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May 10, 2005 11:59 AM   Subscribe

All Ur Pics R Belong 2 Us? Over the last three weeks there's been a storm of protest after Thomas Knoll (of Adobe Photoshop fame) revealed that Nikon are encrypting the White Balance data (used to ensure correct colour) in the RAW files generated by their latest cameras and that Adobe are unwilling to break the encryption in their Camera RAW software thanks to fears they could be prosecuted under the DCMA. Whilst others appear to have no such worries, many are calling for the camera manufacturers to document their proprietary formats so images will not be lost over time. So have Nikon just taken a shot of their own foot?
posted by arc (23 comments total)

 
I was personally offended enough by this move to write Nikon a real letter. I doubt they'll respond. Anyway, I asked them the following questions:

- Does Nikon believe it owns the copyright to the data its cameras record?
- Is encrypting the data stored in raw data files in the best interests of Nikon customers?
- Is the encryption intended to make it harder for makers of photo manipulation software to compete with Nikon's own software?

It seems pretty clear the motivation behind the move. I don't think there is a DMCA case here, and Adobe is mostly just grandstanding, but I appreciate them bringing the issue into the light anyway. Nikon's response is a real slap in the face to customers, though:
"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."
What a crock. I'll decide if I'm happy with the software I'm using, thank you.

/Recent D70 owner
posted by knave at 12:24 PM on May 10, 2005


So have Nikon just taken a shot of their own foot?

Probably not, as people keep buying their cameras. The purchase of a body locks you into the same vendor's lenses. Proprietary technology is nothing new in cameraland; buyer beware.
posted by AlexReynolds at 12:34 PM on May 10, 2005


Note that Nikon isn't the only one doing it.

> The purchase of a body locks you into the same vendor's lenses.

Yes and no: third parties are available for the big names. Adapters are also available and given that the camera has enough manual control, one can shot picture will interesting non standard setups.
posted by NewBornHippy at 12:37 PM on May 10, 2005


Yes and no: third parties are available for the big names.

The problem is, you buy these 3rd party lenses which are built for a Nikon camera, and that keeps you buying Nikon cameras in the future...
posted by knave at 12:39 PM on May 10, 2005


The affected DSLR's are professional D2X and D2Hs, as well the upcoming consumer/prosumer models D50 and D70s. The soon-to-be-replaced D70 is the only current DSLR without encrypted white balance presets (unless you count the D100).

To clarify, manual white balancing correction still works on files generated by the newest generation of Nikon DSLR's, but the in-camera presets (include custom white balance presets used by many pros) are encrypted in the .NEF files and can only be legally extracted by Nikon's notoriously slow and expensive RAW software (or programs that use the same SDK, essentially being hampered the same way). The inability to decrypt white balance presets is a huge blow to the ability of professional photographers to batch-process files using anything other than Nikon's expensive and slow RAW converter. The ripple effect of Nikon files being rejected on the basis of perceived incompatibility has a lot of Nikon photographers very concerned.

Nikon guru Thom Hogan has a reasonably concise and balanced rundown of the debacle in his D2X review (see the sidebar).

The entire brouhaha is fundamentally due to the DMCA (surprise, surprise). Nikon's RAW encryption is fairly easy to crack and has already been cracked by smaller RAW software developers, such as Bibble and dcraw. The difference though is that previously encrypted RAW files have been easily decrypted either with the approval or outright cooperation by other camera manufacturers, and the recent trend has been a movement toward more less proprietary file formats (Canon's older .CRW format has some encrypted fields but their latest .CR2 files don't, for instance). Nikon, however, appears to be moving in the other direction, and is being unwilling to allow for decryption of its files by any means other than using Nikon's own SDK, thereby preventing third party software developers (like Adobe) from competing by accessing the RAW data using their own better software algorithms. If they decrypt the file without using Nikon's poor-performing SDK, it would be a flagrant breach of the DMCA.

And the irony? If you've been following their behavior, you know that Adobe has been one of the strongest proponents of the DMCA all along. The smaller third-party software developers who have cracked the encryption have little to lose from doing so. If Adobe follows suit, however, it will make their considerable corporate assets a fat target for litigation from Nikon under the DMCA. Essentially Adobe wants assurances from Nikon that they won't be sued for violating the DMCA, and Nikon (so far) is unwilling to do so.

