When I take the first picture - after the camera not being used for a couple hours or so - half the photo comes out black. Now it's beginning to be the whole photo comes out black. If u had a "film camera" u would think the film hadn't been advanced enough - but this is a digital camera - so any ideas?
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there are some programs out there to recover files from your card even after you format the card. most of the time if you delete the file you can get it back. depending on the brand of card you use, many of them offer some kind of recovery software and most of the time it is free of charge if you purchase a card from them. I am not selling these but I most of the time use Lexar cards and they give one of the best programs out there. used it before and it saved me a couple good times :) you can google some other ones and there are some that are free.
As a test, I would take a photo with the camera in the auto exposure mode. Write down the ISO number, f-stop and shutter speed the camera uses. Next, set your camera to the manual mode and set the ISO number, f-stop and shutter speed that you recorded. If the picture is displayed correctly, your problem was that you used the wrong settings in manual. If you still have the problem, you need to have Nikon take a look at your camera. You can call Nikon's USA Repair Center at 1-800-645-6687 from 9AM-8PM EST, Monday to Friday.
It appears that you have dust on your sensor that is recording in the same place on each image. It is a common problem with digital cameras.
If you are adept at cleaning the sensor yourself, it is a relatively easy chore.
However, if you have any doubts about it, take it to a reputable camera dealer and let them do it.