September 22, 2023


How Art Works

Asking Nikon Concerning the Z 9, F-Mount Lenses, AI, and Extra

17 min read

On the CP+2023 Digital camera & Photograph Imaging Present in Japan earlier this 12 months, I had a dialog with Keiji Oishi, Supervisor within the UX Planning Division of Nikon’s Imaging Enterprise Unit.

Whereas this interview occurred months in the past, the questions and solutions are as legitimate right now as they have been then, so I’m happy to lastly share them.

I interviewed Keiji Oishi for this text, Supervisor, UX Planning Division, within the Imaging Enterprise Unit. (UX = Person Expertise)

Desk of Contents

The Z 9 Was a Large Product. How Has It Executed?

David Etchells: Because of COVID, it’s been a really lengthy whereas since we final spoke, and loads has occurred within the meantime. The discharge of the Z 9 was in all probability probably the most vital occasion although; it looks as if an actual breakthrough for the Z-system and Nikon itself extra broadly. Have its gross sales met, been under, or exceeded your expectations? Have any developments emerged, by way of the kinds of customers shopping for it? (Its video capabilities specifically are next-level.)

Keiji Oishi: I actually respect your excessive analysis of the Z 9, Thanks. Regardless of the COVID pandemic, Nikon has continued to counterpoint our lineup with engaging merchandise, together with the flagship Z 9, which options heightened nonetheless picture and video efficiency.

Along with its superior AF efficiency, adoption of the Actual-Reside ViewFinder which realizes enhanced worth within the EVF expertise, and long-time 8K video taking pictures capabilities, the Z 9 attracted consideration for its elimination of the mechanical shutter. We’re grateful to say that the digital camera is performing very nicely, exceeding our expectations.

The Z 9 has been extensively in style with each professionals and amateurs. Whereas the digital camera was deliberate as a flagship mannequin, designed to supply professionals the arrogance they require of their gear, it has additionally been very nicely acquired by beginner shooters preferring merchandise that share the identical philosophy as that utilized by professionals.

Although Nikon has a powerful picture as a images model, we’re pleased to say that the Z 9 has additionally been receiving excessive reward as a video software. For instance, we’ve acquired suggestions similar to “The Z 9 is certain to be a digital camera that might be extensively utilized in documentary packages in harsh environments” and “The Z 9 is a legitimate possibility for video manufacturing websites.”

Increasingly more individuals are selecting the Z 9 for his or her video wants, and notably, it has been very nicely acquired by small-scale manufacturing websites (one-off operation websites, and so forth.) for its ease of dealing with, picture high quality, and diverse format choices. Examples of utilization embrace the taking pictures of music movies, in addition to use in TV broadcasting stations.

Whereas Nikon already had a powerful mirrorless lineup, the Z 9 was a real breakthrough product for them. It leapfrogged the competitors in a number of areas, however particularly in its video capabilities. Nikon confirmed in a latest chat that gross sales proceed to be extraordinarily sturdy. With the Z8 now providing nearly the identical options in a extra compact physique for significantly much less cash, increasingly more longtime Nikon shooters who moved to different platforms within the earlier days of the mirrorless revolution are switching again.

Whereas Oishi-san didn’t say so instantly, it appears possible that the Nikon 120-300mm AF-S NIKKOR f/2.8E FL ED SR VR is the final new F-mount lens we’ll see. This is sensible; particularly following the Z9 launch, the overwhelming momentum is in direction of Nikon’s mirrorless fashions, in order that’s the place they should focus their efforts and sources. Even with out that sea-change available in the market, the F-mount already has one of many broadest traces of high-quality lenses within the trade, so Nikon’s DSLR shooters aren’t missing in the case of lens choices.

What Does the Future Maintain for F-mount Cameras and Lenses?

DE: I used to be happy to see your announcement of the D780 and the F-mount 120-300mm in January of 2020; each have been nice information for all of the Nikon DSLR shooters on the market. What p.c of your present lively customers do you assume are nonetheless taking pictures with DSLRs as their major platform? Do you see present DSLR customers nonetheless shopping for new F-mount lenses, or have most lens gross sales now shifted to the Z-mount? I’ve been assuming that the decline in F-mount gross sales can be fairly fast, however are there nonetheless lots of present customers persevering with to stay on and spend money on the platform? Will the 120-300mm be the final F-mount lens?

