Death of a Canon DSLR

Summary:Alas, Poor Rebel XSi, I knew him, Dr. Mitarai.

Alas, Poor Rebel XSi, ?????????, Dr. Mitarai. We see him in his final moments, watching the sticky buns, shutter seizing.

As many of you may know, besides my technology writing here on ZDNet, I also do food blogging on my personal website, Off The Broiler.

Much of what I do on Off The Broiler is food photography -- I like to try to reproduce the dining experience at restaurants for my readers, so I do a lot of close-up food shots.

While I do produce high-quality photos for my food blog, much of it is credited to the SIGMA 50mm f1.4 prime lens (fixed focal length) that I have been using for the past two years.

Since the photos are destined for the web and I consider myself very much an amateur photographer and not a pro, I can't justify spending $1600.00+ on a Pro-level camera body.

Instead, every few years or so, I upgrade the technology using consumer-level cameras, and when I travel, I tend to use inexpensive point-and shoots, such as my Canon PowerShot G7, which has served me very faithfully for about 4 years.

Being a former Canon employee (I worked at the company's US headquarters on Long Island from 1994 to late 1996 where I helped launch the first website for Canon USA)  I know the company can produce very high-quality camera equipment and lenses, and I've been a Canon adherent, user, and consumer for over 25 years.

I've owned pro-level 35mm film SLRs such as the Canon EOS-1, and I know exactly what sort of long Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) Pro-level units like these are supposed to have.

When I was an employee of the company, I visited Canon's Jamesburg, NJ-based national service center on several occasions and frequently spoke to technicians who would tell me about what expected performance and repairs cost on Pro cameras had relative to consumer units did at the time. A consumer level camera should have around half the life of a pro SLR, which should be 10 years plus for a pro unit.

Arguably, that was 15 years ago, but camera construction methods and basic mechanical assemblies haven't changed significantly, it's the digital CMOS/APS sensors and system logic boards that have progressed.

That being said, I'm a bit disappointed in Canon that my current DSLR appears to have died way before its time.

Exactly two years ago, in June of 2008, I bought myself a Canon XSi kit. I figured it would have an expected lifetime of about four years, as the mechanical assemblies and the body frame don't have the same level of robustness as a Pro-level camera would.

Today my luck run out. In the middle of shooting photos at my local farmer's market, the camera just... seized. I was hit with an "Error 99" which upon casual Googling indicates that it covers a wide range of failures.

I tried pulling the battery out for a while, and attempted to reset. No good.

I tried cleaning the lens and body gold contacts (which seems stupid since I haven't removed the Prime lens in about two years and it was pristine clean when I removed it) and still no go.

I tried looking to see if the shutter was out of alignment, but the louvers were perfectly straight. However, when the camera is turned on, the louvers "buckle" and I notice a weird motor sound. Can't be good.

Now, I've never heard of a camera having a heart attack or onset of diabetic shock, but two years seems like a relatively short lifetime, even for a consumer device.

Indeed, my shooting sessions are intense, I often take several thousand exposures in a single afternoon because I like to "bracket" my exposures and walk the f-stop for different depth-of-field and lighting effects.

Still, I can't imagine the designers of the XSi intended the unit to die that early or my shooting habits could kill a camera body that quickly, and I'd hardly call taking a lot of exposures as abuse. Two years is a very short lifespan, even for a consumer DSLR.

I'm going to be sending the XSi in for repair, and hopefully it won't be an expensive one. However, I  know from my experience that it probably won't be a good prognosis, especially if the shutter mechanism is completely shot. That's easily $200.00+ in parts and labor since the camera is out of warranty.

That being said, I've already ordered my new camera body to replace it, a Canon T2i. I hope it lives at least 3 to 4 years, but Canon, you've really shaken my consumer confidence this time.

Have you had a consumer-level DSLR die an early death as well? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Hardware

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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