Five of Nikon’s engineers have shared insight into how the Z 8 came to be, including the decision-making process and thoughts about what they needed to achieve.
The stories, printed here in full with no editing whatsoever, were shared by Nikon Australia with Inside Imaging.
Exploring the Design Secrets of the Nikon Z 8 – Nikon Engineers tell all.
Nikon Z 8 Engineers include:
• Tsuchiya Satoshi: Imaging Business Unit / UX Planning Department
• Obunai Kazue: Imaging Business Unit /Development Sector/1st Development Department
• Furukawa Shinichi: Imaging Business Unit /Development Sector/2nd Development Department
• Mori Goichiro: Imaging Business Unit /Development Sector/Design Department
• Hino Mitsuteru: Imaging Business Unit /Development Sector/Software Development Department
Below, they unveil their overarching goals, groundbreaking developments, and remarkable achievements while passionately working on the Z 8 at Nikon.
Our goal was to condense the performance of the flagship Z 9 into a compact body to make the ideal hybrid mirrorless camera. Nothing inside was compromised despite its appearance. To create the Z 8, we strived for the kind of agility that is available only with a small, lightweight body.
We didn’t strip down any features or compromise performance when reducing the body size. The Z 8 is compatible with various external accessories to meet a variety of use cases. To reduce the size of the Z 8, we omitted the vertical grip and wired LAN connection ports. We also offer, an optional power battery pack that can also be used as a vertical grip. The wired LAN can also be used through a commercially available USB-LAN conversion adaptor. In addition to the USB terminal for data transmission, there is a dedicated USB terminal for recharging the batteries. If the commercially available mobile battery is connected through this terminal, power can be supplied for long hours of shooting.
We were not only pursuing a small and light design. To ensure a sense of security for reliable shooting, a great deal of attention was put into achieving an optimally balanced camera.
Our goal was to pack the Z 9’s performance into a body-size comparable to that of the D850. As we were aware of many Z 9 users’ desire for a sub-camera, we looked at how the D850 had functioned as a sub-camera for the D5 and the D6. But instead of simply following the same path as the D850, we also considered the fact that the Z 8 needed to be well balanced when mounted to heavy, high-performance lenses, such as the NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.2 S or the NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.2 S. Moreover, while it is difficult to use the Z 9 on certain types of small gimbals due to its body size, the Z 8’s compact body size gives its users more options, allowing for video shooting with more freedom.
We wanted to keep the camera small for the sake of agility. The big challenge then, was how to deliver the same operability as the Z 9. It required considerable effort to achieve the optimum formation and arrangement of the operational parts and technology in a much more limited space than that of the Z 9.
We were not only pursuing a small and light design. To ensure a sense of security for reliable shooting, even in difficult weather conditions, under shock or impact, we put a great deal of attention into achieving an optimally balanced camera. The dissipation of heat was especially challenging. The heat source and the heat volume are the same as the Z 9, generated from the same image sensor and engine. But the heat tends to stay longer in a smaller body, which is not good if you want to shoot video for extended periods. To address this, we strived to reduce heat generation while also dissipating heat through an extensive trial-and-error process. Both the Z 9 and the Z 8 are designed with video recording performance in mind, and it is our hope that users may use these cameras according to their desired use cases.
We have made a variety of video formats available to meet the needs of a versatile range of storytelling and editing workflows. The Z 8 is a flexible camera that is suited for all kinds of shooting styles.
By enabling internal video recording as well as external video recording that uses a cable and monitor, users are better able to shoot video in a way that fits their particular use cases. The shared goal of the development team was to create a camera that flexibly meets a variety of shooting styles. The hurdle was high, but the team worked as one to make it happen.
As with the Z 9, the Z 8 offers a wide variety of video formats (video compression formats), ranging from 12-bit N-RAW and Apple ProRes RAW HQ to 10-bit Apple ProRes 422 HQ to 8-bit H.265/AVC. This means users can use the Z 8 seamlessly in their existing workflows, whatever bit rate or codec they are using. It is easy to add the Z 8 to an already established system, especially as multi-camera shooting becomes more common.
We would like to recommend the N-RAW format for those that pursue high video image quality. The N-RAW format is compatible with Davinci Resolve for editing. On the other hand, the more versatile ProRes RAW codec is also available. Equipped with a variety of formats that flexibly meets the needs of a versatile range of storytelling and editing workflows, the Z 8 is a flexible camera that is suited for all kinds of shooting styles.
Certain video formats, such as ProRes RAW, which was previously recorded externally, can now be recorded internally, like when shooting still images. Achieving this required dedicated commitment from our memory card media partners, in addition to our own efforts. A combined team of Nikon engineers and memory card manufacturer developers worked very hard to successfully create card media that has fast write speeds for extremely heavy RAW video data, accomplishing our objective for internal recording.
