Repairing A Nikon D3


There are few products out there as electronically and mechanically complex as a modern DSLR. Between the sensor, shutter, various LCD screens, and Flexible Printed Circuit boards (FPC) running everywhere, it’s enough to make even the most organized DIY repair person quake in fear. [TiN] over at the EEVblog forums wasn’t scared off though, as he bought a broken Nikon D3 on eBay in hopes of repairing it.

The D3 was Nikon’s top of the line professional camera in 2008. With a 12 Megapixel Full frame sensor and a host of other features, used models still command a good portion of the original $5000 USD price. [TiN’s] camera was described as having been dropped, and was dead on arrival, exactly as it had been described on eBay. The battery door was destroyed, so [TiN] connected an external supply. The camera was still dead, so it was time to dig in. Thanks to the internet, [TiN] was able to find a service manual for the camera. He decided to check the power supply board next. A TO225 package transistor with an obvious hole blown in the front was a good starting point.

[TiN] replaced the transistor and the camera sprang to life. The main LCD showed the live sensor view, and it would take pictures. All was not perfect though, as the two auxiliary LCDs were still dead, and the D3’s mirror would get stuck every other shot, leading to an error display.

Click past the break for the rest of [TiN’s] story.

The dead LCDs turned out to be another easy fix. The D3 has quite a number of interwoven FPCs traveling throughout the body. The drop must have dislodged one, as removing and reconnecting everything brought the auxiliary LCDs back.

fbody1To fix the mirror issue, [TiN] had to gut the camera down to its bare frame. In doing so, he found a camera owner’s worst nightmare – cracks in the magnesium frame around the lens mount. Forum members suggested glue, bracing and other repair methods. However, [TiN] left them in.  He plans to use the camera as a high resolution time-lapse capture device, so the lens mount will not see a lot of abuse or heavy lenses.

With the entire shutter assembly gutted, [TiN] found a tiny spring labeled 262 had been jarred loose by the drop. This extra_partsspring was keeping the mirror from popping back up. Once the spring was re-positioned, [TiN] was able to re-assemble the camera. It worked well enough to take a picture of all the screws he had left over. The camera is now working great, and is employed taking stunning 4K time-lapse videos such as the one seen below.


43 thoughts on “Repairing A Nikon D3

  1. I thank electronics repair sites for charging so much in labor that people either toss this stuff or sell it dirt cheap. It’s always worth my time to repair with such a great deal. Tons of my test equipment, and just about every bit of my home entertainment system and bedroom system were acquired this way (either free or cheap.)

    1. Outsider to the industry with a question:

      Are the repair shops trying to make absorbent amounts of margin, or is the cost of electronic repair labor legitimately high? I know that in the computer repair industry, in which I have worked, even cheap labor is extremely expensive compared to the value of door-buster computers. Is that the case with cameras, or are the shops trying to cash in with 5000% markup?

      1. Some things I rather pay for than doing it myself, like cleaning the sensor & mirror. Other stuff is indeed a rip off, like recovering deleted photos or fixing a wonky button. Then there’s things you really need to research and plan before starting, like lens disassembly to remove dust/fungi.

        Regarding electronics: it’s pretty much all flex, no PCBs. And lots of difficult to source components. If there’s an electronics failure it’s worth searching a broken equivalent on eBay for parts/modules, but that’s easier for less popular models.

      2. Consider the following:

        1. the worker may not have active repair work full time, a lot of time may be taken up learning about new models, keeping the workshop up to scratch etc. So the hourly rate would need to be high enough to pay for this work as well.

        2. the company may need specialized expensive tools, especially if you need to reprogram software parts or realign optics.

        3. if the repair worker screws something up, the company may have to buy an entirely new device for the customer.

