More Reader Questions Answered

"A few months ago I purchased a used D5500 and registered it with Nikon. When Nikon introduced the D800 a few years back, I was one who pre-ordered it, and registered it with Nikon as soon as it arrived. To date, I don't recall receiving any emails from Nikon with tips for using the D800, but I have received three or four already for the D5500, plus a separate email thanking me for buying it!"

I've noticed this, too, as have many others. NikonUSA's database and how they're mailing to it seems broken to me. I've gotten email notices about a few things—e.g. the recent D5 firmware update—but then other clear marketing opportunities seem to be being missed completely. Like you, I never received a D810 or D850 update notice from them. Never got a notice about the 180-400mm f/4, either, even though I owned both the previous models. Moreover, what was registered to my account seems to have been broken for awhile, though I've now apparently managed to fix that by redoing my registered gear list when updating my NPS membership for renewal.

"Have you encountered loss of AF performance over time? I know of three cases where cameras seem to get less fast and/or accurate in focussing. A friend's D300s, another friend's D800 and my own D300. All are older, well-used cameras. The D300s guy had it serviced and says it got better, but not perfect. The D800 simply does not focus in some cases, and I’ve had the same with my D300 in low light conditions. My friend is getting really insecure about using her camera (not serviced yet).. This is all anecdotal, of course, but when I heard of my friends cases I started wondering: is there anything in the AF system that can deteriorate? Mechanical wear is possible, of course. I’d appreciate to read your views on this!"

Yes. And it's almost always tied to needing the camera to be cleaned or aligned. Specifically, the autofocus sensor system sits at the bottom of the mirrorbox. Dust, dirt, hairs, whatever tends to fall into that area and can eventually impact the light that the AF sensors are receiving. That light is very low in the first place, as it's only a portion of what came in through the lens (due to the partial mirror). Just as grime on your lens will eventually reduce the contrast you can record, grime in the AF box can absolutely reduce the contrast the AF detectors are seeing. And as we know, reduced contrast is tough for the AF detectors to resolve, however it is caused (e.g. low contrast subject).

Personally, I have my "work" cameras fully cleaned and checked by Nikon at regular intervals—typically every year or two—and particularly when I come back from dusty, dirty trips. We used to call that a CLA (clean, lube, adjust). Not sure what Nikon calls it now, but my most recent clean/checks would have cost a non-NPS member less than US$200. Warning: when you send a camera back to Nikon for service, they won't service it at all unless they can bring it up to full manufacturing standards. That means that if there's a broken part, they're going to want to fix that and charge for it, too. You can definitely send a camera in for a CLA expecting a low three-digit cost and getting a repair estimate for US$500-1000 when the technician examines the camera and finds something clearly needing fixing. That includes some cosmetic things (other than some brassing/wear). 

There are other possibilities, as well. Mirror alignments can slip, which has an impact on focus performance. In the case of the D800 specifically, if the back frame breaks—a liability that isn't in the other bodies and affects a small number of D800's—the focus sensor alignment is no longer guaranteed, and that can lead to the same symptoms you note. Unfortunately, a frame break means the camera is totaled and can't be repaired (at least economically). 

"Sounds like 70-300 AF-P DX is lighter, smaller, and also lower cost though with a small degradation in quality. Guessing that the quality drop-off may not even be discernable by me. Seems like giving up a bit of  quality might be a reasonable trade-off given probability of going FX is very low."

I've been getting a lot of these 70-300mm AF-P DX versus AF-P FX comments and questions ever since I posted my reviews. To sum up, I've written that the FX version is better. I'll stand by that. My FX version measures at, near, or slightly above the 70-200mm f/4 at equal settings, which is pretty remarkable. And I now have enough experience with other samples to see that my lens sample isn't an exception. On the other hand, my DX version measures above the older 55-300 DX lens, but not as good as the FX 70-300mm version. And I've found more sample variation with the DX version than the FX.

