990 new user FAQ

This is an unofficial list of Frequently Asked Questions for new CP990 owners. These are my own unofficial comments, I don't work for Nikon ;) I'm trying to keep this updated as people ask questions on the various forums, so check back.  A lot of material for the 950 applies to the 990, you might want to check the 950 section also. I've tried to arrange these topics with the most frequently asked at the top.

 Last updated November 12, 2001

Click on a topic, or scan the list below for your question:

Hey, there is a flashing clock icon thing on the LCD !

All of a sudden I can't change modes with the mode button.

I set the clock, but the camera lost the time and my settings.

I can't select Hi quality in M-Rec mode

The camera made a horrible buzzing/clicking sound

My flash does not fire!

There is no text on the monitor any more!

My 990 locked up and/or will not shut off!

What flash cards work? Are some faster?

I have to buy a Lexar "USB enabled" card because the camera has USB, right?

My shots are blurry!

My shots have light/dark spots!

I only got 20 shots with fresh batteries

Can I use manual focus in the self-timer mode?

The screen looks "funny"/"too sharp"/"grainy" but only in M-Rec mode. Also the menus look funny/flickery.

The green light keeps flashing slowly

My viewfinder has a crack down the middle

The redeye flash keeps turning itself on in A-Rec mode

The camera makes a (loud) funny noise all the time

LCD "Ghosting" or "Streaking" in bright light

I can't get my flash card out of the socket

The shutter speed seems stuck at 1/60 or 1/125 second

Should I use "Format" or "Delete all" or "Nikonview" to delete all my pictures on the camera?

Don't see your question here? Check out the Nikon Euro site FAQ here, they have a very good list of common questions for Nikon digitial products, well worth looking at.


Hey, there is a flashing clock-like icon thing on the LCD !

That means that the clock is not set, set the time and date on the camera. This is the #1 new user question.

All of a sudden I can't change modes with the mode button.

You have re-programmed the mode button. Program it back to be the mode button. This is the #2 most popular question. Your camera is not broken. To set it back, pick M-Rec mode, then pick Setup, then Controls, then pick Func1, then pick Mode. Another way that this can happen is if you set AE lock, then it will also not allow you to change modes.

I set the clock, but the camera lost the time and my settings.

The time and date settings and other settings will be lost when you change the batteries until the internal backup battery gets charged up. Leave a fresh set of batteries in your 990 overnight. It takes longer to charge up if you are using NiMH cells due to the lower voltage. If the camera refuses to charge the internal battery, suspect your batteries first. You might have a weak or bad NiMH cell that results in too low a voltage to charge the internal battery.

   For fastest charging of the internal battery, leave a new fresh set of alkaline batteries in the camera at least overnight with the camera off. Don't try to operate the camera from the alkalines. The current drain will be so low during charging that the batteries will be "like new" when you take them out in the morning and you can use them in another device, but your internal camera battery will be charged faster than using NiMH due to the higher voltage.

I can't select Hi quality in M-Rec mode

   There are several modes that you can put the camera in that that are incompatible with "Hi" or TIFF mode, and the camera will not let you select "Hi" quality. One is continuous shooting, another is BSS. These are modes where the 25-40 second storage time (depends on your flash card) for a Hi picture would not work with the mode. If you are a newbie and are not sure if you might have set one of those modes, you can do a "reset" on the camera from the menu to get everything back; then you will be able to pick "Hi".

The camera made a horrible buzzing/clicking sound

Welcome to the mystery "buzzing lens" problem. This is a problem with all 990 cameras, although Nikon has not officially admitted that there is a problem. If this happens to your camera, it probably does not mean that your camera is broken. There is a specific sequence of events that can reproduce the problem on any 990.  I reported this problem and how to reproduce it to Nikon in June of 2000. There still has been no official word on this. This can still happen on the CP995 also.  Here are a few facts about it...

* If this happens, you will probably have to open the battery door and take out the batteries to get it to stop. Be quick! Some people have reported that they could use the switch.

* It is not known if this can cause damage to your camera. I have had it happen three times, and my camera is still OK after almost a year. Most people feel that as long as you stop the buzzing as soon as possible, you will be OK. There is no official word from Nikon. If you call, they will act like they have never heard of this problem.

* This happens more frequently when the camera is new. This is mainly because the problem has to do with waking up from sleep mode, and the camera comes with a very short sleep time set by default. After a while, most people change the mode to a longer time and the problem is less frequent, and also become more observent abotu when the camera is awake.

* If you want to avoid the problem, don't try to zoom until the camera has completely woken up from sleep mode. I am not giving the exact procedure here because I don't want anyone to damage their camera by using it.

* If you are a "doubting Thomas" about this, e-mail me and I'll send you the exact procedure that will make your camera buzz. This has worked on all cameras tested so far.

