Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Known problems with camera lenses

Recently, when trying to take pictures with my 17-85mm lens on my Canon 40D camera, I've been getting an error message: "Err 01 Communications between the camera and lens is [sic] faulty. Clean the lens contacts." At first it was intermittent and sometimes just switching the camera off and then back on again would stop the message from appearing. And cleaning the lens contacts didn't seem to make any difference to whether, or when, the message would appear.

Lately, I get this message more often than not so I had a go at cleaning the contacts, watched a video on the subject and decided that I might not be using the correct cleaning fluid, so I decided to get expert advice - or, at least, as expert as you'll get in a camera shop.

It was obvious that I shouldn't just go to my local optician and ask for 'lens contact solution' as I'd end up with something entirely inappropriate for the job. The video suggested that I should use rubbing alcohol, which I'd always thought was for athlete's feet (though not athlete's foot).

Rather than go straight to my local chemist, I thought it best to get expert advice before buying anything. The guy in Jessops said, "Bring it in and we'll take a look at it." Presumably they had a lens expert on the premises. He confirmed that there would be no charge to get a quote in the case that the lens did need to be repaired.

The guy in Jacobs said that they'd have to send the lens away to Canon, and that it would cost over £100 to repair. I suspect that this is actually the case with Jessops, too.

I'm reluctant to spend this kind of money on a lens that's well outside its one-year warranty, let alone the standard 2-year warranty required under EU legislation. (I suspect that the lens wouldn't be eligible anyway, and not just because I bought it about 27 months ago.)

But then I discovered something interesting. And, quite honestly, more than a little preposterous.

I had a little difficulty understanding the guy in a camera and computer repair shop in New Oxford Street because of his accent and his speech patterns, but I got the gist alright. He said, and I quote him as verbatimly (TM) as possible: "This lens tends to have problems with the aperture control circuit; it will cost £120 to £130 to repair."

I was gobsmacked. He's telling me that there is a known problem with the Canon 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens. And it can't possibly be something that Canon doesn't know about as it's quite an old lens now. Yet, as far as I can see, camera shops are quite happy to go on selling it. And Canon are quite happy to go on fixing it. At a price. A price that amounts to more than one quarter of the price I purchased it at.

And if the problem recurs, what then? Would Canon replace it with the same lens with the same known problem? Or would they charge another £100 or more to "fix" it again?

I'm not only left with a bad taste in my mouth, I'm also left wondering if the guy in the repair shop is right about it being a known issue. If so, and if Canon are prepared to continue shipping such a lens to the camera shops, and if those shops are prepared to keep selling it (and without informing the customer about the 'known issue'), and both are prepared to keep taking the lens in for repair at a price that amounts to such a substantial percentage of the purchase price of the lens, then there's something wrong with this picture.


  1. Well I had similar situation with my Nikon body and lenses and I went with a pretty popular solution: using DEOXIT to clean the contacts. Luckily my local Frys Electronics store has DEOXIT and it is pretty cheap. I cleaned the contacts on my body and some lenses and it is working like a charm. Thanks to knowledgeable folks on dpreview and other forums who suggested that solution. DEOXIT is sold at many stores in the USA, including B&H and J&R. Not sure about UK. Here in Los Angeles, it is sold, among other places, at Frys Electronics

  2. I had exactly the same problem. The 17-85 worked fine on my 350D but, even after cleaning the contacts etc etc, was still giving me grief on my 50D.

    In the end I replaced it with the 15-85 IS, which I'm really happpy with. The extra couple of millimetres at the wide end make a much bigger difference than you'd think.

  3. Dmitry: Thanks for that. Deoxit is sold on, albeit at an inflated price, so I'll certainly be checking it out. Here's hoping.

    Steve: I was considering getting the 18-55 when I can afford it. It's only about £80 compared to the £130+ for repairing the 17-85. But I know I'd be losing a fair bit of width with that extra 1mm. The 15-85mm is more like £500 and there's no way I can afford that.

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  5. When I saw the size of the Deoxit spray that I'd spent £15 on, I was again gobsmacked. But then it might just clean the contacts enough to clear up the problem. In fact, it did no such thing. It seems it wasn't the contacts after all.


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