Update – I now have a new D800 that is working correctly. See comment 142 below for the details.
“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
A number of our readers have been anxious to hear the results of my and others’ D800 repair experiences, particularly since they have sent their D800s in for repair but haven’t had them returned. Others are considering whether they should send their cameras to Nikon or return them to the retailer (if within the 30 day return window). What are the chances are of a successful repair? It is difficult to estimate. Based on a number of emails I have received and some posts on the various Nikon forums, it seems that Nikon’s success in repairing the D800 is mixed at best. Some people have enthusiastically given their D800 repairs a thumbs up. On a more disturbing note, however, others have reported sending their D800s back to Nikon’s Service Centers multiple times only to see them come back in the same shape as when they left. Those in the latter group are understandably very upset. A number of people are actively investigating the various “Lemon Laws” as possible mechanisms to force Nikon to provide new D800s. On just about every Nikon forum, at least one person has floated the idea for some form of petition, boycott, or other collective action that might cause Nikon to change its current strategy for dealing with the D800 autofocus issue. Everyone is wondering what it is going to take for Nikon to address this situation.
I have also heard from some people that they are “tired of hearing about D800 issues” because they neither own the camera nor have any intentions of buying one anytime soon. Fair enough. That’s one way to look at it. Another might be:
“Nikon is upping the game by significantly enhancing the resolution and capabilities of its new DSLRs. How is it doing on that front? How is it dealing with product issues when they arise? What should I take away from the D800 situation that might influence my decision to purchase the next DSLR from Nikon or any other manufacturer? Do I wish to take a chance ordering the ‘latest and greatest’ model given how Nikon has handled (thus far) the D800 situation or should I wait a bit? Is Nikon’s response to this issue consistent with what I would expect of a manufacturer if my DSLR experienced such an issue?”
That’s a long way of saying everyone should take heed of the D800 situation. It certainly is not indicative of Nikon’s quality across the board, but rather specific issues associated with this particular model, which unfortunately, affect the D800’s main appeal – near medium format quality resolution. The D800 autofocus situation, and Nikon’s response to it, however, do provide some data points that potential D800 and non-D800 owners should consider as they weigh future purchasing decisions. If nothing else, it is a reminder that it often takes some time to work through issues once the manufacturing lines start ramping up. If and when Nikon announces D700, D300 or D7000 replacements, one might want to pause for a bit in light of the recent D800 situation.
Having spent my career in the high tech industry, I am normally pretty hesitant to casually sling criticism toward Nikon and high tech companies in similar positions. I am sympathetic to the many challenges they face. Perfection may be the goal, but it is rarely, if ever, achieved. As the Sacred Book of Software (First Book of Bill to the Redmontonians, Verse I, Chapter II) admonishes us:
“Let he whose software is without bugs cast the first stone.”
I could forgive Nikon for the initial D800 manufacturing snafus, if it had handled them according to my recommended Press Release or similar strategy. And I would have been the first to wholeheartedly defend the company for doing the right thing by its customers after it identified an issue. But I defy anyone to show how Nikon’s current approach to dealing with this situation is helping Nikon or its customers.
Unfortunately, some in the photography forums have criticized those attempting to estimate the number of units affected, blamed the internet for some form of mass hysteria, or advised those with defective D800s to just (and I paraphrase) – “don’t worry, just take pictures!” This is the traditional “blame the victim” mindset. In a word – Baloney. Sure, there is a healthy amount of “buzz” on the net, but the simple truth is that none of us should have to worry about this issue as much as we are. Nikon should proactively inform its customers regarding the specific units impacted and/or help customer determine how to test their D800s. Nikon should not be sitting back waiting for its customers to call in with problems, when it clearly knows they exist. If Nikon wants to ease its customers’ minds regarding this issue, it should reach out to its customers, inject some certainty regarding the facts into the process, and indicate what next steps should be taken. Period.