        1. Add to that the cost of getting certified in a particular manufacturer’s products, the cost of service manuals, etc…

          I have no hate on repair technicians. It is an expensive industry to get into and honestly, it is getting harder and harder for them to stay afloat. I was once an electronics technician, but it was in the military/aerospace industry so yeah my labor was super expensive and so were the things I was working on (my pay – not so great, though.) Still work in that industry, but I am an EE now.

          I agree with Juno. There are some things I would rather pay someone else to do. My car and my house is a great example. I fix many things my self, but there are things I don’t have the time/just don’t want to/ or don’t have the tools to deal with.

      3. First realize that it is a skilled trade. People had to pay for college to do the job. They deserve to paid well. However, you are usually paying a shop which then has to pay that technician a good wage to keep him, pay rent, keep the lights on, etc…

        I don’t think they are robbing you (though, trust me, some of them do… like $75 minimum for just replacing a fuse.) It just IS expensive and unfortunately for them, electronics are becoming cheap and disposable.

        As an example, person buys the newest whiz-bang 42″ LCD TV for $1200. By the time it dies, 42″ LCD TVs are going for $350 and the newest whiz-bang 70″ TV is $1200. Repair shop wants to charge $200 to repair your 42″.

        Honestly, I don’t know any repair shops that even work to the component level anymore. They simply replace defective boards now. Parts are cheaper than the labor.

        1. Here’s a real world example. I have a 55″ plasma TV that I picked up for a trade of an old laser printer (worth maybe $40). The person had taken it to a repair shop to see about getting it fixed. The repair shop quoted $150 just to look at it, then whatever parts and labor on top of that. It was a few years old, so they decided to just purchase a new one.

          Enter me. I get the TV and have it apart in 15 minutes. All that was wrong was when they moved it from one room to another they flexed it enough to pop off the row driver board. Snapped the board back in and good as new. My cost? $0 and about 30 minutes of my time (I had gotten the printer I traded them for free and fixed that as well)

          1. This will go for just about every flat panel tv out there right now that’s getting thrown out.
            I now have a collection of 40+ in tv’s. If the panel isn’t cracked there is a pretty good chance that it’s a simple fix. Lots of bad capacitors, some popped fuses and fets, tab bonding problems or bad cfl’s on lcd’s. Most of the time it’s a 10 minute fix once you have the parts, the key really is the knowledge and or experience tinkering.

            Most repair shops that are certified for a product will have to follow that companies procedure for support and replacement parts. This is time and money for whole new board(s) when you only needed a couple components.
            A non certified shop can do what they want, you could get lucky and walk away with a cheap fix, or they could try everything but the right thinjg and waste more time and money.

            Most people I’ve talked to, will get through a support call with the manufacturer, be told it’s out of warranty or to take it to a local repair facility, in either case costing time and money which they could be spending on a new tv.

          2. That’s a good anecdote. But for every obvious problem there’s a device that will need several hours of debugging just to find the problem. It’s the good old electricians problem.

            I can get an entire house wired up for $1000 lights and all, but if I call the electrician out to add one outlet it’ll cost me $100. Why? Job preparation, transit time, and if things are bad that could be my only job on that day.

            I’ve never seen a TV repair man drive a Ferrari, or a nice car at all for that matter. In many cases charging $100 to replace a fuse is what keeps the food on the table as ridiculous as that may seem to someone with full time work on a salary.

    2. There are may camera repair shops that will fix the camera as well as Nikon themselves. It is just a good excuse to upgrade to a new camera. “Oops, I dropped it”

  2. holy crap I’d be terrified to completely disassemble a DSLR with the hopes of having it work again. I’d be just fine till I got to the mirror assembly, then panic would set in. Too fine of tolerances for my clumsy hands.

    1. Imagine being part of the team that develops these high end origamis. And after all the prototypes, corrections, software development, setting up mass production lines, … you read on dpreview that they subtracted points because that little wheel to browse the photos is a bit too sensitive.

      High end DSLRs are marvels of engineering.

