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Have you ever felt like a total idiot?

A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to take a class from one of the best known photographers and photography teachers in the world. He was, as always, a wonderful teacher and very personable. But at the very start of the class, there was a "problem." The camera he was using -- a Nikon D5 -- was tethered to his laptop, which in turn, was connected to a projector. Of course, this means that anything he shoots with that camera shows up on the screen behind him. The first thing he did was ask his assistant for a speedlight, in this case, an SB-5000, which he promptly slipped into the D5's hotshoe. He took aim at a willing participant in the front row and snapped the shutter. Nothing showed up on the screen. He stood there, looking at the LCD on the back of the camera, and started muttering to himself. He pressed this, checked that, took another shot. Still nothing. Pressed more buttons, checked more stuff, took another shot. Nothing.

He repeated this a couple more times. After what seemed like forever, an image finally appeared on the screen. He looked up from the camera, and told us that stuff happens. Things go wrong. He said sooner or later we'd find ourselves standing in front of a client, with the talent all posed and properly lit, the crew waiting to make the next set change, and something will go wrong. The camera won't shoot, the lens won't focus, the lights won't fire. Something. He told us what most working pros already know (but always bears repeating): take your time. Take a deep breath. Think. No will mind you stopping to solve a problem. They will mind you getting crazy on everyone. He's right about all of this, of course. And while he never admitted it, and I have no way of proving it, I'd bet dollars to donuts that there was nothing wrong with that setup, and that he purposely had it set to not give him an image until he was ready for it to, just so he could talk to us about the art of problem solving.

Earlier this week, I had something happen while I was on a job. It wasn't as drastic as not getting any image at all, but it still happened. I am a contributing photographer for 405 Magazine, a local home/lifestyle/food magazine published here in Oklahoma City. Great people, great magazine, fun shoots. This particular shoot was for a monthly feature called Favorite Things (you can see an example here). The idea is to visit a small, locally owned gift store or boutique, shoot a portrait of the owner or owners, and then do some really simple product shots of ten or so of their favorite items they sell. It's a really a down-and-dirty, get-in-and-get-out kind of shoot. Because my editor and I have gotten this down to a real system, it seldom takes more than a hour. I use a very simple lighting setup for both the portrait and the product shots -- a couple of SB-800 speedlights, each in an umbrella, and an SU-800 on the D810 to control them, all TTL. It works -- first time, every time. I have MB-D12 battery grips on both my Nikon D810 cameras — I like the extra battery power, I like the way the camera feels in my hands with the grip, and when I shoot vertically, I like the extra controls -- shutter release, focus button, command dials -- in the grip. Of course, the camera has all those same controls, but sometimes when you’re shooting vertically, having them on the grip makes life just a little easier.

Until you’re on a job, and the grip's controls quit working. I was pretty baffled. The camera could see the grip -- it showed up in the LCDs, and the camera was getting power from it. But none of the grip's controls would work.

Having been raised in an era before such secondary sets of controls were put on cameras, I had no problem cranking my hand over to shoot vertically and still access all the necessary controls. I just kept shooting.

So the teacher's advice paid off -- I never let on that I was having a problem. We finished the shoot without incident, and hopefully, no one had any idea something was amiss, but I was more than a little baffled by the grip's controls suddenly not working. When I got home, the first thing I did was put new batteries in that grip (I use 8 NiMH AA rechargeable batteries in each grip). Since the camera had been getting power from the grip, I was sure changing out the batteries wouldn't matter, and guess what -- it didn't.

I then swapped the offending grip for the one on the backup camera. Needless to say, the backup worked fine on the main camera, and the problem child still wouldn't behave when attached to the backup body.

A little research showed that a replacement MB-D12 would be somewhere north of $425.00. Preferring to not replace it unless I absolutely had to, I messaged Nikon to see what the repair charges would be. It didn’t take 10 minutes and I had my answer — repairing the grip would set me back roughly $115.00, not including shipping. Certainly that would be better than having to buy a new one.

But then I noticed the service tech had included this in his note:

“Before you send it in please make sure the locking ring is set to unlocked (the two white dots should line up).”


Not only did I never look at that, I never even thought to look at it. And sure enough, it had been flipped to the locked position. No idea how that happened, but sonuvagun, flipping it back to the unlocked position, with the dots lined up, fixed the problem.

I feel extraordinarily dumb, but I am very glad the service people at Nikon are so on top of things.

In the 35 + years since I've been shooting with Nikon cameras and lenses, I have have had a few occasions to communicate with Nikon reps. Whether through email or on the phone, it has always been a pleasure to do so. They are extremely knowledgable, very friendly, and very supportive. And now everything is back to working perfectly.

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