Ok – on to the good (?) stuff…
Not So Ancient History
I received my D800 on June 26th, after placing my order at the very end of the first day preorders were being accepted by B&H. Based on my understanding of high tech product introductions and the wave of D800 autofocus issues being reported, I knew that keeping my place in the queue at B&H might result in my getting one of the defective units. I considered canceling it and bypassing the first few waves of shipments, but weighed this against the probability that I might not see a D800 until my 83rd birthday… Chalk one up for optimism and hope…
Nikon Communication Process – Or Lack Thereof
My D800 landed in Melville on July 9th. It was clear at the outset that Nikon’s Service Center representatives were not going to engage in any meaningful discussions regarding the D800 autofocus issues. My emails to them regarding D800 autofocus links, videos, articles, tests, etc. were met with a resounding silence. Telephone conversations were always pleasant, but revealing nothing. I don’t blame the staff, as I suspect they were simply towing the party line and ordered not to say anything specific about the situation. Understandable perhaps, but not very comforting to the current D800 owners with a confirmed problem, or those that have yet to determine if their cameras are affected. And at no time did anyone express any confidence that they understood the issue and were confident in a fix for it. On July 12th, my D800’s status was changed to “Shop.”
I did find it interesting to see that Nikon includes this note at the bottom of each email response from its My Nikon page:
“Any use, dissemination, distribution, posting on Internet bulletin boards, disclosure or copying of this e-mail or any information contained herein by or to anyone other than the intended recipient(s) is strictly prohibited.”
Since Nikon wishes to express its concerns regarding communications, I suppose Nikon customers might want to include something like this in their correspondence with Nikon in the future.
“Any intentional effort to conceal, deny, or otherwise fail to inform customers of known product defects, that may materially impact customers’ ability to use the product for its stated purpose, is strictly prohibited. Failure to adhere to this stipulation may result in extreme customer dissatisfaction, eventual loss of market share, and potential legal action concerning False Representation.”
I gave Nikon a date by which I had to have the D800 back – July 25th. This was the last date by which I could reasonably test, pack, and ship the camera back to B&H in accordance with its 30 day return policy. I will give Nikon some credit for ensuring that I had the option to return it to B&H. Had Nikon missed this date, the D800 was mine for good, and thus I would have been at the proverbial mercy of Nikon’s Service Center to repair or replace the unit – not an enticing prospect given the mixed D800 repair results some of my colleagues were reporting.
Great Expectations – July 25th
My unit was delivered to my home at the end of the business day. According to Nikon’s Invoice Repair letter the following items were addressed. The first four items listed were consistent with what Nasim and others thought might be contributing to the autofocus errors. I took this as a good sign.
• Adjust Mirror Angle
• Adjust Defocus Control
• Adjust Autofocus Operation
• Checked Communication
• Clean CCD
• General Check & Clean
I immediately moved the dining room table out of the way and put the unit up on the tripod, measuring the distances from the floor to the sensor as well as the distance to the target according to the notes I had taken from the first wave of testing. I again went through the monotonous process of putting labels on the chart for Left, Right, Live View, Autofocus, 1, 2 and 3 – per photo, so I could identify the focus point used, the focus method, and the shot sequence (Zzzzzz…). I tested the same series of lenses that I tested the first time, with the exception of the Sigma 15mm fisheye:
• Nikon AF-S 28mm f/1.8G
• Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G
• Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8 ED
• Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G
• Sigma 85mm 1.4 EX DG HSM
I started zooming into some of the left autofocus shots in the viewfinder. The results looked promising. I zoomed in on some photos taken with the right side autofocus point. They also looked pretty good. Encouraging, but not decisive. I didn’t spend too much time “chimping” as they say, since I wanted to take the shots and then analyze them in Lightroom on my 26 inch monitor.
I started poring over the 100+ shots in Lightroom, bouncing back and forth between the right and left focus points from both Live View and regular autofocus, zooming in and zooming out. The Live View and autofocus shots were very similar, with the latter being much sharper than before. The left and right sides look pretty close. I then compared the new left side focus shot to the pre-repair version. Night and day!
Could it be that my long sojourn in the Nikon Autofocus Wilderness was over? Hallelujah Hollywood! I declared “success,” and reported the good news to my wife, who said, “Does this mean you are going to finally start taking pictures of something other than test charts in the dining room?” [insert evil, sarcastic laughter here]. Et tu, Brute…
Uh-Oh… “Houston, We Have A Problem”
I was so busy zooming in on the right and left focus points, I passed right by the center focus point photos. I mean, who would have thought that in order to “fix” my D800 left side autofocus issues, Nikon’s technicians would simply ruin the focus of the camera’s best sensor point – the center? No one would do that…would they?
