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The Data Recovery Interview

At NAB I conducted a number of interviews with people in the industry who work in areas that I felt were of interest to this site’s readers. This is the first of what will eventually be a long series of what I hope are useful interviews from that and other shows.

For this first interview, I’m talking with David Zimmerman, CEO of LC Technology, Limited, a company that makes data recovery software and does physical data recovery, as well. Dave’s one of the top data recovery experts. I’ll be reviewing his software product shortly, but here’s the full conversation David and I had at NAB, which is full of small and important things you should know:

bythom photorecovery

Thom: Give me a little background on how you started in the data recovery business.

Dave: I started back in the PC business back in 1982. I used to be a CAD/CAM system seller building out XTs in Canada. I moved down to Florida in 1987 and started building PCs, but also building test products to help people to figure out why machines weren’t booting or were reporting errors on boot. Then in 1997 I was working for another company that did data recovery, and they ended up going out of business. 

Bad management or whatever it was, I have no idea, but two of the owners ended up coming to work for me and I started this company LC Technology, and we were actually the first that released a product that could recover NTFS file systems. That was a product we had called Recover NT. It was interesting to me getting stuff back, because you know, being in the computer industry back in those days losing something was really tough on people.

Then around 2001 when we were exhibiting at CeBit in Germany and we had some people from Olympus come by and they saw we were doing data recovery. We didn’t have a photo specific product at that time, we had a regular file system based one. They gave us a card and we plugged it in and recovered the data off the card for them, and they were amazed. Here’s camera guys, no PC experience, and wow, this is amazing. 

So we developed and released a product called PHOTORECOVERY, and that was the first photo-based product to recover data from memory cards. Shortly after that we got into a business relationship with SanDisk and we made their product Rescue Pro in 2002. So that’s been the last 14 years. And then we’ve progressed into doing physical surface recovery since then. Things have evolved quite a bit since that early product. Initially it was just photos: JPEGs, GIFs, bitmaps, that type of thing. Then we started getting into different cards, different formats, and some of the video formats, as well. A lot of the products that people see on the market come from us.

We’ve been working with SanDisk, plus we have a lab in Florida as well as one in Europe that can do physical surfaces, too. So when a card actually has physical damage, is broken, or has an electronic short, we actually will pull the chips off the card, put them into sockets on our equipment and image the card and pull the data out of that. 

But things are getting a little different because we’re now into lots of different kinds of video formats, especially around here [NAB Trade Show]. So we’re doing a lot of HD, 4K, and 3D video stuff, like some of the RED formats.  

Thom: So you’re recovering compressed video?

Dave: Anything. Anything.

Thom: How’s that work? Some of these compression schemes if you miss the key frame you’ve got a big hole don’t you?

Dave: You do. But we’ve been doing this for a long time. We use two different methods in our products. We use a file system recovery, and if the file system is gone and the card’s corrupt, like when somebody is shooting and they think it’s done writing to the card and they eject the card, they corrupt the file system. 

So what we also do then is enable content based recovery, as well. On all these different file formats, we build templates for all the different file types that are out that. So, for example, when all the raw formats started to come out, we got sample images, we built templates, and we put them into our product so we’re actually able to scan the file system for raw data even if there’s no file.

Thom: So you can just go directly to the data and build your own file system?

Dave: Yep. And pull it out by content recognition. For each file we know what the beginning of the file looks like, we know what end of file markers are, and that’s partly how we know how to extract the data from unformatted media. 

But over the years things have changed, and we’re having to evolve to. Doing a lot of video stuff for the movie industry is challenging. A lot of the high end action cameras like the GoPro, we get a lot of media in from people that have crashed, their camera dies in the process, or there’s electronic failure while it’s writing, so it doesn’t finish writing. Most of this stuff is pretty simple, though. 

Thom: From the standpoint of my audience, there’s kind of two overriding questions. One is how do they avoid ever getting to the point where they have to recover something, and what should they be doing that they’re not doing right now.