* There is more information on the firmware 1.0 page. This problem is not fixed in firmware 1.1.


My Flash does not fire!

Your camera is not broken. There are several camera modes where the flash is disabled because the internal flash can't keep up with the high shot rate.

Continuous mode, High speed mode (the flash can't fire over and over fast enough, the external flash will still work, if you have one that can keep up/)

BSS mode (flash can't fire fast enough)

Wide angle lens or telephoto modes (disabled because the lens blocks the flash. If you want to use the flash with these lenses, just don't use the lens mode and zoom it yourself)

and some others such as 16 shot mode, and of course movie mode.

If you are not sure if you might have set one of those modes, you can do a "reset" on the camera from the menu to set everything back.

There is no text on the monitor any more!

Press the Monitor button a couple times. It cycles through display on+text, display on, display off. Spooky if you press this button by accident. Or, you have the lens pointed at you, the text is not shown in that configuration because they show you an inverted image so it looks right side up with the lens flipped upside down.

My 990 locked up and/or will not shut off!

Open up the battery door to reset the camera. As for why this happens, some have said that it can happen on a new camera until the internal battery charges up. Or, it might be a bug in the firmware; the "lockup" was famous on the early 950 firmware.

One very common lockup on the 990 with firmware 1.0 is that if the camera thinks that it has one shot left, but the last shot does not prove to fit in the available space... oh oh.

One thing that can definitely cause your camera to lock up is low batteries. When the batteries are low, and you take a picture, more current is used to write to the card. This can cause your batteries to dip farther into the danger zone, and could cause your camera to lock up or could result in a bad file written to your flash card. If you are using NiMH cells (and you should be) I recommend changing your batteries as soon as the indicator shows low battery; don't try to drain every last electron from them, and definitely don't wait for the batteries to "die". Because of the way NiMH batteries discharge, by the time the voltage on them starts to drop and the battery indicator shows low voltage, 95% of the capacity of the battery is used up anyway; you might as well change them.

Sometimes NiMH batteries that appear to be good can actually be bad, and can be causing your camera problems. This can happen if there is a weak cell in the set. The cell might charge up to a normal terminal voltage, but might fail as soon as there is any load, driving your camera crazy. You can't always find a bad cell like this with a voltmeter, because modern voltmeters are high impedance (draw very little current when measuring voltage). You may be able to find it by measuring the voltage on partially discharged cells and looking for one that is a lot lower than the others.  If you have a 990 that seems to be constantly locking up, you might want to see if it correlates with using one of your NiMH battery sets. You also might want to measure the voltage on a discharged set of cells to see if one is a lot lower than the others.

Note that lockups after USB transfer of files do not count, the camera can lock up for minutes or forever if you unplug at the wrong time.

Other common causes of lockups and especially the dreaded "system error" are problems with flash cards, either 1) a bad/flaky card, or 2) corrupted directory problem on the card. Try reformatting the card in the camera. See if the problem correlates with a certain card.  If you are having a "system error" especially if it occurs during recording or playback of certain images, try another card right away. If the problem only occurs during the playback of certain images, you almost certainly have a bad or corrupted card.

I'd recommend that if you use a card reader, that you never delete files on the card on the computer, let the camera do the deleting. That is because 1) Windows will put a recycle bin on your card 2) Windows does not always write information out to the card right away, if you take the card out too soon you could corrupt the directory, and have crazy problems on the camera later. I recommend using "format" on the camera when you want to delete all of your files. It is faster than using "delete all", and will take care of any developing directory problems on the card, just in case.

What flash cards work? Are some faster?

As far as I know, the CP990 will use any brand or size of Type I compact flash card that you can afford to buy that is currently on the market. The Type II IBM microdrive will not fit. There have been no reports of problems with any brand, and Nikon is shipping Lexar cards with the camera. As for speed, unlike earlier Nikon cameras there is a significant speed difference, especially for TIFF shots. It might be worth getting a faster card, but the time difference with very fast cards is small for regular shots. See the flash card timings page for details. Larger cards are not slower when they are empty, but they may get slightly slower as more pictures are placed on the card.

I have to buy a Lexar "USB enabled" card because the camera has USB, right?

No, you don't. Any Type I compact flash card will work just fine. The "USB enabled" just means that you can buy a cable adapter from Lexar that you can plug their USB enabled cards into to read them (you don't get one with the camera), not that there is something special about the cards for cameras with USB interfaces. You can read any card in the camera using the USB port on the camera. Note also that the Lexar "X" rating (4X,8X,10X) does NOT mean that these cards are "10X" faster than other cards. It means that the card is "10X" faster than a "1X" CDROM drive. Other cards can be just as fast as the Lexar cards, it is just an advertising gimmick in my opinion.