That’s when reality hit. The left and right focus points looked good, but the center – terribly out of focus. Not one of the 15 pictures taken with autofocus using the center point was remotely close to the sharpness of the Live View shots, which were all perfect. I went back and attempted to dial in some autofocus fine tuning adjustments based on taking a few shots of my LensAlign system, but had to use numbers ranging from +15 to +20 to get the center focus point in sharp focus. And even then some lenses were still showing some bias toward front focusing that I could not compensate for. Naturally when I then shot my test target again with the left autofocus point, the image was blurrier than a Joan Rivers glamor photo! Sigh…
“We’ll Fix It This Time!”
I immediately contacted Nikon the next morning and spoke with the Customer Service manager. I requested a new D800. He quickly apologized, offered to send a pre-paid shipping label, and assured me that Nikon would “fix it this time.” He indicated that only Nikon’s technicians could assess the camera and make the call regarding fixing it or sending me a new unit. This statement, of course, was fundamentally incorrect. Nikon’s technicians had already (allegedly) attached my D800 to Nikon’s sophisticated measuring devices and software programs, analyzed the data, made a series of adjustments, and then…. sent it back to me in the same, if not worse shape.
I informed him that I was going to make a decision by end of day regarding whether to send it back to Nikon’s Melville Service Center or return it as allowed within B&H’s 30 day window. I asked to have my case escalated. He wasn’t keen on doing so, and proceeded to tell me what his supervisor’s response would be. I expressed my appreciation for his prognostic capabilities, but reiterated that I wanted him to actually escalate the issue and we could then determine how well his forecast matched his supervisor’s response. He reluctantly agreed. I told the manager that I would think it over for an hour or two, and decide whether to send the D800 back to Melville or to B&H, and then put down the phone. But I didn’t need time – I immediately knew my response. I had had enough. I bent over backward to share links, photos, articles, etc. with Nikon and all I had gotten in response, were the phone and email equivalents of blank stares, stonewalling regarding any admission of an issue or assistance in determining how to test my camera, hours spent taking photos of test shots, more hours spent analyzing the test results, a $73 UPS shipping bill, a botched repair, 16 days of Nikon having my camera only to have it come back exhibiting the same issues, and a vague promise that my D800 would be fixed on the second attempt. The Nikon staff was polite as always, but the bottom line was that my D800 was not repaired, and I had little faith in the promise that it would be “fixed this time.” Despite being a long time Nikon fan and appreciating the phenomenal potential of the D800, I had to admit that Nikon had simply spun too many of my ever shortening supply of wheels…
I decided to return the D800 to B&H and take my chances with a new unit, hopefully from a batch of D800s that were produced after they discovered and rectified the autofocus issue (which, BTW, Nikon has never confirmed). If this means not getting a D800 for months – so be it. The FX lenses, and high speed CF and SD cards I purchased for my D800 will collect dust, and my DX lenses will have to wait a bit before going up on ebay. But my humble D7000 remains a solid DSLR capable of taking great pictures. It may now have the opportunity to take a few thousand more pictures before another D800 shows up. There are far worse things in life…
I have no doubt that when Nikon finally addresses this issue, the D800 will be hailed as the great camera that it is, and we can all move on from this chapter in its history. And I will likely be one of the loudest voices in singing its praises. Sadly however, Nikon’s inappropriate response to the autofocus issue is tarnishing the luster of D800, damaging the company’s reputation, wasting so much of people’s time, and chipping away at the goodwill it has built up among its customers. But that’s Nikon’s choice, isn’t it?
My choice(s)? Getting rid of a defective product, not bothering to check the My Nikon website each day for reasonable answers that never come, skipping the robotic conversations full of empathy but no meaningful information, not risking an additional failed attempt by Nikon’s Service Center to fix my D800, not wasting my time taking photos of test charts, and using the camera I already have. The good news? My doctor also tells me that, with time, the phenomenon of seeing Siemens Stars everywhere will eventually subside. ;) And if Nikon will reimburse me $73 for the scenic, but fruitless trip my D800 took to Melville, I suspect I will feel even better.
So once again, my D7000 is glad the D800 has left our home. And this time… so am I.