I’ve had my Nikon D800 for almost 3 months now. I’ve shot roughly 1200 photos with it – a relatively small number I suppose but of course it’s not my daily walking-around camera and I’ve only taken it out when I’ve specifically needed it. I’ve gone up to Fei Ngo Shan several times with it and a week ago shot one event (Underground 103) with it. How do I like it after three months? That’s easy – I’m loving it. I think it’s a spectacular camera.
I’m not alone in this opinion. Jim Harmer over at Improve Photography wrote a passionate defense of the 36 megapixels in response to comments by Scott Bourne and others that such a sensor isn’t needed.
I was also pleased to see DigLloyd do a final comparison between the D800 and D800E and conclude, “the megapixel doubters are in gross error. It is my conclusion with extensive use now that the D800 / D800E cross a threshold that makes every image look better.”
However, DigLloyd notes some issues with both cameras – in particular his issues using Lexar cards with it (is that Nikon’s issue or is it Lexar’s?) and some complaints about the D800′s LiveView mode.
Thom Hogan, the go-to guy for all things Nikon, probably shocked a lot of people when he changed his rating for the D800 from Recommended to Not Recommended. This stems from the focus issues that have been widely reported and that Nikon has been slow in acknowledging. A full discussion can be found on Hogan’s site here.
I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a real issue affecting a group of D800 purchasers. How big that group is, I don’t know. It’s really, really difficult to judge, especially given that some people who’ve shared samples with me don’t appear to have the problem in question, but rather other issues.
So what’s the problem, really? The camera has internal tables that help it understand the actual position of each of the focus sensing modules. It uses that position data in the math that the camera performs to determine focus. It appears that in some cameras, this data needs to be redone. How the information got to be wrong in the first place, we don’t know. I’d have to speculate that Nikon has at least one camera calibration station in the manufacturing facility that’s putting incorrect information into the cameras going out. But that’s pure speculation on my part. I can’t think of another likely reason, though. Perhaps my imagination is off this morning and there’s a different reason I’m just not seeing. But whatever the cause, Nikon isn’t sharing that information.
1. The nature of the problem is simple: some AF sensors are providing improper focus information. This appears to be almost always the left side line sensors in the CAM3500 (the three center columns are cross sensors). In the two cameras I inspected, there was clearly something different in the left line sensors than I saw in the center cross or right line sensors. Depending upon how you test (see below), you can sometimes see slightdifferences between the right line sensors and center, but that’s not the same thing as I saw on the two bodies in question: clear out of tolerance results on the left, while the center and right were basically as I’d expect them.
I don’t think that Nikon has officially announced their response to the left focus issue but there are rumors that one is coming soon. I’ve heard tell that you can bring your camera into Nikon for a calibration check and that they have a fix for it. There’s a good piece on this over at Mansurovs Photography.
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.
Ming Thein is one of those who had the repair successfully done.
Just got my D800E back from NPS. Apparently, the cause of the focusing problem in all cases is some inaccurate calibration data entered during the alignment/ calibration process. I was told it’s basically a case of hooking the camera up to the laser calibration jig, and letting a piece of software run a calibration routine point by point – there are no physical or mechanical adjustments made to the camera. The software then writes this somewhere in the camera’s ROM for future use. All testing is done with the 50/1.4, and the instrumentation is apparently sensitive enough to detect minor focus errors – they’re also present even on teles, but less obvious, is what I was told.
Truth be told, I have yet to run any tests to see if my D800 is suffering from this issue. I’ve saved several articles on this to Pocket (here’s one from Ming Thein) and will probably have the time to test it out this week. In the meantime, I remain extremely happy with the camera.
Here’s one reason – here’s a photo right out of the camera. Shot in RAW, the only thing that’s been done to it is to import it into Lightroom and then export it as a JPG:
And now, here’s a mega-extreme crop from the above:
I mean, come on – the reflection of the lights on the woman’s teeth aren’t visible at all in the full shot (at least not to my eyes) and then to get this level of detail when cropping?
Full shot above (and okay, I did do some adjustments to the image in Lightroom). Now here’s an extreme crop from the right:
Look at the IFC sign, the detail around it, and how well you can see into the mall itself.
Now here’s one from the extreme left:
Take a look at those trees.
Now, all of this may be a by-product of the way I shoot. I mostly use single point focus, with the focus point dead center. I focus, lock and re-frame. So if my camera has this left-side focus issue, it wouldn’t show up because of the way I shoot.
But I’m hoping to find time to run some tests and see if it exists on the camera. If it does, I’ll do another post about my experiences with Nikon in Hong Kong.