That said, beyond sample variation I've discovered another issue that sometimes comes into play: AF Fine Tune. I've long suspected a slight bias to the tuning of the D3xxx/D5xxx bodies, which don't support AF Fine Tune. I've had a few people report to me that on those bodies the DX version of the 70-300mm AF-P looks better to them than the FX version. In one case I had that person AF Fine Tune on another body, in another, I did the test. Sure enough, with fine tuning the FX version was better than the DX version in both cases. But on the original body without AF Fine Tune, the DX version looked a bit better.

Thus, it gets a little tricky to write something that's definitive. But I still see nothing that stops me from re-iterating my original statement. Now having seen the output from a handful of samples of both the DX and FX version, on AF Fine Tuned bodies the FX version should clearly end up with better results. On bodies that can't be AF Fine Tuned, you may find samples where the DX version looks better than the FX version. 

Next, here's the most recent part of an exchange one customer and I have been having. The customer's stated problem: AF-S lenses continue to focus, but AF-D lenses no longer focus on his camera:

"Wanted to update you on the Nikon's customer service drama. Managed to have {name} at Nikon HQ troubleshoot my D610. He asked me to send some unedited photos from the camera. I gladly obliged and took photos with the AF-S and AF-D lenses to have a point of comparison between the two. I had a feeling he was going to give me some BS answer. And true enough, he sent me this:

'Thank you for your images, however this camera was set to Continuous Autofocus and 3D tracking. This is incorrect for a still subject and the camera may or may not capture sharp images. As such, these do not demonstrate a problem with the camera at this time. Please switch to camera settings designed to focus on a stationary subject and raise the flash indoors to test a focus issue so the camera has enough light. If you use Single Area AF, make sure the subject in the AF area has enough contrast to allow the AF sensor to grab focus. Shooting a white flower with the AF area surrounded by white will not allow the camera to autofocus. Also, we can only troubleshoot with Nikon products and with AF Fine Tune switched OFF.' —{name}

Not sure how their software would tell them if the AF system is working or it is only determined by setting it to a certain setting to find out if the AF is defective. From what I understand from his email, their troubleshooting software (if there is one) only works on one setting and not for others?

He must really think I'm an idiot for setting it the way I did. For one thing I've used 3D tracking and Continuous focus for over 25 years on still subjects and dynamic subjects and worked fine. I shot all the photos with the same lighting condition albeit different lenses. The AF-S lenses focused nicely, AF-Ds, nothing.

I sent {name} another set of photos with the settings he wanted on the camera. (He did not tell me what settings they need to be in the first place).

AF Fine Tune OFF, provide a non distracting background, turn on flash, set to Single AF Servo Auto Area, clean contacts on AF-D lenses with isopropyl alcohol.

The images with the AF-D lenses still came out blurry as expected. Not sure where this is really going at this point. They've managed to stall any resolution to this problem.

I really think I am ready to switch now, really don't deserve this drama. I really think Nikon doesn't like to keep me a customer anyway because they don't really listen and they think I don't know how to use a camera."

Ugh. Every few months I get an exchange like this. Nikon has looked at his camera prior to this email and pronounced it fine. It obviously isn't fine, though at one time it was. Whether it will ever be fine again and whether this person stays a Nikon customer is another story [read on].

Autofocus problems are the toughest to solve. So many variables have to be considered and dealt with, and it's tough to control for them all. Nikon is trying to get the customer to control a bunch of them here, but this just puts the onus on the customer, and Nikon still may not consider that there's anything they can or should do, which seemed to be the case here.

Of course, Nikon's not alone in this. I've heard similar horror stories about other brands, just not as often as I do with Nikon. That doesn't absolve Nikon, but as the camera business collapsed in volume I'm seeing more and more resistance to customer service and repair across the board. Lloyd Chambers quoted Roger Cicala at Lensrentals about Panasonic lens repair for instance: "The worst part of Panasonic's repair service is they charge a $75 to just look at the lens. Very often they then say it's unrepairable but that was $75. If it is unrepairable they'll offer to replace it with a refurbished lens for about the cost of a new lens. They also say a very large portion are unrepairable, much higher than other manufacturers."