Dave: There’s a lot of things. Taking care of your memory cards is the first thing. Don’t delete in the camera. If you’re out shooting and you have a problem with a card, take it out, set it aside, put a new card and continue to shoot. If you run out of room, don’t delete on the camera because typically on a clean card when you’re recording your writing is all sequential. If you start going through the card and deleting this file, deleting that file, then you fragment the card. So when you go to shoot again and you’ve got a little area free and another one over here and another one over here, as the camera is recording the camera’s going to put parts in different places. If you then do have a problem with that card, recovering it is even harder. Because if there is no file system left, the individual file data may no longer be sequential.

[Editor’s note. We were talking in context of the NAB, which is a video show, and it should be obvious that you don’t want a video camera skipping around on the card recording a file non-sequentially. But what a lot of still shooters don’t realize is that image files are not a fixed size. Both JPEG and raw files always vary with detail. So let’s say that you deleted a file that was all sky—an accidental shot with almost no detail. When your camera goes to write a new image in the space you freed up when you deleted that sky image, that new shot may be larger than the space you made, and thus that image file now has to be recorded on the card non-sequentially.]

Thom: So you’d say that data recovery is always easier if the files are almost continuous sequentially on the card?

Dave: Definitely.

You know batteries are a big thing, too. Making sure that you have enough power and battery in your camera because if the camera runs out of power while it’s recording you’re going to have a file system problem, it won’t finish the write.

Thom: One of the things the Nikon cameras do is that they report the number of frames that are remaining on a card based upon an average guess, then as you get down to the end of the card, you’ll see 0 frames remaining, then suddenly 1 will pop up as the camera does some recalculation. Most of the damaged cards I see come from people going right to the end of the card and then trying to force another image on.

Dave: Right, and then they overshoot the card’s storage capacity and that’s it. And another one we see a lot is that people just eject the card before it’s finished writing. Because the camera caches up the data as its writing to the card, and if you’re not paying attention and that light is still blinking when you eject the card, same thing, you corrupt the file system.

Just formatting the card isn’t always a good thing, either. Formatting the card doesn’t get rid of data on the card, all it does is clear off the file table.

Thom: At least the way the camera formats the card…

Dave: Well there are some cameras that do a destructive format and write all zeroes. There are some Fujifilm and a couple of others where there are some models that will write zeroes to the card. That was typical of cameras that were using the old Xd cards. 

The best thing to do is that when you’re done with a card and you’ve got your data downloaded, wipe the card using a utility that will write zeros to the entire card and then reformat it and it’s like a brand new card.

[Editor’s note: One reason for this advice is because if you have a card failure on a card that wasn’t wiped clean previously, there will be a mix of your old image/video files and new ones in the data area: new where you wrote to the card this time, old where it still is around from a non-destructive format from before. That’s why Dave suggests writing zeroes: the zeroes don’t look like data files and makes image recovery quicker and easier. Personally, I don’t tend to do this. It’s another workflow step, and potentially a slow one (and one that you can mess up by formatting incorrectly). Still, I do periodically take a used card and give it a fresh full formatting like this. I should note that PHOTORECOVERY software offers this option in the professional version.]

Thom: How about bad sectors? Generally cameras don’t flag bad sectors, do they?

Dave: No.

Thom: Are bad sectors common?

Dave: I haven’t seen a lot of that on card media. Occasionally you’ll run into cards that do have bad spots on them, and that’s over time. And eventually if you use a card enough, they do wear out, they do have a life span. You can only write to them so many times. The best thing we tell people is if you take care of your cards and you know what you’re doing in handling them in and out of the camera, they should last you a long, long time.

Thom: I have this constant fight with some of my readership and it’s coming up right now with Nikon because of the switch to XQD: “No, I just want to keep using my existing CompactFlash cards.” 

