The D5/D500 Blog

Camera blogs are only active as I’m working on my review for the camera. Once my review is posted, the blog pages go silent unless I discover something new that’s significant. 

The D5 has been reviewed, and the D500 has been reviewed, and the blog pages have gone silent. 

Since there are a ton of questions coming my way, I decided to put up a blog-style page that will throw out bits and pieces of my experience with the D5 and D500 as I discover them. Note that this page has its own RSS feed (upper right). Or you can just bookmark this page and come back to it: items will be in order from newest at top to oldest at bottom.

Since there’s an auto cutoff on display of the individual entries, here is the full list (the latest entry appears just after the list):

Let’s Hope Things Didn’t Go to Nikon’s Head

With dpreview officially recognizing the D500 as their “high-end ILC camera of the year” for 2016, I’m sure that the folks at Nikon corporate are all smiling. I hope those aren’t smug smiles, because:

  1. The D500 had the longest gestation period of any Nikon DSLR. Nikon lost a lot of previously loyal users during the wait. Moreover, we’ve now got mirrorless cameras nibbling at the back door and still stealing a few more sales (e.g. X-T2, E-M1 Mark II, and maybe the A6500). It would be nice to know that such an important group isn’t overlooked for so long again in Nikon’s update cycles.
  2. The D500 had one of the roughest “break-in” periods I’ve seen in a Nikon DSLR, maybe even all ILC cameras, with some very clear bugs, missing abilities (e.g. SnapBridge iOS), plus clearly problematic battery and storage issues. Even today, it’s not clear that everything has been resolved. For example, Nikon’s drop to UHS-I whenever it encounters a UHS-II card error is a kludge and not a permanent solution. Either Nikon or the card makers have misinterpreted the standard and need to fix their implementation. If its the card makers, just slowing things down isn’t the full answer for users: we really want to know that we have a card that’s slowing things down and needs to be looked (updated) by its maker. This is a relative to my control-your-ecosystem chant for years: if Nikon had a true certification program, we wouldn’t have this issue as users, and when we did, there would be someplace we could direct our queries to. As it is, I’m still unconvinced that there aren’t lingering issues in the D500 firmware, though it’s rare that I see any manifestation these days.
  3. Why the D5 got the 9-point Dynamic addition and the D500 didn’t is a huge question to me. Quite frankly, the D500 is more in need of that new feature than the D5, as the layout of the autofocus sensors goes across the whole D500 frame, and there are “gaps”—especially in the cross sensor capabilities—that make off-center D25 somewhat problematic for a few situations. I’m worried that Nikon thinks that the D500 isn’t the true flagship, so they can leave out capabilities and no one will be upset. Sorry, but that’s not true. 
  4. Given how poor SnapBridge is at doing what a serious shooter needs in terms of connectivity, Nikon gave us the ugliest and most awkward accessory ever, the WT-7. Why not just build the WT-6 port into the regular MB-D15? Oh, right, Nikon didn’t design the MB grips as anything other than basically dumb, one-way systems (e.g. battery can’t be shared to another accessory). Moreover, configuring SnapBridge, the WT-6 (D5), or WT-7 (D500) for serious Wi-Fi work is a pain in the butt. Heaven help you if something changes between uses. 
  5. The wireless-by-radio flash system is still nascent, missing a full range of options. I’m not convinced that the current menus for setting flash options on an SB-5000 are well thought-out, either, which means we’ll probably get some more cheese moving in the future. Oh, and have you tried buying the necessary WR-R10 that plugs into the 10-pin socket and controls the flash? Yep, another example of Nikon not having an inventory of product ready to serve demand. Moreover, I’m still hearing about people who get a brand new unit that needs its firmware reprogrammed by Nikon to actually be used with the camera. 

So okay Nikon: celebrate for a few days, then get back to work making the D500 everything it can and should be. 

Thom’s D400, Circa 2010

From time to time I jot down my thoughts about future products, particularly possible product updates. While cleaning up my files recently I came across my notes about what a D400 might be like from six years ago (original document was dated May 23, 2009, but there were two small updates after that). 

