Asking Nikon In regards to the Z 9, F-Mount Lenses, AI, and Extra

On the CP+2023 Digicam & Photograph Imaging Present in Japan earlier this yr, 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 at present 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 Achieved?

David Etchells: Due to COVID, it’s been a really lengthy whereas since we final spoke, and rather a lot has occurred within the meantime. The discharge of the Z 9 was in all probability essentially the most vital occasion although; it looks like an actual breakthrough for the Z-system and Nikon itself extra broadly. Have its gross sales met, been beneath, or exceeded your expectations? Have any developments emerged, when it comes to the sorts of customers shopping for it? (Its video capabilities particularly 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 complement our lineup with enticing 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-Stay 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 common with each professionals and amateurs. Whereas the digital camera was deliberate as a flagship mannequin, designed to supply professionals the boldness they require of their gear, it has additionally been very nicely acquired by novice 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 instrument. For instance, we’ve acquired suggestions akin to “The Z 9 is bound to be a digital camera that shall be extensively utilized in documentary applications in harsh environments” and “The Z 9 is a sound possibility for video manufacturing websites.”

Increasingly individuals are selecting the Z 9 for his or her video wants, and significantly, it has been very nicely acquired by small-scale manufacturing websites (one-off operation websites, and so on.) for its ease of dealing with, picture high quality, and different 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 virtually 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 immediately, it appears seemingly 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 the 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 out there, the F-mount already has one of many broadest strains of high-quality lenses within the business, so Nikon’s DSLR shooters aren’t missing in terms 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 quite a lot 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 concentrate on mid-to-high-end mirrorless cameras and lenses, for which there’s sturdy demand. We’ve famous that many customers have switched to our mirrorless system. Then again, we acknowledge that there are a sure variety of customers that want the digital SLR system for its numerous deserves (optical finder, battery life, and so on.), and we are going to proceed with gross sales in addition to offering help.

A not-unexpectedly-vague reply, however studying between the strains, it’s vital that Oishi-san’s reply doesn’t embrace any point out of growing new F-mount DSLRs or lenses. This is sensible; Nikon must dedicate all accessible 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 today. In the meantime, although, the D780 is a really succesful trendy physique for present DSLR shooters, and the F-mount lens line is among the broadest within the business. Nothing is eternally, however DSLR Nikon shooters have a strong array of merchandise and apparently some years of help left but.

Whereas Nikon has had very competent face- and eye-detect autofocus programs for a while, the Z9 marks the primary time they’d utilized AI “deep studying” know-how to acknowledge and observe 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 essential position, it feels like a number of the tech will discover its manner into older our bodies by 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 terms of including new capabilities to present our bodies by way of firmware updates; the Z9 has seen no fewer than six firmware releases because it hit the market. Screenshot by Reed Hoffmann.

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

DE: Nikon has been very lively when it comes to releasing firmware updates for present digital camera fashions, which I extremely help. Will you be capable to prolong a number of the advances in AI topic recognition we noticed within the Z 9 to different fashions with lesser processors in them, or are these options fully depending on particular capabilities of the EXPEED 7 chip? I assume that the EXPEED 7 processor within the Z 9 has devoted circuitry to help machine-learning algorithms for topic recognition. Going ahead, will we see that type 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 at least 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 gives heightened efficiency, we’re capable of proceed to excite and shock our prospects after the preliminary buy. Our hope is that prospects 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 imagine that that is one thing that our prospects discover and respect. For the reason that Z 9 was launched on the finish of 2021, main firmware updates have been launched constantly (twice, as of Feb. 2023), and the digital camera has advanced to the purpose the place it’s virtually a complete new product.

The know-how developed for high-end fashions, akin to flagships, is particularly helpful in helping the taking pictures of shoppers who search a mid-level or entry-level digital camera. Our philosophy is to not restrict the know-how to the highest line however to develop it all through and strengthen the lineup. Please sit up for our future endeavors!

Producers’ statements about coming options or merchandise are at all times imprecise and cryptic, however I’ll take Oishi-san’s reply right here as excellent news that not less than a number of the superior algorithms we’ve seen within the Z 9 and Z8 will make their approach to lower-end fashions by way of 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 Equipment” 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 a terrific deal when bundled with the digital camera for $100 or much less above the worth of the physique or physique/lens package alone.

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

DE: The Z30 is clearly aimed toward video content material creators on YouTube, Instagram, and so on., particularly with its “Creators Equipment” 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 packing containers for video creators — how has its uptake been in that market? Do you see its customers being primarily video creators, or are there quite a lot of novice hybrid nonetheless/video customers (or purely nonetheless shooters, for that matter) as nicely? Do you’ve gotten any thought of the break up between these classes?

KO: The Z 30 is particularly common amongst younger content material creators as a compact and light-weight digital camera appropriate for day by day Vlog taking pictures.

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

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

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

I may have framed this query higher, however the reply remains to be attention-grabbing. Oishi-san’s reply focuses rather a lot on a youthful person demographic, which has develop 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 break up between video, hybrid, or nonetheless shooters, however studying between the strains, 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 yr. Right here’s hoping that we’ll see many extra of Sigma and Tamron’s lenses develop into accessible 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-Celebration Lenses on Z-Mount Going Ahead?