My shots are always blurry!

There can be several reasons for this, I've listed them below.

* The main reason seems to be trying to hand hold a shot that you should not.  This seems to generate a lot of "the camera has poor low light focusing" comments. The old rule of thumb for the shutter speed is 1/the focal length. So, at telephoto, you should not try to hand hold at less than 1/110 second. At wide angle, not less than 1/38 second. This assumes that you are holding as still as you can, not moving or trying to take a picture while you are walking. If you are trying to take a handheld shot at 1/8 second say, don't be surprised if it does not look perfectly sharp when you examine it later on your computer.

* The second most common reason is camera motion after half pressing to get focus lock. I find myself doing this by accident all the time. What happens is that you half press to lock the focus... and then you are tempted to move for better framing! You have to refocus of course. For closeups of people, even moving by an inch can ruin your shot because the depth of field can be small. It can make the difference between a shot with the focus on the subject's nose, and a shot with the focus on the back of their ear. For macro shots, where the depth of field is only a few mm, it is almost impossible to get a good shot without a tripod.

* Camera rotation. Any camera is very sensitive to rotation during the exposure (say by stabbing the exposure button). A very small rotation can result in blur. For example, say that the camera rotated just 1 degree while you took your shot around the center of the image. Say the image is 2000 pixels across. That 1 degree is 1/57 radians, so the camera will move 1000/57 or almost 18 pixels at the edges. To have less than 1 pixel movement, you would have to hold the camera still to within less than 1/1000 radian, or 0.06 degrees, a very small angle. The full Moon is 0.50 degrees, for example.

* Another common reason might be that you are pressing the shutter when the camera does not have a focus lock (green light is still flashing rapidly).  Start checking the green light. The camera will not always be able to focus in low light, depending on what you point it at. (hint, turn off the monitor for a while to get a feel for this; that will not allow you to take a picture that is not in focus)

*One last thing to check, make sure that you didn't turn the sharpening off in the camera, set it to Normal or Auto unless you want to sharpen later with your photo program. Unsharpened shots are shockingly soft from the CP990 and other digital cameras; just not what our eyes expect to see.

My shots have light/dark spots!

See the Spots page here for the detailed causes of various spots. The most common reasons for bright spots are the flash reflecting off particles (dust or water) in the air near the flash (because the flash is so close to the lens in the 950) when seen against a dark background. The most common reason for dark spots on a bright background (like the blue sky) is dust in the lens system..


I only got 20 shots with fresh batteries

You cannot use alkaline batteries except in an emergency, they simply do not have enough power. YOU JUST CAN'T USE THEM. I know that they gave you a set of alkalines in the box (in the US), but you CANNOT use them except in an emergency or with the monitor off all the time. You HAVE to use NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) batteries which you will have to buy. They are available at Radio Shack, Wal-Mart, and cheaper elsewhere. The best ones have a higher mAh (milliAmpere hour) rating. 1300 to 1600 or even 1800 is good, but all are acceptable. You also cannot use the Ray-O-Vac rechargable alkalines, they cannot provide enough current and are actually even worse than regular alkalines for high current devices like cameras. NiCd (Nickel Cadmium) batteries, especially the "heavy duty" variety  can be used, but are not quite as good as NiMH. There is a lot of discussion about which brand and exactly which type is the best, I'll let you form your own opinion. Any brand of NiMH is far superior to alkaline, don't worry about getting the best available for your first set, just get anything.

Can I use manual focus in the self-timer mode?

Yes. You have to set the timer first, then press and hold the manual focus button while you dial up the range you want. You have to reset it after each shot, unfortunately. A bit tricky to set because if you press the button wrong, the timer will turn off.

The screen looks "funny"/"too sharp"/"grainy" but only in M-Rec mode.

That is the focus confirmation feature on the 990. It oversharpens the image on the screen so you can see what is in focus. It only works in M-Rec. By default it is only on for manual focus mode, but you can turn it on or off all the time in M-Rec if you want to. Also, the focus confirmation feature seems to interact with the on-screen menus giving kind of a watery flickery look look.

The green light keeps flashing slowly all the time

It does this in 3:2 mode to "warn" you that the optical viewfinder is not accurate to frame your view. Actually, it isn't that bad, the reason is that the viewfinder only covers about 80% of the shot anyway under normal conditions. In 3:2 mode, the vertical part of the view is perfect in the optical viewfinder, but you will get a little more to the sides.

My viewfinder has a "crack" down the middle

You will be glad to know that that is normal. It is the "roof" of the porro prism used to fold the light path for the optics in the viewfinder. It is most visible if you are nearsighted. It will not appear in the final photo.