Obviously, we didn’t get a D400, but rather a delayed D500. Let’s see how I did:

  1. Clear noise improvement.
  2. Clear dynamic range improvement.
  3. 16mp+ sensor.
  4. 1080P video.
  5. 6 fps+ shooting rate.
  6. Tiltable or pivoting LCD.
  7. Clearly improved autofocus.
  8. More flexible Mup.
  9. Simpler Live View implementation.
  10. True center button on multi-selector switch (not OK button).
  11. In-camera HDR.
  12. Auto-bracketing at 2EV.
  13. Bounceable internal flash? (Yes, I had a question mark on that one)
  14. Weatherproof sealed body.
  15. Newest Capture NX included free.
  16. Merged Shooting/Custom banks.
  17. Allow any function to be assigned to almost any button.
  18. RAW histograms.
  19. Smaller body.
  20. Weaker or no AA filter.
  21. Better Auto WB.
  22. Live View with exposure simulation.
  23. Fast face detect autofocus in Live View.
  24. Additional channel(s) for CLS.

Let’s see, I missed 13, 16, 18, and 23. I was slightly off with 5, 15, 17, 19, and 24.

But I also had a “possible, improbable” list for the D400 (remember, this is six years ago):

  1. GPS.
  2. Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth.
  3. Built-in wireless remote capability.
  4. More cross points in autofocus.
  5. Internal RF based flash control.
  6. Even more customizable buttons.
  7. Small RAW files as an option.
  8. In body VR.
  9. Virtual Horizon in viewfinder.
  10. 8 fps+.
  11. Dual CF/SD slots.
  12. Built in IR.
  13. Less noisy shutter.
  14. Built-in wireless tethering.
  15. In-viewfinder hyper focus indicator.
  16. Viewfinder shutter like Dx series.

Hmm. I missed on 3, 8, 11, 12, 14, and 15. Slightly off on 5. 

So, of the 40 items, I hit 30, though 6 of those were slightly different than I envisioned.

Normally this is where the author would proclaim “see how smart I am?” Nope. The thing that’s a little on the disturbing side is that this is much more “see how predictable Nikon is?” That’s one of the issues with iterative product design: can you ever truly break the mold and provide users with innovation that surprises and delights? 

I suppose I ought to jot down another list for the D510 or D550 or whatever it ends up getting called. What are your thoughts? What do you expect?

Nikon D500 Firmware 1.11 Update

Nikon has again updated the D500 firmware, this time with a fix for the SB-800 preventing the camera in shooting with an SB-800 in Live View, plus a change in something to the internal image sensor cleaning routine. 

Nikon Firmware Download Site

Nikon’s Outstanding D500 Fix List

Here we are about six months after the D500’s first shipments, and we’ve had two very small firmware updates. Personally, I don’t think those firmware updates address the things I originally saw or still currently see as issues with the D500 firmware.

Remember, I wrote earlier this year and in my review that I felt that the D500 was rushed to market. It still feels rushed to market, yet it’s been on the market for long enough for Nikon to correct that impression.

Here are the major things that I believe still need addressing:

  • Card solidification. Despite the firmware change to drop down to UHS-I when the camera encounters a card error, I still get a fairly steady trickle of “still seeing the card error” reports from D500 users (and by the way, Nikon, you might really want to consider that I’ve sold a lot of D500 books, enough to be a significant subset of total D500 sales; I’m quite connected to the D500 user base). Those reports are coming from people using the current firmware, and from virtually all types and makes of cards. The only thing I can tell from my continued sleuthing on this issue is that most of these problems tend to occur when the system is being stressed in playback. Copying large numbers of images, reviewing in 72-image mode, playing back after bursts, anything that requires the camera to do more than record or display one image. And again, it doesn’t matter whether it’s an XQD card or UHS I or II card, so the UHS-I dropdown doesn’t completely fix whatever the lingering problem is.
  • Battery clarity. Why is it that we can put the same exact fully charged battery into a D810 and see 100% in Battery Info, but we may see anything from 85-100% when we put that same battery into a D500? I suspect that Nikon has once again fallen into the ultra-cautious mode as they did with the F5. With the F5 they were worried that you could have a battery die during rewind of 250-shot backs, so they raised the “battery empty” level well above what was necessary for that. Eventually they fixed the issue through firmware and we got more realistic battery use out of our F5’s. With the D500 I suspect that the cautiousness might be about 200-frame bursts with connectivity enabled. But why would you not always display 100% for a fully charged battery? Or do we have batteries that the D810 thinks are fully charged but the D500 doesn’t? Something’s not quite right here.
  • AF-P is MIA. While you can mount and use the AF-P lenses on a D500, it does not appear that the D500 is actually truly compatible with them. First there’s the issue of no menu item to turn VR on and off. Next, there seems to be issues in Live View where focus tracking doesn’t happen correctly, or at all in some cases. Hmm. AF-P lenses were announced before the D500, so what gives?
  • 9-point focus needs to be added. I mentioned this in passing in my Botswana Photo Workshop blog, but the D500 needs 9-point Dynamic Area focus mode (D9) more than the D5 did. The D5 got it in an update, but the D500 crowd is still waiting. Because the new focus sensors see physically smaller areas than before and D25 extends further in total area than D9 used to, the combination of those two things makes D25 act differently than most of us were using D9 for. D25 is less reliable for that type of shooting, in my opinion. so give us the D9 ability back.
  • Don’t lock us up. As with card issues, I still continue to get regular “camera locked up” reports from people using the D500 with the current firmware. This is less frequent after the 1.10 update, but still happens with 1.10. I haven’t had this happen to me lately, but we had one instance of it happen with over eight D500’s in use at the Botswana Photo Workshop over the course of two weeks (all on 1.10). How this hasn’t happened to a Nikon employee shooting with the camera, I don’t know. And why there hasn’t been an emergency rush of a locked up camera to Japan HQ (with enough power to make the trip with status intact) I don’t know. Is anyone at Nikon even looking into this issue?
  • SnapBridge is still a mess. Yes, we have an iOS app now and you can make a D500 talk to Apple products. But wow what a mess is still there. The menus centered around SnapBridge connectivity drive me crazy. The performance of SnapBridge is terrible, both in speed and in battery usage. Pretty much every D500 user I know has simply turned all the connectivity off. For a flagship camera, it’s just insane to let that happen. The D500 should be showing us the way to the connected future, but everyone is simply ignoring it. This ball is clearly in Nikon’s court to fix. 

Nikon D500 Firmware 1.10

The D500 got another firmware update to version 1.10. The primary change was to add support for the upcoming iOS SnapBridge app. Help text was changed (in one case, corrected). Several issues—including the lock-up issue I reported quite some time ago—were fixed.

Nikon’s firmware update site

Meanwhile, SnapBridge for iOS version 1.0 has shown up at the Apple App Store for download. Combined with the D500 1.10 firmware update, iOS users can now use SnapBridge on their D500s. 

Who Knows When?

Since I’ve been such a proponent of modern workflow for digital cameras, I was all excited to try SnapBridge. I originally had booked a college sports track meet shoot to show off the D500 and SnapBridge on the Web site. My goal was to show SnapBridge in real-time use for an event-based shooter doing real production work. 

Unfortunately, SnapBridge was really only available for Android at the time, and despite having an Android phablet to run it on, I found the app not quite up to production standards. Ironically, I could do better shooting with an Eye-Fi card in the camera, and with less back-end workflow, too. Not the opportunity I was looking for.

So I postponed such a demonstration. Indeed, I originally planned to break my August Internet-free pledge if Nikon shipped an iOS SnapBridge that was ready for production use. I can see August just ahead of me now, but no SnapBridge update, so we’ll punt on that, too. When I’ll be able to pull off what I originally intended to demonstrate, I have no idea.

The question now is “what the heck was Nikon thinking?” 

The concept behind SnapBridge is correct, I believe: use Bluetooth for all-the-time connection to preserve power and get lower resolution images over to smart devices. The implementation, however, leaves so much to be desired—even ignoring all the start and stop issues I’ve experienced on the Android side—that this was an opportunity wasted. 

SnapBridge wasn’t ready for prime time when announced. It isn’t ready for prime time six months later. No one knows when it will be ready for prime time. No new camera has appeared with it, and the camera that has been able to use it since introduction could use some cleaning up of its own. (Technically, the Coolpix B500 is now available with SnapBridge; maybe SnapBridge only works with cameras that have 500 in their name ;~)

One thing you should never do in tech is promote technology before it’s truly customer-ready. You end up with so much negative publicity detracting from your marketing message, and that impairs you when you finally manage to make the technology work as expected: people will still remember all the negative stuff. 