Dave: But how long have been using them? At some point you really do need to replace cards. Especially since cards are just getting cheaper, and cheaper and cheaper. Eventually the price will be come down.

Thom: Okay, so the other question that comes up is this: I know I have an error. I either saw something on the back of the LCD or I know I pulled it too soon, what do I do.

Dave: Pull the card out, set it aside, and if you’re not comfortable doing it yourself, you send it to someone like the manufacturer of the card. But most of the time they’ll probably direct you to us. Most of the camera companies send people directly to us. If you’re using SanDisk or Toshiba media, if the software that came with the card doesn’t work, then you just go ahead and send it to us and we’ll do it manually.

Thom: What’s your success rate on that?

Dave: It’s pretty high. It’s up in the 90’s. As long as the card is functioning. Like I said before if people are deleting on the card or manipulating the image on the card, it does have a tendency to shift the data around and fragment the card, which makes it more difficult to recover. If you’re shooting on clean, fresh media all the time, we generally recover it easily and quickly. If not, it takes longer to recover, or sometimes is impossible. A lot of times with images you’ll see stripes across, even after you recover them, that’s because the data is fragmented, and some of it was lost or not found. 

Thom: That was going to be my next question: one of the most common things that people see is that the bottom section of an image is purple or gray or missing, or there’s streak lines across it, sometimes maybe mosaic blocks at the bottom of the image.

Dave: That’s typically caused by someone using the same card over and over again and deleting files to free up space and taking more pictures. Eventually you fragment the data so much on there it’s a problem.

So you think about it, and all your data’s on there and then you delete a picture, then you delete another picture, and then you’re taking a picture in maybe a higher resolution that doesn’t fit into that, so the camera looks for the first place it can fit that new picture into, and if it doesn’t fit there it’ll stuff part of it there and put the rest somewhere else.

Thom: It’s not that the camera manufacturers are putting high-end parts in there that are faster than the card can be written to.

Dave: Right. But it depends a lot on the cards you’re using, too. There’s fast cards, there’s good cards, and there’s lower quality cards. Depending upon who you’re getting them from, where you’re getting them from—we see counterfeit cards, too.

Thom: I was just going to say, three years ago there was a big trend with counterfeit cards.

Dave: Yes, a lot of SanDisk cards. But if you open them up, it’s not SanDisk at all. Or it’s remarked to a different specification.

Thom: ..and then the customer’s trying to push it as if it’s a fast card, and they do some deletions, and…

Dave: These things all add up very fast.

Thom: So is there a message you really want to get across to the serious camera user? If they did everything right, you’d be out of business, right?

Dave: [hesitates] Uh-yaaaaaa, I guess you could put it that way. But people make mistakes. People should spend the time to understand what it is that you’re doing and the consequences of it. They’re a lot of people that think they’re pros because they have an expensive camera. But taking care of the memory cards, that should be their number one consideration. Always make sure you’ve got enough battery, the other things I’ve already said.

Thom: Okay, so you’ve got an SD card, you’ve forgotten it’s in your pocket, and you ran it through the washer. 

Dave: We get a lot of cards that have been wet.

Thom: My experience is that these cards still work. Should I get rid of them once they’ve been washed like that?

Dave: No, no. If it’s just gone through the wash, that’s not a big deal. Let it dry. Especially CompactFlash with all the pins you’re going to get moisture in there, so make sure that’s dried out. SD cards, MicroSD cards, not really an issue.

Thom: Speaking of that, do you get a lot of bent pin cards?

Dave: Not so much any more. We used to get a lot where the pin was pushed in on the CompactFlash cards, and then we’d just pop the case off, push the pin back, plug it back in and it reads fine. We still see them occasionally, but that’s the user trying to jam it in or put the card in upside down. You’ve just got to be careful in how you treat your gear. Being in a hurry all the time causes problems. Take your time, do it right. 

