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Vibration Reduction (VR) Technology

As the performance of digital cameras advances, vibration reduction (VR) is becoming an increasingly key technology. Nikon has been gaining a high reputation in the market over many years since the company was the first to release a 35mm compact camera incorporating unique VR technology in 1994. Nikon's secret of high performance and reliability is examined in an interview with an engineer who has been involved with developing VR technology.

USUI, Kazutoshi
Development 3, 2nd Development Dept., Development Management Dept., Imaging Company, Nikon Corporation
Joined the company in 1989. Assigned to the information-equipment office and was involved in developing magnetic optical-disc technology for five years. Since being transferred to the Imaging Company, he has been working exclusively on vibration-reduction technology development for 12 years. He enjoys taking pictures of his dog using a VR lens in his free time, and he likes paragliding.

First to incorporate a vibration-reduction feature in a film camera.
A history of advancement built by pursuing user friendliness.

We are going to ask you about Nikon's efforts in regard to vibration-reduction features. Could you briefly explain how Nikon's original VR feature works?

USUI, Kazutoshi:

Sure. Camera shake refers to jiggles and vibration of the camera that cause an image to move on the CCD and other types of image sensors during exposure, resulting in blurry pictures. Nikon uses two types of sensors in lenses to detect pitching (on the vertical axis) and yawing (on the horizontal axis) and processes the results at high speed to identify the direction and scale of shaking at the time of exposure. The result is used to drive a compensatory optical system using a linear motor to reduce the movement of the image in real time in our optical vibration-reduction mechanism.

VR functions have often been featured in digital camera advertising in recent years, but Nikon released products with VR features long ago for film cameras, didn't it?

The latest lenses featuring VR technology are products of Nikon's heritage of innovation.

Nikon's first camera with a VR feature was the Nikon Zoom 700VR QD 35mm film compact camera released in 1994. It attracted a lot of attention as the world's first film camera with an optical VR system. There were camcorders featuring VR functions available at the time, but it was an innovation for film cameras. The next product with the feature was the AF VR Zoom-Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED, an interchangeable lens for SLR cameras released in 2000. A major difference from current Nikon VR products is that it offered two modes—one in which the VR function is on from the time the shutter-release button is pressed halfway, and another in which it functions only during exposure.

Don't current models have such different modes and switch from one to another?

That's right. In fact, most point-and-shoot digital cameras with a VR function still have such different modes today, but from this model on, all Nikon products have been designed to turn on the VR function when the shutter-release button is pressed halfway based on the concept that it is inconvenient not to be able to take advantage of the vibration-control mechanism when viewing through the viewfinder. In addition, the AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED and models released later have an “Active Mode” that effectively reduces camera shake when shooting from a moving vehicle and other similar situations. Subsequent interchangeable lenses have had VR functions such as the AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 200-400mm f/4G IF-ED with a tripod vibration-reduction mode, and the AF-S DX VR Zoom Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED designed for digital SLRs. The AF-S DX VR Zoom-Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED uses advanced, next-generation VRII technology, and it is the world's first lens that has achieved a VR effectiveness equivalent to about four stops in shutter speed.

It goes beyond simple vibration reduction to focus on making the most of a photographer's intentions. The dedication of the developers can be found in its unique technology.

I have the impression that Nikon has made various advancements over the last 10 years since the Nikon Zoom 700VR QD first went on sale. Would you please tell us about Nikon's commitment to VR technology?

Vibration compensation methods differ when the shutter-release button is pressed halfway and during exposure. In addition, Nikon has a unique method of reinforcing the compensation effect when the subject is captured in the center of the frame before exposure. These two effects are main Nikon features of VR technology that haven't changed since the AF VR Zoom-Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED, the first Nikon interchangeable lens with a VR function.

How does that feature benefit photographers?

VR during exposure makes the difference in final photos. However, if one tries to apply a method designed to be optimal during exposure to VR when the shutter-release button is pressed halfway as well, it affects the image seen through the viewfinder. The image in the viewfinder would look unnatural, making it difficult to capture the subject. Nikon doesn't believe a great final photo is worth the expense of being stressful to user friendliness. Not only to provide excellent final photos but also to capture the image naturally through the viewfinder, we have developed optimal compensation methods both when the shutter-release button is pressed halfway and during exposure, and have combined them.

I see. It is very important for photographers to properly see how a photograph will turn out.

Yes. Nikon is also making various efforts to reflect photographer's intentions in pictures as much as possible. Our products make fine compensation by detecting panning and other camera movements.

Nikon's new, highly stable VRII
vibration-reduction mechanism
effectively steadies a shot enough for
handheld shooting at a shutter speed
up to four stops slower than would
otherwise be needed.

We have heard that performance has advanced even further since a technology called VRII was introduced. Could you tell us specifically what advances it incorporates?

The detection of the low frequency band in camera shaking has been greatly expanded, so the VR effect has become available even if the shutter speed is quite slow. I believe that a VR effectiveness equivalent to about four stops in shutter speed covers most shooting conditions. When we were test shooting during development, we couldn't assess the effectiveness of four stops in shutter speed until well after the sunset, so we had to shoot through the night for some time.

What was the major factor in achieving this advancement?

The sensor is the item that has changed the most. Starting with VRII, we are using a device with a quartz transducer that has very stable performance and detects even slow movements. However, we encountered many challenges in incorporating a new device and achieving stable performance.