Then there’s the issue of workflow. Nikon really wants you to move the images up to Nikon Image Space. All the automation so far points towards that. The more “automated” constructs you pile on top of each other, the more likely that you’ll have something break in trying to use it seriously. Consider: (1) automated Bluetooth transfer from camera to smart device; (2) automated transfer from smart device to Nikon Image Space; (3) convoluted automated transfer from Nikon Image Space to where I want the image displayed.

Moreover, we want images to go to multiple places simultaneously. I demonstrated this to Nikon executives back in 2010. I’d like the ability for an image to go to, say, Facebook/Twitter, to my own image server, to Lightroom, to a list of people that need to see it (e.g. photo editors at publications), and to my Web site. Some of those things are “every image goes there” while others are “selected images go there.” 

What Nikon has provided so far is a not-so-trustworthy-and-battery-depleting sneaker net alternative that might get the image from point A (camera) to point B (mobile device). I mean, how difficult is it to move an image from point A to point B wirelessly? 

No doubt the bigger picture here is a difficult problem to solve. But Nikon isn’t solving even the smallest part of it, despite years of working on it. One problem is the proprietary nature of what they’re trying to do. Unfortunately, the world of images moving across the Internet is a constantly changing scene that requires coordination with the big players, or an open system that those of us that can program can take advantage of.

But enough of that, how about just a working app for everyone? The current information posted on Nikon’s site says “SnapBridge App will be coming to the App Store [sic] Summer 2016.” Great. We’re already past one month into summer. Less than two months left ’til fall. 

Official Lexar Response on D500

Everyone who reported the original Lexar SD card failure problem on the D500 seems to have received the same email from Lexar yesterday. Quoting from the email:

"We have been able to replicate the reported issues and the Lexar team has worked in partnership with Nikon to come up with a solution to alleviate these. Nikon has provided a FW update for the D500 camera, version 1.02. Although this should resolve the problem, we have also worked internally at Lexar on a new FW version for our UHS-II SD cards so should the intermittent problems continue, please let us know and we will arrange an exchange for your Lexar SD card for a newer version.”

As I’ve noted many times before, I don’t believe that the card error problems were solely limited to Lexar SD cards. 

To all of you who reported card errors to me previously, I’d appreciate it if you’d let me know whether firmware 1.02 eradicated the problem or if you still encounter them from time to time.

Nikon D500 Firmware 1.02

Nikon has issued a second firmware update to address the “card not usable” issue that has resulted with some SD cards. Nikon states that firmware 1.02: "Addressed an issue that sometimes caused errors with certain UHS-II SD memory cards. As we were able to confirm that these were read errors arising not in the camera but in the cards themselves, we addressed the issue with a work-around that switches temporarily to UHS-I mode when a card-side error occurs in UHS-II mode. The camera switches back to UHS-II mode when turned off and then on again or when the standby timer restarts. Card-side read errors may still occur after the update, albeit very infrequently.” 

This is what is called a “fallback” routine in software parlance. The software (firmware) tries to do something—view an image on the card—and receives an error. Instead of just reporting the error now, the software retries using a lesser method of addressing the card (e.g. UHS-I instead of UHS-II). The camera will continue to use the slower method until such time as you either turn the camera on and off, or the meter deactivates, at which point the D500 will once again try to use UHS-II for the card. 

Since this is primarily a “read” problem on the D500 (e.g. image review), slowing down to UHS-I speed really isn’t a liability. But note that the card stays in UHS-I mode until a deactivation event occurs. So if you were shooting along, stopped to review an image, then immediately started to shoot again, the D500 is now using UHS-I to address the card during shooting! Your buffer performance is going to change. UHS-I max write speed is 104Mbps, while UHS-II max write speed is 312Mbps. 

If this is indeed a card problem as Nikon suggests, then we all probably need some replacement cards to get full performance out of the camera. However, I’m still a bit skeptical about this. I’ve seen the problem on Lexar, SanDisk, Transcend, and even a Sony UHS-II card now, and I’ve seen it with an XQD card, as well (no SD card in camera). I find it a little difficult to believe that everyone got their UHS-II cards wrong. But maybe they did. I’m sure that there’s a lot of back channel talk in the SD Association about this. 

Nikon D500 firmware page

I’ve also updated an earlier page on the blog with this information.

Wrapping Up

With my upcoming review of the D500, you probably won’t see much more being posted here in the dedicated D5/D500 blog about the D500. Most of what I know is already in this blog (including pages that have been updated), in my review, and/or in my book on the D500. 

