Difference Between “A” and “Fundamental” Problems


Off the top of my head, I can name at least a dozen commonly encountered problems that have occurred with Nikon SLR/DSLRs in the past three decades. I’ve reported on all of them.

But there are differences in the level of these problems. For example, I remember Galen Rowell’s reaction when on assignment for a magazine his new F100 body kept exhibiting “early rewind syndrome.” That was a fundamental problem. It kept him from being able to shoot his assignment with that camera (fortunately he had backup and I had an F100 that didn’t exhibit the problem that he could borrow). Still, I’d categorize this as a fundamental problem because it kept a photographer from capturing images. Since capturing images is what a camera is supposed to do, this is as bad as it gets.

At the opposite extreme we have the D750. Under a particular set of circumstances, some models create a very unnatural band in a flare zone. The camera took the picture. The picture does exist, though you’d probably be cropping it to take out the defect. Is this a fundamental problem? No, it isn’t. It’s just a problem.

I take it as a given that Nikon shooters who come to this site want to know about issues they may face, whether they be just frustrations or something existential. Does a camera have any problem, or does it have a fundamental problem? 

I believe I’ve been clear in my characterization of the D750 issue: you don’t see the problem in the viewfinder while shooting, thus you can get a suboptimal image if you didn’t know about the issue and just shot into the light without paying closer attention to what the camera was doing. 

It sucks having to turn to Live View to evaluate what the camera is doing in backlit situations. It sucks to have to chimp your shots just to make sure you didn’t trigger the banding. But it’s just a problem, not a fundamental one that keeps you from taking a useful photo at all.

Cameras are very sophisticated pieces of gear. But a modern DSLR also has 50 years worth of engineering in it. The first statement in this paragraph suggests that we might encounter issues with new cameras. The second statement suggests that we shouldn’t find issues that were known and engineered out (or at least mitigated) in previous models. My disappointment in Nikon with the D750 problem is that it’s more the latter than the former. 

I’ve written this before and I think it needs to be written again: trust but verify. 

When you get a new piece of gear, you need to run it through the paces. Not shoot a few frames, but actually press it in exactly the circumstances and conditions you expect to be using it in. If you’re a night shooter, you need to perform night shooting tests. If you’re a contre-jour shooter, you need to do plenty of into-the-light testing. Pros simply don’t (or at least shouldn’t) go into paid situations using unproven gear. It’s one of the reasons why you still find a lot shooting with D3s’s and D700’s and D300’s, actually. They know what those cameras will do and trust it. 

You might think that amateurs don’t need to test and verify like a pro. My experience has been that they do. I’ve encountered far too many non-pros venturing into a once-in-a-lifetime vacation with new, untested gear and discovering that they’ve got a problem. 

Photos are generally one-and-done. Because they’re moments in time, if you miss the photo the first time, it isn’t there again. So I’ll repeat: when you buy new gear, test it thoroughly before entrusting it to any serious work. Most of the time, that’ll just give you much needed practice with your near equipment. Every now and again, it will save you from walking into a real problem with no outs. 

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