Another Nikon Early Ship Problem?

(news and commentary) Updated

A number of early purchasers of the 300mm f/4E lens reported issues with VR at lowish shutter speeds (e.g. 1/125 second). I received dozens of reports, and complaints popped up on in high visibility on a number of Internet fora, as well. It seems that this problem presents itself most often with bare bodies (e.g. D8xx without the vertical grip installed). 

While I can’t reproduce the problem as visibly on my sample of the lens as some have, I do see inconsistency in VR on my sample at low shutter speeds around 1/125 on the D810, at least on the body w/o vertical grips. The 1/125 speed is turning out to be a common denominator amongst IS problems, and likely because of the frequency and severity of shutter slap (note I wrote shutter slap, not mirror slap). I’ve seen shutter speeds around this mark causing issues on everything from Olympus m4/3 cameras to the big pro Canon/Nikon bodies due to the front curtain shutter activation. 

Note that I’ve written for over a decade that VR (and other IS systems) should not be on by default in ILCs. That’s because they can add a loss of acuity just as easily as a gain; it all depends upon frequency/impact. As dpreview has reported, the 300mm f/4E on D8xx body combo isn’t the only time we see impacted results; I also have seen it on other lens/body combinations. 

Today Nikon issued a service advisory for the 300mm f/4E lens with D8xx bodies only. They claim a firmware update to the lens itself will fix the problem. Lenses with serial numbers 205101 and up do not need the firmware update. Also, Nikon claims the problem only is associated with the D8xx models. I’m not so sure about that (see above), but I’m still testing.

Unfortunately, those of us with D8xx cameras and the 300mm f/4E lens now have to pay shipping to have a known problem fixed (the exception seems to be Europe, where several subsidiaries have a free return request form you can fill out). It’s almost as if Nikon just don’t get it. You’d think after the D600, D800/D800E, and D750 problems Nikon might actually get what they need to do by now, but apparently not. Their mistake. They need to update the firmware for no cost (including all shipping) to those loyal folk that bought a Nikon product out of the gate. 

The fact that NikonUSA is once again putting the burden on the customer just is going to say to that loyal customer that (a) they shouldn’t be so loyal, and (b) they shouldn’t buy a product that’s just been introduced by Nikon. Shameful on the part of NikonUSA, really. I don’t care if they think that by not acknowledging something that they aren’t being shamed. I’m here to tell them: shame on you.   

But there’s a bigger shame here in Nikon QA itself. The fact that Nikon is promoting high end FX DSLRs and didn’t catch this problem in testing tells me they’re not testing enough or well enough. Were the issue only with an older DSLR—e.g. the D90 or something like that—it would be a different story. But to have one of your current top end cameras clearly exhibit the problem with a new lens means you just didn’t test the new lens well enough before releasing it.

Obviously, my review of this lens is in limbo awaiting resolution of this issue. Which is a shame, because optically it performs quite well, and having such a small and light 300mm is definitely handy. 

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