Death of a Canon DSLR

Death of a Canon DSLR

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

TOPICS: Hardware

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.

Topic: Hardware


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience 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.

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  • Wow, you are in to a lot of different things!! How do you find time to have

    a life?? Well, I guess your hobbies ARE your life!!
  • hey your food blog is pretty good. Nice shots. nt

  • Photos look like a standard dead shutter.

    Typically $180-$200.
    • RE: Death of a Canon DSLR

      @Bruizer not worth repairing unless Canon does the right thing and offers to replace the shutter at their cost.
      • RE: Death of a Canon DSLR

        @jperlow Why would you expect to receive a free out-of-warranty repair? Just because you have a blog?
      • Cheaper than a new camera.


        Why would Canon do that as it is long out of warrantee? The repair takes about a week including shipping.
  • RE: Death of a Canon DSLR

    We all know Canon as well as the others differentiate builds by their focal points, different levels of weather proofing, clean ISO levels, etc and shutter count. The number of shots you were taking suggests you should have known to move up the food chain. Still, I feel for you. One still should expect products to last longer than a sitcom.
    • RE: Death of a Canon DSLR

      @lyoung Well, it's hard to say whether or not I was killing the unit with my exposure habits. An entire 1-week vacation worth of photos in New Orleans was about 4000 shots, I really don't think that's excessive. A major BBQ event in NYC, 2000, a restaurant photo shoot, 600-1000 depending on the lighting. Considering that I travel for a living and my more frequently used camera is the G7, and it's lived twice as long as the XSi, it's a bit disconcerting.

      Still, I would hate to have spent $1600.00 on a higher end body, shot the same number of exposures and had the camera die early as well. I've been hearing similar reports from other people who've been in that boat. $800 every two years for a technology refresh isn't so bad for a hobby, but I really expect better from Canon.
      • RE: Death of a Canon DSLR

        @jperlow I'll adjust my comment. While you obviously will bump up against shutter life with the lower end camera as you well know, you still have a right to be mad. Checking a few sites I read shutter life for a mid range camera should be in the 50,000 range. This repair should be free.
      • RE: Death of a Canon DSLR

        Two years? I dunno about that. I still have a Pentax MX that I bought new in 1979. I've shot thousands of rolls of film with it and it still works. The TTL meter is off by about a half-stop, but I have a handheld meter that I use when I want to be exact.

        I just bought my first digital SLR, and I hope I get more than five years out of it. If it doesn't last any longer than that, I'll have to rethink how committed I am to photography.
      • RE: Death of a Canon DSLR


        I'm fairly active in the Canon community and I've rarely heard about early shutter death with the "prosumer" bodies. The 20D I passed down to my daughter has about 60K clicks on it, the 40D I use to shoot high school sports and such has about 30K on it, and my newest body, a 5DII that replaced the original 5D (which I sold with about 20K on it) has nary an issue, but only has about 10K on it.

        As far as the G7 goes, the G-series are tough little cameras. My son has yet to destroy ther G9 I gave him and it goes on a lot of scouting trips to the back end of nowhere. The G10 I carry daily, shows pocket wear, but no mechanical issues, though it has less than 5K clicks on it.
        David Chernicoff
      • Ok lets get this straight...

        @jperlow... $800 for a refresh every two years isn't bad for a hobby, but yet $200 for a repair isn't worth it? Grant it be, a new XSi from Best Buy, body only is $550. But if the optics are fine, and overall you are happy with the existing camera, then get it repaired.

        As for "Canon doing the right thing" what sucking up to you and repairing an out of warranty product? If they sold you the product, and said that it would function for 1 year, or we warranty it, seems to me they held up their end of the sale. If I buy a car, and it has a five year 50,000 mile warranty, and it breaks down after 5 years of at 60,000 miles, do I expect the dealership to repair it for free?? no. I get the darn thing repaired, and pay the man.

        When it comes to warranty repairs, seems to me that the bloggers on this site are a little egotistical to think that a company has to sell their soul to Jason Perlow to fix something out of warranty or he will give them a poor review...
      • I'm with you too....

        @jperlow -- The typical consumer electronics product warranty of "1 year" is a scam, all in all. It's simply the shortest time period a company can honor a warranty without resorting to measuring it in MONTHS, which would look bad at even an initial glance. Anything that's sold as a "prosumer" class product should easily last a lot longer than that, even with "heavy use", or else it wasn't engineered sufficiently well.

        When you consider that the typical color laser printer has a FAR more complex interaction of its components to produce a single page of print, yet they're almost always good for many tens of thousands of pages of printing, it doesn't seem much to ask for a camera shutter to be able to open/close a similar number of times in its lifespan!
      • Sounds like you exceeded the expected life of the shutter.


        You should also know the physical aspect of the XSi's mechanical shutter really does not compare the electronic shutter of the G7.

        But basically, on one 1 week trip to New Orleans, you burned through 4% of your rated life of the shutter. 2% at a BBQ (a single day). .6-1% at a single restaurant in the evening.

        Over a two year period, you might be a good 100-200% over the rated life.
  • RE: Death of a Canon DSLR

    Shutter life is measured in exposures not clock time. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
    • RE: Death of a Canon DSLR

      @focusfree - I agree completely. And with digital, the average person will likely take 3-5 pictures with digital than if they were shooting film. Why? Having to pay to process the film, get it developed (and even the act of just changing film canisters) causes one to be a little stingy with the shutter release. OTOH, it's easy to hit the delete key with digital. Too bad people don't understand that mechanical things have a finite life.
  • RE: Death of a Canon DSLR

    I really liked consumer gadgets, and I thought it was the end all. Then, I bought a coal fired steam engine that you ride on, and I haven't bought a gadget in a couple of years. We've been looking for machines that are alive, and golly, turns out we already made them and forgot...
    • RE: Death of a Canon DSLR

      @tburzio What?
  • Unreasonable expectations

    "I often take several thousand exposures in a single afternoon"<br><br>Given your own description of your picture taking, my guess is that you take 100K to 200K pictures each year. If a consumer level mechanical shutter gives out after two years, you have gotten your money's worth. <br><br>Stop bitching and buy a pro-level camera or just get it repaired by Canon. Warranty replacement after a quarter of a million plus shutter operations is ridiculous.
    • RE: Death of a Canon DSLR

      @Economister You're assuming I've hit 100K exposures per annum, I posit that because I travel for a living and only use the camera when I am at home, I haven't hit anywhere near that a year. I traveled 42 weeks in 2008, approximately 24 in 2010 for business. Most of which I've used my point-and-shoot.