Digital Camera Disasters: Will Yours Get Fixed?

Two major digital camera problems, a lens issue with Canon cameras and an image sensor defect found in many different companies' models, continue to plague owners but have drawn entirely different company responses.

The long-standing "E18" controversy, named after an error that displays when the lens can no longer extend or retract, is in the forefront again. Users with Canon point-and-shoots, including the A and SD product lines, have long complained of the problem.

Canon has not reported any defect with the cameras and typically doesn't pay to repair affected cameras that are out of warranty.

In stark contrast, a host of companies acknowledge a defective image sensor in various camera models and offer free out-of-warranty repairs. Canon, Fujifilm, Konica Minolta, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax, Ricoh, and Sony all have issued service advisories about faulty CCDs in older cameras, camcorders, and camera-enabled PDAs that result in drastically smeared or blurred pictures.

E18 Errors

Tony Hartshorn from Santa Barbara, California, says he "loves" using his Canon PowerShot A70. But when the camera was about two years old, sporadic E18 errors escalated to the point that the lens barrel was incorrectly aligned and couldn't retract properly, Hartshorn wrote in an e-mail.

He hoped Canon would "cut him a break," he says, due to the large number of E18 complaints on the Web. But when he sent his out-of-warranty camera to Canon for repair, the company offered to either fix his A70 for $108 or sell him a refurbished A75 (a slight upgrade) for the same price. He opted to repair the camera, and "no explanation [for the problem] accompanied the repaired camera," Hartshorn said in his e-mail. But he says he got the impression during conversations with Canon reps that something like dust or sand had gotten into the space around the barrel.

Canon says the E18 error arises when anything prevents the lens from properly extending or retracting. For example, the lens can freeze or stick if a camera is subjected to external shock or if any substance (such as liquid, sand, or dirt) seeps into the unit, says the company. Or, if a camera powers on while inside a bag and something prevents the lens from extracting, a user could be affected, Canon says.

Not Our Fault, Users Say

The ongoing controversy centers around Canon camera owners who insist that they did not cause their camera woes and feel Canon should fix the problems for free. They've made their stories known on a range of Internet user forums and blogs, including those on Digital Photography Review, Imaging Resource, and The Juggle Zone.

To help keep your camera problem-free, Canon recommends not touching the lens or its surrounding area. The company also suggests that you make sure the power is off before storing your camera in its case.

If you get hit with the dreaded E18 error, and turning the camera off and on again doesn't take care of it, Canon suggests contacting the store where you bought the unit, taking it to the nearest service center, or calling Canon's tech support at 800/828-4040.

If your camera is still under warranty and you need to send it to Canon, the company's tech support says it will examine E18 problems on a case-by-case basis to decide if the warranty covers the repairs. But if the warranty has expired, you will pay.

ConsumerAffairs.com reported last fall that the Chicago-based law firm of Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of camera owners affected by the E18 problem. Neither Canon nor the law firm would comment on the pending litigation. A San Francisco-based law firm, Girard Gibbs & De Bartolomeo, is also looking into the matter.

Image Sensor Defects

Another camera problem hits a range of cameras that were manufactured between 2002 and 2004 in locales with heavy heat and humidity. Defective image sensors can malfunction, causing the unit to produce badly distorted or discolored photos. Konica Minolta's Web site has samples of pictures taken with defective sensors.

If your camera has or develops this problem, manufacturers generally provide free repairs, even if the warranty has expired. However, some companies set an end date for repair. Sony, for example, will provide free repairs on the CCD problem until October 2, 2007. If you had already paid to fix this flaw before the advisory was issued, you may be eligible for a refund. Also, Olympus's technical support says it will automatically replace affected cameras with certain serial numbers, even if the product hasn't exhibited any of the problems.

For details on camera makers' service advisories or to send your camera in for repair, click one of the company links below:

Canon

Fujifilm: point-and-shoot models, and advanced models

Konica Minolta

Nikon

Olympus

Pentax

Ricoh

Sony

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