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Nikon on the NEF Controversy

So Nikon starts using a new image file format in which part of it is encrypted. Users notice and complain. Nikon responds, and as a marketing person, I don't know whether to be in awe or contempt of their attempt to clarify their position while saying absolutely nothing:

The Nikon D2X professional Digital Single Lens Reflex camera has received widely positive acclaim for its overall performance and image processing quality. Recently, speculative statements which appear to be based on misunderstandings and misinformation about the D2X camera's "encryption" of certain white balance data have propagated on the internet.

The purpose of this advisory is to clarify this matter with facts and explanations.

Excellent! We're all looking forward to it.

The Nikon D2X is capable of producing high quality images that can be saved in a variety of file formats, including the proprietary Nikon Electronic Format (NEF), standard TIFF and several levels of standard JPEG compressed files.
Okay, so NEF is proprietary. At least they've admitted to that.
The NEF, a Nikon proprietary raw file design, was introduced with the Nikon D1 Camera and Nikon's original Capture software. The combination of Nikon camera, in-camera image processing, NEF file format and in-computer image processing with original Nikon Capture software was developed as a system that faithfully saved image files that represent the camera settings made manually or automatically by the photographer at the time a picture was taken.
Isn't the point of any digital camera file format to faithfully save image files that represent the camera settings made by the photographer?
Nikon's preservation of its unique technology in the NEF file is employed as an action that protects the uniqueness of the file.
This sentence says nothing.
At the same time, Nikon makes available a software developer kit (SDK) that, when implemented appropriately, enables a wide range of NEF performance, including white balance, for Nikon photographers and their productive use of the NEF file.
Now we're getting to it. Nikon wants developers to license an SDK in order to be able to access certain information in the pictures that users create.
Since the inception of the system, Nikon has always provided photographers with choices about how they might use the system's performance and enjoy high quality images. Nikon’s choices for opening and processing NEF files have been and continue to include:

* Nikon Capture software
* Plug-in for Adobe’s Photoshop
* Nikon PictureProject software
* Nikon View software
* Availability of Nikon Software Developer Kit (SDK) and the software that has been developed using the SDK

Through use of the Nikon Software Developer Kit, authorized developers can produce software by applying creative concepts to their implementation and adding capabilities to open Nikon's NEF file and use NEF's embedded Instructions and Nikon's Libraries.

Was that last sentence actually written in Japan?

Nikon photographers reap benefits from independent developers' approaches, because it allows the photographer to open and process their NEF images.
As opposed to opening up the format, in which case independent developers couldn't open and process... uh, never mind.
After a developer's software is created using the Nikon SDK, a NEF file can be opened, edited in either TIFF or JPEG format, and then saved in formats available in the developers' software. This process has been available since the first Nikon SDK for NEF.
Wow! You mean if developers license your SDK, their software can open the photos I take? And then edit them? And then save them? Will the wonders never cease?
With each introduction of a new Nikon digital Single Lens Reflex model, Nikon updates the available SDK selection to provide new information; this is the situation with the D2X, D2Hs and D50 models. As stated above, application for the Nikon SDK is possible for bona fide software companies that send Nikon a written application for the SDK. Once approved, the SDK is provided to the developer at no charge and they are authorized to use it.
I love that term, "bona fide software companies". Open source developers and interested end-users need not apply.
Nikon has provided its confidential SDK software to many software developers. With the Nikon SDK, developers may design excellent and creative compatibility between the NEF and their software, all without compromising the integrity of the NEF's original concept, and ensuring that work done by the photographer during the picture taking process can be incorporated into the rendering of the image.
"...design excellent and creative compatibility"? I was joking above about this having been written in Japan. Now I'm not joking. I think it was, and I think that Nikon USA's PR people tried to edit it, but gave up when they couldn't understand what the hell headquarters was saying. "...without compromising the integrity of the NEF's original concept"? What exactly does that mean? How does it "compromise integrity" for software to directly read in a file?
The trilogy of performance, from Camera-to-NEF-to-Capture, has evolved though several generations of Nikon Digital SLR models, improving along the way. As a proprietary format, Nikon secures NEF's structure and processing through various technologies. Securing this structure is intended for the photographer's benefit, and dedicated to ensuring faithful reproduction of the photographer's creative intentions through consistent performance and rendition of the images. Discussions propagated on the internet suggesting otherwise are misinformed about the unique structure of NEF.
Oh, so it's for photographers' own good that Nikon won't let them read the data in their photographs? Good to know. Thanks, Nikon!
Nikon's Camera System, NEF and Capture software are a tightly knit system, and they are all developed through the cooperative efforts of Nikon's design teams, and this collaboration results in achieving the highest image quality.
Unlike those other digital camera vendors, who don't have proprietary formats, and so don't have "tightly knit" systems.
Nikon strives to provide photographers with excellent picture taking performance, compatible Nikon in-system image processing performance and by extension, compatibility with additional software developers' products, with the ultimate goal of delivering a high level of integrity for a photographer's creative vision.

Nikon continues to welcome dialogue with bona fide software developers.

Nikon to all non-developers: STFU.

The inimitable Jean-Louis Gassée used to call Microsoft's proprietary Office file formats (Word, Excel, etc.) "roach motels" -- "roaches go in," he'd say, "but they don't go out." In other words, once you start accumulating a library of data in one of these formats, it's very hard to walk away from Office. I don't know Nikon's true aims in creating a proprietary format. Perhaps they want to be able to revise it frequently without breaking compatibility. (Possible, but there have long existed methods of doing this with open formats.) Perhaps they have only the best intentions. But I think the Web community (if it's possible to say such a thing) now understands the roach motel concept, and though it's too late with regard to Office, we don't want to let it happen again.

I have (as I go to check) 5,960 digital photos that I've taken since 1998, and I'm now accumulating new images at the rate of 1,500-2,000 per year. I'll have these photos with me for the rest of my life, always in digital format. The thought that I might be dependent on a proprietary SDK to read some of the information in any of them is upsetting -- and in fact I do have a few photographs taken with the mechanically and optically excellent Nikon D70 camera we have at work. So the idea I had to buy my own digital SLR from Nikon is now out the window. I'll continue to live with my PowerShot SD300, perhaps upgrade to an SD500, and if I want a digital SLR, I'll take an extra-long look at Canon's models. Nikon will be off the list.

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Comments

Yep, Nikon is trying desperately to own the digital age, like they did the film age. Can't blame them, angles are hard to come by these days. I have bought into one proprietary format, Sony Mem-Stick in a P120, and one non-p format, Canon EOS 20D. Both are awesome examples of technology.
The EOS20D beat out the Nikon offering with better features. Nikon has a short time (5 years?) of lens-legacy support. They had better find a real angle quickly, or embract the technology race as Canon has.
It is tough to be General Motors, of any field!
(BTW: In the Film Age I was a Minolta and Pentax guy.)

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