Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Nikon D200 Banding Issues: Unfortunate Situation

I got a lame put-down comment from an anonymous Fuji SLR Talk regular the other day,criticising me for referencing dPreview here in this blog space. "dPreview this,dPreview that," was his closing put down (weak I know), but it begs the question, why dPreview as a point of reference? Well, I think dPreview is _the_ most influential and widely-visited digital photography web site in the entire world. dPreview has the most readers, the most news articles,the most reviews,the most hits,the most distinct forums, and the broadest user base. dPreview is simply THE most influential digital photography web site,and since this blog appears on the web it is only natural to use dPreview as an occasional basis for discussions here. With great power goes great responsibility; with high readership goes great influence; with widespread popularity goes widespread discussion. It's really simple, anonymous critic--dPreview is the equivalent of the town square of digital photography on the web; there are professional writers and reviewers, as well as common folks of all abilities and ages gathering at dPreview; dPreview is also quite egalitarian,and rabble mixes with royalty all the time.

The Luminous Landscape, Fred Miranda,and the Rob Galbraith web sites also command a lot of respect, along with other sites in the UK, Europe,and the USA. One thing that I have seen in the last few days on these different web sites is the Nikon D200's apparent issue of banding, with vitriolic accusations and slanderous put-downs from those who try to dismiss, sweep over,and brush aside the many banding complaints coming from owners of new D200's. Many self-styled experts seem to take the position that in cases of 1)severe under-exposure or 2)severe overexposure, banding can occur. What's funny is that there are self-styled experts claiming that under exposure is the culprit,and others who claim banding is the result of gross over-exposure; the "funny" part is that these blowhards have been attributing banding problems to nothing but operator error and extreme exposure situations.

I've spent a fair amount of time looking at samples of banding from as many different users as I can, and I think the issue might be electromagnetic interference. There's also some evidence that the problem might stem from the Blue channel in underexposure situations such as when doing nightscapes or under tungsten lighting. Another possible cause of banding might be demosaicing errors particular to individual RAW converters, with Nikon's own Nikon Capture perhaps being the worst converter at either causing ,or "enhancing" the banding problem. Incorrect white balance could be a contributing factor some say. Basically, there seem to be two types of problems. The first banding problem is from people whose cameras seem to exhibit banding on a LOT of frames, all the time,and on normal and not on extraordinary scenes, and within the limits of normal exposure situations. Those people seem to be in the minority, but it surely seems to me that they have particularly bad problems. Bad cameras perhaps, with some type of faulty component causing easily-seen banding. There are very few people who make this claim, but I have seen some examples of banding that is SO SEVERE it just looks like some type of component in the afflicted camera is out of specification. These people have LEGITIMATE complaints.

The second type of banding does seem to be similar to the Fuji S2's old "track noise" issue, where people try and lift the shadows up on severely underexposed captures, revealing banding. There also seems to be banding in the dark portions of images which have some very over-exposed areas. Quite a number of very competent photographers have stated that they cannot get their D200's to show ANY banding problems.

As I said earlier,with great readership goes great influence,and I think it's kind of a shame that the "D200 banding issue" has gotten so,so much negative press on the dPreview forums, and especially the D1/D2/D100/D200 forum. As it stands now, there are quite a number of people who have been scared away from the D200 due to worries about potential banding problems. I think Nikon is losing some face, and some sales, as a result of the high readership and the tremendous amount of influence the big web sites bring with them. Overall, my gut feeling is that there are a few cameras with faulty components or faulty firmware, and the vast majority of D200's are perfectly fine. What irritates me the MOST however are the few self-styled experts who have made exceedingly arrogant posts about how the D200's banding issue is ENTIRELY the result of inexperienced operators. The sanctimonious a-holes who have repeatedly posted that the D200 banding issue is nothing but the natural result of "extreme" under- or over-exposure make my blood boil. There have been a handful of prominent forum posters who have repeatedly put down D200 owners as being the culprit behind D200 banding problems. These same posters have repeatedly shown their arrogance by defending Nikon hardware, for months on end. These arrogant A-holes need not be named; they are the same old group of grouchy Nikonophiles who defended Nikon's D2h camera, and said that problem of the light meters going dead in D2h after D2h after D2h was somehow a "myth"; these same A-holes overlooked the B-GLOD problems of the D70; these same jerks also stated on-line that those who had focusing issues with their brand new $5,000 Nikon D2x bodies were sufering from "technique" problems, and "lack of experience". An excellent thread on Nikon Cafe shows that no less than world-famous Nikon authority Bjorn Rorslett had a HUGE banding issue with a Nikon D200. Bjorn prefers to call the problem "striping". Check out what he has to say here,in this thread from Nikon Cafe:http://www.nikoncafe.com/vforums/showthread.php?t=60059

