Satellite images of Nikon Sendai plant before and after the earthquake

Just a quick reminder of the events that took place in Japan few months ago. Please be patient, there could be many reasons why Nikon is taking their time with the next wave of full frame cameras (btw, I have the full detailed specs for the Nikon mirrorless camera that I will publish online in few hours once I finish the translation, stay tuned).

This Google Earth satellite image of the Nikon plant in Sendai was taken on April 5th, 2011 less than a month after the earthquake. Judging by the number of parked cars, it seems that the factory was probably operational at that point of time.

This satellite image was taken on March 13, two days after the earthquake:

Nikon plant in Sendai before the earthquake (click on images for larger view):

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  • Ren Kockwell

    ……..well, come on then.

    • No way. There is no excuse.

      Besides, Nikon isn’t even a real company. It’s a big Chinese conspiracy which the Japanese are in on. George bush started the earthquake and tsunami because he hates the asian race and wants a NWO. We must rebel now!!!

    • Raff

      The issues lie in the supply chain, not just the Sendai plant.

    • Jorge

      Doesn’t look too bad. Just looks like a weekend or holiday when no one comes into work. Get busy and make me a D800 and D4!

  • Banned

    Preum’s !

    • Banned

      Ah merde l’autre plouc de Ken Rockwell m’a devance 🙂

      • Banned

        Sorry had to keep the French thing alive.

  • There could be another explanation. maybe those workers were packing up the factory to move to another country? Maybe they were doing repairs? Many other things could explain there being there. Sorry to be a spoil sport.

    • *Maybe* they were trying to live. As in, there wasn’t a whole lot of electricity to be had. Supplies dried up immediately as people (the ones that could, that is) emptied gas stations, convenience stores and supermarkets. People were busy looking for loved ones – both friends and family. Sorry to be a spoil sport.

      • A Thought


  • Anonymous

    Given the magnitude of the disaster, I find it so tasteless for us to bitch about Nikon not introducing new models faster. I just feel that we have become soulless. Again, the current Nikon lineup is a great one and if one cannot make an image using that, he/she should buy a competitor’s product that will help him/her to make that image.

    All this whining are from bad workmen that blames his/her tools.

    • Anand

      Actually I think you missed the point. Its not that we don’t have patience or concern for Nikon and its people. We do.

      What irks most of us is that Nikon’s lack of communication to the end users. Why not say, “Hey guys/gals, sorry but we have been put off by 6 months on new Pro level cameras due to the earthquake. Sometime in 2012 is our goal. ”

      No Nikon doesn’t want to do this cause of the “shareholders” reaction to it. No company wants to come out and say things like this…but surely end users are more important than shareholders.

      • Jonny Ray

        This is true, but also there is the marketing aspect. Not every Nikon user is obsessive most of us are here. So if Nikon was to publicly say, “Hey everyone, sorry, the new models are coming, we’re just a little behind schedule under the circumstances” there would be a lot of people that wouldn’t otherwise know that a new model was coming and would then decide to hold off on a purchase of current models. Plus if they aren’t specific enough and generalize without specifying the models to be replaced, there would be confusion among customers that aren’t as “in the know”.

        General marketing, you don’t want to tell your customers that you’re about to replace your current product lineup as that would hurt sales. Of course, the D3 and D700 have been notoriously difficult to come by recently, but the general mindset still applies.

        • Anonymous

          Exactly… but I think the whiners won’t understand the finer points of marketing. More importantly, they don’t realize that they can make mighty fine images using the D700. Instead they crib about not having the D800. When they get it and use it and still find out that their images look like crap, they will bitch about not having D900.

          • Adi

            So what about those that have been using for 3-4 years APC cameras and now are finally ready to go full frame (in terms of experience, technical knowledge and money)? Should they invest more than 2500 dollars in a D700 when the D800 will most probably be on the market by the end of the year? Or at least within the first 3 month of 2012? What would then happen? Maybe the quality of 80% of the images they make will be just the same but there are other things to be taken into account and then, of course, the price of D700 will rapidly decrease and find yourself using a 3 years old technology for which you have paid a relatively large amount of money and you cannot see how this old technology (relatively of course) will still be able to deliver best results for the next 3 to 4 years, when it will already be at least 7 years old! How you anyone feel now having to work with a D100 camera, paying for it 1000 dollars when the D300 or D7000 are way better in any respect for the roughly the same price? I now I am exaggerating but I do it to make a point!