    1. I was wondering that too, sinceit has been annoying me for quite a long time that I have to go to youtube to see fullscreen videos. So I did a little research and found out that it is hackaday who is to blame for this annoying “bug”, all they have to do is put in “allowfullscreen” in the youtube-code and the fullscreen button appears in the player.
      Shame on you hackaday.

    2. It annoys me to no end, who wants to watch a tiny video?! I made a Tampermonkey to fix this:

      // ==UserScript==
      // @name HackADay Fullscreen Enabler
      // @namespace
      // @version 1.0
      // @description Enable the fullscreen button on embedded youtube videos
      // @match http://**
      // @run-at document-end
      // @copyright 2014+, McReed
      // ==/UserScript==

      var elements = document.getElementsByTagName( “iframe” );
      for ( var i = 0; i < elements.length; i++ ) {
      elements[i].setAttribute( "allowfullscreen", "true" );

  3. It seems weird to me that dropping a camera would cause a transistor to blow. Perhaps it was overloaded when the camera was attempted to be turned on after the fall due to cables being loose? Lots of hours involved it trouble shooting and fixing something like this.

    1. My guess is that something shorted when the camera was dropped. [TiN] mentioned the battery door was destroyed, so it stands to reason that every contact in the camera moved around the impact.
      Either way – when dealing with a completely dead camera/computer etc, the first place to look is the power supply circuits.

  4. I was happy to get my Canon PowerShot 770 IS for $2 from a junk cellphone box at a thrift store. Only thing “wrong” with it is the camera doesn’t charge the battery. It has to be taken out and put in a charger. That way by design for some crazy reason. Got it home, popped the battery in my universal LIon charger till the LED turned blue, back into the camera and it works. :-)

    $300 camera for $2 FTW

    I had a 37″ Magnavox not-HDTV which developed a problem where the screen would go black. Repair guy brought out a “refurbished” replacement circuit board. Got the thing all back together, turned on and the picture looked like it was in 8 bit color, all posterized. After the second “refurbished” board was completely DOA, he took the TV to his shop and left me a loaner in case the third board was also a dud. It wasn’t and the TV is still working at my sister’s house.

    What’s extra crazy is when they put USB ports on just for firmware updates – then never release an update.

    I bought a Vizio HDTV, got a year old model because the one replacing it only had 2 HDMI inputs, only one component input and no S-Video input at all, but it did have one composite input. WTH? If they’re going to drop things, cut the composite not S-Video!

    1. Lots and lots of things use composite, not at all as many use S-video. Many things with S-video can also output composite. The choice is simple, keep the port that has the largest use base, not the one with a much smaller use but slightly higher quality.

      1. You only need a capacitor and some wire to convert S-video to composite anyway. Look it up on the web.

        The Y and C of S-video are just separate versions of the signals that are mixed in composite. You’ll lose some picture quality but S-video is a poor idea anyway, mixing the colour signals into chroma damages the signal. SCART is much nicer, actual RGB, when the source supports it.

  5. I would indeed quiver in fear, and I also would not have luck in it being something as simple as a blown transistor I bet, I would get a cracked PCB and a split propriety processor and a scratched sensor if I tried my luck I fear.
    Or it would be dead simple but then I could not put the case back together no matter what I tried.

  6. Know how to replace the lens release button on the Nikon D3? Mine fell off and was lost. I’d like to buy a replacement and fix it myself if it’s a simple mechanical fix. Nikon wants nearly $500 to replace it. Otherwise, I can’t change lenses and this prevents my ability to have an income as a freelancer.

  7. That $500 will unfortunately be down to the amount of the camera which has to come apart to get at it. Like replacing the wiring loom in a car, parts which go in first tend to be very expensive to replace. Replacing the strap lugs on a Leica M8 or M9 camera requires almost total dis-assembly.

    As for the blown transistor on this D3, the manual cautions it will be damaged if the battery is inserted with the top cover removed. I expect the disturbed top cover flex prints simulated that condition and up it went.

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