Second Week D500 Problem Assessment

Someone asked about “how many” reports of issues I’ve received so far regarding the D500. Here are my current tallies of the crowd-sourcing so far:

  • Lexar 1000x and 2000x cards: over 300 problem reports
  • Other card reports: 5 problem reports
  • Batteries: over 200 problem reports, with over three dozen specifically ID-ing Nikon’s own Li-Ion1 labeled batteries as acting differently than Li-Ion20. 
  • Lenses: about half the lens compatibilities I list have three or more reports, about 20% are single reports so far

Here’s the thing: with only 15,000 cameras in the wild, 300 problem reports for a card would be statistically significant to the point where it is predictive. Any QC person seeing that data set would immediately be moving to try to figure out what the actual problem was. 

I have anecdotal reports that both Lexar and Nikon have escalated the issue beyond their front-line customer support folk, though what that means at Nikon is unclear. Lexar, to their credit, is providing replacement cards to those that report this issue.

But let me address all of the issues I’ve seen reported to me or in various Web fora with my current position on the problem:

  • Lexar 1000x/2000x SD card card failures — problem is real. Repeatable, verifiable. Yet not all Lexar 1000x/2000x cards will fail in the D500.
  • Other card failures — not likely a real problem. Not repeatable or verifiable. After asking reporters to do certain things, the errors haven’t repeated.
  • Third party battery failures — problem is real. Repeatable, verifiable, undeniable. At the moment I have no report of any third-party EN-EL15 replacement that works in a D500. Curiously, an EN-EL18a clone in the MB-D17 grip will work. 
  • Nikon Li-Ion1 battery underperformance — problem is real. Repeatable, verifiable. Some, but not all, batches of Li-Ion1 batteries will greatly underperform in a D500 compared to other Nikon DSLRs. 
  • Nikon Li-Ion20 battery underperformance — not a problem. I’ve been unable to verify or repeat any such instance. Note that the D500 will tend to report slightly less remaining charge with these batteries than other Nikon DSLRs (on the order of 2% less), but I don’t judge that to be an issue.
  • D500 fast battery discharge — not likely a problem. I’ve worked through a number of these cases with users, and it has generally turned out to be something else (typically leaving Bluetooth on but unconnected). 
  • D500 “not sharp” — not a problem. Not verifiable, and most instances seem to be clear misunderstanding, mishandling. 
  • D500 “locks up” — probably a problem. Repeatable and verifiable with some specific camera/lens combos. This appears to be DBS (dead battery syndrome) all over again, and frankly Nikon should have eradicated that and tested for it on all new models years ago. Yet it seems clear that we keep getting echoes of it, though not on every body that comes out of the factory. I have to wonder if the return of DBS is due to changes Nikon made with power management using an EN-EL15.
  • D500 “won’t autofocus” — not likely a real problem. Only a few lenses are showing any focus issues, and almost always only with Live View. Moreover, many of the reports I’ve now been able to isolate to particular lens firmware (i.e., the third party lens maker has an update that should fix the problem). 
  • D500 “stays on” — not likely a real problem. Can’t verify, though note that the on/off switch on a Nikon DSLR is an advisory to the camera, not a real on/off switch. Thus, some operations may keep the camera active when you turn it off. This has been true of all Nikon DSLRs and dates back into the film age (turning the switch to off didn’t stop a film rewind, for instance). If this happens to you, check to see what’s holding the camera active (e.g. check the card write status light, or that the camera isn’t still processing an image). 
  • Rubber card door stop falls out — possibly a problem. I haven’t seen it fall it on my camera, but it’s definitely removable, which seems to be surprising for a supposedly weather sealed camera. This is one to watch for over time to see how many folk lose the rubber stop. It looks like poor design to me. And, of course, Nikon doesn’t generally sell parts any more, even user-installable ones. Way to go, Nikon! 

Note that the third party battery, Li-Ion1, and “locks up” problems are all related to power management. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the Lexar card issues also have a power component to them, too. Nikon clearly did something in micromanaging the power situation within the D500. Moreover, this isn’t the first time we’ve had Nikon do that. The D300 was the first camera that had significant DBS issues (the D200 was the first that I recall), as did the D700. Typically autofocus and VR power draws tended to put the system into a state beyond its expectations in some situations with certain lenses, at which point you’d get the lock up symptom. Pulling the battery and replacing it “fixes” the problem, but it can and often does reoccur on the next big load draw. 

DBS seems to be electrical engineering putting a critical cutoff within the tail of the known power bell curve of lenses in the field. Values have been adjusted for power management in firmware on more than one Nikon DSLR that I know of. But the fact that it recurs from time to time on new cameras is a bit astonishing to me. Something about Nikon’s power assumptions simply isn’t right.

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