DE: I used to be very happy to see that Tamron shall 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 vastly, 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 not too long ago launched a growth announcement for Z-mount-compatible lenses. When lens producers launch Nikon-licensed lenses, prospects are capable of choose merchandise that meet their wants from a wider vary of choices; I imagine that this is a vital level for purchasers who’re contemplating the Z mount system. It’s nice that prospects have extra decisions for lenses with numerous traits

It’s very encouraging to see Nikon licensing their mount and lens/digital camera communication protocol to 3rd events, however the progress to this point has appeared half-hearted, not less than in terms of autofocus lenses, with simply two Tamron zoom lenses and three Sigma primes accessible as I’m penning this in late August 2023. It’s good that Nikon has allowed not less than 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 actually 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 towards their historic rival Canon, however photographers have to see greater than lip service to the thought to really feel that the Z-mount could have strong third-party help.

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+, that they had twin variations of the huge 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 actual fact a mid-range mannequin, launched at a listing worth of $1,249.95 US, with shipments starting in mid-July.

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

DE: I used to be to see the best way 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). Taking a look at your lens roadmap, will the approaching 70-180mm zoom have the same relationship to your present 70-200mm f/2.8? May we see the same method to different focal size/aperture combos sooner or later?

KO: Whereas we will’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 position in growth.

I virtually by no means get a straight reply to this type 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 right. Nikon introduced their NIKKOR Z 70-180mm f/2.8 lens on June 21, 2023, at a listing worth of $1,250.

Introduced again in October of 2021, the Nikkor Z DX 18-140mm f/3.5-6.3 zoom was essentially the most recently-released DX-format lens for the Z mount. Will there be others? Maybe ultimately, however Nikon’s clear first precedence is to additional develop their full-frame lineup. Whereas full-frame lenses are in fact extra cumbersome than their sub-frame counterparts, sub-frame cameras can use them completely nicely, and so they’re good “future-proofing” must you ultimately resolve to improve to full-frame taking pictures. Nonetheless, it could be good to have extra sub-frame lenses for the Z mount: Hopefully Nikon will license the likes of Sigma and Tamron to carry 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 worth 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 price 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 go away you with solely 5 DX lenses within the lineup. Now that you just’ve fleshed out the full-frame Z-mount portfolio, may we see extra consideration to the DX market sooner or later? – Or is it arduous to make a enterprise case for them, provided that DX customers purchase far fewer lenses than full-frame ones do, and the full-frame lenses work simply tremendous on DX cameras?

KO: Nikon’s technique is to concentrate on mid-to-high-end mirrorless cameras and lenses, for which there’s sturdy demand. Nonetheless, we imagine APS-C merchandise are essential as they operate as an entrance for hobbyists. We’re in fact 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 major focus shall be on higher-end optics. This looks like 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
Once I requested about AI again in late February, Oishi-san talked about “automation” as being an utility 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 based mostly on movement, topic distance or perhaps a explicit topic kind showing throughout the body.

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

DE: This can be 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 pictures themselves. I’d characterize all these as “seize aids”, in that they roughly help the photographer with the mechanics of getting the pictures they need, however they don’t have an effect on the character or content material of the pictures 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 particularly), and basic white steadiness. I believe it’s going to be essential for conventional digital camera makers to satisfy the picture high quality (or maybe extra precisely “picture attraction”) provided by the telephone makers. This seems 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 principle topic, akin to an individual, the captured picture additionally contains 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 potential to seize high-quality photos. For instance, optimum noise discount processing can be potential for areas with different textures, akin 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 know-how is a key issue within the completion of photos that replicate the picture processing carried out in every space, which is a giant benefit Nikon has.

As well as, with the advance of AI and machine studying know-how, the data that may be obtained from the topic and environment can be utilized not just for object detection in AF however can be efficient for info that’s helpful in taking pictures, akin to the realm of the principle topic. Given this, we will 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 are going to proceed to develop know-how that allows creators to raised concentrate on composition and timing.

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

Oishi-san’s reply suggests the same feeling inside Nikon since he didn’t converse to the query of modifying tone or shade. As an alternative, his response targeted on utilizing AI to know the elements of a picture, so noise discount could be optimized for various elements of the topic individually. I believe many cameras try to do that already, albeit based mostly 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 quite a lot of high-frequency content material, it is going to assume that it implies that the topic itself has quite a lot of tremendous element there, so it is going to again off on the noise discount in that space.)

What Oishi-san is speaking about goes a lot deeper than this. Somewhat than making an attempt to deduce topic content material from native element, the digital camera will know (e.g.) that it is a face, with pores and skin tones in these areas the place noise must be strictly restricted, whereas these different areas correspond to eyelashes, the place preserving tremendous element is extra essential 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 strong Auto Seize operate. You possibly can set the digital camera to mechanically seize both nonetheless photos or video based mostly on numerous standards, together with topic movement, topic distance, or the detection of an individual, animal, or automobile throughout the body. It lets the Z9 be used as a distant digital camera that doesn’t want an individual to regulate it or added gear like a protracted cable or radio distant to operate. Pure functions embrace issues like motorsports, observe and discipline, 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 ordinary bullet-point abstract right here on the backside. Depart any (well mannered) ideas or questions beneath, and I’ll attempt to monitor the feedback for the subsequent few days to answer your questions and feedback.