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My Nikon D800 Purchasing Adventure

Maybe you have heard of the new Nikon D800 DSLR.  They say it’s just about the most amazing camera ever. More megapixels than anybody else. 36 MP! Equal or better than the $40,000 medium format cameras.

So, in spite of that fact that it, with a lens, is worth more than my car, and is a substantial fraction of my annual income, I ordered one on February 27 of this year (2012). Apparently a couple weeks after everyone else who wanted one. So I would have to wait. One vendor said it would take a year!

While waiting I read lots of blogs and blurbs about how fantastic it is but also how some D800’s have shockingly bad problems with focusing. There are two focus problems, one instantly noticeable, the other more subtle. There was also a lockup problem.

Nikon is not admitting to any focus problem, as of July 27. They seem want us to think it is user error, but according to some blogs, Nikon is fixing the defective cameras.

I was very patient and it finally arrived Friday, 13th of July.
As soon as I looked through the viewfinder I had trouble focusing the viewfinder.
Maybe my eyes are getting worse?
But pretty soon it was clear this camera had very serious trouble focusing auto or manual.
It usually autofocused pretty well on my brand new Nikon 28mm f1.8, though. But on other lenses, forget it.

My trusty D300 never had this kind of problem!

After a day I convinced myself it was seriously defective and called Adorama, where I bought it. They’d be sending UPS around with a prepaid label! Good for Adorama. After receiving it they sent me another one.

So, on July 24, a replacement D800 arrived.

This one seemed OK. I could focus through the viewfinder.

I took it out for a walk around the neighborhood.

I noticed a British Airways Boeing 777 overhead at 38,000 feet, flying from London Gatwick to Tampa-St Pete, Florida*,  so I snapped a picture of it. I was happy with the sharpness.

It worked well with the new 28mm. Here’s a picture of my neighbor’s barn with the 28mm.

And here is a spot near the center of that picture full scale 1 to 1, which is 10 times magnification relative to the picture above. Very sharp!


But with my big high tech Sigma 50mm 1.4, which works great on my D300, the D800 focused like this. This one is also a 1 to 1 pixel crop.

Maybe the Sigma lens isn’t “compatible enough?”

Some new D800 owners reported that the “left focus points” give blurry pictures, and there was a description of a test. At night I tried the “left focus point test” with the Nikon 28mm (so Nikon could not point fingers). The center focus point worked great:

The left focus point focuses like this !

This was obviously very bad, and it was with the 28mm Nikon.

So today I called Adorama and they will be sending UPS again with a shipping label.
Adorama gives me the choice of getting another D800 fairly soon, or a refund.
I think I’ll take the refund, and probably buy a D800 once the new cameras are coming off the line without these problems.

So Adorama deserves kudos for handling the D800 debacle. I hope Nikon reimburses them for the expenses of handling this.
I am not so happy with Nikon. They should come clean and issue a statement. Maybe their culture doesn’t allow that.
They can’t keep pretending it is user error without alienating their customers.

If the focus has such serious problems, who knows what else is wrong among the many hundreds of features explained very briefly in the 450? page manual. I don’t want to try a new feature a year from now and find it fails, or worse, works badly in a subtle way. Like the focus.

So I am eagerly awaiting the chance to get a good D800 and revolutionize my photography.


(*) If you wonder how I (in Massachusetts) knew which flight it was…. visit flightaware.com

2 comments to My Nikon D800 Purchasing Adventure

  • Mark W. Ellis


    Good information! The thing about many Japanese companies is that if admit their mistakes many of their senior exec’s will have to commit seppaku impacting their future earning power ….. seriously this really is a cultural thing with them. Just look at the Fukushima fiasco.

    About the flight information, I find it amazing that Homeland Security would allow such information to get out to the general public. Hell of a shot never the less.

    • Adrian

      Hi Mark – Thanks for your comments. I guess I’ll wait until I have reasonable expectation of getting a fully functional camera! I’m not sure that Flightaware makes it any easier to shoot down the planes!

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