Neither Adobe nor Nikon are the good guys in this battle. But there is a clear bad guy here -- the DMCA. Yet again.
posted by DaShiv at 12:51 PM on May 10, 2005


Nikon makes cameras?
posted by fenriq at 12:52 PM on May 10, 2005


The ripple effect of Nikon files being rejected on the basis of perceived incompatibility has a lot of Nikon photographers very concerned.

Real or not, that perception, if anything, will be what renders DMCA impotent. Buyers will create a market for unhindered technology. To some point, corporations will want to fill that vacuum. Sometimes propaganda can be useful.
posted by AlexReynolds at 12:58 PM on May 10, 2005


DaShiv, the DMCA only applies to copyrighted works, where the purpose of the encryption is to protect someone's copyright. In this case, it seems Nikon has no copyright claims on your pictures (or their respective metadata), so the DMCA claim is, like I said, grandstanding. Nikon has not threatened to sue anyone and has not mentioned the DMCA themselves, only Adobe has.
posted by knave at 1:05 PM on May 10, 2005


This is interesting to me because I am looking at D-SLRs and was mainly down to Nikon or Canon. This will certainly make my choice easier.
posted by TedW at 1:09 PM on May 10, 2005


A few points.

First off, the SDK for Nikon's NEF format are literally given away for free to big developers like Adobe. The DMCA isn't an issue. This is merely Nikon's attempt to "persuade" people to shell out $99 for Nikon Capture instead of some small-time 3rd party vendor. It's annoying, but most digital photographers spending $5000 on a camera already have Photoshop.

Second, Adobe is the last company that should be complaining about potential DMCA abuses.

Third, if Nikon really intended to encrypt the files and lock people out of 3rd party apps, white balance is about the last place I'd start.

Lastly, there are plenty of other reasons to dislike Nikon than this whole white-balance drama. Personally, I'm ditching all my Nikon gear and going to the dark side, because in the end, a photographer doesn't care as much about the name as they do the longevity. Who's going to be the big player 50 years from now, so all my gear isn't obsolete? Nikon, who manufacture cameras and lenses? Or Canon, who manufacture still cameras, video cameras, lenses, printers, copiers, semiconducter equipment, medical imaging systems, scanners, etc., etc.? Canon just has more money to stay in the game longer. And naturally, their products are all top-notch (especially their cameras & printers).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:12 PM on May 10, 2005


I'm pissed enough about this that I'll never buy another Nikon product again until such time as they stop treating their cusomers like criminals.

I've owned 3 different Nikon cameras and I have a bag full of Nikon lenses and I flat out refuse to use Nikon's buggy, slow software.
posted by bshort at 1:12 PM on May 10, 2005


Also, this isn't just about Nikon vs. Adobe. This is about Nikon vs. the rest of the digital imaging community, both proprietary and free.

If you're considering buying a Nikon DSLR, buy a Canon 20D instead. Before all this happened I would have recommended a D70 (I love love love mine).
posted by bshort at 1:14 PM on May 10, 2005


> Who's going to be the big player 50 years from now, so all my gear
> isn't obsolete?

You're making an informed choice, but note that Canon has been redesigning their lense mount (rendering older lenses unusable on newer bodies) more frequently that Nikon had.

Pentax K mount provides better longevity I'm told.

I went with Nikon because I can buy for cheap really old good lense fewer people seem to care using these days -- granted you need a professional body for that, but it turns out that the older D1 series bodies were affordable to me.

The camera is old enough that the WB issue doesn't apply and I wouldn't use non free software with it anyways...
posted by NewBornHippy at 1:18 PM on May 10, 2005


That Engadget "no comment" on the RAW format stuff is embarassing. Their PR department should never have allowed that interview if they weren't prepared to comment.

