Rumors: laser AF was one of the projects recently cancelled by Nikon; next wave of DSLRs will have new and improved phase-detection AF

I received this email describing recently canceled Nikon projects:

Nikon were working on a method of embedding camera motion data, as detected by VRII lens data, in a video file. The idea was to record .nev video at resolutions higher than standard (upwards of 500 pixels on all 4 sides) and remove motion shifts by extrapolating the VRII data. This was out-of-camea processing as it was very CPU intensive. The results worked quite well for small, high-frequency motion, but ultimately was deemed not worth the effort. This required significant architecture change to camera internals and was several years from deployment when cancelled.

Nikon also had a prototype "body" that used a laser range-finder system for highly accurate focus distance calculations. This was to be applied to super-telephoto lenses with new technology that allows them to know their focus distance. The pairing worked very well and allowed for a prism/mirror -less, accurate autofocus. The prototype "body" had a fixed laser (think fixed center-point autofocus). Note that this body was an extreme engineering sample and was more of a box than a camera body. The technology was for demonstration. Unfortunately Nikon deemed it not worth the effort to work out response-time and tracking issues. This project was cancelled because of recent, significant progress in phase-detection autofocus. The new phase-detection is, subjectively, as fast as the E-P3 seems to be. It is implemented in all 3 DSLRs that will be released this year. I don't think it will be in the new mirrorless Coolpix Pro models as it's processor intensive and the Pros don't have (that) much onboard power.

One of the expected improvements in the next full frame camera from Nikon is faster AF. Some websites compared the speed of the new Olympus E-P3 to be identical to current models DSLRs. Here is an example of how fast the Olympus E-P3 AF is in low light (there are few more AF tests in the same post):

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  • jk


    • matgay

      12 day countdown i will die awaiting

  • WoutK89

    Laser detect autofocus and Army photography, happy shooting people 😛

    • dave

      Now you can “paint” your target for the laser guided bombs and missiles and take pictures at the same time!

  • The invisible man

    I knew it !

  • I imagine people panicking when red dots appear on their foreheads at public events, I imagine black suited agents tackling the some poor fellow trying to take a pic at some important press conference.

    • None

      The laser is almost guaranteed to be an IR laser, therefore not visible to the human eye.

      • that’s pretty much obvious, i was trying to loosen the atmosphere.

        • VJ

          So apart from being invisible, how would it differ from the AF illumination pattern an SB-800 emits for instance?

        • chris

          how dare you trying to losen the athmosphere on nikonrumors!
          shame on you..

  • I know, just a few will consider this to be useful, since the need is very special. Anyway, I’d be happy with old-school focusing screen like one in film camera to achieve easy manual focusing. I think AF is fast enough in today cameras and of course there is vast room to do things better. Improvements in AF technology are always welcome, but they are still not panacea for the pain of manual focusing with digital camera. What’s the problem with releasing convenient screen like presicion matte Eg-S for Canon 5D MkII?

    AF is clueless for haters of ‘focus-then-recompose’ dances and still technology isn’t clever enough to read thoughts directly from human brain. Really, people, choosing right AF point via dial and still having not ideal snap is a pain in the arse. 🙁

    • rhlpetrus

      Me too, for primes. There are a few screens available as accessories, but not Nikon designs. For me even the old half-split design would work as well, since I used a similar one on the Leica M3.

    • Pat

      A company makes better focusing screen. I think they are called Katzeye Optics. I bought one for my d300 and it is easily 100% better than the stock screen. It’s no FM2 or F2 screen, but I use it with some of my old non AF lenses and it is noticeably better.

    • Discontinued

      @Slow Gin,
      valid point. And I think “few” are many many more than the manufacturers realize.

      there is a wide spread wish for accurate focusing screens among photographers. No matter how good it gets, AF obviously ain’t doing it for many shots. Especially the ones that involve a tripod, shallow dof and are thoroughly composed.

