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Nikon has today issued an advisory addressing the current concerns around the 'encryption' of white balance data in its NEF (RAW) files from the D2X and D2Hs digital SLRs. This story started three days ago when Photoshopnews.com published an interview with chief engineer and original author of Photoshop Thomas Knoll which complained that Nikon was encrypting white balance data in their NEF files and that future versions of Adobe Camera RAW would not be able to read WB data. In the new advisory Nikon states that it already makes available an SDK which "...when implemented properly, enables a wide range of NEF performance, including white balance..."
Phil: Just over 36 hours have passed since we posted this advisory, since then there has been an explosion of commentary and discussion on our forums. It's very clear that genuine Nikon buyers are concerned that Nikon are gradually closing their RAW format (NEF) and that some third party converters will struggle to convert NEF's either now or in the future.
According to the advisory below the Nikon SDK allows the developer to convert NEF to JPEG or TIFF but (we can't 100% confirm this because of Nikon's NDA) doesn't provide them direct access to the RAW data itself (although obviously a smart developer could currently do that themselves). The primary reason the majority of users buy third party converters is that they prefer its image quality / speed / workflow, and that in 2005 many will already be using a combination of third party converters and Nikon Capture.
Nikon Capture is an excellent product and many professionals use it because they believe that it delivers the highest quality results, in the real world a quality RAW converter will continue to be popular without having to 'lock down' the camera's RAW file format. Looking at it from Nikon's point of view you can see why they may be a little upset that other companies are making money from conversion of their proprietary file format, however it seems that photographers believe that the image (in JPEG or RAW format) is theirs alone and they shouldn't be restricted to its development.
It seems clear from the strength of opinion on our forums over this matter that choice of conversion is the element of primary importance when we discuss a RAW file format, the RAW format is seen as 'the digital negative', future RAW converters may bring improvements in image processing that we are currently unaware of, we would hope these future converters could still read todays negatives.
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.
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.
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.
Nikon’s preservation of its unique technology in the NEF file is employed as an action that protects the uniqueness of the file. 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.
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:
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. Nikon photographers reap benefits from independent developers’ approaches, because it allows the photographer to open and process their NEF images.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.