Technology & Philosophy

vol.1

NIKKOR FUTURE VISION

How do you normally proceed when developing NIKKOR lenses?

Development SectorHaruo Sato

Normally the main members of the designing department and the marketing department come together to build the framework of a long-term plan that serves as the basis of the lens' development.
There are also more than a few NIKKOR developments that begin with valuable opinions like ideas from designers in the field or comments from customers and eventually become actual products. In the past things were more casual, with the designers coming up with plans on their own based on design proposals they were sure would work and then trying to lobby the higher-ups. Some of the proposals that eventually reached the upper management and became products based on orders from the top down went on to be best sellers.

Haruo Sato

Development Sector
Imaging Business Unit, Nikon Corporation

Mr. Sato began working in the Optical Design Department at Nippon Kogaku K.K. (now Nikon Corporation) in 1985. Much of his work has been on camera and TV lens design. His more noteworthy products include the AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G, the AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G, and the AF-S 58mm f/1.4G. In addition to his work in optical design, Mr. Sato writes for "NIKKOR - The Thousand and One Nights" featured on Nikon's website. This series of articles evaluates the performance of NIKKOR lenses, introduces anecdotes and interesting episodes in the work of his predecessors, and provides biographies of well-known lens designers. He enjoys photography, collecting cameras, and playing musical instruments.

How about the pattern for the development of the 58mm lens?

Development SectorHaruo Sato

We had been thinking for quite some time that our standard lens lineup in particular could use some lenses that offered new ideas in image quality and depiction. The development of these lenses began with concepts from the designing department. The process of the 58mm lens started with advance designs, and then once we reached the stage of initial functionality we gained consent to commercialize from the upper management as we reached the point of being able to make presentations of its design concept and optical capabilities.

So you could say that it was developed based on the designers' conception.

Development SectorHaruo Sato

It would be better to describe the 58mm lens as a concept that had been brewing for dozens of years that was finally released onto the market rather than something that was only thought up in the last one or two years. The 58mm came to mind when I was thinking of the ideal photographic lens and became an idea that I wanted to see given form at some point in the future. I'd been thinking of this lens for nearly 30 years since I was a student. The reason I decided to launch the 58mm f/1.4 was that I felt that the time for it to be commercialized had arrived. I felt it was the right time because there was a sense of response as a result of trying various things with the 35mm f/1.4 lens.

So just what exactly was this ideal lens you had been thinking of for 30 years?

Development SectorHaruo Sato

It all started because I wasn’t satisfied with the appraisal methods for camera lenses I studied in school. The traditional appraisal method for the most generally used photographic lenses begins and ends with the evaluation of the plane that matches the point of focus on the subject and the plane that appears in the picture. At Nikon we've come up with our own method of appraisal. In situations where the subject is three-dimensional and the image is two-dimensional, it's possible to evaluate the joint focus as normal. But, when I thought about the successive imaging capabilities of bokeh pictures, I realized there is an entirely different method of appraisal. Photography is the process of compressing three-dimensional subjects into two-dimensional images, so we must consider what is preferable or what makes for a pleasant image; in other words, the optimal method of evaluating the act of compression. We refer to bokeh the point of focus as “defocusing”, and the important thing when you bokeh is how this bokeh occurs. The idea is that it is bad if only the point of focus is clear, with the surrounding area suddenly becoming bokeh or if it’s impossible to see what is depicted with patterns that didn't exist before appearing. It's ideal if the bokeh has optimal depth, and the three-dimensional continuity and repeatability are good. We believe the ideal lens has continuity and a gentle feel as it defocuses. As an experiment we considered things like aberration balance and lens types and incorporated them into the 35mm f/1.4, but even with that the sharpness of the point of focus seemed skewed towards correcting aberrations. This is an issue of preference, but there weren't many lenses that didn't depict only the point of focus in portraits or other shots extremely sharply, but rather had excellent three-dimensional imaging capabilities, that portrayed everything, or the areas around the point of pleasant imaging, in a gentle manner. My desire to provide this type of lens that led me to design the 58mm f/1.4 lens. AF-S NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G

What sort of evaluation axis are you hoping people will use?