      Once upon a time I sold all my brand new AF-lenses and went back to Ais for that reason alone. Nikons F4 combined with the 1. generation of AF-lenses was next to useless to me. With another focusing screen and Ais-lenses I regained accuracy and control. The F4 became a great tool for my purposes.

      • I wrote a letter to Nikon.

        • Victor Hassleblood

          Very much appreciated.

    • Anonymous

      I would kill for a better focusing screen. How else can you get focus in the dark? Its very difficult. I may try one of those Kateye screens (they are kinda pricey from my point of view). What do we have, 11 days? I feel like a school kid counting the days to summer, or the minutes to recess.

  • ericnl

    would you be able to turn off the laser and just use the old method of auto focus?

    on any camera I’ve owned I have always turned off the focus light, if it’s too dark to auto focus, just use manual focus. I shoot mainly street portraits at the moment and a camera in somebody’s face is intrusive enough without guiding lights or lasers…

  • Derek R

    Sounds like total BS! Too many absurd statements.

  • All I care about is it works, as in, it just works.

  • rhlpetrus

    3 more bodies this year? Well, that will make for 4, added the D5100, for 2011, I think that’s a first for Nikon, I doubt it, but who knows, maybe Nikon wants to close the cycle this year, next year we’ll get the D7100 and then the D4x.

    • Ric

      “new mirrorless Coolpix Pro models”

      • dave

        Might I point out that the Coolpix cameras are already mirrorless.

    • Nikon FY 2012 runs from April 2011 to March 2012, and it does not include D5100. 3 new DSLR are replacements for D3s, D700 and D300s.

      BTW what is “Coolpix Pro”?

      my 2 cents

  • El Aura

    When working with view or technical cameras (‘mirrorless’ medium format and larger cameras) people have switched to laser rangefinder some time ago when using smaller film or sensor formats. More precise with the right lenses and cameras than focussing on the ground glass.

  • D700guy

    good lord, 12 days to go. >:(

  • broxibear

    You know that thing about Nikon skipping the D4 because 4 is an unlucky number or associated with death ?
    Well, If I’m not mistaken this guy’s holding a Nikon D5…

    • i call BS on it, i think it’s photoshop.

      • SGN

        I think it’s more of home workshop!

    • El Aura

      Yeah, and Nikon also skipped the F4…

    • a

      ” 4 is an unlucky number or associated with death”

  • AnoNemo

    That’s like Dr Evil … and the giant laser

    • twoomy

      I have a simple request. And that is to have cameras with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads!

    • Patrick

      Mini me- don’t hump the laser!

    • AnoNemo

      Another option is that Nikon is secretly building a death star. I find this more plausable after looking at the bloddy size of the D3. And they will call call the new camera Darth.

  • Ken Elliott

    One thing about the D700 with the 85mm f/1.4 is it can shoot in conditions where AF fails. In other works, at a dark bar the AF can’t lock in, even when there is enough light for a picture. My Katz Eye screen comes to the rescue! The point being that there is room for improvement, and I’m glad Nikon is working on it.

  • Lulz

    Me too def room for improvement in this area.

  • First time I saw that 😮

  • Ric

    “new mirrorless Coolpix Pro models”

    anyone catch that?

    Is it to much to ask for sharks with lasers?

  • Jake

    :O Three new bodies this year? That sounds to me like the d3s and the d700 replacements this month, and the d300s replacement in November!
    Admin, who sent you this email? Were they reliable?

    • Can’t tell, three bodies till the end of the year sounds possible. Nikon can announce the D400 replacement few months after the a77 is announced,

      • As I posted above, Nikon FY runs from April 2011 to March 2012.
        my 2 cents

        • rhlpetrus

          No one is talking about fiscal years here.

  • Ric

    “new mirrorless Coolpix Pro models”

    did anyone notice this.

    “sharks with fricken lasers”

  • The d700 replacement will have improved ISO, more accurate autofocus in low light, dual memory card slots,hd video, etc, etc, etc…my God, it’s the perfect camera.

  • DX2FX

    The new phase detection AF system may be faster, but the SWM in the lens might not react any faster unless its very performance is improved as well..