Our benchmark when considering video performance was the instantaneous start-up of the D5 and D6 digital-SLR cameras. The start-up time that we achieved has astounded video users.
Still photographers using digital-SLR cameras had harshly criticised the time lag between turning the power on and an image appearing in the electronic viewfinder. While digital-SLRs allows users to see the viewfinder image through the optical viewfinder even when the power is turned off, the image can’t be confirmed as quickly with mirrorless cameras, because they utilise an electronic viewfinder, resulting in a time lag after the camera is turned on. To achieve a much faster start-up time, we meticulously examined how long it takes for the camera to be turned on when the switch is pushed, and also how long it takes the image sensor, the image-processing engine, and the EVF to be ready for shooting. We thoroughly considered where we could reduce time, evaluating the process from scratch, and ultimately were able to achieve the current performance. Our benchmark for start-up time was the instantaneous start-up of the D5 or D6 digital-SLR cameras. All we were thinking about was how to make the mirrorless camera’s start-up time closer to these models. We believe the start-up time that we have accomplished has astounded our users.
Nikon cameras, especially high-end models, are developed with consideration for press photographers who need very fast workflow performance, because every second counts. This is one of the strengths of Nikon. The fact that Nikon hasn’t released a dedicated video camera may at first look like a weakness, but actually, we believe the opposite is true. By not being limited by the conventions and standards of video, we are able to consider new ways to improve video workflow through the application of our standards of still photography. By removing the barriers between still photography and video, and working as one, we have created an environment that fosters new capabilities for video cameras that were previously unavailable.
Instead of accepting what’s considered the standard in the video camera market, we began by questioning the current standard, and strived to always choose the standard that yields better results and a higher level of performance. It has been a big challenge. But as a result, the Z 8 offers videographers not only the agility of a compact body, but also the speed of a stills photography camera.
With the highly acclaimed, excellent operability of the Z 9 condensed into a compact, lightweight body, the Z 8 will be one of the best options on the market for solo videographers.
When shooting video on lens-interchangeable cameras, users often opt to focus manually, instead of using autofocus. They shoot on gimbals without using vibration reduction, attach their cameras to rigs, and work with assistants as a sizeable team. But recently, more and more productions are being handled by solo videographers for the sake of efficiency and budget limitations. Videographers who previously did not utilize autofocus or vibration reduction, have started using these features more often depending on the situation. We’ve received quite a bit of positive feedback about the overall performance of the Z 9, on how users would not have been able to manage their shoots without these functions. The Z 8 was also designed to provide excellent operability for solo shooters with autofocus, vibration reduction, and ease of use during handheld shooting, in addition to high image quality. By inheriting these benefits in a smaller, lighter body, the Z 8 will enable solo shooters to work even more comfortably.
We want to deliver to our customers the same excitement our development team felt when we first saw the high-resolution footage of 8K and 4K video.
During the course of product development, there is a stage where we review the product’s image quality. This is when we judge whether the footage recorded in 8K and 4K meets Nikon’s quality standards. During the development of the Z 9, when the development team first saw the 8K and 4K video samples during the internal preview, the room filled with excitement as the team expressed their delight at the resulting high-resolution footage. The high resolution is apparent in portraits with a shallow depth of field, just as much as in landscape video footage. The area of focus is amazingly sharp, with minimal compression noise, shadow noise or jaggies, resulting in remarkably natural footage with an incredible degree of depth. The same imaging expression is possible with the Z 8.
While 8K tends to attract more attention, I would like to highlight the Z 8’s unique 4K image quality. The Z 8 lets users shoot video with unparalleled sharpness, when creating 4K video utilising 8K data. We have received positive feedback from video professionals who shoot music videos and travel documentaries about the Z 9’s video capabilities.
Our NIKKOR Z lenses deliver excellent optical performance. On top of this, because the lens information is communicated simultaneously with the camera body, NIKKOR lenses add further advantages to the camera system. The Z 8, combined with NIKKOR Z lenses, produces images in which the contrast between the sharp focal plane and soft background bokeh makes a portrait subject stand out with an immersive level of depth — a kind of depiction unique to the Z mount system. Nikon image quality realizes a strong sense of “presence” through what we call “three dimensionality”—it’s something beyond on-paper specifications. You need to see it to fully appreciate it.
We want users to try N-RAW, which is based on Nikon’s expertise in the still image RAW format. [Hino]
While dynamic range is a key indicator for video image quality, sharp resolution and suppressed compression noise also play important roles. N-RAW is a format that lets users pull great image quality from its efficiently compressed files and offers incredible flexibility in the post-production editing process. There are a variety of RAW formats on the market. While each format has its own merits, N-RAW has a unique benefit of “reversibility” that it allows for the capture of all the delicate nuances of the scene or subject as it is.