            And about the marketing point of view: who buys now the D700 just because they have not heard from Nikon saying that D800 is coming? I asked in 2 stores in US and 4 in Canada if they have the D700; they did not directly answered but informed me that it would be better to wait as I might have better options for my money or at least have the chance to get a D700 a lot cheaper! Almost anyone spending this amount of money would do a minimum of research about the product and it is absolutely impossible not to find info on replacement of D700 on Internet at first search.

            • Manuel

              If you really need to go full frame immediately, why don’t you buy a used body today and then look what’s coming later? All that whining seems so silly to me.

            • A Thought

              Or wait. Can’t you just wait?
              Why people are so impatient?
              so silly…

        • Bikinchris

          Sorry, I don’t want to seem like a nitpicker but:

          “there would be a lot of people that wouldn’t otherwise know that a new model was coming and would then decide to hold off on a purchase of current models”

          First, Nikon, Sony et al will ALWAYS be coming out with a new model soon. So if the camera you want exists, but it. Frankly, you might not like the new model as much! Second (at least in the case of the D700 and D3S) WHERE are these current models. Supply has been very spotty at best for both models, frankly since day 1. Nikon could imporve their sales numbers by actually supplying dealers with product. At least in the US. That last comment goes toward consumer priducts also. My local camera store closed down. Frankly, part of that was because they were a heavily Nikon dealer and couldn’t get what they wanted. (but that is only part of it)

      • ja

        well said , and totally true

      • Give me a break. What do any of us know about the intricacies of running a 10-billion dollar company?

        If you can do it better, start your own imaging company. There are some pretty impractical, impatient pinheads in the world.

        • Andre

          Thanks Ron, that comment saved me some typing. 🙂

    • twoomy

      Don’t forget that while all of us (or at least most of us?) understand the magnitude of the disaster and have feelings for the victims and realize that the nuclear portion of the disaster is far from over, BUSINESS STILL MOVES FORWARD.

      Sony, Panasonic, Olympus, and Samsung are not going to wait for Nikon and Canon to get back on their feet. They are moving forward with their new products regardless. I’m actually impressed at how quickly Sony recovered and how they are leading the pack with new releases at this point.

      We want new Nikon products to come out soon. Not only do we want to be selfish and hold that D800 in our hands, but we also want to see Nikon back in business again. Remember that they need to make and sell product in order to survive. The sooner the better, and that’s what they are thinking as well as us selfish consumers.

      • mr congeniality

        That’s right, just like G.W. Bush said, “We won’t let the terrorists win”, I’m sure Mr Nikon President Takahashi said “Re ron’t let the tsunami rin!”

        • yes-pictures

          Best comment since a very long time!

          It’s of course a mean and bad joke, but still very funny and it’s good to laugh after reading hundreds of unhappy fellow Nikonians, all pissed off because Nikon still didn’t released the D800 (or those unhappy about the whining).

          Well, I am both of them! I do come here everyday, waiting for my new body… but still agrees that there are many worst things in life to be unhappy about!

          More seriously: what about the YEN exchange rate?

          Do you realize that with the actual exchange rate, the dealers will have to buy products very high, and get a proper margin!
          If a body is released now, we would either pay a good body very very high or still pay good money for a cheaply made product!

          May be that’s another reason for delaying a new launch?

    • Lawliet

      Sadly the revenue officer doesn’t really care wheather you think its about a craftsman blaming his tools.
      “Did I have sufficient job related expenses?” is all that really matters, and the bodies are written off and due to replacement.

      Isn’t it ironic how the “get out shooting”-crowd always misses that to much net profit is a liability?

    • A Thought


  • Donald

    So, nothing happen to the Nikon plant in earthquake.

    Due to that reason only they unable to produce DSLR’s and all the stores over the world is EMPTY. Great going on Nikon.


    • JY

      Do you really think that all the spare parts are made in there?

    • sirin

      you don’t know much about how they manufacture them, do you?
      actually, most of the spare parts for flagship cameras are hand-made and come from individual vendors, most of which are considered small businesses. that includes some of the glass elements in lenses. some of those businesses are located in the same area and suffered different consequences after the earthquake.

    • Pdf Ninja

      1. They lost employees.
      2. Suffered precision equipment damage not visible in the satellite images.
      3. Rolling blackouts: Manufacturing needs continuous source of electricity.
      4. Many parts suppliers suffered more significant damage.

      • A Thought

        and didn’t the whole area get radioactive levels pretty scary?

        • No. The Sendai area is relatively safe (if it weren’t, I wouldn’t be moving there this month).

          The winds have blown radiation in a Northwestern direction, resulting in the areas of Iitate, Date, Fukushima city and Nihonmatsu being irradiated (albeit all with differing degrees- some worse than others). Sendai, overall, was not “hit” by radiation very hard. I do believe I saw a map once that showed a small blip on the corner of the city once.