KO: Nikon’s technique is to give attention to mid-to-high-end mirrorless cameras and lenses, for which there’s sturdy demand. We’ve got famous that many customers have switched to our mirrorless system. Alternatively, we acknowledge that there are a sure variety of customers that favor the digital SLR system for its varied deserves (optical finder, battery life, and so forth.), and we’ll proceed with gross sales in addition to offering assist.

A not-unexpectedly-vague reply, however studying between the traces, it’s vital that Oishi-san’s reply doesn’t embrace any point out of creating new F-mount DSLRs or lenses. This is sensible; Nikon must dedicate all out there sources to constructing out the Z-mount line of our bodies and lenses to maintain up with the competitors, as that’s the place the market is lately. In the meantime, although, the D780 is a really succesful trendy physique for present DSLR shooters, and the F-mount lens line is likely one of the broadest within the trade. Nothing is without end, however DSLR Nikon shooters have a strong array of merchandise and apparently some years of assist left but.

Whereas Nikon has had very competent face- and eye-detect autofocus techniques for a while, the Z9 marks the primary time they’d utilized AI “deep studying” expertise to acknowledge and monitor all kinds of topic varieties, together with individuals, canines, cats and birds, vehicles, bikes, trains, airplanes, and bicycles. Whereas the EXPEED 7 picture processing chip performs an necessary function, it seems like among the tech will discover its manner into older our bodies via firmware updates, though older processors gained’t be as quick at executing the algorithms because the Z9’s EXPEED 7 chip. Nikon ranks forward of most different firms in the case of including new capabilities to present our bodies through firmware updates; the Z9 has seen no fewer than six firmware releases because it hit the market. Screenshot by Reed Hoffmann.

Can Firmware Updates Deliver Some Z 9 Options to Different Fashions?

DE: Nikon has been very lively by way of releasing firmware updates for present digital camera fashions, which I extremely assist. Will you be capable to lengthen among the advances in AI topic recognition we noticed within the Z 9 to different fashions with lesser processors in them, or are these options solely depending on particular capabilities of the EXPEED 7 chip? I assume that the EXPEED 7 processor within the Z 9 has devoted circuitry to assist machine-learning algorithms for topic recognition. Going ahead, will we see that kind of {hardware} coming to lower-end fashions as nicely?

For our readers: The Z 9 makes use of an EXPEED 7 processor, the Z6II/Z7II use twin EXPEED 6 chips, and the Z5/Z6/Z7/Z50/Z30/Zfc all use single EXPEED 6 processors. The Z 9 has a minimum of 9 subject-detection classes, together with individuals, canines, cats, and birds, and vehicles, bikes, trains, airplanes, and bicycles. The Z6II and Z7II have subject-tracking modes for individuals and animals.

KO: Thanks for supporting our efforts round our steady launch of firmware updates. By releasing firmware that provides new capabilities or supplies heightened efficiency, we’re in a position to proceed to excite and shock our clients after the preliminary buy. Our hope is that clients can proceed to make use of their product with satisfaction for a few years to return, and this worth exists within the basis of our product planning. We consider that that is one thing that our clients discover and respect. Because the Z 9 was launched on the finish of 2021, main firmware updates have been launched repeatedly (twice, as of Feb. 2023), and the digital camera has developed to the purpose the place it’s nearly an entire new product.

The expertise developed for high-end fashions, similar to flagships, is very useful in aiding the taking pictures of shoppers who search a mid-level or entry-level digital camera. Our philosophy is to not restrict the expertise to the highest line however to develop it all through and strengthen the lineup. Please stay up for our future endeavors!

Producers’ statements about coming options or merchandise are all the time obscure and cryptic, however I’ll take Oishi-san’s reply right here as excellent news that at the least among the superior algorithms we’ve seen within the Z 9 and Z8 will make their strategy to lower-end fashions through firmware updates.

