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April 1999 Vol. 14, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Nikon SB-103 Strobe Slow Repairs and Stolen Units

from the April, 1999 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In last year’s October issue, we told readers about Nikon’s September recall of its Nikonos Speedlight Model SB-103 electronic flashes. The recall was initiated when Nikon determined that gas buildup could cause the front lens and flash tube unit to be projected from the speedlight. Nikon was offering to replace the units, which were manufactured between 1984 and 1994, with its newer SB-105 model. According to Undercurrent reader John Krupka, Nikon initially shipped out replacements in short order. Krupka wrote to tell us that his “subscription to Undercurrent has paid off big (again). I spotted your notice on the SB-103 recall in my email on Sept. 21. Figuring that Nikon would shortly be overwhelmed by the program ... I shipped my strobe to Nikon the same day. When I returned on Oct. 4, my new SB-105 had already been delivered.”

But Krupka’s prediction that Nikon would soon be bogged down appears to be on the money. Reader Richard Scalzo sent his unit to Nikon in September and didn’t receive his new replacement till about six weeks later. Paul Broussend of Nikon’s service department recently told Undercurrent that “units that were received in late October are now being replaced. This was a worldwide recall amounting to 80,000 units, of which 20,000 were sold in the U.S. So production of the SB-105, which is replacing the 103, has to be increased, not only to meet replacement needs but also the 105 market. This takes time.” He went on to tell us that “we are replacing units in the order that we received them, so soon we will be working on those returned in November.”

While Nikon obviously has some catching up to do, they are still accepting returned units. Owners who have not yet taken advantage of the recall offer can ship their SB-103, sans cables, brackets, and batteries and insured for a minimum of $100, to Nikon Inc., 19601 Hamilton Avenue, Torrance, California 90502-1309, Attention: Nikonos SB-103 Return. Be sure to include your name, address, telephone number, and the address to which you would like the replacement body shipped.

When he spoke with Undercurrent, Broussend also reported another, more unusual problem with the recall: some of the SB-103s seem to have found their way back to Nikon more than once. Broussend says that, because the 103s are made of very thick metal, they were unable to crush and destroy recalled units prior to disposing of them. Instead, Nikon elected to drill a hole through the center of each unit where the number 103 appears. A couple units with a patched hole in the center have been sent in with requests for replacement.

Those units appear to be only the tip of the iceberg. In January there was reportedly a posting on Ebay for a Nikon SB-103 strobe for sale. Though a couple of e-mail addresses veiled the identity of the seller, hundreds of units were reportedly offered for sale, all of them with patched holes. When a handy type with a machine shop was allegedly able to repair the hole and the unit pressure tested to 200’, he apparently decided to buy and repair the whole batch, and it seems he’s selling them at bargain basement prices. Though Nikon says they have no idea how many discarded units may have disappeared or how they found their way into customers’ hands, they do say they have begun to warn customers against buying any Nikon flash units that have a patched hole in the center, and they add that they are not replacing any SB-103s that have a patched hole. But an alert reader who’d heard about the problem posited an interesting question: “Who will be responsible if a similar incident should occur with the 'repaired' strobes: Nikon for not destroying them in the first place, the guy who sold them on Ebay, the guy who plugged the hole, or the consumer who bought the repaired strobe, knowing their history?” Time will tell.

— John Q. Trigger

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