Development SectorHaruo Sato

I think there are other lenses out there with high resolution and MTF on the two-dimensional plane. So, rather than judging it on that point alone, I hope people will think of this 58mm as a “threedimensional hi-fi lens”. It allows the point of focus to have as much sharpness as possible while still having a gentle, continuous bokeh. You could say that the leftover design power originally dedicated to the point of focus has been shifted over to improve the three-dimensional continuity. But, there is another characteristic to this lens. The three-dimensional repeatability I mentioned before is extremely effective for subjects at finite distance with depth. However, when dealing with infinite distances the subject's depth of field is greater, so it's possible to think of perfect infinity as the equivalent of a plane placed at an unlimited distance. In such cases, the validity of assessments made using traditional methods of appraisal grows, especially assessments concerning sharpness. As such, this lens takes sharpness towards distant objects to the utmost. It isn't just about how great the sharpness is either because as the 58mm tells you, this lens has inherited all the Noct-NIKKOR design concepts. We created a lens that is extremely capable in regards to creating point images on point, one of the key ideas of the Noct-NIKKOR design. This lens can suppress sagittal coma flares at the edges of the screen, is sharp, and has great contrast repeatability. The 58mm f/1.4 lets you experience both portrayal characteristics at infinite distances as well as three-dimensional imaging characteristics for objects at short or finite distances in a single lens. I'll be happy if people evaluate it this way.

It seems likely that the latest fixed focal length (prime) lenses are the best lenses to use with high pixel
count cameras like the D810. Is this the case?

Development SectorHaruo Sato

Actually you would be surprised by what nice of photos even the older NIKKOR lenses can take. It's almost like our forerunners who designed these lenses knew that eventually cameras like the D810 would appear so they made them adaptable. Just look at the Auto NIKKOR from the Nikon F era. I recommend the Micro-NIKKOR Auto 55mm f/3.5, for example. While some users may prefer today’s modern lenses, you may be surprised at the fact that the lens still does its work perfectly. Our predecessors definitely had some insight into the future. They didn't have the tools back then, so they tried to make everything as over-spec as they could. If you look back over the design records left by our predecessors, you can see that there are entries regarding attempts to design lenses in order to reach theoretical resolutions. Advanced design concepts like this have been used in NIKKOR lenses for decades.

Now that we're in the digital age zoom lenses have really taken center stage.
Could you tell us why this is, as well as what is difficult about developing zoom lenses?

Development SectorKoichi Ohshita

Zoom lenses have to be made for a fairly wide range of people in all situations, so it's impossible to narrow their range of use down to only specific areas. That's one thing that makes developing them difficult. The reason zoom lenses are so widely used with digital cameras is because of the large progress in performance. There is also the issue of handling. I think perhaps a big part of it is that lots of users have a low opinion of having to change lenses while out in the field. The issue of debris getting stuck to the imaging surface is something that was also occasionally found even in the film camera days. With film you had was a winding mechanism that allowed you to keep the effects limited to one or a few frames, but if some dust gets stuck to the low pass filter of a digital camera it's going to be stuck on the image until it's removed.
Another advantage of using zoom lenses is that you don't miss any shutter chances while changing lenses. The performance progress began with the development of 14-24mm zoom lenses, or the emergence of zoom lenses that went beyond fixed focal-length. Nikon's acclaimed 14mm to 200mm line of lenses were developed in this manner. These three lenses (14-24mm f/2.8G, 24-70mm f/2.8G, and 70-200mm f/2.8G) referred to as the“Three Big Dragons” are designed to handle a general range of photography.

Koichi Ohshita

Development Sector
Imaging Business Unit, Nikon Corporation

Mr. Ohshita was born in Hiroshima in 1962. His childhood love of watching the stars led him to begin working at Nippon Kogaku K.K. (now Nikon Corporation) in 1985. The first product he helped to design was the NIKONOS RS R-UW AF 28mm f/2.8. Since then, he has worked on design of viewfinders, interchangeable lenses, and lenses for COOLPIX cameras. He currently designs 1 NIKKOR lenses. Mr. Ohshita developed the AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D IF and AI Nikkor 45mm f/2.8P interchangeable lenses.