It seems that Nikon has a very unfortunate situation here with the D200 and the banding or striping issue. SOME cameras show VERY BAD banding problems. The fact that Nikon HAS made great products in the past is irrelevant, and just because some sanctimonious web poster has a good D200 in fine working order does NOT mean that those complaining about banding/striping are merely inexperienced newbies or those who are "pushing" the cameras beyond normal,expected limits. What we are seeing is a group of people who are such Nikonphiles that they show an utter and TOTAL lack of respect for the opinions and experiences of those who have been sold bad products from Nikon.

First there were the 70-200VR electrical problems (hey, it happened to my 70-200VR),then the D2h dead light meter problems, then the D70 and its Blinking Green Light Of Death [BGLOD for short] sudden death syndrome, and then the D2x focus problems. What has happened is that Nikon has refused to acknowledge these issues publicly, and a whole cadre of self-appointed Nikon defenders have taken to public character assasinations of those people who have the balls to state on the web that, "Hey--my new Nikon product is defective!" Instead of being met with sympathy, there has been a loose cabal of Nikonphile defenders of the faith who have repeatedly and very aggressively refused to acknowledge that there HAVE BEEN numerous,genuine problems with the 70-200VR lens, the D70, the D2h,the early D2x's, and now with some D200's.
It is an unfortunate situation that this small minority of Nikonophile Defenders of The Faith have been allowed free reign to dismiss and to denigrate the unfortunate people who have been sold _defective_ products which happen to bear the Nikon brand.

BAD components can bring down otherwise solidly-engineered problems,and Quality Assurance standards can fail to be met. In the vernacular, "shit happens". What pisses me off so much is to see the number of self-styled experts who have so,so aggressively gone after people who have payed good money for a Nikon product, and who have had their abilities and their integrity openly and pointedly questioned when they pointed out that THEIR Nikon product is not performing satisfactorily. I think in fact that dPreview ought to start moderating its forums,and begin a process of culling out some of the Nikonophiles who ceaselessly defend Nikon products and who shout in the most-popular forums of the world that *everything* going wrong is the fault of newbies,and that *all*Nikon products are somehow perfect.

It's really unfortunate that the cadre of Nikon defenders have grown so used to troll-calling and verbal bashing that they cannot even show five minutes' worth of empathy and open-mindedness before they post lengthy defenses of the Nikon company, and all of its products, and that they are allowed to repeatedly slam people who raise legitmate complaints with the products which they have payed good money for. I've been a Nikon shooter since 1982, and frankly, the web has been good for consumers who want to be able to go to the various web resources to find out the unvarnished TRUTH about various pieces of photography equipment. Before the web, we would have never known about the bad batches of CCD's which made their way into the FujiFilm FinePix S2 Pro's 32,xxx series bodies, which FujiFilm is repairing almost free, even on out of warranty bodies. Before the web, the 70-200 VR's electrical problems and their widespread nature could have been kept secret, but thanks to dPreview and other leading web sites, product deficiencies and design errors and bad components are all openly discussed on the web. It's a sad fact, but there are a good number of Nikonophiles who act as if their cameras are their "units", and who feel that any and all criticism of Nikon products somehow reflects poorly on their units (read unit as 'penis'),or reflects poorly on their judgement or on their buying decsions.The rampant Fanboi nature of a small segment of self-styled Nikon experts has become increasingly reprehensible to me; these are the guys who suggest that people with complaints merely "post a picture", or "go take some pictures", and so on. What's funny is that many of them can barely shoot!

Overall, the Nikon D200's banding issue has been a very unfortunate public relations debacle for the Nikon company,not just in terms of allowing some bad cameras to get out to the general public, but also in the way some people who think they are leaders of the digital photography movement have behaved like total A-holes in the wake of yet another Nikon campaign of silence in response to widespread product defects.

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