You know, we do a lot of recovery for wedding photographers. We tell those photographers if you want to do it right, just buy a new card for each wedding. Don’t use the same cards over and over on such high volume situations. They’re not that expensive, and you leave yourself a backup. The last thing you want is to lose a wedding and have the couple sue you. You can’t recreate that wedding.

Thom: Do you send recovery teams to big events, like the Olympics?

Dave: No, we stay back in our offices and are there for the people who discover that they’ve got a problem. 

Right now we’re spending a lot of time working on the video product. You know some of these video cameras have a huge number of actual file types they generate given all the size and compression options. Which brings up an interesting thing: the more file types we add to the program, the more risk of unintentional error in getting the interpretation exactly right, because so many of them are very close. You know, false positives. So we’re doing a straight video-only product now that covers most of the major formats. MP4s are tough, and some products only recover the video, not the audio, or the recovery puts the audio and video out of sync. The formats are getting more complex, the files are bigger.

Thom: How about SSDs? You know, a lot of the external recorders like the Atomos are using them.

Dave: SSDs are a completely different thing. 

Thom: (laughs) You smiled the minute I said SSD…

Dave: Yes. I’ve had that question a whole bunch of times. We make tools for companies that make SSDs. We made SanDisk’s original SSD toolkit, that does a lot of different maintenance type things like Trim, Overprovisioning, firmware updates…a lot of things that SSDs require.

Thom: So if I have a data issue on an SSD, what happens?

Dave: It depends. One of the things with SSDs is the Trim function that does garbage collection, so when you delete files eventually the system will reallocate all those data blocks and consolidate them, which means you have a window of time to recover deleted data, not like on a traditional hard drive. The other thing that we see with SSDs is that when they do die, they’re typically dead. We get them in, but one of the problems is that you’ve got data on maybe 16 different chips, and it’s been scattered there by the way SSDs work. And you’ve got maybe a hundred companies making different SSDs, unlike hard drives where you’ve got like three. The technology really hasn’t evolved as far as it has on traditional disk drives, to be able to recover data. So when those drives have electronic failure, it’s tough to get them back working, to get data off them is even harder.

Thom: That’s scary.

Dave: It is. If you think about it, you’ve got about a hundred companies out there making them. There aren’t a lot of standards, they’re all using different controllers, with different break patterns, so even if you were to pull all those chips out and image them independently, trying to figure out how it wrote the data is a huge problem. We can pull the chips, but figuring out how the data is recorded to put the pieces back together is not simple. What we recommend with desktop users is that if they use an SSD is to put the OS and applications on the SSD, but to put the data on a hard drive, or to use one of the hybrid drives with an SSD cache system. 

Thom: This has been a great conversation, so I thank you for it.


LC Technologies Windows version of their PHOTORECOVERY product can be seen on this Web page. That page also has menus and links to the Macintosh version, the SanDisk software, and to LC Technologies’ data recovery services.

More on Where Nikon Is

Last week’s annual report has additional grim bits to it that show up on closer examination. For one, the core company is unprofitable. It’s only the subsidiary structure that’s somehow produced the positive income numbers we see on the consolidated statements. In the unconsolidated statements, we see some clear issues and problems.

One that stood out is the 25% increase in provision for warranty repair year to year. People ask me if Nikon knows they have a QC problem. Well, yes, if anyone at Nikon is reading their own financial statements, they know. What we don’t know is what they intend to do about it. 

I was also struck by some of the risk assessment pieces, a few of which seemed new or reworded in interesting ways. In particular, one risk I hadn’t noticed before was that Nikon takes big pre-payments on semiconductor equipment but those sometimes need to be returned because the order eventually gets cancelled. Couple that with Nikon's projection of a great expansion year for the Precision group, and you have to scratch your head about why they spent so much time discussing that particular risk.

But before everyone panics, let me say this: what we’re seeing now is a replay of what’s happened before. Nikon doesn’t seem to know how to not repeat its own history. Some of this is institutional. It’s traditional, for instance, to transition the upper management from one group to another as the business mix changes. Which, of course, forces the business mix to change. 