          Here is an excellent resource for maps:

          My apologies for the Japanese, but it’s not my site, so not much I can do about it. But there’s a fair amount of English labelling, so it should be accessible enough.

          I currently live in Utsunomiya. We were getting elevated rates in the month after 3/11. I saw this with Geiger counters we had at work. Those levels have since dropped.

          Here is a reading I took from a fellow volunteer’s Geiger counter (Ukrainian unit) in Minamisoma (town that is partly inside of the 30km exclusion zone):

          I was just up in Minamisoma again on Sunday. The highest level I recorded was 4.54 μSv/h in an area between Iitate and Minamisoma. That was measured at ~1meter from the ground (asphalt). I was standing at a bus stop which was across the street from someone’s house. So people *are* living in these areas, still (despite what the news and/or gov’t may have you believe). If I were to have measured near the soil nearby instead, I’m sure it would have been much higher. As it was, I was on my way to disperse goods to people in temporary shelters, so didn’t take more time to be thorough.

          • joseph smith

            Who cares. I want my new camera! Too Many Bleeding Hearts out there!

  • Nicolò

    If there are so many experts around here, why doesn’t anyone contact Nikon whether the Sendai-plant is cranking out gear or not?
    Or are the Nikon-officials presumed gods and does no one dare to ask just such a simple question?

  • Dormant

    There doesn’t appear to have been any significant structural damage caused by the earthquake.

    But I bet the insides of those buildings would have been a mess.

  • Phil

    What’s with the blue cast? I had to process the image in Photoshop using levels and color match to compare it to the before image.

    • I guess it was a cloudy day – this is how I got the image from Google Earth

  • Jason

    No wonder production came to a halt – a bloody great big yellow push pin seems to have crashed through the roof after the earthquake! 😉

  • BetaHal

    March 13, 2011 was sunday. Sundays are federal holidays in Japan, so I’d much prefer hearing the story from real people (those who were around Sendai on those undoubtedly terrible days) than watching senseless aerial photograps, thank you very much!

    • Manuel


    • While I don’t live in Sendai (although I will be moving there this month), I do live just south of Sendai. And I can vouch for the power of all three disasters that have hit the Tohoku (Northern Japan) area. Even though I’m at about the halfway mark between Sendai and Tokyo, I was almost thrown to the ground a couple times while standing on solid ground during the earthquake. Watch YouTube- buildings in Tokyo were swaying; hundreds of miles away. The tsunami… I don’t have the words to describe the damage. I’ve been volunteering up there helping out and the scale defies description. The radiation- I’ve been through that area- have my own geiger counter and can verify that things are not well down there. In fact, there are hot spots outside that 30km exclusion zone.

      For those that think that “the” earthquake didn’t do much damage, you need to do a little studying on tectonics and what happened that week.
      Here is a map of 3/11:
      It’s still set at the initial calculation of M7.9 instead of M9.0. Looking at the map, you have to realize that Japan uses the Shindo system. The West needs to adopt this approach, in my opinion. Seeing only the magnitude really gives no idea of what happened on the ground in any particular place. The Shindo scale pinpoints different areas and lets you know how much different areas were affected by the quake.
      (For reference, I live in an area rated as 6+ on that 3/11 map)

      Above, I wrote “the” earthquake. I put quotes on “the” because it wasn’t just a single earthquake. Sure, the M9.0 caused the tsunami and damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. But the earth was constantly shaking for over a week after that. The big quake started small- it was long, however. Towards the end, it got very powerful. So during that week, whenever there were quakes, no one (including myself) knew whether to run or not. I can tell you that everyone were on edge. And I wasn’t even at the worst area. The people in the winter cold who had no houses, no electricity, no spare clothes, were walking around in the sludge and remnants of their homes and businesses – they had it worse. Most of the earthquakes originated up there. So can you imagine one earthquake destroying your life as you know it? Now can you imagine thinking that another one might happen at any moment? Every time the earth shook a little, it provoked a fight or flight response. And so it was either buckle down or grab what you could and run outside. Now imagine not the people, but the machinery. There was already a huge quake that probably made a shambles of the Nikon plant. Then there were constant tremors in the area. Do you dial things in and then dial it in again 15 minutes later after another quake hits? Or do you wait until things settle down? (and you have no idea that will be, either).
      Spain had an M5.1 quake, correct? Some people died, unfortunately. Lots of damage, though. Lots of concern. That was *one* quake. What we went through in one week will probably be more quakes that all of the people in Europe will experience in their lifetimes. So no, it wasn’t just one quake.

