Digital technologies are advancing rapidly.
As always, a consistent balance of evolution and integrity is the essence of Nikon.
As you said, the “1,005-pixel RGB sensor,” that is the core element of Nikon's metering system, was launched with the F5. Is there any need to modify the metering method for digital cameras?
Basically, there is no need for us to change the film camera metering method for use with digital cameras. But we must remember that the allowable exposure range is smaller for digital cameras than for film cameras. At an early stage, we decided to adjust the algorithm out of concern about this difference. So, we inherited the “1,005-pixel RGB sensor” and refined its algorithm to achieve the latest “3D-Color Matrix Metering II” metering system. This new system, launched with the D2X, is now also available with the D50 and D200.
Can you explain specific advancements?
In addition to a conventional exposure quantization algorithm, we employed an exposure evaluation algorithm to determine highlighted area conditions, so that the system can calculate optimal exposure for highlighted areas. This system can prevent underexposure that tends to occur when shooting under cloudy skies, or when shooting an entirely white subject. It also prevents overexposure that tends to occur when shooting subjects against dark backgrounds, so it is ideal for digital cameras with smaller latitude. After the launch of the D2X, we refined the system based on customer feedback. Having launched last December, the D200 can realize higher precision in a greater variety of scene and shooting situations.
As digital cameras rapidly advance, aren't metering technologies also continuing to evolve?
Yes, they are. But at the same time, we have been careful to avoid giving the D2X an obviously different user “feel.” That is, we don't want anyone accustomed to an older Nikon to feel that a photographer can't take a picture as freely with a new Nikon camera as with the older camera. In developing metering, we always discuss how the technology should evolve, and at the same time maintain continuity with the essence of Nikon.
New possibilities for the digital age.
Along with image processing technologies, this metering system goes to the next stage.
What future advancements in metering technologies do you see approaching?
Well, if we aim for our metering system to perform with the sophistication of the human eye, which performs at levels that even scores of millions of pixels can't match, we must consider our current system of just 1,005 pixels to be truly inadequate. So ideally, we will aim to use an image sensor of at least several hundred thousand pixels, for deeper analysis and higher precision. But, as I inferred, this approach will require radically higher performance of the camera CPU, which will affect more than metering. To improve image quality, it will be critical to evolve other technologies, too. Once upon a time, there was only one focus area point for autofocus. But now, there are 11 such points. Considering this technology alone, CPU performance should be 11 times as great as it was at first. So making the algorithm simpler and reducing the burden on the CPU could help improve image quality overall. I think a similar approach can be applied toward advancing our metering technology. It is becoming more important than ever to consider how various technologies will be balanced in a single camera unit.
With digital cameras, exposure compensation is available not only at the time of shooting–it is also available at the post-production image processing stage. Do you think this will influence metering technology?
I think that in nearly 90% of cases, the metering system we use currently can be used to achieve optimal exposure. In my opinion, it is impossible to achieve optimal exposure in 100% of cases simply by extending technological capabilities, such as by increasing the number of pixels in our Matrix Metering Sensor from the current 1,005.
For example, in taking a portrait of a subject by a window against a background of bright light, the background of the picture will be overexposed if you make settings to get optimal exposure of the subject, and a subject will be too dark if you make settings to get optimal exposure of the background. Optimal exposure is never achieved in such situations. With digital image processing technologies, you can get better images. For an optimal result, just take a picture using an exposure value that does not overexpose the background, then use an image processing technology like D-Lighting, which manipulates shadows cast by subjects. I think metering technologies can advance to the next level only when applied along with other digital processing technologies. It seems critical that light control is considered from two perspectives: exposure and image processing.
Are there any new possibilities that only digital cameras can offer?
Yes, there are. At Nikon, we like to focus on this fascinating issue: how are digital cameras integrating image processing technologies to extend the possibilities of digital photography? My dream is to automate the process of creating optimal results by combining exposure and image processing technologies. Currently, image processing tends to be considered a post-production process that requires extra time and effort after shooting. But I want to merge image processing into the shooting process in order to make it much easier to create optimal results from the start.