What's dumb about all this is that I can see no possible way Nikon benefits from keeping its RAW format data proprietary. Nikon sells cameras. Digital cameras. Big optical machines that turn light into pixels into bits. They should make those bits available to consumers in as easy a fashion as they can. This is just obvious to me, I'm amazed they don't get it.
posted by Nelson at 1:23 PM on May 10, 2005


knave: It's the potential litigation under DMCA that's keeping Adobe's hands tied (because having used that law against other targets, Adobe knows what they have to lose here). Nikon could easily defuse the situation by making a "it's your file, use whichever converter you want even though we recommend our own" statement. Instead, with every interview so far they've stubbornly insisted on clinging to their "use either Capture or our SDK" position, and continue to refuse to clarify their stance whether they claim any copyright(s) over the metadata, its encryption process, or even the .NEF files or format (or any parts of them) in general. Nikon's poor PR responses in handling this is why so many photographers are so fervent in pre-emptively taking the "this is my data" stance against Nikon. IANAL, but AFAIK it's the same reason why breaking regional encoding of DVD players falls under the purview of the DMCA (even if you're doing so to read, say, DVD's whose copyright belongs to you). Breaking the metadata encryption would similarly make one culpable if Nikon claims copyright to any part of the encryption process or its final results.

What is truly baffling is that I can't think of any other camera company other than Nikon who has made a public statement declaring that their files should only be processed by either their proprietary converter or the proprietary SDK that runs the converter. Kodak, Canon, Olympus, Konica-Minolta, Pentax, and even Sigma have all included free full-featured RAW converters with their DSLR's as a curtesy, whereas Nikon resorts to peddling their Capture program instead (as does Olympus with their Studio add-on program). Now Nikon has only fanned the flames even hotter by trying to lock out third-party converters as well. Was it really worth this animosity to upsell a $100 piece of software on a $5000 camera?

Civil_Disobedient: This is merely Nikon's attempt to "persuade" people to shell out $99 for Nikon Capture instead of some small-time 3rd party vendor. It's annoying, but most digital photographers spending $5000 on a camera already have Photoshop.

Except that Nikon also rendered their new NEF files partially incompatible with the Abode Camera Raw plugin that the industry-standard Photoshop uses as well. I don't think Nikon intended to start an intellectual property storm over their tactics of "persuasion", but now that they've done so, their steadfast refusal to reverse course is really hurting their image. This entire affair casts a very poor light on Nikon's rigid corporate culture and inflexible decision-making.

It makes me laugh at Michael Reichmann's comment about Nikon: Good cameras and lenses, dumb company!
posted by DaShiv at 2:26 PM on May 10, 2005


An open, industry-wide standard for RAW data files is sorely needed, and lo and behold, one has been proposed - DNG. As yet, the camera makers aren't flocking to adopt it, hopefully enough will, so that those that hesitate will be forced by the market to follow. To be fair, it's still very early days.

What's so silly about the situation with Nikon is their apparent arrogance. They seem to think that as a successful hardware manufacturer they should be able to compete with the likes of Adobe in the imaging software field. Anyone who's experienced Nikon Capture knows that they're nowhere near. As a Nikon 35mm SLR user of some 20 years or so, this and other reasons caused me to go to Pentax when I finally went completely digital this year.
posted by normy at 3:25 PM on May 10, 2005


Canon has been redesigning their lense mount (rendering older lenses unusable on newer bodies) more frequently that Nikon had

Well, while you can use older lenses, unless you chip them yourself, you can't use matrix metering. It's lame that they don't offer this service (since it's been proven to work), but if you're using your fancy 20 lb. 50 year-old medical-grade f/1 lens, you aren't buying the latest expensive gee-whiz feature.

The big reason why I'm ditching Nikon is because of DX lenses. They adamately refuse to make a professional body--any friggin' body--that's full-frame. Well thanks a fucking lot, Nikon. There goes my wide end (which is what Nikon was always better at, as opposed to Canon's awesome telephotos). Not to mention their viewfinder is useless, useless, USELESS! for critical focusing.

That wouldn't be so bad if their autofocus system was kick-ass, but again Canons reign supreme. ARGH. I've never been so disappointed in a company. Don't even get me started on the D2X abortion.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:06 PM on May 10, 2005


> you can't use matrix metering

That's OK -- I use the spot meter in manual mode all the time. If fits my style if I can assume I have one.

