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Does the Nikon D810 Have a Problem in Sub-Freezing Temperatures? Or is it the card or something else?

UPDATE: see Finder preview shot and my thoughts that follow it.

Also, I’ve seen file corruption issues myself in other Nikon bodies with SanDisk cards; see 2011: SanDisk Extreme Pro Card Failures and 2012: SanDisk Card Errors in D800E. As far as I could tell, these had nothing to do with temperature.

Corrupted Images from Nikon D810

Salim M writes:

I meant to email about this earlier, but your current user feedback post provided a good context. In your email you suggested users to pack D810 for Antarctica, Iceland, etc.

Actually, I would recommend the D800 or D800e instead. I have had problems with image corruption on D810 when temperature is dropping to -10° C /14° F or colder. I noticed the problem when I upgraded to D810 and took my new camera back to a trip to Minsk Belarus. At first I assumed it was a problem with a card. But then I tried different cards.

The real objective result was when shooting with my old D800E side-by-side with the new D810 in the Canadian Rockies last Christmas. In a cold day 20-30% of images were getting corrupted on the D810 where as there were no issues on my old D800e. This was not a single day occurrence or limited to just one type of card.

Upon meeting another group of photographers in that trip, I also heard similar anecdotal stories. Point is, for real cold weather (though costal Iceland rarely gets that cold) the old D800e might perform better than the newer D810.

DIGLOYD: that’s troubling news, Salim confirms use of Nikon batteries and Sony and Lexar cards.

Salim sent me a raw file and I confirmed the corruption with the file by opening it with a variety of raw converters.

Interesting that only RawDigger reports an error, with both Nikon Capture NX-D and Adobe Camera Raw just blithely forging on and reporting no error at all (poor engineering).

Corrupted Image from Nikon D810 (f/0 indicates non-CPU lens)
f0 @ 1/400 sec, ISO 100; 2014-12-29 09:25:32
NIKON D810 + 0.0 mm f/0.0 @ 35mm

[low-res image for bot]

Image preview in Finder

This preview is embedded in the raw file by the camera. Hence it obviously read good data from the sensor to begin, and produced a perfectly normal image for the embedded JPEG preview.

The foregoing suggests that there is no issue with the sensor, and that the issue occurs in the processing pipeline or in a compatibility issue with the card, or a problem with the card itself.

I deem the most likely theory a card problem, and possibly a counterfeit card issue, since I once experienced such image corruption issues myself with a counterfeit.

Corrupted Image preview looks fine in the Finder

Maynard S writes:

After reading about the D810 cold weather corruption problems, I was reminded of the problems a friend of mine had with his D800e. It seems that when he looked at the photos on the back of his camera, everything looked fine, no corruption problems. When he tried to import them to Phase One , many of the photos were shown as corrupted.

The problem turned out to be that he was not formatting the cards in the camera. He formatted in the computer only & residue from earlier shots were imbedded in cards. As soon as he formatted in his D800e, all problems with corruption went away.
Could these people using the D810’s be formatting in their computers? Just a thought.

DIGLLOYD: the problem is strange enough that all angles have to be considered, and it is a good idea to format cards in the camera.

I always use high capacity cards that I format once every several weeks (in the camera), using the high capacity as a tertiary backup over that time span (rather than wiping out past shoots). See Downloading and Backing Up Images In The Field.

I particularly like 64GB or higher capacity fast cards because out in the field it means I can generally leave files on the card as backups even after downloading*.

Salim M replies:

This is not my case. I format in camera, anyway. Basically I had the same experience in Minsk Belarus. I took numerous photos on the card (BTW, in regards to your prior thoughts: I transferred the photos later after arriving back to US in the warmth of my house) to noticed the photos taken were corrupted. At first my assumption was there was an issue with the card. But then I noticed the same issues in Canadian Rockies. The camera is fine to -5 maybe -10 but if I stand in the cold for too long or it gets to -20 the number this is when I start seeing corrupt images and % of corrupt images increase as well.

