Nikon patents interchangeable sensor for mirrorless camera

Nikon filed a patent in Japan for interchangeable sensor solution in mirrorless cameras. According to the patent application, the interchangeable sensors will have different AF system, speed (fps) and pixel count in order to suite different shooting preferences:

AF Rate Image quality Remarks
Contrast AF Slow Good All pixels and therefore can be used for image output quality
Phase difference AF (center point, etc.) Fast Normal AF phase is very small because the pixel is used, less quality degradation
Phase difference AF (sensors, etc. Cross) Fast Bad AF phase for a number of pixels used, interpolation is required and can lead to lower quality

Just few weeks ago Nikon filed another patent for an interchangeable sensor with more connection details:

Recently Olympus filed a patent for a modular DSLR camera.

Nikon patent details:

  • Patent Publication: 2010-283651
  • Release date: December 16th, 2010
  • Filing date: May 6th, 2009

Juts a reminder that not all patent applications get implemented in real cameras.

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  • Banned

    First, yay!

  • aetas

    This looks interesting. As far as a full understanding of what it means for us im a little in the dark. When it comes to looking at these copyrights i get a little lost to be honest.

    • aetas

      I would like to be able to pull out a sensor for a new one.+) I mean who does not?

      • It means areas on the sensor will be used for focusing — just like the Fuji sensor. Don’t know how smart messing with the image quality is. Guess the engineers at Nikon know what they are doing.

        • Roger

          Have you seen images from that Fuji? It’s image quality is GARBAGE, probably the worst compact available today.

      • PHB

        I don’t quite see the point. The sensor is only part of the camera body of course, and on an EVIL will be cheaper than on a DSLR.

        But on most bodies the sensor is pretty closely matched to the other electronics. The CPU has to have enough power to crunch the data coming off the sensor.

        So imagine that you have a dedicated HD 1080i sensor that you slot in. OK so its resolution is precisely matched to the resolution of the video. But you can’t record HD video at 1080i without a CPU capable of delivering serious computing welly.

        There might be an argument for swapping a 12MP sensor for a 24MP or maybe options related to the anti-aliasing filter. But 24MP is going to be pushing the limit for what is practical with small sensor size.

        The only one I can see that would really interest me would be the likelihood that an IR sensor would appear in any drop-in scheme like this. Might be an argument for a B&W filter as well, but seems a stretch.

        • rolfen

          IR, B&W, specialized sensors (low light. etc.). This is great for the consumer – all other thing kept constant (an utopia) but as I said before, there might be other commercial concerns. Camera makers seem to like “locking in” their customers and it seems to benefit them commercially, so it is doubtful how this will develop. Hopefully (hopefully!) we will see an open standard for interchangeable sensors, instead of having to buy a new camera every time we want a different or upgraded sensor.
          Yes, your argument about the CPU makes sense, but CPUs are getting faster, as you know, and if the CPU is too slow then it will just take more time to process the data (hence lower FPS), which might not be a major concern for some.
          Modularity and open standards (more choosing power to the customer) is generally a good thing, but we know nothing of what will come out of all this yet.

  • Ronan

    This one’s gonna make Thom Hogan happy 🙂

    • GlobalGuy

      lol. Not until they produce it. He’s going to put on his website “Two years since Nikon has ignored MY idea of sensor modularity. Japanese people are never ones to listen to ME, lord knows I’ve tried to get them to hire ME to consult for them!”

    • Man de Labrat

      I hope it doesn’t Byt Hom 😉

      • SZRimaging

        BOO! BOO! Bad pun. C’mon, surely you could have tried harder than that.

  • I guess at some point you gotta ask yourself if you’re out there to assemble cameras or shoot stuff.

    There’s lenses, batteries, memory cards, flashes, gels, tripods, etc… I’d imagine those sensors will be costly as well as even more delicate then lenses. Not sure how I feel about this.

    • rolfen

      This is giving me ideas 🙂
      (dreams about assembling a camera from bits and parts)

  • disco

    welcome to lego land!

    • GlobalGuy

      Now THIS should make Ken Rockwell happy! Legoland always does.. lol!!

      • Nau

        meh he will say its to complicated and will provide tutorial on how to photoshop heads
        I still see his sons face in my nightmares

        • Stranger

          Oh no! Please don’t mention the photoshopped head again!
          I’ve shown it to so many people at my work and laughed so hard about the ugly photoshop job that i don’t think I can take anymore of this…
          OMG! How can he give readers photoshop tips in his reviews and dare show the same people this kind of result???
          It’s a good thing he doesn’t allow comments on his site…
          (sorry, Ken, I’m a little harsh, but come on, let’s be honest here: that’s an awful PS job)

        • rolfen

          Thank you for reminding me (not!)

