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D600 Sensor Dust Issues

Published October 22, 2012

We tend not to get too excited about sensor dust problems here; we clean sensors on every camera after every rental, so it’s just routine. When we started carrying the Nikon D600 they all arrived with a fair amount of dust, but that’s pretty routine, too. Manufacturing and shipping can be a dusty experience.

When our techs started complaining that D600s were all coming back from their first rental with a lot more dust (despite being freshly cleaned before leaving) we didn’t pay much attention to that either. We all remember the oil / dust issues the D3x and D3s had. Those mostly cleared up after a few cleanings.

The dust kept reappearing with every rental, and more impressively – it was generally in the same location (upper left 1/3 of the image). That did get our attention, so we started looking into the matter a bit. We kept dust pictures for 20 consecutive D600s returning from rental and saw the problem was very real.

In general, about 1 out of 4 cameras requires sensor cleaning after a rental. All 20 of the D600s did.

Here are a couple of typical examples (f/16 blank wall photos, contrast and exposure increased). I would point out that these are downsized to 800-pixel wide images. What is barely visible dust on this is quite obvious on a full-size image. The large specs on this are quite huge at full size.

 

It’s probably pretty apparent that the dust is mostly on the left side of the image. I took all 20 images and layered them onto one in Photoshop, using ‘darken if’ to show the pattern of dust from 20 cameras.

 

Photoshop summary of large dust particles from 20 D600 sensors. The left and upper side tendency is clear. 

 

Again, with these downsized images, only the really large dust specs are showing up, but then, those are the ones most likely to show up in a photo. I would also add these almost all seem to be dust specs, not oil, since most of them can be blown off or stamped off using a Dust-Aid. They don’t require wet cleaning to remove as oil spots do.

There are, however, a number of comments from experienced photographers that are having oil spots on D600s. I’m not certain if they’re seeing the same, or a different phenomenon.

We aren’t absolutely certain about the cause, but when we have to look at the sensors for all this cleaning one thing is quite apparent. The D600’s shutter curtain opening seems a bit larger than the other Nikon cameras with a bit of a gap around the shutter curtain. It may well be the shutter movement is pulling dust onto the sensor.

 

D600 shutter curtain, recessed, showing fairly large gap around the shutter. Image Aaron Closz.

 

The real question is: Will the dust eventually stop accumulating on the sensor? I think probably so. There’s some dust inside the camera that is getting blown out during early use through the shutter opening. But that’s just an educated guess; only time will tell.

For now, though, if you rent a D600 we suggest looking fairly frequently for dust accumulation. We clean each one before it leaves, but given the amount of dust they return with it’s fairly obvious there could be dust dots on some of your shots if you stop down to f/8 or more.

 

NOTE: I know someone will want to know. All of these cameras were from SN 300xxxx or 301xxxx. We have another 40 D600s but since they, too, are from these SN runs I don’t plan any further comparisons. We’ll check again when we get higher SNs.

 

Addendum July, 2013: I tire of being misquoted by fanboys on various forums, so please, if you want to quote me, copy paste instead of putting words in my mouth. 

1) We found, over time, the dust issues decreased. Somewhere around 5,000 to 10,000 shots the D600s stopped having megadust. 

2) When D600s do have dusty sensors, as all cameras do, it still seems to congregate in the upper left side of the image, but it’s more normal dust and fewer huge chunks. 

3) We have NOT. I repeat, we have NOT ever said newer bodies don’t have the problem. We have no idea. Nikon demand is down hugely this year and we simply haven’t had to buy any more D600s or D800s (or anything else Nikon, really). I would assume Nikon has figured out a fix by now, but that’s just an assumption with no data to back it up. 

Roger Cicala

 

Roger Cicala, sensor images courtesy Adam Remsen and Scott Rambin

Lensrentals.com

October 2012

Author: Roger Cicala

I’m Roger and I am the founder of Lensrentals.com. Hailed as one of the optic nerds here, I enjoy shooting collimated light through 30X microscope objectives in my spare time. When I do take real pictures I like using something different: a Medium format, or Pentax K1, or a Sony RX1R.

Posted in Repair alerts
  • JaketheSnake

    Hi Roger. Have you guys bought any new D600 lately? If you guys did, have you noticed if the problem has been relatively fixed? Thanks a lot and more power to your business.

  • EricD

    See http://photographylife.com/what-is-low-pass-filter
    Note the beam-splitter separates different polarisations of light,
    which is why we use CPL circular polarising filters, not linear polarisers.
    Well, that and exposure, auto-focus and wide-angle effects.

  • EricD

    @ Arek:
    The sensor is not a simple surface. There is a ‘window’ in front of it, like glass in front of a picture-frame.

    The window is not just to protect the sensor, it has a coating that reflects infra-red light, so that IR doesn’t affect the colour – only visible light is detected. It is sometimes referred to as a ‘hot mirror’, although we’re dealing more with near-infra-red <1um not thermal-imaging far-infra-red <10um.