But again, from a customer standpoint, all you're doing when you stall, put the onus on the customer, deny, or look at the product and find "nothing wrong with it" or that it is "unrepairable" is that the customer will then be mad at you and spread poor word of mouth about you and your products. 

The difference between AF-S and AF-D lenses is mostly this: AF-S has an internal motor to focus, AF-D uses the external motor in the camera to focus. Thus, my very first reaction when hearing this customer's problem was whether or not the in-camera focus motor is working properly. My second was whether or not the lens is making proper contact (thus Nikon's "clean the contacts"). 

What I would have directed the customer to do is this: use Live View. Are both lenses focusing the same, and how much longer did the AF-D lens take? Did it step fast or slow, did it hunt? Then repeat the same test with regular focus. 

And if I'm Nikon, I want to see the lenses and the camera together and try to duplicate the customer's problem. When I receive them, I'm going to not just put them on a test device to see if they report any problems, I'm actually going to take the time to shoot some examples just as the customer might. 

That last bit seems to not happen at NikonUSA during repairs. Put it on the machine, fix what the machine reports needs fixing, put it on the machine again to see that it no longer reports an error, box it up and ship it back to the customer. Yet almost all of the "camera needed to go back to Nikon a second (or third) time" repair reports I get would have never had a a second roundtrip to the repair center if someone had done that one critical thing (test off the machine both before and after repair: verify that the thing you saw before the repair isn't still being seen after the repair).

Unfortunately, the only thing that can really be done is to keep escalating with Nikon. They tend to be reluctant, but eventually give in. And eventually they usually figure out what was wrong.  But note the customer's last paragraph: "I am ready to switch now." 

I've mentioned the rampage of cost cutting at Nikon before. At some point that cost cutting starts to lead to customers moving on. The bottom line here is that this customer does not feel he is being treated well, that Nikon is stalling, and that he still has a camera that doesn't function as it once did. Those three things together are telling him that maybe he's better off with a different product. For a company like Nikon that's seeing clear market share loss, I don't know why you'd do anything to send a once happy customer to a competitor.

The good news. Nikon eventually decided to give this customer a refurbished D610 that doesn't seem to have the problem. But again, you have to escalate, often several times, before you get resolution, and that can be frustrating.

"I read your review and what you have to say about the D7500 with great interest. I have struggled for a year with the poor perception many photographers have of this camera on the internet. It came to the point where I felt embarrassed to use this camera.

The biggest grief for me was when I added two SB-5000, the WR-R10 and WR-T10 for studio work. I am not a pro, and I had never used radio triggers before, just optical ones. When I tried to set everything up, I failed. I looked a the user's guides (for both camera and flash) and I couldn't find my answers. It turns out, the instructions were poorly laid out for somebody who had never used the radio system.

I called Nikon and their tech reps started telling me that the D7500 is not compatible for radio trigger!!  I couldn't believe this. I had to call 3 times to get one that would tell me what to do. In fact, it was a detail that I had missed. I called the shop where I bought the radio control kit, they told me that the camera didn't do radio control!!  That was the ultimate. I nearly returned the camera. Finally, after 3 calls, a tech rep was able to walk me through the settings. It turns out, many people were like me, uncertain how to set up.

But, in this context, I have no clue why they treated their own camera this way. I got very disgusted because it meant they didn't care for customers who felt this camera fitted their needs.  

It's often very hard for me to get answers to questions I may have about this camera.  As you said, it came with powerful new features. They never promoted those features, so many people don't even know about those hidden gems.(I have been using the camera for a year and have discovered its new features, finally).

I also have to say that even the local Nikon reps I have met showed no interest in this camera. Over time, this made me feel horrible.

It was nice to read that you wondered about the same things as I did regarding promoting this camera. I am grateful for your input because I know people listen to you. They think the camera sucks, is a D6000, but then, after they read your entry, start thinking differently.

In my case I felt awful because not too many D7500 owners actually do work with the SB-5000, I think. I have two of them, and it works nicely.