Some have wondered how I finished the D500 book so fast. Basically enforced desk time. As some of you know I had some big health issues in May, and that finally culminated in surgery in early June (burst appendix). But being bed-ridden and then pretty much desk-ridden for an extended period of time after allowed me to just concentrate on one thing, and that was picking up the D500 and trying to solve all its new intricacies.

As I got to the point where I could do limited activity outdoors, I just wandered down to the Little Lehigh River behind my house and worked at further understanding the D500’s autofocus system shooting the many birds that inhabit that area. In essence, I spent about 45 days where I wasn’t doing much of anything else except dissecting the D500 and writing what I learned. 

It seems clear that the D500 has firmware that wasn’t tested well and needs serious updating. Nikon hasn’t addressed the two biggest issues facing D500 owners (card malfunction on image review and lockups), but I’ve encountered a few others along the way, too. 

Tip: Those of you who want to add a protective overlay to the D500’s LCD need to be aware that this will conflict with the touch screen. What happens is that you get the slider bar at the bottom of the display when you do image review (go ahead, touch the very bottom of rear LCD with an image displayed, you’ll see the bar). But the bar doesn’t go away because it thinks it’s being pressed (by the protective screen). Thus the image review doesn’t time out.

I strongly suspect, though, that a lot of the D500’s issues are due to one of two things: (1) firmware that wasn’t tested well enough; and (2) power dependencies that put the the D500 at the hairy edge of expectations, and when it (rarely) goes over the edge, something not good happens.

The funny thing is that, despite all the bugs and annoyances, the D500 manages to perform just fine in production shooting (at least according to my pro friends). No one that I know of has lost an image on a card, while the lockups don’t happen often enough to worry about and are quickly corrected (battery out, battery in). 

I’ve now got quite a bit of studio and river-side shooting experience with the D500, and I’d say I tend to go thousands of shots before hitting an annoyance. Your mileage may vary. 

My sense is that the D500 team bit off more than the could manage in the timeframe they had to do it, and it shows as rough edges in anything outside the main functions of the camera. I’ll give you another example: try locking the shutter open for sensor cleaning after establishing a SnapBridge connection. Oops. Even Airplane Mode set to On won’t allow you to do that. You have to go straight to the Bluetooth setting and turn it Off first. 

Given the price of the camera, and its position as a flagship product that shows of Nikon’s latest technology in the great and constant Canikon fight, I expect Nikon will get around to addressing all the things that I and others have found problematic with the D500. 

I still get a lot of “is it safe to buy a D500 yet” emails. Nikon, you have yourselves to thank for that with the D600, D750, D800, and D810 service advisories. We now have a large group of “wait for the all clear signal” type purchasers lingering out there. 

Well, I can’t signal an all clear, obviously. Not until the known issues get addressed. But on the other hand, as I noted above, many of us are happily shooting with this camera without obsessing about the immaturity of the firmware and the teething issues. Put another way, there’s no showstopper issue that’s been revealed, just a lot of annoyances that need some tender loving care by Nikon to fix.

D500 Rebate for July

Nikon is offering a US$500 instant rebate on the D500 plus 16-80mm f/2.8-4 lens combo. That makes for a very reasonable price at US$2570, and the lens is absolutely worth the implied US$560 price in this new kit pricing. The rebate lasts until July 30th.

Note that D500 body-only packages seem to be in short supply, with many vendors either out or only having a small number available. The D500+lens kit, however, seems to be in good supply at the moment. 

I suspect that this reflects the usual Nikon production formula: bodies first, kits second, then monitor and fill demand of both as time moves on. Thing is, with the sensor shortage caused by the April quake, I suspect that Nikon is somewhat limited in what they can produce in the way of new D500s at the moment. So I expect the body to stay in short supply, and I also expect that the new instant rebate on the kit will deeply cut into the current supply of that, too.

So, if you’re interested in getting a D500 any time soon, I’d advise you to strongly consider the new kit price as one avenue to do so. The other interesting thing is that all of Nikon’s lens rebates for the month pretty much center on the D500 and DX bodies, too: 10.5mm f/2.8 DX, 35mm f/1.8 DX, 40mm f/2.8 DX, 50mm f/1.8, 12-24mm f/4 DX, 17-55mm f/2.8 DX, and 24-70mm f/2.8G. Yes, those two FX lenses are highly popular with DX users.

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