I have known Mr. Nakamura, the CEO of Hinode Optics and Scopetech for ten years, but I’ve not asked him much about his companies before. I only knew that he once worked as an engineer for Honda Motor Company.
For the past ten years, the Japanese binoculars industry has been struggling for survival as Chinese manufacturers have been successful in exporting better quality, low-cost products to Japan. In fact, in 2018, the long-established binocular manufacturer, Katsuma, went bankrupt.
However, Hinode Optics seems to have won the hearts of Japanese consumers since it was established. As a fan of their products, I wanted to know what lies behind their success in these slow economic times following the global financial crisis.
Mr. Nakamura gladly agreed to an interview at his office in Kugenuma, a small beach town in Kanagawa. I wanted to know what kind of new products he sees in the near future since binocular technology seems to have been refined to a point where there is no room for further development.
An interview with the CEO of Hinode Optics
I sat by a window in his office, which was full of carton boxes and binoculars. There were several employees hard at work. We hadn’t seen each other for several months.
In the ten years since Hinode Optics was founded
First, when was Hinode optics was established? I‘d also like to know what made you want to start a new company.
I started this business with Mr. Miyano in 2008. I was frustrated to see so many people disappointed with the poor quality of binoculars sold at that time. Many consumers had never used good quality binoculars.
I agree. In those days in Japan, I would often see deceptive newspaper ads touting binoculars with 100× magnification.
Exactly! I assume many people thought that binoculars were generally useless because of such terrible designs. So, my mission was very simple; I want to replace these bad binoculars with quality ones.
What steps did you take to achieve that goal?
First, I set out to educate people not to be deceived. I wanted the public to know about magnification numbers. I explained that buying binoculars based on high magnification alone will leave you very disappointed.
Next, I brought to market a pair of binoculars with a 4~5mm exit pupil, which means low magnification and a bright image. Not a single innovation was necessary for me to make these.
However, many manufacturers were still earning a lot by taking advantage of people’s misunderstanding; the higher the magnification, the better. So, it took a few years for people to begin to realize that well-made binoculars don’t need high magnifications to be useful.
After that, other manufacturers that had been selling poorly made products began changing their ways. They saw those good binoculars also sell well.
As a consumer, I noticed a change in the past ten years. At large camera shops, there used to be few binoculars with low magnification. Nowadays, I often see 6× binoculars touted as “Bestsellers”.
Yes, I’ve noticed that too. We are proud to play a leading role in the paradigm shift.
About the future
It seems like everything is going your way. Am I right?
Not exactly. Those who bought binoculars from us use them for purposes we hadn’t anticipated. There are many things to be learned from how people use binoculars in the real world.
Some use our binoculars to watch their children at school events like Sports Day. In the 100m dash, children wait for their turn behind the other runners at the start line. But it’s hard for parents to spot their children because of the distance. With compact binoculars, they can find their children and get ready to take a video.
Also, amateur astronomers are buying our 5×20. I thought more powerful ones, like 7×50, were stereotypical for stargazing. But 5×20 are good for checking night sky conditions before taking photos.
Such ways of using binoculars had never occurred to me. It’s really interesting to hear how our customers make use of our binoculars.
Prism binoculars, invented in the late 19th century, are the standard now. Since then, binoculars designs have improved a lot. Lens coating technology has developed so greatly that high-end products from twenty years ago seem obsolete now.
However, it seems that binocular technology is at its peak, with little room for further development. How can you introduce new binoculars into the market that are attractive to consumers under such circumstances?
I agree that there is little room for further development in the technology, but I firmly believe there are plenty of things left for us to do.
Please tell me more.
There are designs that haven’t been made even though they are technically possible. The main reason is that manufacturers don’t want to gamble on producing a large quantity of a design that they aren’t sure the public will embrace.
Manufacturers know the high cost of mold building, which is necessary for mass production. The molds made in Japan are strong enough for long-term use, but they are expensive.
To make niche products, I plan to build low durability molds and produce products in countries where labor costs are much lower. You know, we don’t have to mass produce like other manufactures.
Taking advantage of low-cost molds, I think we can launch new and attractive products aimed at niche markets.
In fact, I launched a 5×21 pair this way. People used to use opera glasses in theaters. As you know, opera glasses are just a pair of parallel Galilean telescopes.
People were unhappy with opera glasses because of the narrow field of view. Prism binoculars can beat opera glasses at almost every point.
There was nothing technically difficult, but companies didn’t want to make such low magnification binoculars. They couldn’t see the practicality of great quality binoculars without the higher magnifications. This is how we differentiate ourselves.
That sounds great! It’s good to know that Hinode pays attention to what consumers need.
(Looking at a prototype 8×42, we continued.)
This pair (the prototype) seems nice. The ED lenses work well to reduce achromatic aberration.
They are a little lackluster for me.
Why do you say that?
They’ve tried to shorten the barrels for portability, which doesn’t interest me.
Wouldn’t you rather look through a pair with a longer focal length, which drastically reduces every aberration and distortion? Is portability that important?
For some it is, but not everyone. Ignoring the portability, I want to make longer binoculars without aberration. That’s what excites me.
That’s a simple, yet brilliant idea! Combining a long focal length with ED lenses would produce an amazing view! Thank you for taking time out from your busy schedule.
It’s my pleasure.
(Mr. Nakamura introduced me to Mr. Miyano.)
We have a guest. He worked for Nikon for many years as an engineer. He’s brought us an interesting pair.
I was stunned to see this pair: Nikon WX 10×50 IF, a monumental piece of binocular history! The body is huge for 10×50, which made me sense that these were something special (see below).
Looking through these binoculars, the super-wide-angle (76.4 degrees of apparent field of view!) left me awestruck! The image was perfect, even in the periphery! I was completely engrossed by the view (below).
This pair comes with at hefty price (over $6,000), but some people get both the 7×50 and 10×50. They must be captivated by the amazing image. A warning: you may not be able to resist getting a pair once you try them.
Hinode Optics was established in 2008, and it has been successful in creating a paradigm shift. In those days, there were a lot of deceptive ads for binoculars touting 100× on the Japanese market.
Through his efforts to explain what good binoculars are and launch binoculars with proper magnifications, people are beginning to understand how useful binoculars can be.
Before visiting Hinode Optics, I wondered if Mr. Nakamura had a specific vision for the future of the market, which he did. Compared with other binocular manufacturers, Hinode Optics started later. But he knows how to survive and make unique products that people will be interested in.
Not afraid to manufacture binocular designs in smaller quantities, he wants to launch ones with outstanding features, which is exciting. It’s not easy for them to differentiate themselves from others because the market for binoculars is already so developed.
However, there’s something special about him and his company which makes me think he can achieve exceptional things, even in a crowded field.