I discovered an issue though: In Live View (LV), when using both optical and radio, and manual mode for the flashes, the optical flashes won't fire. They will only fire when using TTL. It's totally fine when not in LV. I know that it's not a good idea to use LV, but sometimes I like to frame this way. Unfortunately, I also forget to get out of LV, and so I don't get my shots. I use one or two SB-700s when I mix optical and radio. It took four calls to Nikon to sort this out (after several reps again insisted that the D7500 didn't support radio control of the flashes) and for them to recognize that there is, indeed, a problem. They were able to replicate it. And then the local reps kept telling me they never experienced the problem, but that's because they don't use this camera!! It drives me absolutely crazy because I would frame in LV, and then move away and forget to get out. Since I use the remote (WR-T10), it's easy to forget.

But, in general, I love the camera, and the videos it produces. It's a good one that should have been marketed differently. Promoting a product sufficiently well and at least fighting back against the bashing  also empowers its users instead of making them feel bad. I did feel bad. Of course, I suppose that the casual user won't care. But I take my photography seriously even if I am a hobbyist!"

Not really a question here, more of a long comment. But one that's important: I keep getting emails from people who get a wrong answer from NikonUSA customer support. It's also very difficult for these customers to get Nikon to try to replicate something that might be a bug in the firmware. Generally users have to be very insistent in both cases. It seems that the general perception at NikonUSA customer support is that the customer doesn't know what they're doing. That probably is often the case, but you want the customer to have a positive experience, not feel like they were treated like a dummy. I should probably further point that this particular customer was a woman. I'd hate to think that there's an automatic bias at NikonUSA customer service that a woman might be less knowledgable and capable than a man and that this skewed her experience. 

As for the D7500, I'm happy you like it. It's a very good camera that isn't getting the love from Nikon corporate that it should. 

"Regarding AF Fine Tune: Tamron tells me to save a file to my desktop for each camera and change the settings when I move the lens from one camera to the other. May be the most accurate but not practical when I change in the wild or at a sporting event.

Sigma says to adjust to the camera I use the most and then micro adjust other cameras to the lens.

Brad Hill sets the lens to a compromise setting weighted to the camera he thinks he will put it on the most. Not perfect but we may be as good as any.

What does Thom say?"

Another ugh. AF Fine Tune has opened up many cans of worms. The problem here is the difference between what the lenses do and what the cameras do. Sigma and Tamron now both have USB docking stations that can change the firmware in the lens and leave different tunings in the lens. Obviously, the Nikon cameras (D7500 and above) can adjust and save focus tune settings, but in the camera

The problem here is that you need to know where the real issue is. And that's not so easy to determine, particularly if you only have one or two camera bodies and only a small number of lenses. 

Let's say I had a half dozen camera bodies and a dozen lenses. Let's further assume that I exhaustively tested every combination and permutation (all lenses on all cameras). I'd have a pretty good idea at that point where any outliers were, as a problem should follow body (or lens). If I knew that, then it's simple: if the problem is the body, AF Fine Tune in the body and leave the lens alone. If the problem is the lens, then AF Fine Tune the lens firmware.

Unfortunately, it's not that simple. One problem that comes into play is that the Nikon bodies don't always recognize a third party lens uniquely. In a perfect world, the camera body would recognize lens type, lens serial number, and lens focal length and have a table that dealt with all the possible combinations of that (e.g., you've got two of the same type of lens, but they have different adjustments necessary at different focal lengths). That's not how it works, though. 

So at some point you have to figure out the best compromise. If my body is pretty consistently in the +5 to -5 range with all my other lenses, I don't think that I've got a body problem (and I should note that at the moment, my D7500, D500, D850, and D5 all are even closer to 0 than that). I rarely AF Fine Tune any lens that falls in that range. If my body is consistent with other lenses but one lens is an outlier (e.g. more than 5 off from the rest of your gear), you have to AF Fine Tune that outlier. I'd tend to do that with the body if the body recognizes the lens uniquely. I'd tend to do that with the lens if I've got a lot of bodies and the lens is consistently wrong on all of them, or the lens is not uniquely ID'ed by the camera body. 