    It also blurs the image slightly, known as anti-aliasing or Low-Pass-Filtering (LPF). 'Low' refers to 'Spatial Frequency'. This reduces 'moire' or 'aliasing' patterns on surfaces with repetitive fine patterns, such as the colour bands seen if a TV presenter wears a fine-striped shirt. It can be achieved with micro-textured glass, but is usually done more precisely with special crystalline plates that split each light ray into 4 directions, so that each hits the 4 coloured sub-pixels equally. Look up 'Anti-aliasing filter' and 'Color filter array' on Wikipedia if you want to see how this works.

    Interestingly, the crystal material mentioned there is Lithium Niobate – it expands and contracts in electric fields, which may be how the self-cleaning function works (Surface Acoustic Waves – also used in focussing!). It also generates voltages with vibration or temperature, which might attract dust – so it probably has a conductive coating, too, to prevent this.

  • Arek

    Can anyone explain me, why you have to stop down to f16 or more to see the dust? If the dust would be on the lens, yes… but it’s on the sensor, right?

  • John Watson

    I just ordered a refurb D600 from B&H. Will be interesting to see how the issue presents itself, or of it has been solved by the factory.

  • D M42

    With a MS in photography and 50 years as a pro I am pretty sure I know how to test for dust and oil spots. My test was done at f16 with a new Sigma 35mm f1.4 and a clear blue sky – and the final file pushed with PS CS6 using levels and curves. A month later it is still clean. Will dust show up eventually? Of course. And I will clean it, just like Roger does.

  • Paul Murphy

    Roger Cicala said:

    “… You may have to clean the D600 more often, but there’s some negative thing with every camera”. Yes, in the pre-digital days there WAS a negative thing with every camera!!

  • M42

    Steve,

    Stop your lens down to f22 and go outside and take a couple of shots at a part of the sky that’s blue, not cloud covered and away from the sun. I guarantee you’ll see spots when you look at the pictures. You’re not going to notice them shooting at normal apertures.

  • I like the camera for many reasons and I am committed to dust removal when, and if, it becomes a problem. The D800e is a better camera, of course, but I can cure dust a lot easier than focus problems. Between my Rocket Blower, Pec Pads, and PS CS6 I feel it really won’t be a problem. All 200 shots were at 5 fps and f16. Maybe I got lucky. Time will tell.

    I remember many folks complaining about the D7000 yet mine had none of the problems. I am hoping Nikon has found the source of the problem, as they have for the left focus problem on the D800 and D800e. One of the problems is that warranty work doesn’t transfer to a second owner. I almost bought a used (256 clicks) D800e before I asked myself, “what if”?

  • Bill

    Well Steve, you are fortunate that you are not seeing any dust/debris or spots, however, I have been through three separate units in differing runs since October. My last one was in the 3056XXX range. I noted my problems started and escalated around 350 to 550 shutter activations and also with the use of continuous low and high burst mode. I am not sure if anybody has seen any definitive statements from Nikon. I doubt they will.

    I gave up and just picked up a D800. I liked the D600 except for the dust, and I really liked the low light performance. I just did not like the abnormal and I emphasize abnormal dust production/collection. I like my D800 much more.

    I was fortunate that Best Buy was so decent to me about the D600s. They never once gave me grief.

    I really hope that the camera lives up to your expectations. it is a pain in the tail otherwise. There are also a ton of apologists running around talking about how it is normal, when it clearly is not not normal.

    You are already likely beyond the typical 200 shot limit that I have heard that B&H has on their cameras. As for whether the problem gets better, I cannot say. Roger may have much better information.

    Good luck and thanks for reporting.

  • Not one single dust or lubricant spot in the first 250 shots. Serial number 3060xxx from B&H photo 4 days ago. Please keep us posted on your info, Roger. I hear from a few fellow pros that Nikon has fixed the problem. Who knows. Any news on your part?

  • Jon

    Thanks for this article ! I’ve the same problem !
    After 550 shots without changing lense :
    http://jonathanpoirier.com/data/capteur/evolution/01_avant_nettoyage.png
    I clean it.
    After 1000 shots (never changing lense) it was dirty once again …
    http://jonathanpoirier.com/data/capteur/evolution/04_1000_clics_plus_tard.png
    I need to pay 25€ to have it clean, there was a mixt of dust and oil :/
    I’m at more than 3000 clic now.

    I sent a mail to Nikon but they said “we not are aware of this problem…”

  • Roger Cicala

    Hi Mike,

    A dozen people have gotten a dozen different answers lately. Since Nikon hasn’t officially recognized there was a problem, I’m not certain I believe they’ve officially fixed it.

    roger

  • MIKE

    I inquired at the official local Nikon repair place. They tell me the problem has been resolved. Anything new you know?

  • Brett

    DO not Buy this camera.. Came from a d300S this is a step down in every way from the cheap controls to the body build. Nikon should take a good look at what they are releasing.. Have a SN 3063XXX and the dust destroys evey image with a blue sky…. USELESS..