We’ve seen transitions in the upper management team leadership from Imaging to Precision to Imaging and now back to Precision. One problem with this is the politics and the informational awareness that stem from bouncing top management back and forth like that. Semiconductor equipment and consumer cameras are products and industries that are quite different. The skill sets to run one right are not the same as to run the other.

That said, Ushida-san (current CEO, from Precision) has had a couple of years to build his team and get them aligned to the tasks at hand. Any further issues in keeping the company running well are definitely going to accrue to his tenure now. It’s no longer possible for him to say that he inherited the problems. They’re his, and his to fix.

Here’s what I expect to happen next: within a month or two we’re going to hear about adjustments in the upper management team. Those will be re-assignments that telegraph to the rest of Nikon’s employees subtle messages about who was deemed responsible for the problems, and who is charged with fixing them.

If there were any Spring/Summer product rollouts other than lenses planned, they’re not going to happen. We almost certainly won’t hear about new cameras from Nikon until Photokina. I’d also guess that we’ll see two key cameras introduced at Photokina. 

The 1H fiscal 2017 results (April-September 2016) for Nikon are going to be less dismal than projected, I think. Even the 45 day sensor unavailability issue shouldn’t generate such a huge projected drop in unit volume (31% in ILC). So either Nikon lowballed their forecasts to look good, or it very well may be that they’ve decided to take a bullet to the chest in order to move forward again (e.g. cancelled all Nikon 1 and a few other camera’s production)

2016 was supposed to be a “renewal” year for the Imaging business. The year that Nikon abandoned the losers and sought to refresh and extend the winners in the lineup. So far, the results on that are lots of ink, very little action. So Photokina is going to be key for Nikon: it’s their last chance to make 2016 even remotely like they thought it would be. 

People have asked me what I expect at Photokina, so here it is:

  • The DL relaunch
  • The KeyMission relaunch
  • The SnapBridge relaunch
  • A D810 replacement
  • A new mirrorless camera, probably DX to replace the D3300
  • Two new lenses

That’s a lot. A huge undertaking to get right. But Nikon really needs to get it right. It’s possible that they’ll put the relaunches right after Photokina to reinforce the new product launches, but I think they need to go into the show with the full team and take a mighty swing at the ball. 

It’s also possible that Nikon will have a different two new cameras at Photokina. One scenario that seems possible given what we know has been in the works is:

  • D3500 (SnapBridge update)
  • D750 replacement (much the same as a D610 was to D600) or full frame mirrorless launch
  • D810 replacement becomes the Q1 2017 big launch

But if Nikon goes this way instead of what I suggest above, it will show that they haven’t gotten the message yet and are still lingering on an old scenario. In short, Photokina this year will be very revealing as to how far Nikon got in its camera rethink.


Addendum

Let’s not get stuck on the “but Nikon has good cameras” thing. Yes, they do. Three of them in particular excel, while another two distinguish themselves from competition in good ways.

The three that excel are the D5, D500, and D810. Though even in that list the D500 has teething problems, and the D810 is getting near the end of its reign as “best overall DSLR you can buy.” The two that are distinguished are the D7200 and the D750, though the latter one has had more than its share of issues. 

But those five products aren’t enough to sustain a strong number two position in the declining camera market. Moreover, they are all DSLRs, which are now in decline. Nikon has no real viable play in the stable and slightly growing mirrorless market, and the plethora of Coolpix they pushed on the market is about to completely collapse. 

So it’s not really about “but they have good products.” It’s about does Nikon have the right products? Do they have a viable bottom-to-top line? Can they stop the recurrent new product QA issues? Can a feature like SnapBridge actually get across their entire lineup fast enough and with enough capability to be a distinguishing trait? 

For me, I mostly shoot with a D500 and D810, supplemented by a D7200 and D4/D5. So I’m using some of Nikon’s best efforts and enjoying the benefits of that (though not in the DX lens selection, buzz, buzz). Most of this site’s long-term readers are doing the same. 