The Nano Crystal Coat “Three Little Dragons”
AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED
AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED
AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II

Development SectorHaruo Sato

There's also the background of the times in which they were born. The 14-24mm f/2.8G lenses came about due to the dual factors of finding a good way to use a new aspheric surface along with the results of progress in aspheric production technologies. So, advancements in aspheric surfaces were another reason for the overall quality of zoom lenses.

Development SectorKoichi Ohshita

That's true. Zoom lenses require more lenses, so they made good use of the strengths of Nano Crystal Coat in order prevent ghosts or flares.

Development SectorHaruo Sato

Nikon finished development of their new multilayer Super Integrated Coating just before the digital revolution, so advancements in coating technology occurred at just the right time. That’s why it was possible to suppress ghosting and flaring more effectively than before using the power of coating. You also had improvements in development tools for optical design that rapidly increased the rate of improvement for zoom lenses. I think zoom lenses became so widely used because of these improved specs, high performance, reduced size, and lower price. For example, if I'm developing a superb 28-300mm zoom lens, then I have to design it in light of shooting separate things at 28mm and 300mm in completely different circumstances. It can be real trial, but it's also what I love best about my job.

I assume you've probably got a pretty full line of zoom lenses by this point,
so what's the next direction you want to take development?

Development SectorKoichi Ohshita

I think it probably lies in making zoom lenses faster, as well as trying to bring high-power zooms closer to the standard. But, we're going to have to devote more effort towards reducing the size and price of high-power zooms in order to make them a closer part of our lives.

Development SectorHaruo Sato

We'll either go towards larger aperture or more telephoto. It'll be about choosing to improve size, weight, price, or quality.

Development SectorKoichi Ohshita

One of the premises behind the development of the 800mm was being able to take it onboard planes. It's one example of how development proceeds according external conditions.

What are your recommended zoom lenses?

Development SectorKoichi Ohshita

I recommend the AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II. It's got high power zoom and vibration reduction, so you'll never need to switch it out for another lens. You can't beat it for documentary photography.

AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II

Development SectorHaruo Sato

I'd say the AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR. This zoom lens has a well thought-out range of focus distance and also has original Nikon specs. Despite it being f/4 I still particularly like its picture taking ability.

AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR

AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR Sample

Finally, what path do you think future lenses will take?

Development SectorHaruo Sato

Recently, my work with imaging devices and development of new products has made me feel like the speed with which technical innovation occurs and demands for greater performance are presented is much faster than it was ten years ago. The primary reason for this is the design environment. Specifically, the increased performance of computers as well as overwhelming improvements to software that accompany this increased performance. In addition, we have also devoted all of our energy to technical improvements, making full use of all sorts of simulations. One of the results of this is that time spent on development, from initial design to final release of a product, has been reduced with improvements to mass production technologies that enable the consistent manufacture of quality products. This allows us to offer customers high-performance lenses and cameras with great added value at prices lower than their functions and capabilities would indicate. As for the near future, we may be able to construct a system with which trial production proceeds through simulations only, enabling a faster initiation of actual production. Another result of technical improvements is the ability to analyze optics in ways never before possible, even if we tried. One example of this is detailed analysis of ghost and flare. I don't know if everyone knows this or not, but over the past ten years, the amount of ghost generated by lenses has been greatly reduced. Naturally, a part of the reason for this has been the development of high-performance anti-reflection coatings such as Nano Crystal Coat. However, coatings simply eliminate ghost and flare that has already occurred. Ideally, ghost and flare would not occur at all with future lenses. It has been difficult to increase the accuracy of the optical approach to prevent the generation of ghost in the past. However, recent simulation technologies have made more advanced analysis possible. The results can be seen with the latest NIKKOR lenses. Another example is the establishment of the design method cultivated with the AF-S 58mm f/1.4G, which I spoke of earlier. Until now, the method used to appraise lenses could be called a two-dimension to two-dimension appraisal method. However, I believe that the age of the three-dimensional appraisal method cultivated with design of the 58mm lens is coming. I'm sure that we will forever continue our efforts to increase sharpness at the point of focus. We do not, however, feel that this alone is sufficient. In the coming age, users will become increasingly familiar with movies and video. In addition, the line between equipment for recording still images and that for recording movies will likely become increasingly vague. When that time comes, how will lenses designed with consideration of only the point of focus perform? With movie recording, users often apply a process of beginning with the primary subject just out-of-focus and then focusing sharply on that subject. Moreover, the three-dimensional look and feel of the subject influence imaging greatly. This is a subject that we must take into consideration in the age to come. In short, we must establish new optical design methods, and consider even more innovative appraisal methods in the future. An age in which lens performance cannot be expressed by MTF values and resolution for flat surfaces only will come. We must keep an eye on what the future may hold, and prepare steadily for the possibilities.

