What Should D600 Owners Do?

(commentary)

Now that the D610 appears to be Nikon's solution to the D600 debris/splatter problem, that leaves a lot of D600 owners asking what they should do about their cameras. Indeed, that's been a common email I've gotten for awhile now. Since we're coming up on the one-year (warranty expiry) anniversary of the camera's first shipments, people are nervous about what happens next.

First things first: a properly operating D600 is a darned fine camera. We can quibble about the AF system not having enough sensors or the lack of some dedicated buttons, but the D600 is a very good entry level FX body, and the image quality it produces is about as good as it gets in FX, only at 24mp instead of 36mp. Everything I wrote in my review still stands.

So I believe that the first thing you need to do is determine whether your D600 is properly operating or not. 

Evidence shows that the debris/splatter problem is related to usage. Shoot 500 images and you might not see it. Shoot 2000 images and you might begin to see it. Shoot 4000 images and if the problem is there you'll definitely see it. So first things first: how many images have you shot with your D600? If the number is less than 5000, I'd suggest that you need to get there first before declaring your camera free of problems.

Here's the simplest way to get there: 

  1. Set the camera to JPEG Basic (to save space) and a small aperture (e.g. f/16)
  2. Put a large capacity card(s) in the camera.
  3. Put the camera on a tripod and point it at something like a plain white wall. Focus doesn't really matter.
  4. Take a single shot.
  5. Set the Intervalometer to the maximum 999 images and start it. 
  6. Repeat Step 5 at least three times or until you're sure you've gone past the 5000 shot mark with your camera.
  7. Compare the last shot taken in Step 6 with the shot taken in Step 4.


What you're looking for is a build up of dark, non-circular "debris", typically in the upper left corner of the image. Dust generally appears as completely circular, and darker in the center than at the edges. Dust is normal, and usually eventually taken care of by the in-camera dust buster. What we don't want to see is non-circular black blobs with hard edges. That's what the debris caused by the shutter typically looks like. It's not just a few dark spots, it's lots of dark spots of varying sizes that don't look like typical dust-on-sensor. The classic symptom is that your shot in Step 4 doesn't look like your last shot in Step 6: the first one is (relatively) clean, but the last one has a clear build-up of material in the upper left corner. [Since I personally don't have a non-functioning D600 to create a sample image, if someone wants to send me a sample image that I can display on this site, I'd appreciate it.] 

Lubricant splatter tends to look like a watermark: a relatively clear circular discoloration of a small area: I call them clear pimples. It is normal for all modern DSLRs with fast shutters to sometimes throw a bit of lubricant towards the sensor, so seeing a couple of such spots, especially early in the life of a camera, isn't something to get too concerned about. Yes, it needs a special wet cleaning (typically I use Visible Dust's Smear Away fluid, let the sensor completely dry out, then clean again with a regular wet cleaning fluid). I believe every sophisticated DSLR user has to be ready to do a wet cleaning from time to time, as we want lubricated shutters that perform well for their lifetime. Small price to pay to sometimes have to do a wet clean.

However, excessive lubricant splatter (dozens or hundreds of spots, often again in that upper left quadrant of a shot) has been reported by some D600 users, and I would regard that as a problem. So,  

     IF STEP 7 = (excessive lubricant OR excessive debris) THEN:

The camera really needs to go back to Nikon for examination and possible repair. In the typical repair report I'm seeing for cameras that have the problem Nikon is replacing the entire shutter mechanism. If that's the case with a camera you send in to Nikon, you should be fine after the repair. I've heard of no cases of repeating debris buildup after a shutter replacement. 

What is causing some trouble is that I'm seeing evidence of a typical NikonUSA repair issue: a fair number of cameras end up having to go back a second or third time before Nikon actually repairs the camera. In those cases, Nikon appears to have just cleaned and adjusted the camera the first time it came in, but the user then experienced the same problem a few thousand shots down the line. 

Nikon's advice to D600 users? Well, you can read that in their lame knowledge base entry.

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