I finally wised up and started using a hand-warmer I put one on the camera and one in my bag to put the camera back and warm it up and then shoot again and if I did that, the images had close to 100% corruption free rates. So, I'm pretty convinced it has to do with environmental factors.

The small thumbnail (preview image) that is usually embedded in the files (which is the first thing adobe bridge shows before actually reading the full raw file) looked fine at first. But after bridge has had time to analyze the actual image then you see what seem liked a good image turn to the corrupted thumbnails (the thumbnail screenshots I sent earlier). Based on that, I'm wondering if it has something to do with the circuitry that writes the files since the thumbnail preview images seemed okay at first.

The question I need to answer is if I should send the D810 for repair before the expiration of the its warranty. I haven't done it, since Nikon's operating temperature range higher than the temperature I was using the camera in.

DIGLLOYD: If adding warmth fixes the issue, this does not necessarily implicate the camera itself. I’d like to see the issue happen with another brand that has been rock solid for me (Toshiba Exceria Pro 1066X 64GB), and known not counterfeit.

But if operation was below that specified by Nikon, maybe there really is a camera body problem.

Bridge will use its rendered version after first showing the embedded preview, so no mystery there.

Colin H writes:

Interesting piece on Salim M and the unfortunate file corruption issues. It seems this is most likely a camera or CF card created issue that is driven by weather conditions, especially given the antidotal information from others he was with on the trip. Other photographers who work with the D810 routinely in cold weather may be able to shed more light on the topic.

I’d encourage him to send the camera in immediately and get the issue on the record with Nikon.

Although far less likely, if he is using the same set of equipment to ingest the images once he returns home, checking his card readers and cables may be in order. I have had images be corrupt after ingest and assumed they were ruined on the card by the camera only to later learn that the card reader or cable used to ingest the images was bad. If he still has the images on the card it may be worth trying to ingest them with a different card reader or even an entirely different card reader and computer to see if any different results occur.

I realize this is a long shot given the additional information we have, but hardware does fail, too.

DIGLLOYD: Some stage of the process or some part is failing. I suspect the storage card myself, not the camera per se, since it generates a proper low-res JPEG. Salim indicates that he did try downloading again in warmer conditions.

Richard S writes:

Photographers who use photo equipment under cold conditions should be aware that there are very specific protocols to follow to avoid malfunctioning equipment. When camera equipment (or any other precision equipment) is moved between freezing temperatures and room temperatures, condensation will form in the camera and this can be very damaging to both mechanical and electronic assemblies, especially if the equipment is subsequently exposed to sub-freezing temperatures. It is generally not the fault of the manufacturer nor is it the result of poor testing.

DIGLLOYD: I don’t think anyone has made the claim of fault as yet. It is an issue being observed, and that is the point of the discussion, and the condensation issues is certainly a very important area to consider as a possible culprit. And if the D800E does not fail and the D810 does, one must first ask whether they were handled differently, or wether the model might matter.

Jef M writes:

One of the issues one has to watch closely in Texas is the dew point because it can be higher than the temperature in most air conditioned homes. To acclimate the camera and lenses I place my equipment in a Seal Line clear Dry Bag then move to a moderate temperature area where the temp is higher than the dew point. Once the equipment is warmer than the dew point it's safe to take out of the bag and use.

DIGLLOYD: always a good idea to pay attention to humidity, including fungus in humid climes.

Raul J writes:

I saw your article about the Nikon D810 issues in sub-freezing temperatures and I thought I should tell you about a similar experience I had. My experience was not in sub-freezing temperatures but on a normal summer day. I experienced the same problem a year ago with my then one week old Nikon D810. It was not a super hot day and I did not leave the camera exposed to any extreme conditions. I contacted Nikon's tech support upon my return to the U.S. and they just said to replace my storage card. I have continued to use the same memory card without issues for almost a year so I have no idea what caused it and I am pretty sure Nikon did not know either. Some of the distorted images were quite beautiful. A creative glitch...