The explosion of on-line video content material creators has created large marketplace for succesful “hybrid” video/nonetheless cameras. Nikon’s Z 30 is aimed squarely at these customers, with options and ergonomics tailor-made to their wants. Their “Creator’s Accent Package” provides a nifty mixed handgrip/tabletop tripod/wi-fi distant and an exterior camera-mounted microphone for comfort, ease of use, and higher-quality audio recording. It’s an honest deal at $149 for the package by itself, and an incredible deal when bundled with the digital camera for $100 or much less above the value of the physique or physique/lens package alone.

How Are Folks Utilizing the Z 30? Principally for Video, or Hybrid Video/Nonetheless?

DE: The Z30 is clearly geared toward video content material creators on YouTube, Instagram, and so forth., particularly with its “Creators Package” bundles. [For our readers, these are kits that bundle the Z30 body, either one or two lenses, a mic, a “tripod grip” and remote control, at very affordable prices.] The digital camera definitely appears to tick all of the bins for video creators — how has its uptake been in that market? Do you see its customers being primarily video creators, or are there lots of beginner hybrid nonetheless/video customers (or purely nonetheless shooters, for that matter) as nicely? Do you have got any concept of the cut up between these classes?

KO: The Z 30 is very in style amongst younger content material creators as a compact and light-weight digital camera appropriate for each day Vlog taking pictures.

With the unfold and progress of social networking platforms, photos have turn into a part of our each day lives. Importing photos and movies to social has turn into commonplace, and increasingly more individuals, particularly younger individuals, are in search of interchangeable-lens cameras for increased picture high quality, for each nonetheless and video.

Content material creation is turning into increasingly more accessible, particularly on social, and the demand for video, particularly amongst younger individuals, is steadily rising. The boundary between video and nonetheless photos is disappearing, and the Z 30 is being adopted not just for video taking pictures but additionally for nonetheless/video hybrid taking pictures.

We consider {that a} mannequin appropriate for entry-level video is necessary in assembly the wants of this section.

I may have framed this query higher, however the reply continues to be fascinating. Oishi-san’s reply focuses loads on a youthful consumer demographic, which has turn into one thing of a holy grail for digital camera producers. On condition that, it’s vital that Oishi-san reported good gross sales for the Z30 amongst that age group. He didn’t give a solution for the cut up between video, hybrid, or nonetheless shooters, however studying between the traces, the hybrid nonetheless/video section is a big one.

Sigma lenses
Nikon has licensed third events to make lenses for his or her Z mount, however solely on a really restricted foundation thus far. One notable announcement was Sigma bringing a trio of their f/1.4 primes to the platform, again in late February of this 12 months. Right here’s hoping that we’ll see many extra of Sigma and Tamron’s lenses turn into out there going ahead. Nikon has a leg up on their main competitor Canon with third-party choices, however Nikon nonetheless lags far behind Fuji, Panasonic, and (particularly) Sony on this regard.

Will We See Extra Third-Get together Lenses on Z-Mount Going Ahead?

DE: I used to be more than happy to see that Tamron might be making Z-mount lenses. Will Sigma be capable to as nicely? Sigma has a broad line that I believe would profit the Z-mount ecosystem drastically, and I’ve heard lots of people touch upon Canon’s exclusion of third events from their RF system very negatively.

KO: Along with Tamron and Cosina, Sigma additionally lately launched a improvement announcement for Z-mount-compatible lenses. When lens producers launch Nikon-licensed lenses, clients are in a position to choose merchandise that meet their wants from a wider vary of choices; I consider that this is a crucial level for patrons who’re contemplating the Z mount system. It’s nice that clients have extra selections for lenses with varied traits

It’s very encouraging to see Nikon licensing their mount and lens/digital camera communication protocol to 3rd events, however the progress so far has appeared half-hearted, at the least in the case of autofocus lenses, with simply two Tamron zoom lenses and three Sigma primes out there as I’m scripting this in late August 2023. It’s good that Nikon has allowed at the least that variety of third-party lenses on their platform, however I don’t assume it’s sufficient for photographers to really feel that the platform is really open. Nikon beats Canon on this level however lags far behind the likes of Sony, Fujifilm, Panasonic, Leica, and OM Digital. The truth that they permit any third-party autofocus lenses in any respect is a powerful level in opposition to their historic rival Canon, however photographers must see greater than lip service to the concept to really feel that the Z-mount may have strong third-party assist.