Still, we have to wonder how much shrinkage Nikon can really endure without changing in fundamental ways we are currently counting on. 

Nikon doesn’t need 40 cameras splattered across nearly disposable small sensor compacts to beyond the current top into medium format. It needs a handful of really well considered, well made, and well supported products from 1” compact to FX DSLR. It also needs those products to live in the modern, not legacy world (though supporting legacy accessories is still one of their key attributes they shouldn’t abandon). But Nikon is still closer to the splatter of products than the well managed set. Their current financial situation is certainly due to not addressing that faster and better.

Grim Nikon Financials

Nikon didn’t just report weaker Imaging business sales for the year yesterday, their entire report could only be characterized as “grim.” Here’s how the Imaging business looks quarter by quarter for the last four years (straight line is a moving average). First in overall sales:

bythom nikon quarterly sales


And here it is in unit volume for the three main categories of product:

bythom nikon quarterly units

Overall, Imaging posted 11% lower sales and 19% lower operating income for the year. Nikon didn’t even manage to reach their February 4th forecast for the year that ended March 31st (“partly because of negative exchange rate impact”; note the “partly” ;~). 

But the big thing to note is the huge drop in unit volume for the January 1st to March 31st period:

  • Q4 fiscal 2015: 920k ILC units, 1.38m lenses, 1.36m compacts
  • Q4 fiscal 2016: 780k ILC units, 1.13m lenses, 850k compacts

Indeed, every quarter was down year-to-year, but the last quarter shows Nikon sliding significantly down: their ILC market share is now down to just below 31% (note that Canon claimed to have shipped the same number of ILCs in that quarter as last year, probably gaining market share). Last year Nikon was just below 34% market share, so they’ve lost a solid 3%, or about a tenth, of their second place position to others. 

Remember all those articles I’ve written about switching, sampling, waiting, and last updating? The numbers are now starting to reflect the stark reality of that. And remember, Nikon has used bulk gray market sales to mask those effects, but they’re still showing through. 

But what I write about above would just be another “weaker” report. The headline says “grim.” What do I mean by that?

Look forward. 

Nikon is predicting another 17% drop in sales and 23% drop in operating income for Imaging in the next year. And that year starts with an wrenching drop: April through September 2016 sales are expected to be only 69% that of last year. This is attributed to market shrinkage, delayed launch of new products, negative impact of exchange rates, and the Kumamoto earthquake. 

That brings up an interesting question: what does the second half of Nikon’s current fiscal year look like (October 2016 through March 2017)? Surprisingly, about the same number of ILC sales as for that same period in the last fiscal year, more lenses than the last fiscal year, but a huge drop in compacts (33%+). Nikon’s presentation shorthand cited “attempts are made to improve the product mix and suppress expenditures.” 

In other words, higher-end products that cost more coupled with yet more cost reductions in the group. 

For the entire year, here’s how it plays out:

  • 21% fewer ILC cameras sold
  • 17% fewer lenses sold
  • 41% fewer compact cameras sold

As I wrote: grim. Yet total sales dollars will only be 15.5% lower, and profit 23.5% lower. Short version: Nikon is going to sell fewer products at higher prices, and which have better product margins. 

Ironically, the Precision group is forecast with 43% more sales for the coming year. We’ve seen optimistic projections for Precision in the past that haven’t played out, so we’ll take a wait and see approach on interpreting that. But it’s no surprise that the company might be trying to re-leverage the semiconductor side of the business again as the most recent Nikon CEO comes from that side of the company and has now had enough time to realign upper management as he sees fit.

Still, even if Precision grows 43% and Imaging drops 17% as forecast, the company would still be 52% a camera company. Weakness in Imaging is weakness at Nikon in general. And the new medical division continues to hemorrhage money. Still, Nikon is predicting slightly higher overall sales and profit for the entire company during the coming year, and that all hinges on how the Precision division does and whether the Imaging group really snaps back after October.

