Nikon QC and Repairs

August 25, 2012  •  7 Comments

Let me skip immediately to the moral of this piece: test your Nikon gear when you first receive it, thoroughly, and if there's a problem return it for exchange or refund because Nikon (UK at least) don't seem to be very good at repairs.

A brief recap: I have a Nikon D800E with the infamous Left Side Focus Issue. It is still capable of astonishing results but with shorter focal lengths it is strongly advisable to avoid using the left-most focus point. I haven't tried to get it fixed because there is much anecdotal evidence that Nikon are still trying to bottom out the problem and because the D800 I had went back twice, without success, for the same problem, to Nikon UK at Richmond.

Now to be fair, Nikon repair was swift and courteous and they paid for P&P and when they failed to effect a repair, they at least agreed a refund.

Readers of this blog may recall my recent series of field reviews of the 24-120 F4 VRII zoom. I tested this extensively on both D800 and E bodies and find it to be a very useful and capable lens. BUT my copy had a blurry right-hand side at all but the 24 and 28mm focal lengths, and at 50MM and longer this was strong enough to compromise even moderate sized prints.

Richmond received it for repair on the 1st of August having promised to get it back to me before my vacation at the end of August. The receipt email stated that it would be completed by 15th August.

By 20th August, still sans lens, I called to chase it and on 23rd August I received it back. 

And I really, really wonder what goes on in that workshop.


Follows, crops at 85mm f5.6 from far left


_DSC3559 and after:


I wasn't complaining about the left side: it's not great but this is a zoom. It seems unchanged to possibly very slightly better after the repair.

The right hand side before:

_DSC3559-2 and after:


Again, possibly a tiny touch better but not in any way acceptable in a lens of this price - especially given that it is recommended by Nikon for use on the D800.

The repair docket says: "Check focus to Nikon Standard. Check lens resolution to Nikon standard. Check, test and clean equipment."

I can only assume that

  • Nikon's 'standard' is piss poor or
  • Richmond are not up to the job of repairing to meet it or
  • My eyesight is a lot worse than my optician thinks or
  • I have egregiously unreasonable expectations

Based on the evidence above, what do you think?

I would add this: a lot of photographers have switched to the D800 from either Medium Format or from Canon. Me for example - I have switched from both. That's a lot of new customers to impress. When you switch systems, you have to acquire a lot of new stuff at once, and test it properly. My verdict of this experience so far is, it sucks - and then it blows meaty chunks. Out of two bodies, two have been faulty out of the box and out of six lenses, three have needed repair or return though to be fair the dealer felt that one of those was OK though to me it clearly wasn't.

I am posting this not merely to vent but to warn. I am now going to take a Panny GH2 and a Sony RX100 on vacation and not bother with the Nikon gear. A left focus point that doesn't work, combined with a fuzzy right hand side on the general purpose zoom I was planning to carry, make this expensive system less viable than far more modest equipment from other manufacturers.

For those in doubt, look at these two files. One is a D800E file with 24-120, after repair, at 100mm F5.6  ISO125 and I have downsized it to the same size as a file taken on a Sony RX100, also processed from RAW. The Sony file is also F5.6 and ISO125 and at 100mm equivalent focal length from the rather good 28-100mm equivalent lens. That lens might have a shorter zoom range but it also has a much faster maximum aperture of F1.8...

Both files are 5472 pixels wide, which translates to a 27" print at 200ppi. Look at them at 50% on screen to emulate that print size.

I ask you this: if you were carrying a camera on vacation, thought you might capture some scenes worthy of exhibiting at that sort of print size and could be confident of shooting at low ISO, which would you rather take? And please ignore the fact that the Sony camera costs and weighs less than the Nikon lens alone. Just choose on IQ.


Click for full sized images






Now, one might observe that the centre resolution is better on the Nikon frame - and that would be true. But in a print the differences would reveal themselves only to the closest observer. Whereas the blurred right hand side would be clearly visible. And if one were to decide to take the Nikon, frame wider and then crop so as to lose the blur on the right, one would end up with a frame of roughly the same pixel dimensions as the Sony...

Food for thought.





Well, my experience of Nikon's UK repairs reflects yours. My d750 was returned under recall for the shutter shading issue. Mine didn't actually show any signs but I thought I'd better get it done in case I sold it. It took a good while to get sorted, despite Nikon saying they would book it in and only ask for it to be sent when they had the parts. When I did receive it back I noticed that the LCD screen protector I'd fitted as missing, there were some black particles in the viewfinder and the hotshoe had been bashed so I couldn't fit a flash. Nikon initially refused to pay for a new screen protector (they did after some phone calls and a letter). They also sent my paperwork to another photographer. I got a call from him as all my details and camera serial number were printed on it. I couldn't believe the incompetence of their service; utterly appalling.
I 100% agree. I switched to the Nikon D800 from the D7000. As my first full-frame camera, I also needed a whole new set of lenses. And what a huge headache it has been.

I have spent probably $700 just in repair-and-return related shipping costs and fees, including the cost of a D800 I rented just to make 100% sure my camera wasn't having a misaligned sensor or lens mount.

And after all that, my D800 still has the left focus issue, the 28 f/1.8 has a soft top left corner, and the 50/1.8 and 85/1.8 have tilted lens elements. And those are the lenses I kept. I returned a number of other lenses, including some erroneously due to the left AF issue (before I realized it's the camera and not the lens).

In the process I learned that Nikon service & support really sucks, especially after they closed down the El Segundo call center. And that Nikon lens quality is nothing to write home about - my Panasonic lenses for m4/3 are optically more consistent than the Nikons. And it's not just quality control - Nikon lenses have defects that are consistent across samples - meaning manufacturing is not accurate enough. This drove me crazy until I started testing multiple identical lenses on multiple identical camera bodies.

You could say that the D800 sensor is really unforgiving, but when you think of it, the 16MP m4/3 sensor used by Panasonic has a higher pixel density, and their lenses are just fine.

- Fabian

P.S. The only lens I have that is defect-free is the 24-120/4. I must have been lucky. I am super happy with this lens.
Hi from Rome, Italy. If it makes you feel better, my 24-120 f4 exhibits exactly the same behaviour on my D800e.
I find this lens as good as it can be, my almost perfect travel companion, but the right side is sooo blurry.
It's a shame these QC problems. I've been considering the D800E as my future camera since announced, but I'm also scared of these issues. I don't want to send my camera and/or lenses back to repair, one or even more times. Why is buying a D800 or Nikon lenses like playing lottery?

I do consider unnaceptable that a faulty product goes into the market, and even more unnaceptable that the company is unable to offer a consistent solution to the problem. They don't even recognize the left AF problem. They could say "we've detected this problem, we apologize for the inconveniences to our customers, but we're working on a definitive solution". But they don't.

I'm now considering other systems: Canon and Sony, mainly. Sure, they aren't bug-proof but can't be as bad as Nikon for QC.
Tim Ashley Photography
John, as per colour these two were not even white balanced, just 'as shot'. The Sony JPEGs seem to me to have good colour rendition but until Lightroom can 'do' the RAW files and has a profile, I wouldn't like to compare the output to anything else.

If your glass is good on the D700 then I would be tempted not to wait, as long as you test your 800 body for focus issues and return or keep as appropriate. It would be a shame to miss out on the wonderful files of the 800!

Daniel, the problem I have with using my Leica glass on a NEX7 is that it's not until you get to 50mm or longer that the glass can 'do it thing' and I'm afraid I like to shoot wider. I have sold my M9 but kept all the glass for now but if the M10 doesn't have an EVF then I'm afraid all the Leica glass is going....
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