  • HalbVoll

    I call it BS. Why? There is no such thing as VRII. If a lens is called …VRII, it means that it’s the second implementation of this very lens.


    1996: AF-S 2.8/300
    2001: AF-S 2.8/300 II
    2004: AF-S 2.8/300 VR
    2009: AF-S 2.8/300 VRII

    • Trevor

      I call BS. 16-85 VR is VRII. There was never a VR version.

      VRII is claimed to be 4 stops better, VR is only claimed to be 3 stops.

      • HalbVoll

        and the lens is called “AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR” NOT VRII. Of course there are generations of the VR, and of course it gets improved. However, many people, and I believe the author of the email as well, believe that VRII in the name of a lens means that it is the second generation of the VR. But the II doesn’t refer to the VR, but to the implementation of the lens itself…

        • Trevor

          Ok, I get what you’re saying. Nikon refers to the lens as 16-85 VR since it is the first version of the lens with VR. If it were to be called 16-85 VR II that would refer to the second version of the lens with VR, but that’s not necessarily a statement as to which implementation of VR (gen one or two) the lens is using.

          That said, every lens with VR II in the name uses the second generation VR which Nikon refers to as VRII (see any lens description page). So, VRII does exist, and the author of the email could well be specifying that the VRII system in particular was being used as opposed to gen one VR.

        • Trevor

          Ok, I get what you’re saying. In the lens name the II refers to the second version of that lens with VR. It doesn’t necessarily designate which version of VR the lens is using.

          That said, Nikon does refer to its second generation of VR as VRII, and every lens with a name of VR II has the second gen of VR. The 16-85 is the one exception I find where it is named VR as it is the first version of the lens with VR, but it uses second gen VRII.

          So, to the original point, there is such a thing as VRII, and the author of the email is likely using the appropriate term VRII to specify the second generation of VR as opposed to the first.

          • me-too

            I could be wrong but AFAIK the 70-300VR is a VRII

      • sade

        You are perfectly correct and what HalbVoll is saying is completely wrong. BS is what he/she says.

        • HalbVoll

          You really don’t get. The naming “II” was common for Nikon lenses long before VR existed. Look at the 2.8/300 example, there was an AF-S in 1996, and then in 2001, there was an updated AF-S and to distinguish the both, a simple “II” was added to the name. The same repeated itself with the VR version of the lens.

          If, and that is one big IF, this email would be true, we would need to talk about at least the next generation of VR, as the current version of VR does not communicate it’s doing to the camera.

  • AtlDave

    It looks like someone got phase and contrast autofocus confused. A mirrorless camera could not use phase detect even if it did have enough processing power. And the EP3 is said to be as fast as a DSLR, not faster. So a SLR focusing as fast as the EP3 would not require an advance in phase detect autofocus.

    • Trevor

      I agree. It seems like they should be talking about contrast AF since 1) that is where Oly picked up 2) that is where Nikon is really lacking 3) that would be processor intensive 4) as mentioned above, phase detect would be motor limited 5) fast contrast AF would help nikon mirrorless.

      I do find it funny that in the video he tries to focus on 1 finger three times and it misses every shot. I’ll take accurate over fast ANY day.

      • anon

        the ep3 was accurately focusing on the background. It was an user error, you need to set a smaller focusing area to focus on a finger. (The author itself said this on youtube)

        Everyone know that Contrast AF is more accurate that phase af. It is used even on DSLR when accuracy is required, isn’t it?

    • Roger

      People who test AF have no idea what they’re doing. That’s why they think EP3 is any good.

      • Yeah, it’s like, at the end of the video I eagerly anticipated the result pictures that would clearly show me, at least on resized versions, that the AF actually was accurate. I mean, the pictures could be missfocused by just a bit, and they would become unusable, and discerning focus by looking at a 3 inch sceen filmed with a camera and posted on the internet isn’t going to impress me.

  • bjrichus


    “Coolpix” and “Pro” in the same sentence are two words that make up an oxymoron.