But until something changes, there's not going to be a "perfect way." 

"I'd love to have a "programmable display", on the back of camera or even the top LCD.  Specifically, I'd like a built in DOF calculator. I'd have to enter the estimated subject distance, of course (just use the dials), but the camera knows the focal length and f-stop and sensor size... it would be really useful for learners like me to know how narrow the DOF is, so I can stop down to avoid too much out of focus. Yes, I have a DOF calculator on my phone, but it does the camera knows 2 of 3 variables, and would be faster."

I'd do this differently. We're all carrying our smartphones, so why can't the smartphone and camera actually communicate correctly? Pentax recently published an SDK for their DSLRs, and it illustrates part of the problem: camera makers aren't exposing all of their bits and pieces in a way that I could usefully program something externally to do all the things I can think of that might be useful to do. 

But in my "perfect world" there would either be a short cable between my smartphone sitting in the camera's hotshoe or very complete use of Bluetooth/Wi-Fi at full speed to expose the camera's settings/state and allow control of it. What we have today is a somewhat kludgy and slow variation of that. Which makes the following impossible: frame your shot, set your exposure, look at your smartphone and see what the reported DOF is and possibly flick up or down to increase or decrease DOF. Oh, and I should get to choose how DOF is calculated ;~). 

The problem with doing "more" in the camera is that it just makes an already complex device even more complex. Your start having an overloaded UI that confuses the user. For example, we've added both Interval timer shooting and Time-lapse to our cameras now. We ended up with two menu functions on different menus that have lots of duplicate settings. So when Nikon says the D850 does 8K time-lapse, it doesn't. It does 8K+ Interval timer shooting that you can make a time-lapse from. For time-lapse it only does 4K. 

"I am a current nikon user with a D500 and 500mm f/4 FL ED lens combo. I am getting on in years and can no longer manage the heavy rig so I am going to downsize.

Because my interest is Bird Photography, I need to have at least 500mm equivalent at the long end and I'm currently considering the Fuji X-H1 with the 100-400mm lens versus the D850 with the 200-500mm lens.

The fairly lightweight Fuji combination is appealing and gets the most length with the APS-C camera and 100-400 zoom lens whilst the D850 being full frame will get me 500mm with the nikon 200-500 zoom attached.

I am wondering if you have any views/advice on this please."

The camera marketing and Internet hype machines are clearly confusing people. First, I'd say that the D500 is a better camera than the X-H1 and they're both APS-C sensors. So, why the heck wouldn't you just add the Nikkor 80-400mm to your kit and be done with it? Sure, the Nikon kit is 2430g versus the Fujifilm kit at 2048g, which is a difference of 13 ounces. But you're coming from a kit that's 3960g. Both choices are several pounds lighter than where you are, and much more easy to handhold. 

I'm not sure how the D850 gets into this discussion, as the combo you cite is 3215g, which is much higher than the APS-C choices. My guess is that you're trying to juggle multiple desires at the same time, and that almost always means that something gets compromised. In this case, the extra pixels come with a weight penalty. 

There's an even better choice if you don't mind giving up zooming: the D500 with the 300mm f/4E PF, which comes in at 1845g with the TC-14E.   

"Beginning on May 4th the biggest week in birding began. This is the biggest warbler event in the country.

Canon brings in US$2 million of equipment to loan out for 24 hours. I even looked at their 800mm f/5.6. Canon had a full range of lenses and cameras to loan out, but Nikon only brought out 5 pairs of binoculars across from Canon's table in a weatherproof tent with a wood floor. Other dealers were also there too. Tripods, scopes & binoculars and a host of other bird suppliers.

This week long event brings millions and millions of economic  dollars to Port Clinton, Ohio and Oregon, Ohio for motels and entertainment and RV parks.