Development SectorKoichi Ohshita

As many people are able to capture beautiful photos using smartphones, user requests and demands regarding cameras and photographic lenses have become increasingly advanced. While we find responding to these requests and demands challenging, we have also realized that the expansion of photo culture presented by the widespread use of smartphones represents a great opportunity. I’m thrilled to think that users whose interest in photos began with a smartphone hold a Nikon camera in their hands and what new forms of imaging expression they may create with the camera. In this respect, it seems that we must make more beautiful imaging easier, and evolve with more direct response to users' sensibilities. The direction in which lenses evolve in the future will be the same as it has been in the past. First, lenses must offer the ability to record images never before possible. Second, they must enable more vivid and beautiful recording. Finally, lenses must become more familiar to users. Imaging expression never before possible refers not only to the bokeh Mr. Sato achieved with the 58mm lens, for example, but also capture of subjects at wider angles of view, capture of more distant subjects, the ability to deform subjects, and the ability to magnify subjects. It is my hope that we will be able to respond to such requests and desires. Many NIKKOR lenses have been the first ever of their type. For example, the OP Fisheye was the world's first orthogonal projection lens, the UW-NIKKOR was the world's first lens dedicated to underwater photography, and NIKKOR was the first to offer a PC lens. All of these lenses were the result of our desire to achieve new forms of imaging expression never before possible. Perhaps tackling new things can be said to be a part of the NIKKOR spirit. Achieving lenses that enable more vivid and beautiful recording is always the goal of our optical designers. Part of this is the design and development of lenses that offer superior resolution all the way to the corners of the frame. However, that is not the only requirement for beautiful recording. Lenses must also be capable of three-dimensional rendering that includes blurred portions, as Mr. Sato has stated, and must also offer good color reproduction characteristics. What's more, the occurrence of ghost and flare with capture of backlit scenes results in rather flat, dull images. Such rendering cannot be called beautiful. Nikon developed its Nano Crystal Coat, which greatly reduces flare and ghost. While Nano Crystal Coat has been adopted for many NIKKOR lenses, we will continue to develop new technologies in our quest for beautiful rendering. Finally, I hope that lenses will become more familiar to users. Lenses that do not satisfy user needs are pointless, even if they do offer superior performance. For example, size and weight are two important issues. Just as the 300mm f/4 PF lens with its Phase Fresnel lens element responded to changes in the conventional idea that telephoto lenses are large and heavy, we would like to continue to create smaller, more user-friendly products in the future. Our line of f/1.8 fixed focal length (prime) lenses has been further enriched with the release of the AF-S 24mm f/1.8. Though lenses in this f/1.8 series are 2/3 EV slower (darker) than f/1.4 lenses, this specification has allowed us to achieve lighter (weight) lenses much lower in price. I hope that we will continue in this way to develop lenses that not only offer superior performance, but will be used by a great many photographers. Continue to expect the most from NIKKOR!