It seems like releasing a product without proper testing has become a norm for some camera manufacturers like Nikon. You would think that after all the recalls, service advisories and lawsuits, manufacturers should be thoroughly testing equipment, preferably giving the equipment to real photographers who use and abuse their gear for a living, before trying to market and sell it. Nikon specifically has gone through so much bad press, that one would think it is time for the company to think about its long term strategy with releasing products. Looking at the past few years, it seems like almost every major product announcement has been followed by a plague of service advisories. The Nikon D800 / D800E cameras were definitely the spotlight of the industry, except almost every camera was impacted by the infamous Asymmetric Focus Issue. Nikon went quiet on that one for a while and never truly confirmed the issue.
Then came the D600, an entry-level full-frame camera, which made the entry to Nikon’s full-frame world much easier, thanks to its low price point. It seemed like a deal of the century, except when its dust issues started to surface. We covered the issue extensively and Nikon again decided to go silent. To quickly remedy the situation and replace the bad D600 units, the company announced the D610 shortly thereafter. Then it got hit by a class-action lawsuit, which put a huge burden on the company, as it started replacing existing D600 units with the D610.
From there Nikon introduced the D810. Packing a lot of new features, updates and fixes to the D800 / D800E, the camera looked like a real winner. I pre-ordered mine as soon as I saw the announcement, as it had pretty much everything I wanted to see on my D800E. Shortly after the announcement, photographers discovered a rather serious thermal issue, which damaged long exposure shots with white dots, which were tough to clean up in post. Again, the service advisory required shipping the camera to Nikon for repair.
Next, the Nikon D750 came along. The camera looked like a winner – a balanced full-frame sensor, a high-end AF system in a lightweight package. Until the flare issue came along. While I personally did not get bothered by the issue and never sent my D750 for a repair, I know a lot of others did, because they did not want to have a camera with a known problem on their hands. Sadly, many did not realize the type of work that would go into adjusting of the phase detection system and re-calibration. In many cases, taking care of the flare issue resulted in poor AF accuracy and other issues. Disassembling a DSLR and making adjustments to mirror or phase detection mechanisms is not easy and even a skilled service technician could potentially screw things up.
And this has been going on and on, one announcement after another. Not only have these issues been impacting cameras, they have also been seriously impacting some lenses. The Nikkor 300mm f/4E VR is a good example of this – I never even had a chance to complete my 300mm f/4E VR review, as I could not find the darn lens anywhere – Nikon silently recalled all 300mm f/4E VR lenses everywhere and performed service repairs on the lens. B&H still lists the lens as a “pre-order” item, because it never carried enough stock to begin with. It will soon be a year since that lens is released and it is practically impossible to find, unless you pre-order and wait.
Today we have yet another release disaster by Nikon. This time it is the newly released Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E VR, which seems to have focusing issues. Although Nikon in its service advisory only states that it is a firmware issue, you cannot update the firmware on Nikon lenses yourself. Like before, you have to send your copy to a Nikon service center for this firmware update, as detailed in the advisory:
To users of the AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens
Thank you for choosing Nikon for your photographic needs.
Nikon will implement a service for updating AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens firmware. Details regarding implementation of this firmware service are as follows.
Firmware update details
We have confirmed that with autofocus shooting using the AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens, autofocus may sometimes become disabled and focus operation switches to manual focus* when the zoom ring on the lens is rotated while the camera’s shutter-release button is pressed halfway, or the camera’s AF-ON button is held down.
*Autofocus operation can be restored by pressing the camera’s shutter-release button halfway again, or pressing the camera’s AF-ON button again.
To address the occurrence of this, we will implement a service for updating AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens firmware.
Updating lens firmware
Those who would like to have their AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR firmware updated may take or send their lens to a Nikon authorised service center, where the firmware will be updated free of charge.
Identifying lenses with which the firmware has already been updated
Firmware in lenses with a serial number of 2008365 or higher have already been updated.
There you have it. Yet another failure on Nikon’s behalf to deliver a working, issue-free product. And the worst part is, if you don’t follow the news or occasionally check the manufacturer’s website, how would you even know about these service advisories?
It seems like delivering a badly tested product is becoming Nikon’s custom now.
Moral of the Story
Yes, new cameras and lenses are indeed exciting. When a new gadget comes out, we often have the urge to go and buy it – I often find myself doing it too, so I know exactly how it feels. However, given the many failures we have seen and the recurring pattern of such failures, isn’t it time for all of us to learn that we should NOT buy something when it just comes out? Camera manufacturers want the consumers to be the guinea pigs – they leave the testing for us, as they are cutting corners everywhere they can. And that’s what we all are to them anyway: consumers.
Stop pre-ordering products, no matter how good they look. Give it some time and don’t rush. Make a wise choice and don’t be a binge shopper. Stop following websites that bring the urge to buy. Some sites hugely benefit from bringing excitement about a product before it is officially revealed, so if you are a part of that gang that hangs out in forums and talks about the latest and greatest camera or a lens, it might be a good time for you to get disconnected from that world. Go out and shoot, enjoy the tools you already have today…
As for Nikon, I will be honest – it is getting extremely difficult to hang on to Nikon. It is not the company I personally want to support anymore, for the above reasons.