Nikkor 70-180mm f/2.8
Nikon has developed a parallel line of high-end and mid-range variations of the “trinity” of f/2.8 lenses. As of CP+, they’d twin variations of the large and center focal size zooms, however solely a high-end 70-200mm, with a 70-180mm lens on the roadmap. It turned out that the 70-180mm was in truth a mid-range mannequin, launched at a listing value of $1,249.95 US, with shipments starting in mid-July.

Will There Be an “Inexpensive” Complement to Your 70-200mm f/2.8?

DE: I used to be to see the way in which you’ve developed a parallel high-end and mid-range zoom lineup, with related focal size ranges and apertures, with the 14-24mm f/2.8 ($2,499) and 24-70mm F2.8 ($2,396), and the 17-28mm f/2.8 ($1,196) and 28-75mm F2.8 ($996). your lens roadmap, will the approaching 70-180mm zoom have an analogous relationship to your present 70-200mm f/2.8? Would possibly we see an analogous strategy to different focal size/aperture combos sooner or later?

KO: Whereas we are able to’t touch upon the specifics of future merchandise, we’re persevering with to quickly develop the lineup of NIKKOR Z lenses for our mirrorless cameras. Suggestions from the market and listening to the wants of customers play a major function in improvement.

I nearly by no means get a straight reply to this sort of query however I preserve asking them, partly as a result of I *often* get a solution, and in addition as a result of if I don’t ask any forward-looking questions I get pummeled by readers for not doing so. So this reply wasn’t sudden however because it seems, my supposition was appropriate. Nikon introduced their NIKKOR Z 70-180mm f/2.8 lens on June 21, 2023, at a listing value of $1,250.

Introduced again in October of 2021, the Nikkor Z DX 18-140mm f/3.5-6.3 zoom was probably the most recently-released DX-format lens for the Z mount. Will there be others? Maybe finally, however Nikon’s clear first precedence is to additional develop their full-frame lineup. Whereas full-frame lenses are after all extra cumbersome than their sub-frame counterparts, sub-frame cameras can use them completely nicely, and so they’re good “future-proofing” must you finally resolve to improve to full-frame taking pictures. Nonetheless, it will be good to have extra sub-frame lenses for the Z mount: Hopefully Nikon will license the likes of Sigma and Tamron to convey extra of their APS-C choices to the Z system. (Personally, I’d like to see Sigma’s stunning little 18-50mm f/2.8 DC DN | Up to date on the Z platform, it’s astonishingly good for its compact dimension and value level.)

DX Lenses Are a Little Skinny on the Floor. Will We See Extra within the Future?

DE: When you’ve been releasing lenses at a livid fee for the final a number of years, DX lenses are fairly skinny on the bottom. (For non-Nikon customers, “DX” is Nikon’s designation for lenses with an APS-C dimension picture circle.) When you do have a 24mm and 12-28mm PZ on the roadmap, that may nonetheless depart you with solely 5 DX lenses within the lineup. Now that you simply’ve fleshed out the full-frame Z-mount portfolio, may we see extra consideration to the DX market sooner or later? – Or is it laborious to make a enterprise case for them, on condition that DX customers purchase far fewer lenses than full-frame ones do, and the full-frame lenses work simply high quality on DX cameras?

KO: Nikon’s technique is to give attention to mid-to-high-end mirrorless cameras and lenses, for which there’s sturdy demand. Nonetheless, we consider APS-C merchandise are necessary as they perform as an entrance for hobbyists. We’re after all conscious of the demand from the marketplace for extra APS-C lenses and are planning to develop the lens lineup in a manner that may please our customers.

It’s excellent news that Oishi-san says extra DX lenses are coming sooner or later, though he’s additionally clear that their foremost focus might be on higher-end optics. This looks as if a superb space to look to 3rd events to assist in giving Nikon’s consumers extra viable choices; the wonderful Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 lens involves thoughts as a pure for the Z-mount.

Nikon Z9 firmware update 4.0
After I requested about AI again in late February, Oishi-san talked about “automation” as being an software they have been taking a look at. What he meant grew to become clear when Nikon launched firmware model 4.0 for the Z 9, which principally turns the Z 9 into an clever digital camera entice, letting it set off mechanically primarily based on movement, topic distance or perhaps a specific topic kind showing inside the body.