  • ncphotog

    Now if they’d only offer a way to upgrade those existing dslr’s with a new sensor instead of having to get rid of it to upgrade, I’d be happy for my old D2 not to be quite as fast as it used to be so I could have better resolution but not have to ditch a perfectly good body because I won’t ever use it when I have a D3 to choose from. I’m sure there is much more involved than I know but it was nice with film bodies because even if it didn’t perform the latest and greatest compared to newer bodies, you still kept it around when you didn’t need all the new technology.

    • rolfen

      Exactly. Honestly the body itself (AF, ergonomics) has minimally progressed in the last 20 years – I am talking about SLRs. We are made to buy it again and again to have a better sensor (and LCD, and electronics to be honest). But honestly I just wish I could just slap a sensor on my 20 year old Canon film SLR. I just really like the ergonomics and general feeling and look of it, so much that I would forget about the LCD and all the other niceties and use it if I could just fit it with a digital sensor.

  • Mock Kenwell

    If it’s going to somehow translate to less cost, I’m all for it. But ask yourself, would you want the old D1H interface on your D3s? This might entice more folks to update, but at some point, you need to totally upgrade.

    Honestly, is this camera ever going to come out? Nikon has paralysis by analysis.

    • rolfen

      I don’t know about Nikons, but I would answer yes for Canon SLRs.

  • Mark

    I do not see how it would cost less? If a camera offers greater flexibility and upgrade options then it will likely cost a little more upfront. You may save later if a sensor comes out that you want and you upgrade the sensor as opposed to buying a whole new camera.

    I think this is a great idea for some cameras.


    • Mock Kenwell

      And what you just described would contribute to less cost.

      The real boon here would be being able to swap between a low-light priority sensor and a high dynamic range sensor.

      • rolfen

        Yep. Other possibilities such as what you described will come if this system is implemented.

  • Anonymus Maximus

    It might or might not be produced. But it will never catch on.

    This is one of the ideas that sound great in theory but nobody really needs.
    Like APS

    • Like nobody needs a Hasselblad or Mamiya?

      • rolfen

        Maybe he means like interchangeable lenses cameras.

  • NoFunBen

    It will make cleaning the sensor easier.

    • HDZ

      Yes, especially when you clean it with sand-paper.

    • rolfen

      Yeah. Just soak it in WD-40 overnight.

  • camaman

    ^most likely it will have some optical glass to protect it.
    And everybody will whine how bad their pics are because of it…

  • ep

    They should make native 1920×1080 sensor with huge pixels.

    • Mikycoud


  • David

    How very RED of Nikon. Cleaning the camera body will be a lot easier now…

  • Keen

    Does anybody ever stop to think that Nikon ACTUALLY wants to patent this sensor swopping idea, simply because it Allows Nikon to swop the sensors for ‘their own convenience’, using the same camera body design with minor teaking on buffer and firmware?? Just like they did on the D3 and the D3x. Thus, maximizing profit.

    Its not designed for customers to choose which sensor/s they wish to buy, and install it on the body by themselves. Neither is it an OPTION for you to buy a D4 body in 2011 and just request Nikon service centre to upgrade it to D4x sensor for “x” amount in 2012.

    • rolfen

      You mean “swap”?
      Good point, anyway.

  • Keen

    and yes, I know its for their mirrorless camera. Not DSLR. but still that the general route they may be thinking.

    So don’t jump for joy YET.

  • sgts

    youre laughing now but in years to come people will mention ken rockwell in the same breath as ansel adams, the man is a true visionary.

  • NikonEVIL

    Well … Order me 4 sensors, please !!!

    1 for color-photo (high-res)
    1 for ir-photo (high-res)
    1 for color-video (low-res)
    1 for ir-video (low-res)

  • Roger

    At least Nikon is the first company to admit that AF on sensor = worse IQ. Anyway you slice it, no mirror = sucks balls.

    Fuji didnt mention that in the press material for their compact which uses this approach, and it’s buyers are in for a nasty surprise …..

    • it

      Roger, Nikon is talking about phase AF on the main sensor. I see “constrast AF quality: good” on that table.

    • rolfen

      No mirror = sucks ball not so much anymore. Contrast detection focus is essentially what you did yourself (manually) with older cameras and it is getting better.
      Mirror-less sometimes sucks, but it has nothing do to with the design, but rather the implementation. Well except for lack of optical viewfinder. I still miss that.
      DSLR = bulky, I guess that can be said.

  • Worminator

    Ricoh GXR system…

  • rolfen

    It’s not rocket science. They have to be a reason for this not to have been implemented before. Maybe they are just filing the patent to sit on it and defend the status-quo. Hopefully that’s not the case.

  • rolfen

    Nice idea but kinda late. For the last 2 decades or so, if you wanted to stay up-to-date, you had to buy a new body every couple of years at most. Now the sensor development has stabilized and slowed down, so if this feature hits the market in (presumably) a couple of years, it’ll be a little late, compared to when it made the most sense for consumers. It can still be useful for having “specialized” sensors (low light, high dr), a bit like you’d swap films on your film body depending on the situation, but that’s a little niche.

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