    Using them together as the name of a product line makes me want to vomit.

    It had better be damn good, is all I can say… IMO anything even remotely close to the quality of the existing Coolpix range and not substantially better than any other compact system range (i.e. the Sony) will be a fail.

    Just being the same as the rest is not good enough anymore…. In this game they have to leap over the rest, because in 6 months time they competition will have done the same and will bury Nikon… Coolpix Pro… BARF!

  • Hmmm… usually most portraits, or any people pictures for that matter, focus on the eye more than anything. Even if it is an infrared laser, is it really a good idea to be shooting a laser in people’s eyes? Other than those mounted on sharks? I, too, want sharks, and Nikons, with frickin’ lasers!

    Evil photographer

  • Roger

    This BS about AF of the Oly M4/3 has got to stop. Try tracking anything with CDAF, then tell me if you still think it’s any good

  • photonut

    What’s the point of lightning fast AF when the tracking AF is lame as a duck…

    (For the last 2 weeks I was testing the new Oly and Pan G3’s. The AF is nothing to be excited about…)

  • Yes, let me ditch my fast f/1.2 lens on my FF DSLR and go to FourThirds so I can get f/5.6-like shots really fast. Yeah… that’s going to be an upgrade.

  • Daniel

    I wish to know how long it will take to get a new FX body after the announcement, because I really wish to use it during my October vacation. (if there are new FX DSRLs)

  • sh3t0r

    laser pew pew!

  • getanalogue

    most interesting point is 3 more dslr’s to be announced this year: D4 (D5?), D800 (D900?), D400 (D500?), and the D400 to be announced a few months after Alpha 77, as usual (December?, and immediate availability).

    • VJ

      Hey, I’m not the only one who noticed that they make mention of 3 DSLRS! The rumour we have about the end of August if of 2 DSLRS (and some mention that they both are FX). So could this third one be the D300s replacement?

  • VJ

    The resoluting thing is cool, but I can imagine it is not worth the effort. In a research project (not Nikon related :-)) I was involved in, a group worked on what they called “superresolution”: a technique to increase the resolution of a photo by combining data from different overlapping photos of the same area. We intended to use it for improving aerial and satellite photos, but there too it was deemed not worth the effort: it worked well, but required more photos (more data, more expensive to acquire) and a lot of processing…

    • fred

      Yes, I suppose many cool things could happen with gyro information and also with sensors going to fast refresh rates. You could take two pictures in one exposure, and gain resolution or dynamic range, for example. Hasselblad uses a gyro to lock focus.

      But, the initial mail says that DSLR architectures are not flexible enough to implement new functions easily…? Wait and see…

    • getanalogue

      Hasselblad is doing exactly what you described in their 200MP camera. It is multi-shot, and they move the sensor by 1 pixel width between 1st and 2nd shot.

      • patrick

        Sounds like “in body De-stabilization”!

      • VJ

        Actually, our methodology stemmed from aerial photography: when a plane (or satellite) photographs an area, there will be an overlap between the different photos. We used that overlap (but actually required a more-than-standard overlap) to increase the resolution. Unlike the hasselblad system, we had no way of modifying the imaging process, we just post processed the images.

  • preston

    Couple thoughts about the Coolpix Pro. There is 1 thing in particular I think is mandatory to warrant the ‘pro’ name – a high res 100% fov electronic viewfinder. If it doesn’t have this then it’s not ‘pro’ – period. The pros will opt for a NEX-7, GH2, G3, NX11, or X100 instead because they do have one. This post also highlights Nikon’s attention to exploration with different focus methods/technologies, which is very encouraging. People like to complain about electronic viewfinders, but most haven’t seen the Olympus VF-2. It is beautiful (the image inside, that is)! If Nikon could implement a VF similar to this but with something similar to Sony’s ‘peaking’ function added to it – then I would be very happy. By the way, this peaking function completely obsoletes any other form of manual focusing (in camera) for speed and accuracy. Check it out on youtube if you don’t know what it is.

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