Nikon’s original N-RAW format is created through Nikon‘s in-depth understanding of optics and hardware and maximises the Z 8’s high image quality. N-RAW is based on Nikon’s expertise in the still image RAW format, and it is my hope that users will experience for themselves the true value of N-RAW through their shooting.
Wheat, flour, or bread? We asked ourselves if what our users wanted and delivered options that let users effectively achieve their desired goals.
In order to share a common way of thinking regarding video imaging making, the development team likened video image processing to “wheat,” “flour,” and “bread.” Wheat, a metaphor for the RAW file type, can be processed into anything. We strived to retain high image quality after compression and kept it as unprocessed as possible to maximise users’ creative potential. Flour, representing N-Log, is processed minimally, allowing users to easily prepare a wide range of dishes. It supports the user’s desired image creation, maintaining the sharp resolution of NIKKOR Z lenses, thanks to Nikon’s own interpolation technology. Bread, on the other hand, includes ready-to-eat pastries, or sliced bread that can be made into a sandwich with minimal effort—can be likened to our efforts to respond to the needs for those who wish to shoot with minimal or no postproduction editing, such as Picture Control. As a team, we shared clear ideas about the needs and preferences of our users, carefully setting the goals for the different formats and delivering options that let them effectively achieve their desired image processing.
Picture Control [Auto], offers ready-for-use, great-looking footage straight from the camera. With color grading in mind, the user can choose from [Neutral], [Flat], or [Log] for a less processed look. Tone compression features such as Active D-Lighting can also be applied when shooting video to further reduce the post-production workload.
A “reliable” camera to us means a camera that offers the user a sense of security. During development, Nikon engineers always consider the worst-case scenarios.
In recent years, more and more users are shooting stills and video to record their own stories and experiences. These users want agility — so the camera doesn’t get in the way of what they are doing — but they also require a high level of reliability that allows them shoot with an underlying feeling of confidence in their gear. The Z 8 was designed to provide users a sense of security, a confidence in knowing that they can successfully record important moments and memories.
Nikon engineers always consider the worst-case scenarios during development. We test our cameras in conditions that are harsher than the actual conditions our users would be using the camera. It’s very important for us to go the extra mile to gain the trust of our users.
Considering future user needs is how we managed to achieve the high performance of the Z 9, a level of performance the Z 8 has now inherited.
We learn from our users; we study how they use the cameras by visiting them on location. We observe every step of their shooting process and the way they use the camera settings so that we can discover hidden problems that might arise and produce solutions. We received requests to improve the video functions from video users with their own accustomed shooting styles, such as wanting to focus manually instead of using the autofocus during video. Of course, we respond to these requests, but we also consider the problems and needs that users are not conscious of themselves. We observe very thoroughly how our users work in different shooting locations to discover not just the current needs but also what could potentially be future user needs. Through these concerted efforts, we managed to achieve the high performance of the Z 9, a level of performance the Z 8 has now inherited.
Some of the users’ needs we collect on-site also include ergonomic requests, often to a sensory level, such as, “make the AF operation smoother” or “make the button easier to push.” We translate these user needs, such as AF operation sensitivity, AF speed, the position of buttons on the camera — and even the degree of curvature on the surface of those buttons — into numerical figures before sharing the feedback with the development team. We have made sure that all feedback is shared across all development sections, and we frequently meet to clarify feedback and set and achieve all the necessary goals. We had a strong sense of purpose to achieve the shared goal, and this required stronger teamwork than ever before. Only through a strong sense of unity, were we able to produce such technological innovations as the Z 8 and Z 9.
Looking back at the development of the Z 8 and the Z 9, and looking forward
Continuously offering excitement that go beyond expectations — that is Nikon’s DNA.
Every single member of the development team shares one thing in common: the Nikon DNA that drives us to keep pushing the envelope. It is our belief that business should not be limited to satisfying our users but should go beyond to offer better products that go beyond expectations. There were many different
proposals from each department to improve features and create new features ones. These proposals
continued up to the last stage of development, which meant that the proposer would be signing up for extra work, but the strong and positive teamwork ethos fueled a drive to push our capabilities to the level—this is how we were able to achieve products such as the Z 9 and the Z 8.
The Z 8 is an exemplary hybrid still/ video model that expands the horizons of creativity. However, to keep up with the fast speed of technological evolution, the camera must continue to evolve to meet the ever-changing demands for different recording formats and viewing patterns, for both stills and video. The evolution of the industry and of imaging devices go hand-in-hand, and our purpose is to keep facing new challenges.