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Nikon F5 and D3 Shared Genes

The F5 was a significant technological tour de force from Nikon in 1996. It broke new ground in many areas, one of which was speed. A key aspect of the camera’s performance was the reduction of mirror bounce, which resulted in decreased blackout time.

Mirror Dampening in F5

Nikon F5 was the first SLR from Nikon to use the mirror balancer, which is now standard on all high performance Nikon SLRs, including the D3. The best description of the mirror balancer I have found is at the Nikon D Technology site, where a flash movie shows how the mirror balancer operates.

I think the following patent describes the original invention in the F5:

As to how effective the mirror balancer is, this can be seen from a slow motion video of the D3, posted recently on Youtube.

Nikon D3 Shutter Slow Motion

Another interesting perspective on the D3 mirror and shutter timing can be obtained from a sequence put together by Marianne Oelund, turned into a web movie by Jeffrey Friedl.

Here is a slow motion movie of the Nikon F5 mirror/shutter:

Nikon F5 slowmotion

The Nikon D4 shutter can be seen in action here:

Nikon D4 Shutter In Action

Extremely Fast Sequencing

The D3 has a 37 millisecond shutter lag, and 74 millisecond blackout. To achieve this level of speed must take extremely high precision and performance. Information regarding the D3 sequencing is not available, but we can learn something from its ancestor, the F5.

Here is a page from the F5 repair manual, which depicts the camera’s sequencing.

From above, we can see that the F5 shutter lag is about 40 milliseconds. The time it takes for the shutter curtains to travel is 2.9 milliseconds. I am not quite sure how the viewfinder blackout time is calculated, but it seems that if we count from the time of release, then the mirror is down and stable in about 93 milliseconds, though it another 10 milliseconds for it to be completely stable. Interestingly, metering starts earlier, but focus detection can only start when the mirror is completely stable. Perhaps this explains why Canon’s attempt to get AF working at 10 fps is proving to be a challenge.

I think that the following patent may be related to the F5 as well:

Improvements in Nikon D4

Nikon's literature on D4 is reticent about changes if any to the mirror balancer used. However since the maximum speed has been upped to 10 fps it is possible that some optimisations have been made. One clue is the US patent US20100189428 that discloses a mechanism whereby the secondary mirror is stabilised independently of the main mirror. 

Shutter Lag and Viewfinder Blackout times

The following table shows the shutter lag and viewfinder blackout times of various Nikon SLRs. The information for digital SLRs was obtained from Nikon’s published brochures. It is harder to get information about film cameras.

Shutter Lag
Viewfinder blackout
Nikon F5 40ms 91ms
Nikon D1H 58ms  
Nikon D2H 37ms 80ms
Nikon F6 37ms 80ms
Nikon D3 37ms (42ms by CIPA standard) 74ms
Nikon D300 45ms (12 bit mode) 86ms (@ 8fps), 90ms otherwise (source Nikon D300 brochure)
Nikon D4 42ms (CIPA standard) 74ms (assumed unchanged from D3)
Canon 1D X 36ms - 55ms (lag reduced at max aperture) 60ms
Canon 1D Mark IV 40ms - 55ms (lag reduced at max aperture) 87ms