      Having Daiichi thrown offline caused a lot of trouble power-wise. We’re still dealing with that- trying to conserve energy so we don’t have to go through rolling blackouts. Had those for awhile and it was a huge nuisance trying to figure out how to run a business with downtime like that (the blackouts would be semi-scheduled, but it was still tough to work around). The company I worked for, it was stressful. When your equipment has warm-up/cool-down or high temperature requirements, working an hour or so blackout into the schedule is tough.

      Also, it’s not just Nikon that got hit. That area was wiped clean of many small vendors that supplied parts. GM in the US had to shut down an auto plant due to lack of part. Nikon cancelled what? 2 P&S cams? Canon had their own issues with parts (spoke to a Canon employee that I met while volunteering). The global supply chain got to see how constrained it was when one area stops working.

      And then there’s the fact of losing people. I am under the impression that the Nikon plant “only” lost two employees. However, how many of the remaining employees lost their homes? Their families? Their friends? Everything they own? I can’t even begin to describe the trauma that they must have been going through. So yes, thinking that Nikon’s screwing their customers by not ramping up production on a Sunday two days after one of the largest disasters in mankind’s history (earthquake + tsunami + nuclear disaster) is a bit ignorant and short-sighted.

      There is a lot of information out there. Read a bit. Please understand that there are *so* many interconnected issues at play here. It’s not just a matter of sweeping up some spilled parts on the plant floor. Even now, 6 months later, I would imagine they are still working around miscellaneous issues that are resulting from 3/11.

      And if any of you are still reading (am sure there’ll be a couple TL;DRs here), please take a moment to help out Tohoku, if possible. Six months on and most everyone are in temporary shelters, but now the gov’t are not taking responsibility for feeding these people. Us volunteers are doing what we can, but every little bit from anywhere helps. It’ll be several years in the rebuilding process, I’m sure.

      6 month comparison shots:

      • Thank you for taking the time to share your story!

  • John Richardson

    I notice that some of the red cars are in different parking spots … I have lost faith in Japanese tradition and work ethics.

    JK 🙂 I also guess the insides were a mess

    • sirin

      lol. good one. )

  • scurvy hesh

    Its sad that the Admin needed to post this. it is very clear what is going on and the effects ripple beyond the plant itself. Seriously, some of the people here are just annoying consumers with outrageous demands. I am pretty sure they will be dissatisfied with whatever Nikon produced because people like that don’t really like to do photography. They like gear. Gear to take pictures of their stupid dog to post on DPreview so all their friends can post about their “great capture!” Apparently they think they require insane MP numbers to do this when all they really need is a D90. In fact that might be too advanced for them… Reminds me of the Veruca Salt song from Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. “I want it noooooooooow, Give it to me nowwww”


  • Nicolò

    Read Thom’s now!

  • Art Jacks

    I just wonder how many of the complainers about the perceived lateness of the D800 will switch there complaining to the price that Nikon asks or will they actually put their money down and purchase it as soon as it is available.
    I purchased a D700 less than a year ago and I am perfectly satisfied with the results i am producing, I am sure it will continue working once the new camera is launched.

    • nikondeathswticheroo

      actually nikon has a death button it can press to disable all the d700’s when the d800 is released and you will HAVE to buy a new camera. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

  • scurvy hesh

    LOL my post got deleted?

    • Was it in French?

      • scurvy hesh

        Sorry! I thought it was because I had my Sarcasm filter set to high. Now while I am keen to see what will eventually come out of Sendai I welcome this Mirrorless announcement in the next Month. Sounds like it might it might be the perfect camera for my urban Spelunking expeditions. I hope they make it Weather resistant of offer a factory WP case at least. That way when I drop it it wont get flooded with sewer water LOL!

    • scurvy hesh

      oops refresh fail…

  • Ole

    I see alot of people in here complaining about the lacking communication from the Nikon executives. I can’t help but wonder if this may be due to the difference in culture in Japan vs the west.

    Don’t worry – the products will come

  • Ric

    The building in the upper right is where they are finalizing NX3

  • tanega

    I have been to the factor in Sendai as well as Tochig Nikon “lens Factory”. I was told it takes about 4 to six months to tool up a new line. So yes they are working feverish pace now…My friends at the factory tell me that they are working very hard to bring things up to speed. Being a NPS member and having a Japanese wife has it’s benefits…

    • shiny shinto man

      was she mail order like my d800 will be?

  • Paul

    The earthquake occurred on March 11 (a Friday), two days later March 13 would be a Sunday. I’m not familiar with Japanese working hours; however, would the factory be fully operational on a Sunday or is this a typical day off? A more telling image would be from Monday, March 14.

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