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

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 befell months in the past, the questions and solutions are as legitimate at the moment 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: Because of COVID, it’s been a really lengthy whereas since we final spoke, and lots has occurred within the meantime. The discharge of the Z 9 was most likely 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 traits emerged, by way of the forms of customers shopping for it? (Its video capabilities specifically are next-level.)

Keiji Oishi: I actually recognize your excessive analysis of the Z 9, Thanks. Regardless of the COVID pandemic, Nikon has continued to counterpoint 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-Dwell 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 digicam is performing very effectively, exceeding our expectations.

The Z 9 has been broadly in style with each professionals and amateurs. Whereas the digicam was deliberate as a flagship mannequin, designed to supply professionals the boldness they require of their gear, it has additionally been very effectively acquired by newbie 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 completely happy to say that the Z 9 has additionally been receiving excessive reward as a video instrument. For instance, we’ve acquired suggestions resembling “The Z 9 is bound to be a digicam that might be broadly utilized in documentary applications in harsh environments” and “The Z 9 is a sound choice for video manufacturing websites.”

Increasingly more individuals are selecting the Z 9 for his or her video wants, and significantly, it has been very effectively acquired by small-scale manufacturing websites (one-off operation websites, and many others.) for its ease of dealing with, picture high quality, and diversified format choices. Examples of utilization embody 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 current chat that gross sales proceed to be extraordinarily robust. With the Z8 now providing nearly the identical options in a extra compact physique for significantly much less cash, an increasing number of 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 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 smart; 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 relating to 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 energetic 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 could be fairly speedy, however are there nonetheless a variety of present customers persevering with to stay on and put money into 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 robust demand. We now have famous that many customers have switched to our mirrorless system. Then again, we acknowledge that there are a sure variety of customers that choose the digital SLR system for its numerous deserves (optical finder, battery life, and many others.), and we are going to 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 embody any point out of growing new F-mount DSLRs or lenses. This is smart; Nikon must commit 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 as of late. 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 ceaselessly, 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” know-how to acknowledge and observe all kinds of topic sorts, 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 feels like among the tech will discover its method into older our bodies by way of firmware updates, though older processors received’t be as quick at executing the algorithms because the Z9’s EXPEED 7 chip. Nikon ranks forward of most different firms relating to 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 energetic by way of releasing firmware updates for present digicam fashions, which I extremely assist. Will you be capable to prolong 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 completely 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 type of {hardware} coming to lower-end fashions as effectively?

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 features or offers 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 come back, and this worth exists within the basis of our product planning. We consider that that is one thing that our clients discover and recognize. Because the Z 9 was launched on the finish of 2021, main firmware updates have been launched constantly (twice, as of Feb. 2023), and the digicam has developed to the purpose the place it’s nearly an entire new product.

The know-how developed for high-end fashions, resembling flagships, is very helpful in helping the taking pictures of shoppers who search a mid-level or entry-level digicam. Our philosophy is to not restrict the know-how to the highest line however to broaden it all through and strengthen the lineup. Please stay 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 at the very least among the superior algorithms we’ve seen within the Z 9 and Z8 will make their technique 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 equipment by itself, and an amazing deal when bundled with the digicam for $100 or much less above the value of the physique or physique/lens equipment alone.

How Are Folks 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 many others., 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 digicam actually appears to tick all of the containers for video creators — how has its uptake been in that market? Do you see its customers being primarily video creators, or are there a variety of newbie hybrid nonetheless/video customers (or purely nonetheless shooters, for that matter) as effectively? Do you might have any concept of the break up between these classes?

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

With the unfold and progress of social networking platforms, photographs have develop into a part of our every day lives. Importing photographs and movies to social has develop into commonplace, and an increasing number of 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 turning into an increasing number of accessible, particularly on social, and the demand for video, particularly amongst younger individuals, is steadily growing. The boundary between video and nonetheless photographs 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 attention-grabbing. Oishi-san’s reply focuses lots on a youthful consumer demographic, which has develop into one thing of a holy grail for digicam producers. Provided 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 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 to date. 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 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-Get together Lenses on Z-Mount Going Ahead?

