablet device helps tremendously. The narrow working space of a catwalk makes it difficult to open a personal computer, but now you can simply take out your smartphone for easy setup. If you want to change settings of those remote cameras later, you no longer need to go back to the catwalk: all you have to do is to change settings as you confirm live view images remotely and release the shutters with confidence.

Where in the past shutter releases of all the remote cameras were simply connected to your master camera's releases, resulting in vast numbers of unneeded pictures, you can now trigger remote shutter releases only when wanted. This way you can upload only the desired images to the server for faster delivery to the market.

Remote shooting with minimized time lag expands photographers' vision and future imaging possibilities

Remote shooting is possible while checking live-view images from a distant location.

Being able to trigger remote cameras shutter releases from a smartphone or tablet device with minimum time lag is another big advantage of the NX Field. This expands the system's application beyond physical distance. It is now possible to capture desired moments of action occurring at several remote venues from the media operations center while confirming live-view images and camera settings via a tablet device in real-time. If you have to work under conditions that limit the number of photographers physically allowed in venues, you can still keep full control of your camera angles and reliably capture your desired images via remote shooting.

The use case scenario that AFP originally envisioned was large sporting events. However, the simplicity of the system has already ignited the imagination of people at AFP, as they realize the NX Field has even wider potential. If you maximize photographer's already tremendous ability to imagine and anticipate what will happen in front of the camera, the NX Field lets you shoot pictures you have only dreamt of, even from an extremely distant position. With the arrival of 5G mobile network, the distance at which remote operation is possible will only expand further.

The NX Field could end up working like an array of remote eyes for the imaginative photographers to show us unique images in a very near future.

Common passion to write a new history of imaging technology

Fran├žois-Xavier Marit
Photo Innovation Department of AFP

We have a real enthusiasm for making the imaging system constantly evolve to simplify the life and productivity of photographers and editors. There is a great satisfaction in saying, "We did it!". In the process of bringing the NX Field to life, we had the privilege of having a series of face-to-face discussions with Nikon engineers. We are in a good position, having a partner who can develop our ideas into real products.

Antonin Thuillier
Photo Innovation Department of AFP

The photo industry has been waiting for 15 years to see remote camera shooting show its huge potential. That is what the NX Field brings us. Remote camera shooting is now within the reach of any photographer who has the imagination to use it. When Nikon introduced us to the NX Field, I was certain it was going to reshape the face of remote imaging technology.

Kenji Suzuki
NPS Global, Customer Support Section, Imaging Business Unit,
Nikon Corporation

We have built our relationship with AFP through NPS support over the years, and now feel it's fair to call our relationship a mutual partnership. Exchanging clear opinions based on mutual trust lead to the development of the NX Field. Through our regular discussions, we would like to offer more benefits to photographers through our technology inspired by AFP's ideas.

Tetsuya Takeshita
Development Sector, Imaging Business Unit, Nikon Corporation

Technology needs to give us good surprises. To do so, developing technology has to come from a convincing context. It was important for me to really understand what people at AFP wanted to achieve with the NX Field and why. On top of input from NPS Global, I reached out directly to AFP to understand all I needed. Spending two weeks with AFP at the final stage to make the system perfectly work for them, Nikon and AFP became literally one team.

Mitsuteru Hino
Development Sector, Imaging Business Unit, Nikon Corporation

I have been lucky to be able to directly hear from professional photographers since I was still in my early years as an engineer. You can learn so much from such experience. There is a good atmosphere within Nikon that encourages strong willed engineers to go out and hear real voices firsthand. The NX Field was made possible by this culture.

  • *Divisions and responsibilities are as of the time of the interviews.

Originally published: June 2, 2021.