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Digital SLR Camera D2X

The new Nikon digital camera flagship model on the market delivers superior high-resolution images, thanks to a newly-developed image processing engine with unprecedented capability for reproducing color. Here, the designer who helped create this processing engine proudly assesses the final result.

HOSHUYAMA, Hideo
Development Department, Imaging Company
Nikon Corporation
PROFILE:
Joined Nikon Corporation in 1989. First product development project: 35mm Color Film Scanner/Direct Transmitter NT-3000. Learned about various image processing-related technologies, including film scanning, image creation and masking for printing. Helped to develop film scanners, flat bed scanners and Scan Touch models, then focused on development of digital camera image processing systems starting with those for the D1 and COOLPIX 900. Enjoys windsurfing and other activities in the great outdoors on weekends.

"Various technologies go into making an image processing system."
Most important to such system development is the precise balance and integration of many designers' details.

At long last, the D2X, at the pinnacle of the Nikon digital camera lineup, has entered the market. We would like to know details about development of the new image processing engine, one of the highlights of D2X technology.

HOSHUYAMA, Hideo:

The D2X, our flagship model, was born of a mission to meet any demand in all kinds of shooting situations. The number of effective pixels was fixed at 12.4 million from the beginning of the development process, so we started our project by considering what the image processing system should be in order to take maximum advantage of the camera's super-high-definition performance. Many discussions among product designers about system configurations and constituent functions eventually bore fruit in the form of the D2X.

Rigorous development helps make the D2X the jewel in the crown of the Nikon digital camera lineup. With 12.4 million effective pixels contributing to ultra high-definition images, this camera can satisfy the great expectations of every photography lover.

So you approached this project as a big collaboration among the many product designers in the team?

Exactly. The team included people in charge of image sensor and circuit development, people in charge of image processing using signals from the image sensor, people in charge of creating beautiful images from image processing results, etc. There were also specialists in tone design, color design, algorithm design for outline sharpness and whiteness design. We had to unite all this specialized talent and embody it into one form.

Such a variety of specialists joined in the effort.

Yes. And a general overall viewpoint was essential to the project, because if any single element was too conspicuous, the resulting images would be compromised. If each specialist was to focus only on his own domain, the balance of the final image would be upset. So teamwork was really important.

"An accumulation of hard, steady effort went into creating the D2X."
Endless discussion over two years helped realize functions and performance worthy of a Nikon flagship model.

How long did it take to develop the D2X?

Actually, even before the start of D2X development, tune-ups of various fundamental research and study of particular technologies ultimately used in the camera were in progress. So it's difficult to specify exactly how long it took. But I can say we spent quite a lot of time on it.

I guess that the development process took many twists and turns. Could you tell us some interesting anecdotes?

Well, not specific anecdotes, but throughout the whole process of development, all members shared a sense of mission to make the D2X the flagship model for the Nikon digital camera lineup. We always considered what functions or distinguishing features are useful for professional photographers. We dedicated as much time as possible discussing these matters.

I see. Could you explain this with a specific example?

Yes. The color mode function, which was first developed for the D1X and D1H to allow photographers to select color reproduction characteristics for a digital camera in the same way as they do with film-based cameras by selecting the film type. Color characteristics were categorized into two types, as if specified according to film selection when using a conventional film-based camera. And as a further step, one type was optimized for Adobe RGB and the other was optimized for sRGB to realize simultaneous color space management. So, with this function, a user can select between Color Mode I and Color Mode II for total color management, both of which have a very good reputation in the market. Use of this function varies from customer to customer; some use only Color Mode I, some use only Color Mode II, and others use both, depending on project conditions and client requests. But the common motivation behind all of these choices is the desire to select color characteristics and color space separately. This only became clear through our conversations with users. So we often argued about how we could carry out these users' wishes, then succeeded in introducing the new color mode in the D2X, allowing a user to select color space and color characteristics, respectively. Furthermore, in order to make three color mode settings available for Adobe RGB, the color space best suited for professional color-managed workflow, other studies were required, which took a lot of time. In the end, we found that a system in which image processing could be done automatically, to some degree, is essential for introducing this function. We developed the new system accordingly.

You shot under actual conditions using test products many times, didn't you?

Nikon's extraordinary efforts went into camera functions and performance that are sufficiently superior to meet the needs of professional photographers.

Yes, of course. Especially for the D2X, the kind of camera that should fulfill the needs of professional photographers, we expect many nature photographers to use it, and we anticipated various extraordinary shooting conditions, such as those that can bring out beautiful gradations of blue sky and mountains, exquisite contrasts from the highest peaks, for shooting blue tropical ocean, or for shooting a Japanese crane. So for test shooting, we had to climb a high mountain on one weekend, then go to a tropical island on another weekend. Then, by using the data accumulated in such test shooting, the advantages and disadvantages of the test products became clear. Test products were successively refined by improving upon shortcomings, and repeating simulations and inspections. Routine work had to be endlessly repeated, actually.

That sounds so difficult.

Definitely. Furthermore, we had to test printing, too. To see how the image would be reproduced, we tried various combinations of gradation, white balance, color mode and other settings for particular images, and printed all combinations using various printers. Honestly, the number of test prints was really incredible. We emptied out piles of printer cartridges, and the volume of paper used for test printing could have been stacked up several meters high. We also conducted automatic evaluation of simulated images, but in the final stages of development, it was essential for the human eye to confirm how beautiful and pleasing the images could actually look.

It seems that many years of technical expertise and experience were dedicated to making the final adjustments supremely reliable.

Yes. There is a lot of data regarding customers' color preferences. We used this data basically to fix the targeted colors. But I absolutely believe that the human eye should determine the final adjustment.