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Software glitch grounds new Nikon camera

Nikon has temporarily halted shipments of its latest high-end digital camera after discovering a software flaw that, under certain circumstances, can cripple the device.

Nikon has temporarily halted shipments of its latest high-end digital camera after discovering a software flaw that, under certain circumstances, can cripple the device if a user doesn't remove the lens cap before switching on the camera.

Nikon discovered the problem with its Coolpix 5000 model last week and immediately halted shipments so the "firmware"--built-in software that governs how a device operates--can be updated for the camera, said Mike Rubin, senior product manager for Nikon consumer products.

Given certain circumstances, the glitch can come into play if a person switches on the camera without first removing the lens cap. Depending on what position the zoom lens was in when the camera was last used, the lens cap will block the lens from automatically extending back to that position, resulting in an error that cannot be cleared by the owner.

The Coolpix 5000--a high-end model with a list price around $1,100--has only been on sale for about a week, with a few thousand units going to stores, Rubin said. He said Nikon had received no reports of U.S. customers being affected by the glitch.

Photography forums on the Web, however, had reports from a handful of Coolpix 5000 owners who had experienced the problem.

Gary Blyn, a Livingston, N.J., lawyer and avid amateur photographer, said his camera was frozen by the glitch shortly after he bought it last Friday.

"I took three pictures, put the cap on, turned the camera back on a few minutes later, and that was the end of it," he said in an interview. "I'm really upset about it. I think it's something that should have been caught in beta testing."

A notice on Nikon's Web site advises Coolpix 5000 owners whose cameras have been disabled by the glitch to contact Nikon for instructions on returning the camera for repair. For customers whose cameras still work, Nikon will have a downloadable fix ready by Friday, Rubin said.

Rubin noted that software updates are a common practice in the digital camera business. "If you look at our history and our competitors, I think we've all had at least one firmware upgrade in the life of each product," he said.

Gartner analyst Andrew Johnson said Nikon addressed the problem quickly and early enough so that it shouldn't hurt the company's reputation, especially with the professional photographers and serious hobbyists who make up the company's core audience.

"I'm kind of surprised they'd be in this kind of situation--they're a top-shelf vendor," he said. "But as long as they keep their customers happy and fix it quickly...I think it'll be a very short-lived issue."