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Blog archives from Maui Hawaii based fine art landscape photographer Scott Reither

NIKON D800 E LONG EXPOSURE ISSUES / PROBLEMS

ONGOING UPDATES HAVE BEEN MADE LATER IN THE POST.This post touches on these Nikon D800 issues:

  • •White spots in long exposure image files when LENR is OFF
  • •Light coming in through the "back door"
  • •Menu items being "grayed" out

After a couple month long wait, and a tough decision to jump the Canon ship and come back to Nikon, the D800E finally arrived in my hands this week.  I hope to get to be able to write about my overall impressions and offer an informal review of sorts, but right now, I'm having some serious issues.

I'm a landscape photographer and 85% of my work is based on long exposures.  I took the camera out last night for an initial test and to get to know her a bit, while using some exposures of 30 seconds to 2 minutes.  The results were not good.

NIKON D800E LONG2
NIKON D800E LONG2

I was getting this weird issue with the contrast horizontally across the image.

NIKON D800E LONG4
NIKON D800E LONG4

It seemed to be right where the focal point is at, here at the rocky line along the bottom edge of the tidepool - kinda funky contrast and color issue...

NIKON D800E LONG6
NIKON D800E LONG6

Here is a close-up of the funky area.  I'm using a 10 stop ND filter and a 3 stop Grad ND.

NIKON D800E LONG7
NIKON D800E LONG7

I decided to bring it indoors the following day to do some tests under more controlled lighting.  After thinking about the issue from the previous night, I though maybe light spilled in from the side, or was reflecting off the filter somehow.  After a number of tests that all looked like this, I was ready to pack it in and ship it back to Mr. Nikon!  I was totally baffled and figured I had a bunk camera.

At this same time, Ben responded to my earlier post and said it might be the viewfinder door not being shut, allowing light to come in and effect the exposure.  Could it be!?  I re-tested...

NIKON D800E LONG8
NIKON D800E LONG8

Feeling a bit embarrassed, this was the problem...or, at least part of the problem.  Indeed, light was coming into the viewfinder and effecting the image in all these tests I was performing.  Hey, I've been using the Canon 5D Mark II for 5 years, the Nikon's before that, and I've never had this problem!  Still kinda surprised.

Lesson learned - make sure to close the viewfinder door for any lengthy exposures.

Unfortunately, the issue does not stop there.  I was seeing a white spot issue that others have discussed here.  I needed to get out and do a real test to look for this.  I just got home from shooting under the near-full moon and look what I've got:

NIKON D800E LONG9
NIKON D800E LONG9

In an 8 minute long exposure...

NIKON D800E LONG10
NIKON D800E LONG10

Look at it at 100% and there's a gazillion little white dots, in addition to some of those real hot pixels.  This is totally lame!

These images are all RAW, unprocessed, and shown as screenshots out of Adobe Camera Raw before any adjustments.  I do not shoot with Long Exposure Noise Reduction in-camera, nor will I.  My style of work won't allow it - light and conditions change too quickly to wait double-time to take the next shot.  It's just not an option.  This is new technology and supposed to be the best sensor, so what gives?  My 5 year old Canon 5D Mark II never needed Noise Reduction ON and I shot exposures of an hour+ with much less issue than this.

Do you have any thoughts on this?  Are you having any issues with long exposures and your Nikon D800?  Let me know.  I'm not quite sure yet what to do, but I'll keep you updated - hopefully very soon with good news.

UPDATE

Konstantinos Vasilakis is having the same issue and talks about it here.  He seems to be using Raw Therapee and making it work for him.  Unless anyone has any better ideas, I suppose I'll have to give that a try.  I'll keep you posted...

UPDATE #2

I finally had a chance today to download Raw Therapee and try the software to fix the dreaded white-spot-issue and let me tell you - I am extremely frustrated!  Like, I-wanna-kill-the-computer-and-go-have-a-drink frustrated!  There's nothing user friendly about this software.  I did get the above picture uploaded into the software and used the "Apply hot/dead pixel filter" which seemed to make a big difference:

RAW THERAPEE1
RAW THERAPEE1

before (click image to see large)

RAW THERAPEE2
RAW THERAPEE2

after (click image to see large)

But then, I really did not figure out how to save a TIF file that I could then open in Adobe Camera Raw.  Aargh!  I think I can only handle so much technical difficulties at one sitting, so will have to re-approach again later.