The redeye flash keeps turning itself on in A-Rec mode

This is actually a feature, but it is confusing. What happens in A-Rec is that the camera remembers the last flash mode that you used to actually take a picture, and turns on next time in that mode. So you can have this happen... You use the redeye mode to take a picture. You notice this and turn it back to auto, then turn the camera off. Next time you turn it on, hey! the redeye mode is back on! To fix this, take a picture in the mode that you want. To make this even more confusing, not all the flash modes are remembered in this way!

   This was done to reduce the number or potentially confusing menu choices in A-Rec; it is supposed to be a "point and shoot" mode, M-Rec is for customization.

The camera makes a (loud) funny noise all the time

In A-Rec mode, and by default in M-Rec mode, the camera is always focusing in case you want to take a shot, and to keep the view on the LCD in focus. This is called continuous focus mode. The noise is pretty loud, louder than it was on the Nikon 950, this is normal. Most people end up turning off the continuous focus in M-Rec mode, and using the Single AF mode. (Got to the second menu, pick FOCUS, then pick focus mode, then pick Single AF). Using the continuous focus mode does not seem to have many actual advantages, it is supposed to result in faster shooting because the camera is "already focused". There is some slight speed advantage in firmware 1.1 to using continuous focus mode, in firmware 1.0 there was no advantage.

LCD "Ghosting" or "Streaking" in bright light.

In bright light situations, and with the brightness turned up all the way on the LCD monitor, you will see vertical streaks on bright objects (like a window to the outdoors) on the LCD monitor. This is normal, and has something to do with the brighter type of LCD that is used in the 990 vs. the 950 which was dimmer but did not streak. For maximum visibility, the LCD brightness can be turned up high enough to cause these streaks. They will not appear on your final photo.

I can't get my flash card out of the socket

Some cards stick more than others. If you have fat fingers, as I do, you will find it hard to get under that little edge on the cards to pull them out. To make removing the cards easier, make a little tab out of scotch tape and stick it to the front side of the flash card. That really helps.

The shutter speed seems stuck at 1/60 or 1/125 second

This topic comes up quite a bit! Someone thinks that their camera is broken because in low light, it always shows 1/60 second, then it switches to 1/125 second when the camera is half pressed to focus. This happens even if the light is changed! How come the shutter speed does not change? Even in total darkness it still shows 1/60 or 1/125!

The reason is that the CP990/950 always uses 1/119 second for flash shots. If you have the flash forced on, or set on auto or redeye, and the camera is in Program mode or Aperture mode, the camera will always use 1/119 seconds for the flash. You might think that the shutter speed should vary to compensate for how much flash light is needed, but the fact is that the flash duration is a lot shorter than the fastest shutter speed on the 990, and there is no shutter speed fast enough to control the amount of light from the flash (Try it! set shutter mode and take some flash shots, they will all look the same. This is actually a feature, it means that the 990/950 can "sync" with the flash at any shutter speed). Instead the camera "squelches" (turns off) the flash when there has been enough light placed on the scene as measured by the little sensor next to the lens.

So, if you want to see the shutter speed change, turn off the flash.

The weird thing about it is how the 990 shows 1/60 second until you half press to focus, then it shows 1/125.  Even stranger is that the actual exposure is 1/119 second. I have no idea how that value was chosen. 1/125 shows on the screen because it is the closest standard value to 1/119.

Should I use "Format" or "Delete all" or "Nikonview" to delete all my pictures on the camera?

You should use the in-camera "Format". Here is why....

* The in-camera Format is safer and much faster. If you were to have any of  following situations developing on your card, format would take care of them for you. This could avoid a horrible loss of pictures later. In any case, you should NEVER delete your pictures with a card reader.

   - Directory corruption problem

   - Lost space due to "lost clusters"

   - Non picture files placed on card by Windows

   - Format difference.

Even if you have "never had a problem" yet, why not be safe and format every time? You will not know that you have a problem until you get the dreaded "system error" message and loose some pictures.

* But using Format will wear out my card early, right? First of all, even if format wrote to the entire card, you would have to do it more than 300000 times to wear out the card. Second, the in camera format in the Nikon 950, 990 is a "quick" format that does not write to the entire card, just the directory. Because flash cards have "wear leveling" that distributes the actual writes over the card, you will not be able to wear the card out by formatting it continuously in your lifetime. There is actually less wear on the card using Format that re-writes the directory once vs. delete that writes to the directory with every delete.

* Never let Windows write to the card with a card reader. This is for several reasons. The first is, Windows will put a recycle bin on the card that uses a tiny amount of your valuable space. Second, if your card isn't set up right as removable media, Windows might actually put files that you delete in the recycle bin, and you would loose some of the capacity of the card, usually 10% or whatever the recycle bin is set for..