> There goes my wide end

DX also has benefits: using your old lens sweep spot and eliminating some WA vignetting issues. But yes, wide-angle becomes a costly proposition on DX systems.

> Not to mention their viewfinder

The rangefinder feature works pretty nicely and really helps. And the D1 series bodies can take the split screen type K focusing screen.

You seem to be having a serious axe to grind with Nikon. Are you a professional? (I'm not.) Just curious.
posted by NewBornHippy at 4:29 PM on May 10, 2005


Yes and yes. My axe grinding stems from an original deep love of all things Nikon, now I feel jilted because they've taken a new love: the consumer market.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:59 PM on May 10, 2005


DX also has benefits: using your old lens sweep spot and eliminating some WA vignetting issues. But yes, wide-angle becomes a costly proposition on DX systems.

All the major DSLR lens mounts have special reduced-circle lenses to take care of "covering the range" at the wide angles (although Nikon's 12-24 DX is undoubtedly the priciest one of the bunch). Nobody, however, produces reduced-circle wide primes for people who shoot available light in tight spots. My itching for full-frame would be greatly diminished if someone came out with a crop-circle version of my 24/1.4 lens (that would be roughly a 16/1.4 if it were DX). Anyone. Otherwise, my only solution would be to use a body with a larger sensor.

> Not to mention their viewfinder

The rangefinder feature works pretty nicely and really helps. And the D1 series bodies can take the split screen type K focusing screen.


The D70 has undoubtedly the worst viewfinder out of any SLR or DSLR I've ever seen. 0.75x magnification and ridiculously dark. The D1/D2 series has nice big viewfinders, of course, but I know some shooters who are miffed at Nikon since it seemed to them that Nikon designed the D70 to appeal to the "bells and whistles" feature-happy gadget crowd rather than with the usual Nikon attention to usability and ergonomics. I've known old school Nikon photogs who hate the D70 for its very "un-Nikon" viewfinder alone, especially compared to Nikon's attention to the user with their film offerings like the F100.

I think the D2X and the D70 are both great cameras within their limitations, but Nikon's strategies as exemplified by their haphazard product releases -- and now, their handling of the RAW issue -- has really cast serious doubt in a lot of people's minds about Nikon's long-term ability to play the digital game. I, for one, would hate to see anything happen to the venerable name. Here's hoping that they get their act together soon.
posted by DaShiv at 6:28 PM on May 10, 2005


The D70 is a great camera, very affordable, good feature set, responsive and nikon lens are sharper (although the bokeh usually isn't great). My dept. has bought seven of them this year and I'm sure that many have - it really brought nikon back into the digital SLR game.

I personally use canon, and given the lack of significant markets that nikon is really achieving in, this coporate sulking seems a fruitless move. They aren't going to make any friends with people moving into the the DSLR arena, but will probably keep most of those already lens-invested into nikon. (They're hardly going to switch to sigma, are they now?) The problem is with, as tedW highlighted it is going to make it easier for people to make up their minds who are moving into the game. The encryption and the lateral step in technology with the D50 and D70s isn't going to help with market share one bit.

Also, in my opinion, encrypted white balance is a real irritation. Having to manually set white balance for every single damned picture would really cheese me off in very little time. I spend far too much time in the camera raw converter as it is, without having to drag the colour temp around.
posted by blindsam at 9:59 PM on May 10, 2005


Wow. All Nikon needs to do now is send out a few cease and desist letters, or file a few lawsuits, and they'll have completlely trotted down the path of "we don't get it"...
posted by VulcanMike at 10:52 PM on May 10, 2005


Every piece of camera/scanner vendor software I have ever used has sucked goat eggs. It's a joke. I've often hoped Canon would start subcontracting their software work out to Adobe, but it ain't happened yet. I guess Nikon thinks they have market share to burn.. uhh yeah.

I would like to point out that Fuji and Kodak make great digital bodies that have Nikon mounts. I shoot Nikon for the bitchin' F100.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 12:47 AM on May 11, 2005


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