Africa Failures

A month in someplace as rough and remote as the wilds of Botswana has a way of singling out gear that isn't up to tough handling and use, or things that will happen to you on such trips. 

Over 30 days in July there were at least 30 cameras and even more lenses bouncing around the sand roads of Botswana with me. Here's a quick run-down on the stuff that had issues:

  • Canon M5 — At some point my M5 must have taken a blow to the head of some sort, as one morning I found that the whole eyepiece structure was sagging off the back of the camera. I didn't have the tools with me necessary to do a quick disassembly and reassembly, but I was able to with a bit of force get the eyepiece back to its usual position. However, the automatic eye detect system then no longer functioned, so there was definitely a contact that got dislodged and didn't get rejoined. The M5 doesn't have a dedicated viewfinder/rear LCD switch, but fortunately it has a function that allows you to assign the function to a button, which I used the M-Fn button for. The bad news is that the M5 design has some modality to it that keeps the button from making EVF/rear LCD switches seamlessly. You pretty much have to be in shooting mode to use the switch. If you're playing something back, the button press isn't registered. Oh, Canon. The camera will go back to Canon for repair, even though it appears to be 99% functional. 
  • Nikon D810 — One of the many D810's on the trip started having issues focusing with a new 500mm f/4E. We quickly isolated the issue to the body, as the lens focused fine with the other D810s and D500s. After a field cleaning of the mount and electrical contacts plus the best cleaning I could do of the lower mirror box in the middle of nowhere, everything worked fine again for awhile. But after another day or so, the problem returned. I strongly suspect that there is some Botswana grunge that managed to find its way into the opening at the bottom of the mirror box behind which the AF sensors live. Unfortunately, the D810 design has a baffle in front of that area, which makes it extremely difficult to field clean that area. I did the best I could with the equipment I had with me, but it seems clear that I probably just moved whatever the offending bit was and it eventually got back into the light path. The camera will go back to Nikon for a cleaning and evaluation.
  • Sigma 300mm f/2.8 — Many Sigma lenses have always had electrical communication issues with some Nikon bodies. Sigma is reverse engineering the mount communications and it seems clear to me that subtle changes in new bodies can result in issues. The classic Sigma issue is older Sigma lens with newer Nikon body. In this case, the communications between an older 300mm lens and a D500 were clearly hit and miss. Sometimes everything worked fine, sometimes there would be a sudden change in aperture reading and/or a complete shutdown of the focus system. Turning the camera on/off or reseating the lens generally fixed the problem temporarily. Unfortunately, this problem persisted even after inspection and cleaning of the mount and contacts. The issue was less likely to occur without the Sigma 1.4x teleconverter, but it happened both with and without it, just in different frequencies. Other lenses operated correctly on the camera. Sigma will be contacted about the issue to see if they are aware of a mount communication problem between the 300mm and the D500 and whether they have a firmware fix. 
  • D500 — One of my D500's developed a loose shooting method dial. I'd pick the camera up and shoot and hear the thwack of the Quiet mode instead of CH, or nothing would happen because the dial had twirled to Self Timer. A little annoying, to say the least, but dial looseness is a highly prevalent problem across many different cameras. Not sure what caused this change in behavior of my dial, but the camera will be going back to Nikon for a CLA anyway, and I'll have them look at the dial, too.

That's it. I was a little surprised we didn't have more issues with all the gear that was in use and the torture we were subjecting it to. Even dust on the sensor seemed to not be much of an issue for those of us who got to Victoria Falls and shot small aperture landscapes. Then again, I discourage lens changing on these trips. Once mounted, you really want to keep that lens mounted to the camera at all times and avoid lens changes, if possible. Remember, Botswana has a thousand feet of sand under your feet and that sound gets kicked up and blown around by animals, vehicles, and wind. 

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