And that last thought is the one potential positive bit in the report: the implication of the unit volume forecast for the Imaging group this year highly implies major Photokina launches (plural). I don’t know of a single product Nikon could come up with that would restore the numbers the way they’re forecasting; it’ll take multiple products. So if Nikon is confident in their forecast, we’ve got new significant products in the pipeline for the second half of the year.

What might those be? The D610, D750, and D810 are all due for replacement. The D3300 is overdue for replacement. A D5x would be welcome to some of us. The Nikon 1 line failed, and any mirrorless re-launch might also produce the unit volume implied. One clue is in the somewhat higher lens forecast than ILC forecast, which seems to indicate a strong focus there.

But still, this financial report was about as grim as it gets for an ongoing business that has been a strong #2 in its market for over a decade. The thing that worries me is not the product stream, but the customer support. Nikon has been cutting, cutting, and cutting costs. It now shows clearly to any customer. 

Moreover, the company is misfiring when it fires. The new ad campaign that spoke to social sharing of images didn’t get any traction at all given that the volume cameras that would have supported that are now delayed for six months and the one camera that does only works on Android. The latest sales promotions were cancelled early almost immediately after starting. 

 

Proactive Versus Reactive

Nikon has allowed their customers to turn into their testing department.

Every new Nikon product is now scrutinized intensely by the customer base that buys early copies, and that quickly becomes a topic of discussion on every dedicated Nikon Web site and forum. 

Why? Because the track record lately has been a string of products shipped from Nikon with significant user-observable out-of-box issues: D600, D800/D800E, D750, D500, 300mm f/4, 200-500mm f/5.6, WR-10, plus quite a few more that had smaller nuances to them and didn’t rise to the level Internet Meme that the ones I just identified did.

Nikon’s stance on all this is reactive, not proactive. The front line Nikon customer support personnel have consistently denied any known issue pretty much right up to the point where Nikon issues a Service Advisory, and they’re extremely reluctant to escalate a complaint. Worse still, “escalation” means what? 

In my experience escalation means that things go through a string of folk: tech support to manager, manager to subsidiary President/representative, who translates what they heard into Japanese and sends it to Tokyo, where there’s also reluctance to escalate and often a quick “no problem that we know of” response. Having attempted escalation with Nikon myself many times in two decades, I know that it generally takes a very repeatable, documentable, verifiable problem that can’t be dismissed as “bad sample” before you get a cross-the-ocean coordination to look into it. 

Some not-quite-repeatable issues—such as the D3/D4 stops autofocusing in low light problem—never got addressed by Nikon. Yet I can present you several dozen folks that encountered (and still encounter) that problem. It’s subtle, it’s context sensitive, it’s not 100% repeatable, it happens with low frequency, but I’m certain it’s there. When I thought I had found a repeatable circumstance, the Technical Support manager at the time dismissed that for reasons unknown.

Translation often becomes a key issue, which is one reason why you need a real data set to escalate: clear data doesn’t need the same level of accurate translation as does an anecdotal description of a problem. 

But even when escalation works, the response is still reactive. Nikon’s engineers aren’t generally finding problems, they’re waiting until someone else finds them and reports them.

Personally, in my career in high tech I was always proactive, particularly at product launches. My “love child” of a product went out into the cruel world, did it survive? Thus I was always active in trying to make sure that I would hear of any complaint, and even went to extremes sometimes to just randomly call customers and get their take on how the product was performing. 

From that, I often learned about any issues fast enough to get fixes into the system quickly and efficiently. I’d argue that this lowers downstream customer support costs and increases customer satisfaction.

The problem for Nikon is that nothing is going to get past their customer base now, and they’re also going to get a lot of false positives coming into Customer Service because people who look for problems will find one. And everyone purchasing a new Nikon product is now looking for problems. 