If you're working this process, or have another fix to the white spots, please do share with us here.

If you are a Nikon D800 owner and ever planning on shooting long exposures, then PLEASE call Nikon and raise a stink so that they will fix with a firmware update.  When I called, the woman at Nikon said she had not heard of this problem!?  You can call them at: 1-800-Nikon-US  They will then send you through hoops and you'll have to send in a picture of the problem (as if they can't just take a long exposure in-house and see the damn issue!). 

I sent mine in today:

NIKON NOTE1
NIKON NOTE1
NIKON NOTE2
NIKON NOTE2

I suppose there always is Long Exposure Noise Reduction...I just did a test and this does seem to totally solve the white spot issue, but it SUCKS and I am sure I will miss shots by being forced to use it!

LENR ON OFF
LENR ON OFF

Long Exposure Noise Reduction OFF and ON at 100%

UPDATE #3  -  8/20/12

After a comment by Roberto, I had hoped that Capture NX2 would be a fix to this white-spot issue.  I downloaded a 6-month free trial and did a test.  Unfortunately, it did not fix it.  Here are the results.  Click on the images to see larger:

CAPTURE.BEFORE.WEB
CAPTURE.BEFORE.WEB

before any changes

CAPTURE.MID.WEB
CAPTURE.MID.WEB

after "astro noise reduction"

CAPTURE.AFTER.WEB
CAPTURE.AFTER.WEB

after "astro noise reduction" and "edge noise reduction"

CAPTURE.AFTER2.WEB
CAPTURE.AFTER2.WEB

after "astro noise reduction" and "edge noise reduction" up close

So, you can see things got a bit better, but did not solve the problem.

Next, I'll try to gain a better understanding as to using a dark frame like Greg Bradley comments on below, and let you know what happens.  If you've found a workable solution, other than LENR ON or RawTherapee, please do share it with us here.  Thanks!

In the meantime, I've kinda tweaked the way I'm shooting and have been practicing patience while using LENR ON.  Beautiful high-res image files! and definitely a few missed opportunities.

UPDATE #4 - 9/5/12

Steve, one of our reader/commenters finally had a response from Nikon that I thought should be posted here in the main post so no one will miss it.  Unfortunately, it is not good news and is what I had been suspecting to hear from Nikon.  Here is an official word from Nikon:

  • Dear Steve,
  • Thank you for your update.
  • I have analyzed the sample image provided and consulted it with other Pro Support agents. It seems that the effect you are seeing is natural for D800 sensor and long exposure times – unfortunately there is no other way of removing the white spots than keeping the Long Exposure Noise Reduction active. I agree that it may not be convenient due to doubled exposure time, however currently there is no other solution to this problem due to limitations of the sensor technology.
  • We apologize for the inconvenience,
  • Please do not hesitate to contact us again in case of any questions.
  • Kind regards,

I think this sums up the stance that Nikon is going to take with this, now I suspect all we can do is hope that a software fix becomes readily available.

Menu Items Grayed Out

I used my D800E less than a dozen times and had to send it in due to a number of Menu items being "grayed" out and not being functional - I couldn't even select them.  They were:

  • 1. HDR
  • 2. Time lapse photography
  • 3. Lock mirror up for cleaning
  • 4. Image Dust Off ref. photo

My sensor had become so badly spotted, that I had to look into getting it cleaned, which is when I noticed the Image Dust Off ref. photo was grayed out and not allowing me to select.  I tried full power batteries, setting the time, and the other few mentions I found regarding the problem, but to no avail.  It's also very disconcerting how dirty the sensor got after such light use and being quite anal when I switch lenses.  To ship from Hawaii to Nikon with insurance was $130, so I certainly don't want to have to do that often.  I sent the camera in last week and it's currently being repaired.  I have wanted to post my impressions on the camera, but thus far, it's been nothing but issues with slight glimpses of something wonderful beneath it all.