  • Roger Cicala

    JB, we havne’t noticed any problems with dust in the D800 and we’ve well over 100 copies.

  • JB

    I’m in the market for a new camera, but I don’t want to deal with the dust issues of the d600. I don’t mind to pay more and get the d800…. Does anyone know if the d800 has similar issues? I realize a certain amount of dust is normal, however my, heavily used, d80 doesn’t seem to have any visible dust issues (even at small apertures).

  • Brenno

    I’m also curious to hear how well the D600 with newer serial numbers are performing with regard to the dust/oil spots issue. Joe: could you let us know if the problem recurs in your most recent D600 after a certain number of shots? I visited my local store and they told me at some point Nikon asked them to send all the cameras in stock back, which they replaced by supposedly a newer batch. (A sort of unofficial recall, maybe?) Roger, have you heard of anything similar? And has this newer batch shown any improvement?

  • Alejandro

    Wow, thank you both!!!!
    Roger that was the one i was thinking! but since wen it`s in the market? they are expensive cameras if you consider that I´m not a Photographer and I´m in COLOMBIA, so i would like to buy a real New Camera….maybe waiting for the D7100? D400?mmmm could be to much time?………

    Joe, how many pictures have you taken with the camera?????? could be a light at the end of my Tunnel, because that SERIAL is one of those on the Rich list that no show problems………….AND I REALLY WANT A NIKON D600!!!!!!!! jaajjajajjajajja

  • Roger Cicala

    I have to agree Alejandro – I wouldn’t want to see big dust spots on pictures of my teeth, and I would assume it could also interfere with your evaluation at times. And with a pixel-dense camera f/25, even f16 will show them. Perhaps picking up a nice D300s would be a better choice.

  • Joe Cantrell

    My original D600, #30045XX, purchased from Pro Photo Supply in Portland, Oregon, began to show the spots early. I’m stacking up to 40 micro images, often shot against light backgrounds, and the spots quickly became a real problem, requiring way too much Photoshop time to retouch.
    I called Pro Photo professional support and they told me the Nikon rep had said it is a known problem, bring in the dirty camera and they’d replace it. I did, they did, and #30512XX has no problem so far.
    It’s a great camera, I plan to buy another, maybe two more.

  • Alejandro

    Roger, thanks for your quick answer!!
    My question is because in all forums photographers talk about the presence o that they notice the dust or spots in high f/ and they talk about f/11 f/16 but in my job i took pictures of teeth very close with relation 1:1 1:2, with R1C1 twin Flash so I need real deep of field and close the aperture to f/32 and in this aperture Sopts Dust everything will be notice!!!!!!

    But i did never try to decrease the intensity of the flash until the point of using the aperture in f/16, could be a good idea………..but in some pictures i really need aperture of f/25 minimum and it will be disastrous if the D600 suffer of DUST don’t you think?

  • Roger Cicala

    Alehandro,

    I think the D600 is a much better camera, although I’d encourage you, if at all possible in your work, to drop down to f/16 if you can. It may not be necessary but the images will be much better.

  • Alejandro

    Good Afternoon
    Mr Roger
    I would like to ask you:
    I´m a Dentist and i use DSLR with a Nikon 105mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor Lens and I take Pictures with a F32 F36 constantly, do you think its a good decision to buy a D600 for me? i would like to upgrade from a Nikon D80
    thanks for your answer

  • Peter

    Just got my replacement D600 with only 1 shutter actuation on it. Serial # is 3043xxx. Will update you all on how it is after about 1000 actuations.

  • Roger Cicala

    Very good point, Josh. The specs seem larger than ‘normal’ dust and are obviously coming from inside the camera.

  • Josh SZ

    Please use self-contamination instead of dust for describing this problem because what you see is produced by the D600 itself. It is amazing we have not heard a single word from Nikon about this.

  • Peter

    Same Peter as the one on 12/27/2012.

    After about 1100 actuations, the dust is already showing on the mirror, just tiny miniscue dust on the sensor. Will return to Amazon and just opt for the D800.

  • Peter

    Just wondering, when did the sensor dust/oil start appearing? I bought a D600 from Amazon and after about 500 shots, everything still looks perfect, and there’s no sign of wear when the mirror is down or when the shutter is up (opened it today and checked with LED flashlight).

    I heard that it may be around 1000-2000 shots where the dust/oil starts accumulating. Any detailed tracking of when it started occurring in your D600s?

    Serial 3014xxx.

    Thanks.

  • Doug

    Roger,

    Thanks so much for the quick response, I really appreciate your expert advice. I think I will rent one from you sometime next spring when the weather is better and see how I like the camera (I’m sure it’s great) and then wait for the prices to come down even more! Maybe by then, we’ll know more about how the dust issue resolves itself over time. Thanks again and Happy Holidays to you and your family. Best regards,

    Doug.

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