Apr 22

Marc Hedlund

Marc Hedlund

Nikon tries (and fails) to respond to RAW WB concerns

Nikon recently has been getting some well-deserved grief about their decision to restrict access to their "NEF" digital camera file format (which is a variety of RAW output -- that is, the raw data captured by the camera with no in-camera processing applied). Today on the esteemed DP Review, Nikon tries to spin the damage.

I haven't looked at the SDK or its license, so I can't comment on that, but the press release is full of red flags:

Through use of the Nikon Software Developer Kit, authorized developers can produce software [...]
[...] application for the Nikon SDK is possible for bona fide software companies that send Nikon a written application for the SDK. [...]
Nikon has provided its confidential SDK software to many software developers. [...]
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 continues to welcome dialogue with bona fide software developers.

[Emphasis added throughout.]

Wow. I'm a bona fide software developer, buddy. I got my bona fides right here.

This stinks to high heaven. Here's a thought experiment that suffices as proof: go through that release and substitute "NEF" with "the negative," and "SDK" with "enlarger." Makes you wish you'd never bought that Nikon, huh?

Nikon's spin tactics aren't going to work, at least not on me. As it happens, I'm in the market for a digital SLR right now, and the reviews of the Nikon D70 have definitely been bending my ear. But Nikon is clearly stating that they want only authorized, legally-bound developers -- working in "bona fide software companies" -- to be able to produce tools for me to modify my digital negatives. That means something very simple: I won't get the best software if I buy a Nikon. My choices will be limited to the companies with which Nikon chooses to do business, leaving out competitors, open source developers, and anyone else Nikon decides they don't like. I certainly won't be taking honeymoon pictures with a camera like that.

So, Canon, get on it -- tell us all about how you're the open camera company. I've got more than US$1,000.00 with your name on it if you do.

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Comments: 5

  Ask Bjørn Hansen [04.23.05 03:02 PM]

Despite Nikon's worst intentions, there is a lot of excellent third party software to process the NEF files.

- ask

  jim mills [04.24.05 04:45 AM]

you really missed the boat on this one.

Nikon software is the best way to process a .NEF.
Adobe just wants to rule all things RAW and is now miffed that they will have to do some work before the release of CS2.

  Marc Hedlund [04.24.05 07:17 AM]

Yeah, I really don't think so. I can't say what is, today, the best way to process a .NEF file -- I'll take it that Ask and Jim are correct that there are lots of good options right now. But what I'm thinking about is the future use of my "negatives" (RAW files). I don't want to be beholden to any camera manufacturer in order to process the photos I took a few years ago.

Let's say that Canon follows Nikon's example, and I own a Nikon; and that a few years from now, Canon comes out with a great new camera and I want to buy it. Do I have to keep old versions of my Nikon software installed forever just to access my old Nikon files (since presumably the Canon and Nikon software won't interoperate)?

Let's say some new OS -- let's call it the BeMoreOS -- comes out and Nikon doesn't approve support of it for a while. To use that OS, do I have to keep some other OS around to process my NEF files?

Even if, today, Nikon's bad policies haven't caused practical limitations for photographers, that still doesn't mean the policies are right, nor that I want to support bad policies by buying from the company that makes them.

  gerryg [04.25.05 10:08 AM]

There's a lot of niche applications that people write because the "authorized" software doesn't support what they need to do. For example, people might want access to the white-balance in order to do specialized astrophotography. The market is small so Nikon is never going to cater to them.

Nikon sells hardware, and it has an embedded OS/firmware in that hardware, but once the output leaves the camera, people should be able to do what they want with it. Nikon apparently doesn't feel like they're making enough money just selling cameras and wants to license software, too. This is either a brainstorm by marketing or a way to attempt to make more per camera when their stuff isn't selling quite so well (feeling the heat from Canon, I guess?).

Any time a hardware vendor decides to "close up", somebody loses, and odds are they will lose customers to other vendors that remain open. On a side note, I hope Adobe's new RAW format won't be proprietary and will be totally open. It's good for everyone that way, and you can still sell software and hardward and make money without closing things up.

  Fat Wolf [07.16.05 10:03 AM]

How about this:

what if in 10 years, Nikon software department is closed, and MS Window is alrady on their 3rd generation of 64 bit OS, while Apple is running their OS 12 on AMD [after IMB and Intel] [if they are still around...] .

Do you need to keep a totally outdated computer just to open your NEF raw files?

Camera are not like computers, you can't update the "file formate" with a "Patch"... what you have right now, will stuck with you for the next 10 ~ 20 years... assuming it will last that long...

don't just think about now. Think ahead !

Fat wolf.

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