Commenter Exchange - Using a Dark Frame?

I should also add an exchange I had with Greg Bradley through this forum.  He has some suggestions that might be helpful regarding the white spot issue.  Here is the exchange:

  • You need to create a dark frame and subtract it from the exposure in post processing.  This is standard procedure in astrophotography.  There is a quite a lot posted about how to create a dark frame. Its a picture of the cameras thermal noise. Check out Images Plus website as this is very DSLR friendly software.  Basically it could be as simple as putting the lens cap on and snapping a same length exposure same ISO and settings (noise reductions off).  Then using image/apply image and subtract the dark from your light exposures.  More sophisticated would be taking 16 darks and stacking them with sigma reject combine, subtracting a bias frame (a fastest shutter picture of same ISO showing the electronic noise of the camera – again multiple bias at same temp ideally and combine say 16 using sigma reject combine).  Now you can scale your darks so they will work with any length exposure and use it in post processing.  Your darks have a shelf life. CCD and CMOS chips degrade over time from Cosmic Ray hits. So new hot pixels will emerge. They generally last about 6 months or so, so its a slow process. But if your darks stop doing a good job that’s what is happening.  Do it properly and it will clean up totally. We do this every image in astrophotography and it may seem like a lot of work but once you’ve set it up it isn’t really.
  • I wrote him and asked:
  • Hi Greg,Thanks so much for your blog post regarding the Nikon D800 and the white spots.  The process you speak of interests me and I'd like to see if it indeed will work with this white-spot issue.  Have you tried it with a long exposure D800 image file?Would you mind please sending me some links to the Image Plus information that you mentioned - a Google search on "Image Plus" gives many different results.  A link to a step-by-step of this process would be great too, if there is one that you are familiar with.Thanks so much!  Myself, and others on the web dealing with this issue, are very appreciative!
  • His latest response:
  • Here it is:
    • http://www.mlunsold.com/
      • Basically taking a dark consists of same exposure, same ISO and everything else as the light but with the lens cap on or in a dark closet etc.
      • You could just take one and see how it goes. Usually in astrophotography with cooled CCD cameras we take from 6 to 16 and then combine them to get rid of artifacts using a statistical combining algorithim. A process like sigma reject combine rejects values that are too far away from a statistical "norm" for the noise. This then would be things like random non repeatable noise such as cosmic ray hits (more common than you would think) or other random non repeating noises.
      • This then gives you a master dark.
      • If in this process you also subtracted a bias frame you can then scale the darks to match the exposure lengths of the light exposures even if different.
      • A bias frame is again a shortest time exposure, 6 to 16 sigma reject combined. The bias frame is a picture of the read noise of the camera as opposed to the
      • thermal noise. I usually do not use them as of course the data is already in the dark image and I match my darks to my lights exactly - ie 10 minutes
      • at -30C, 6 to 16 sigma reject combined to form a master dark.
      • But if you are taking variable length light exposures and want to only use one master dark that Images Plus can scale to match then
      • you subtract a bias frame from your darks when making a master. It should be in the tutorials for Images Plus.
      • Images Plus is more an astrophotography software but it seems to be aimed at DSLRs rather than dedicated astro cameras  which are 16bit
      • and cooled.
      • How do you subtract a dark from a light exposure?
      • Well you can do it in Images Plus but you can also use the apply image function in Photoshop and set it to subtract and the frame to be
      • subtracted from is your light and the frame to subtract is the master dark you made. You would experiment with the offset number to give a pleasant
      • background and not too dark.
      • I hope this helps.

Admittedly, I find this information a bit over-my-head, not to mention that it seems that the ImagesPlus software only works with PC's!?  Nonetheless, thanks very much Greg for taking the time to send in this info.  We all appreciate it!  Although for now, it seems the question remains open: have you tried this with a D800 file successfully?

(I can't currently test this without my camera.)

If you have a working solution to this problem and have solved it with a D800 image file, please let us know and I will post it here.  Thanks so much!  Until then, it's Long Exposure Noise Reduction ON or BUST!!