Before the rush

Before the rush
by evan-pak

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I keep seeing mentions of the D4's 16-bit imaging pipeline but I'm having a hard time finding any information or specifications on what exactly that means. Does that mean the sensor captures images in 16-bit and saves it or that the sensor just does 14-bit capture and saves a 16-bit NEF on its 'pipeline' (some cameras do this).


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up vote 3 down vote accepted

The D4 is still a 14-bit RAW camera according to Nikon's own specifications page:

NEF (RAW): 12 or 14 bit, lossless compressed, compressed or uncompressed

So, it cannot capture 16-bit images off the sensor, at best they are still 14-bit. If I understand the page you linked, it sounds like they are saying the Expeed image processor chips are fully 16-bit. I don't know that there is really any benefit there...that would be like saying 24-bit RGB images are processed using 32-bit numbers on a computer. If there is any floating-point processing involved, then the additional bits mean more precision, however I can't speak to that, as I don't know what kind of algorithms are used (I would assume integer algorithms are faster...) The 16-bits is just the word-size of the camera's CPU, for all intents and purposes.

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Ah well, glad thats the case as it pulls me back off the edge of the cliff of switching to Nikon. – Shizam Feb 8 '12 at 22:10
Hah, yeah...that would be a tough one to resist! I think it will be a while before we start seeing full 16-bit RAW. It seems like it was difficult enough for Canon to get 14fps out of the 1D X's sensor, at a reduced 18mp, with 14-bit images. An extra two bits of data per pixel would mean another 36 million bits, or 4.5megs of data, to read out every frame. Thats going to take some doing, for either Nikon or Canon (and I think Nikon is still limited to 12fps). ;) – jrista Feb 9 '12 at 1:28

It is likely that the processing for JPEG and whatever digital processing is applied to the raw file is, is done in 16-bit to maintain quality then converted to 14-bit NEF (or 8-bit JPEG).

In the end, it's unlikely to need 16 bits to store the raw data as a 14-bit number provides 14 stops of linear latitude (with exponential detail in each stop toward the white clipping point). The brightest stop can have 8,192 gradations.

From Nikon:

File format:

  • NEF (RAW): 12 or 14 bit, lossless compressed, compressed or uncompressed
  • TIFF (RGB)
  • JPEG: JPEG-Baseline compliant with fine (approx. 1:4), normal (approx. 1:8) or basic (approx. 1:16) compression (Size priority); Optimal quality compression available NEF (RAW)+JPEG: Single photograph recorded in both NEF (RAW) and JPEG formats
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