I’ll once again point out that the Economist correctly cited Nikon’s poor customer relationships as being one of the reasons why Nikon lost the market lead in their semiconductor equipment group to a newcomer that emphasized customer relations. 

Note Canon’s recent CarePak offer on high end bodies versus Nikon’s recent problems with high end bodies, which they always start out by denying. Notice a difference from a customer perspective? Canon’s willing to fix gear that you dropped for free, Nikon’s denying that there are any issues with their products. Canon is proactively helping customers, Nikon is still just reacting to customers, though now with off-shore call centers and smaller staffs.

This doesn’t end nicely for Nikon unless they turn from being reactive to proactive. Every product launch now gets scrutinized in ways that didn’t happen a decade ago, and the growth of the Internet means that the scrutiny is heard quickly and distinctly by the potential customer base.

I’m going to write it for the nth time: Nikon’s sales are hurting partly because Nikon is self-inflicting wounds on themselves. That this has been allowed to continue and amplify only makes the wounds more problematic. 

Simply put: Nikon wants more customers, but it acts like it never wants to deal with them. Nikon wants lots of Like responses, but never gives one back. 

The only way to turn this around is to be proactive. Otherwise, what I wrote in the first sentence—Nikon has allowed their customers to turn into their testing department—is only going to get worse, and the number of customers willing to do that is going to decline. 

Two Promotions Go Different Ways

Canon and Nikon both announced new promotional programs designed to push more high-end product out camera dealers’ doors. It’s interesting how the two programs differ.

From May 1st through July 30th, CanonUSA will provide a 13-month CarePak Protection Plus program for any eligible camera or lens. What this program does is provide  prioritized repair for free, including for accidental damages. Canon’s press release reads “turns whoops into whoopie.” [sic]

The 7D Mark II up through the latest 1Dx Mark II are the bodies that will be covered, while the eligible lenses include eight of Canon’s most popular mid-to-high end lenses. Just remember to register your camera or lens for the program within 30 days of purchasing it (see this site).

Meanwhile, NikonUSA has also gone the “free things” route, though with physical product rather than insurance. The D610, D750, and D810 get a free genuine Nikon battery grip if you purchase them during the month of May. This is on top of the already in progress “instant savings” of US$300 to US$500 on these models. This site’s exclusive advertiser B&H is throwing in other items plus a 4% future purchase credit [advertiser link], so that starts to look like a lot of incentives thrown on the gold box.

It’s not surprising that these promotions come on the higher end gear: that’s where both companies have more margin flexibility. But I’m wondering if the bloom is now off the rose for full frame. Canon, Nikon, and Sony all made big pushes to get people to buy full frame over crop sensor cameras, but at US$1499 with lots of incentives, the D610 is looking not so far outside the crop sensor price range (indeed, it’s below the D500 price by a considerable margin). That companies have to push the high end products that far down means that demand has to be soft in the full frame world.

Heck, we haven’t hit the traditional Father’s Day or Graduation promotions yet and we’re seeing soft pricing. 


Nikon 2016 News

In these folders you’ll find the several hundred news and commentary articles about Nikon and DSLR cameras that appeared on this site in 2016:


Nikon 2015 News

In these folders you’ll find the several hundred news and commentary articles about Nikon and DSLR cameras that appeared on this site in 2015:


Nikon 2014 News

In these folders you’ll find the several hundred news and commentary articles about Nikon and DSLR cameras that appeared on this site in 2014:


Nikon 2013 News

In these folders you’ll find the several hundred news and commentary articles about Nikon and DSLR cameras that appeared on this site in 2013:


Nikon 2003-2012 News

What follows are links to the front page reports that appeared on bythom.com from 2003 through 2011. These are archive pages of the old bythom news/views for historical purposes. I've left them in the old bythom style and URLs because it would be an enormous amount of work to bring them all in as separate news/views articles on the new site (there are thousands of these older stories).



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