DE: I used to be very happy to see that Tamron might be making Z-mount lenses. Will Sigma be capable to as effectively? Sigma has a broad line that I feel 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 not too long ago 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 purchasers who’re contemplating the Z mount system. It’s nice that clients have extra decisions for lenses with numerous traits

It’s very encouraging to see Nikon licensing their mount and lens/digicam communication protocol to 3rd events, however the progress up to now has appeared half-hearted, at the very least relating to autofocus lenses, with simply two Tamron zoom lenses and three Sigma primes accessible as I’m scripting this in late August 2023. It’s good that Nikon has allowed at the very 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 could 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+, that they had twin variations of the broad 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 reality a mid-range mannequin, launched at an inventory worth 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). 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? Would possibly we see the same 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 broaden 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 hold asking them, partly as a result of I *sometimes* 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 surprising however because it seems, my supposition was appropriate. Nikon introduced their NIKKOR Z 70-180mm f/2.8 lens on June 21, 2023, at an inventory 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 broaden 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 effectively, they usually’re good “future-proofing” do you have to 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: Whilst 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.) Whilst you do have a 24mm and 12-28mm PZ on the roadmap, that can nonetheless depart you with solely 5 DX lenses within the lineup. Now that you simply’ve fleshed out the full-frame Z-mount portfolio, would possibly 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 positive on DX cameras?

KO: Nikon’s technique is to concentrate on mid-to-high-end mirrorless cameras and lenses, for which there’s robust 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 broaden the lens lineup in a method that can 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 most important focus might be on higher-end optics. This looks like a wonderful 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 utility they have been . What he meant turned clear when Nikon launched firmware model 4.0 for the Z 9, which principally turns the Z 9 into an clever digicam entice, letting it set off robotically based mostly on movement, topic distance or perhaps a explicit topic kind showing inside the body.

Will AI Prolong Past Topic Recognition to Have an effect on the Pictures Instantly?

DE: It is a query I’m asking all of the producers: Within the digicam 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 kind of 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 purposes like evening pictures, portraits (adjusting pores and skin tones specifically), and basic white stability. I feel it’s going to be essential for conventional digicam makers to fulfill the picture high quality (or maybe extra precisely “picture enchantment”) provided by the telephone makers. This looks like a definite drawback for the digicam 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’s area-specific picture processing. When a picture is shot, along with the primary topic, resembling 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 doable to seize high-quality photographs. For instance, optimum noise discount processing could be doable for areas with diversified textures, resembling 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 photographs that mirror the picture processing carried out in every space, which is a giant benefit Nikon has.

As well as, with the development of AI and machine studying know-how, the knowledge that may be obtained from the topic and environment can be utilized not just for object detection in AF however can be efficient for data that’s helpful in taking pictures, resembling the realm 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 are going to proceed to develop know-how that permits creators to raised concentrate on composition and timing.

This was one of many extra attention-grabbing solutions I received to this query. Most digicam producers responded by saying that their job was merely to supply essentially the most “correct” illustration of every scene, versus the sometimes-radical changes of tone and shade utilized by mobile phone cameras in an try to supply handsome photographs 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 centered on utilizing AI to know the elements of a picture, so noise discount will be optimized for various elements of the topic individually. I feel 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 digicam’s processor sees an space of the picture with a variety of high-frequency content material, it’s going to assume that it signifies that the topic itself has a variety of positive element there, so it’s 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 attempting to deduce topic content material from native element, the digicam will know (e.g.) that it is 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 positive 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 possibly can set the digicam to robotically seize both nonetheless photographs or video based mostly on numerous standards, together with topic movement, topic distance, or the detection of an individual, animal, or automobile inside the body. It lets the Z9 be used as a distant digicam that doesn’t want an individual to manage it or added gear like a protracted cable or radio distant to perform. Pure purposes embody issues like motorsports, observe and subject, and different sports activities and wildlife images, placing the digicam locations the place it wouldn’t be protected or sensible to have a photographer standing.


This text is brief sufficient that I received’t hassle including my standard 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.