Will AI Prolong Past Topic Recognition to Have an effect on the Photos Straight?

DE: It is a query I’m asking all of the producers: Within the digital camera market, we’re seeing AI-based algorithms used for topic recognition, and to some extent scene recognition, however not for manipulating the photographs themselves. I’d characterize all these as “seize aids”, in that they roughly help the photographer with the mechanics of getting the photographs they need, however they don’t have an effect on the character or content material of the photographs themselves. (HDR seize being an exception.) In distinction, smartphone makers have used intensive machine learning-based picture manipulation, strongly adjusting picture tone, shade, and even focus in functions like evening photographs, portraits (adjusting pores and skin tones specifically), and common white steadiness. I believe it’s going to be crucial for conventional digital camera makers to satisfy the picture high quality (or maybe extra precisely “picture enchantment”) supplied by the cellphone makers. This looks like a definite drawback for the digital camera producers within the competitors with smartphones. What are you able to say about Nikon’s technique and work on this space?

KO: As a future initiative, there may be area-specific picture processing. When a picture is shot, along with the primary topic, similar to an individual, the captured picture additionally consists of backgrounds such because the sky or buildings. Making use of picture processing and noise discount processing that’s appropriate for every of those areas makes it attainable to seize high-quality photos. For instance, optimum noise discount processing can be attainable for areas with diverse textures, similar to bricks and the sky, in addition to detecting the facial pores and skin of human topics for beautification. The usage of machine studying (AI) makes it simpler to detect the areas of a picture. The buildup of expertise is a key issue within the completion of photos that replicate the picture processing carried out in every space, which is an enormous benefit Nikon has.

As well as, with the advance of AI and machine studying expertise, the data that may be obtained from the topic and environment can be utilized not just for object detection in AF however can also be efficient for info that’s helpful in taking pictures, similar to the world of the primary topic. Given this, we are able to think about automation of taking pictures that makes use of such applied sciences, realizing beforehand unimaginable taking pictures scenes and strategies and creating new imaging experiences. Shifting ahead, we’ll proceed to develop expertise that allows creators to raised give attention to composition and timing.

This was one of many extra fascinating solutions I received to this query. Most digital camera producers responded by saying that their job was merely to provide probably the most “correct” illustration of every scene, versus the sometimes-radical changes of tone and shade utilized by cellphone cameras in an try to provide handsome pictures within the face of inauspicious lighting.

Oishi-san’s reply suggests an analogous feeling inside Nikon since he didn’t converse to the query of modifying tone or shade. As an alternative, his response centered on utilizing AI to know the components of a picture, so noise discount will be optimized for various components of the topic individually. I believe many cameras try to do that already, albeit primarily based solely on the statistical traits of every native space of the picture. (As an example, if the digital camera’s processor sees an space of the picture with lots of high-frequency content material, it would assume that it signifies that the topic itself has lots of high quality element there, so it would again off on the noise discount in that space.)

What Oishi-san is speaking about goes a lot deeper than this. Relatively than making an attempt to deduce topic content material from native element, the digital camera will know (e.g.) that this can be a face, with pores and skin tones in these areas the place noise needs to be strictly restricted, whereas these different areas correspond to eyelashes, the place preserving high quality element is extra necessary than minimizing noise.

Past this he hinted cryptically at “automation of taking pictures”, which made me consider automated cropping and framing, to select and body topics in cluttered scenes. Because it’s since turned out, that’s precisely what he was speaking about: Nikon introduced firmware model 4.0 for the Z9 on June 12, 2023, introducing a robust Auto Seize perform. You’ll be able to set the digital camera to mechanically seize both nonetheless photos or video primarily based on varied standards, together with topic movement, topic distance, or the detection of an individual, animal, or car inside the body. It lets the Z9 be used as a distant digital camera that doesn’t want an individual to manage it or added gear like an extended cable or radio distant to perform. Pure functions embrace issues like motorsports, monitor and area, and different sports activities and wildlife images, placing the digital camera locations the place it wouldn’t be secure or sensible to have a photographer standing.


This text is brief sufficient that I gained’t hassle including my standard bullet-point abstract right here on the backside. Go away any (well mannered) ideas or questions under, and I’ll attempt to monitor the feedback for the following few days to reply to your questions and feedback.

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