DIGLLOYD: maybe just a bug or compatibility issue triggered by unknown factors. Or a batch of cameras with one faulty component.

Roy P writes:

I just read the comments from one of your readers about his Sony A7x system not performing in near-zero temperature, and also the subsequent poor service from. Being a user of both the Sony A7x system and Nikon D810, I have some counterpoints I’d like to share.

There is something profound your reader’s negative experience with the Sony is masking, and that is, the problem existed at all in the first place. Such a complaint would never have arisen with respect to a Leica M240 camera, for instance. Why? Most people would not even have considered bringing a $15K M system to tough it out in sub-zero temperatures. The aristocratic M system exists to be served by its fan boys, not the other way around!

My point is, the Sony E-mount system started as the modern day Leica M system – compact, lightweight and highly portable alternative to bulky and heavy DSLRs. What has happened is, within a very short few years, the Sony system has far exceeded its intended use, and is rapidly becoming a platform for various other use cases. People are pushing the Sony A7x cameras for demanding tasks as a pro-class tool, for everything except action photography like pro sports or wild life.

To me, that seems like enormous and unprecedented success of the mirrorless E-mount system. People are taking these cameras to use cases that Sony had probably never imagined, so a lot of this is cutting edge. Sony doesn’t necessarily have the answers for some of the problems thus encountered. Which is why calling the service center is not likely to be very helpful.

We just need to remind ourselves that as impressive as the A7x system is, it is still a first generation product from Sony, and it may not surpass a 7th or 8th generation DSLR from Nikon on every dimension! I think the A7x is on a fundamentally superior technology roadmap, and each new generation will continue to leapfrog the aging DSLR which is in the early stages of getting caught in a decaying orbit, IMHO.

Also, as you know, I just got back from a trip to the Antarctica. On this trip, I brought my A7R, A7-II, and the Sony-Zeiss 16-35mm f/4, 24-70mm f/4 and the 70-200mm f/4 lenses, along with a Leica 50mm APO Summicron-M. Every one of them functioned flawlessly. I took over 4,000 pictures in all. About 650 of them were with my Leica S, and the remaining ~3,400 were with the two Sony cameras. Not a single problem, with either of the Sony bodies or any of the lenses. In fact, a couple of times, my S-006 camera had trouble autofocusing, after being out in the cold for 2+ hours. No issues with the Sony.

I wouldn’t have believed it, but on this trip, my Nikon D810 became the odd man out, and I left it behind. There were some situations (flying birds, fast moving whales) when I wished I had my D810. But for the most part, I did not miss it, and it is tough for me to say that, because I’ve been a Nikon user for 20+ years, and I really like my D810.

Net-net: I think we’re in the early stages of the most profound change in photography since turning digital. Some of these frustrations with Sony are related to the growing pains, I think. In time, I think we’ll see the A7x system expand to more configurations and form factors that will provide more optimal solutions to different use cases. Until then, I think Sony deserves some slack – there’s more stuff coming out of Sony in months than there’s stuff coming out of Nikon / Canon / Leica in years!

DIGLLOYD: Good perspective!

Regarding the M240, it has had its share of issues (and I have shot it in sub freezing temps without issues too), but Leica does service their cameras and lenses, even if they do have to often to Germany. That is a “profound” difference with not having any meaningful service organization (Sony), or any at all (cameras/lenses get sent to a generic 3rd party).

It is true that the Sony E-mount system has been very well received, indeed groundbreaking. Ditto for the iPhone. Compare the service and support of the two.

I don’t agree that the camera generation is the issue; Sony has already done fine here technically. Rather, it’s an entire corporate culture that does not see service and support as a priority. On the Cool New Stuff I said “grand prize at the science fair”: aggressive innovation moving the bar forward. But a wobbly “table” missing a leg (service and support).


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