I walked through the parking lot that my truck was in and looked at license plates for state names. below is that list: Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Texas, New York, Maine, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Kentucky, Connecticut, Missouri, Tennessee, New Jersey, Louisiana, Oregon, Washington, & California, Massachusetts, Indiana. There were two plates from  Ohio State government and US government. One plate was from Quebec. This is from just one parking lot. There are two more.

Nikon's excuse for not being here is it's not big enough.

Nikon would loan out and maybe sell more equipment than they would at the Indy 500 or the US Open. I fail to understand what does Canon see in the biggest week in birding that Nikon fails to see? The way Nikon is being run it doesn't really surprise me. After all they have had my 200-500mm in repair for 3 months for basically a board change.

Nikon has again missed a very good opportunity here to meet and greet their customer base. Even the guy with Nikon's five binoculars was not present for most of the week. He came in, got a table assignment and put out five binoculars and left. Way to go Nikon.

I saw only one 180-400mm f/4E and thousands of 200-500mms. Why would the average photographer drop US$14,000 on a 180-400mm lens when a 200-500mm is only US$1400? It would a no-brainer for me if I didn't have a 200-500mm already. I tried calling Nikon but they do not have a published corporate phone number. There is only a help line number.

The event (May 4th to May 14th) brings in enough people to fill three parking lots and an overload of cars in front of active eagle's nests. There are cars, trucks and campers from one half of the country's states.

If it was worth it and I could afford it I'd sell my Nikon system and replace it with Canon. Nikon's management does nothing to change their position in photographer industry and by refusing to appear at this event they are racing to the bottom."

Okay, there were a couple of questions in there I think ;~). What does Canon see that Nikon doesn't? Consumer level marketing. CanonUSA is still investing heavily in that, NikonUSA seems to have cut that back quite a bit, and they weren't good at it to start with. That's going to start hurting Nikon now in the US in big ways, for the very reasons you cite. 

Your other question was about why you'd buy the 180-400mm at an order of magnitude in price  above the 200-500mm. Well, one would hope that it performs far better. Of course, you weren't able to discern if that's true because there wasn't one around for you to try. Heck, there isn't one around for me to try at the moment, either, so I can't help you by answering that question. 

I feel like a parrot sometimes, as I keep repeating the same phrases. Nikon's marketing basically is poor at the moment. (I'm sure if I were a parrot I'd simplify and repeat: Nikon poor, Nikon poor, Nikon poor...) I hope there's a time in the near future where I can write something different. Nikon needs to engage with their customers and tell the story of why those customers should shoot Nikon. I can tell the story, why can't Nikon?

"Does NikonUSA get advance notice of product from Japan?"

Yes. As do the other Nikon subsidiaries around the world. How much notice is another question, as I know of examples that have ranged from reasonable (months) to unreasonable (weeks/days). 

Examples where mules (often prototypes disguised in older bodies) have made the rounds of the subsidiaries have occurred as much as a year in advance. General discussion of future products does tend to get disclosed into the subsidiaries on a regular basis, but the detailed level stuff you're probably really asking about—individual specs, features, performance, etc.—doesn't tend to happen until the marketing materials need to be produced. And that generally is about the same time that the products go into actual manufacturing, which can be one to three months prior to launch. 

Ultimately, the key critical path element is often SKUs (stocking unit numbers used by retailers). The big retailers need this information in advance. They'll often get placeholder SKUs with limited information so that they prepare their databases for the actual receipt of information and product. 

I suspect, however, that the reason you're asking has to do with rumors and when to believe them. It's when the marketing materials and/or SKUs are being produced that the usual rumors tend to get real definition and can be relied upon. At least as far as a new product coming to market; not necessarily in terms of details (see comments on timing, above).

We have seen examples of both marketing materials and SKUs pulled by Nikon corporate recently. The DL cameras, for example, are a very good example. They went through a full pre-announce cycle (SKU assignment, marketing materials produced, prototypes circulating through subsidiaries, translation of materials, subsidiary product managers getting full briefings, etc.) and even a final product announcement from Nikon itself. Only for everything to be pulled a year later. But there have been other recent examples that haven't gotten public disclosure where a product got to an early pre-release stage and then halted.  

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