My camera won't operate. All I see is a blinking low battery indicator.

This is classic DBS (dead battery syndrome). It's caused by the camera's computer seeing a signal from the lens that's out of the expected range. There are four potential causes that I know of. 

First, some background. This problem has been present in the high-end Nikon DSLRs since at least the D200. Some pros say they saw it on earlier models, too, but the D200 was the first body on which I encountered it. I've found it to be more common with VR lenses, particularly when VR activates. They draw more power from the camera and this may be related to the improper signal on the mount communications that causes the camera to shut down. 

When DBS was most prevalently reported (around the intro of the D3 and D300), the typical scenario was this: you'd take a photo with one of the VR lenses and the camera would shut down before you could take another. Turning off the camera and turning it back on would "restore" the camera to proper operation. So what are the four causes? 

  1. Dirty contacts or poor contact between lens and camera. Anything that impairs the transfer of signal between lens and camera can produce DBS-like symptoms. For dirty contacts, use DeOxit to clean them (be sure to read instructions carefully: you don't apply DeOxit directly to the contacts). For poor seating of camera and lens, you'll likely have to have Nikon look at the two.
  2. Pre-fix firmware. Nikon altered their D3 and D300 firmware in a way that seems to have corrected the problem for most people. Make sure you're using the latest firmware. I had two people on my Botswana 2010 workshop who came with cameras with older firmware that exhibited the problem, but since I had carried a full set of firmware updates with me, we were able to fix this in the field. But if you're headed to the wilds, you need to make sure you're using the latest firmware before you head out on your trip and find that you've got DBS.
  3. A bad part in the camera. DBS can also be caused by the part in the camera that's managing information from the lens being bad. From what I can tell, there were some cameras that weren't fixed by #1 and #2 that only stopped exhibiting DBS when Nikon repaired the camera and replaced this part. Unfortunately, if you get this far in the list, the camera has to return to a Nikon authorized repair center to be cured.
  4. Third party lenses. I've encountered more than one third party lens that will produce DBS on some NIkon bodies. For example, I have a Tamron 28-300mm that will produce it almost every time VR is re-engaged after taking a shot on my D700, but never triggers it on my D3. Yet there are other Tamron 28-300mm lenses that work fine on my D700. So the problem is clearly linked to the lens. Nikon won't touch this problem, they'll refer you to the third party lens maker.  
text and images © 2017 Thom Hogan
portions Copyright 1999-2016 Thom Hogan-- All Rights Reserved
Follow us on Twitter: @bythom, hashtags #bythom, #dslrbodies