Camera Repairs

I wasn't the first to comment this way, but it seems that the camera companies now have a simplified repair estimate form:

  1.  [ ] No problem was found — camera/lens operates within our unpublished standards
  2.  [ ] Water damage, unrepairable — some form of moisture was detected, too bad
  3.  [ ] Impact damage — no warranty repair, no gray market repair, otherwise $$$$
  4.  [ ] Parts no longer available — we ignore the CA 7-year law and just run out of parts early

This article tells you how to deal with each of these four likely scenarios.

No Problem Found — The culprit here is the simplified testing device that cameras are put on to check them. It's a bit like the OBD module in your car: an automated test of the basic parameters the camera maker determined might be useful in repair diagnosis. The software on that test device returns codes with potential fix parameters, much like OBD.

Your problem with this situation is simple: you very well may have an issue that needs to be fixed, only it's not exactly one that the camera company anticipated or which gets easily identified in the test suite. This is the reason why I suggest documenting any problem very carefully when you submit something for repair, including shots from rigid testing that isolates the problem and makes it clearly visible, if possible.

Generally speaking, anything that gets marked with "no problem found" requires escalation with the camera company in order to get it repaired. If you're NPS, CPS, or SPS—the professional services memberships at the various camera companies—you probably already know the route you'll take to get that escalation. Use it. If you're not, you'll be in a Kafkaesque situation that will take patience, persistence, and perhaps luck to break through the warren of voice mail and gate-guarding corporals that the camera makers employ. It's a bit as if the camera companies never want to sell you another product: they avoid talking to you in any way they can.

But I'm going to re-iterate, the only way out you'll ever get this kind of issue fixed is if you can clearly document it (preferably with an example of what the correct image would look like, which may mean you have to borrow a correctly working example to shoot a comparison with). 

Here's the real issue, though: many people think that their focus or other issue is the fault of the camera, when it often isn't. Even things like AF Fine Tune aren't as clear cut and simple as they seem. I had one person keep tuning their lens in low artificial light and try to prove it didn't work in bright sunlight. Well, DSLR focus systems are susceptible to spectral issues. In other cases, I've found that focus issues weren't actually the camera's fault, it was that the user didn't understand something about how the system worked. 

Thus, I'll give the camera makers a small bit of slack here: they get a lot of false positive complaints. Indeed, a majority of the "focus" issues may be false positive. It's really how the camera companies handle these that's the real issue. Dismissing the complaint unceremoniously is not the solution.

Water Damage — Well, here the camera company may be correct. If water somehow got into the digital innards of your camera, it probably had a destructive effect that is ultimately unrepairable. It's unrepairable because any sign of water damage means you really need to do a full replacement of everything remotely electronic in the camera. You can't assume that the only damage is the visible damage (which will be quite visible, by the way). 

Two things: (1) be more careful about condensation; and (2) know what to do if a camera is exposed to water in some way.

Moving cameras in and out of air conditioned areas to hot areas, particularly humid ones, and using them immediately is asking for trouble. You really need to follow the "bag it" technique (put camera in airtight bag, remove air, move bag to new environment and let it acclimate in temperature before opening bag). Constantly moving in and out of air conditioning—as you might on a vacation trip—can have a cumulative effect on moisture build-up inside the camera if you're not careful. 

Meanwhile, those of us who have to shoot in inclement weather (sports, nature, and wildlife, maybe some events), are always carrying some sort of raincoat for our camera. Even if the camera is suggested to be waterproof in some way—as some Olympus cameras are—there are just too many potential ingress points you have to be wary of while shooting, particularly if you're changing batteries and cards.

I also keep a Ruggard dehumidification cabinet [advertising link] in the office. In either case, above, I tend to put gear that might have been exposed to "wetness" into the chamber on return from a shoot. Alternatively, again there's the bag-it approach: gear into sealed bag with moisture absorbing material, remove air, let sit until the moisture sucking bits do their job.

In other words, prevention is your only friend here. There may be a couple of shops around the world that will attempt a fix on water damaged gear, but it'll take a long time and be costly. Better to just take your lumps.

Impact Damage — One of the things that every camera gets upon entering a repair queue is a close visual inspection. And I mean close. Thing is, after repair you'll have a new 90-day warranty, and cameras are complex enough products that interactions can be problematic. So if that mount isn't where its supposed to be, if there's a crack in the outer shell, or if anything else that indicates unusual wear is seen, you get the "impact damage" assessment. 

The usual user claim is "The camera has never been dropped." Yeah, and your dog ate your homework. Sorry, but I've watched hundreds, probably thousands of people taking photographs. They don't treat their equipment gently. Even when they think they do, they don't. For instance, how many of you travel with your bodies connected to a lens with your camera in the airplane overhead? Not a good idea. The longer or heavier the lens, the more likely something will stress the mount or body at some point. Your bag also doesn't absorb all the blows from that person that boarded late and is now cramming their stuff into the same overhead. 

I do think the camera companies are a little quick to call impact, but I understand why they do: anything that indicates the camera has absorbed excessive stress potentially indicates that there will be additional issues on repair that need to be addressed. A cracked plastic part, for instance, may not allow them to get the ribbon cables, buttons, and dials all lined up correctly while reassembling the product. 

There's additional things some of you are doing that plays into this: you're not documenting the state of your product before shipping it back, and you're not wrapping it very well. You're assuming that the shipping company won't throw the box around. Sadly, some of those "impact damage" assessments are real, but the damage occurred somewhere between when you last had the camera in your hands and the repairman first gets it in his. 

Gentle escalation can sometimes help you get a break on the repair costs here. Demanding that the company do something and that there wasn't a problem when you last had the gear in your hands, and that you'll take this to your state's Attorney General is not "gentle." Explaining that the camera was well taken care of and asking the right person if they can help you out in some way might get you a discount on the needed repair. But generally, if the camera company claims impact damage, they're going to be repairing it and that's a cost to them.

Parts no longer available — Sadly, this one has been cropping up more and more lately. To comply with the strictest repair laws in the US, a manufacturer is supposed to stock parts and be able to repair the item for up to seven years after the last date of manufacture of said product. I've noted several cases recently where that clearly wasn't the case. Moreover, determining the exact discontinuation of manufacturing for something is impossible these days. Given the inventory build ups that the camera makers have made, it's even possible that some products are still around "new" even though manufacturing stopped years ago. The D610, for instance. New copies are still available, but I'm pretty sure it hasn't been made recently. 

The camera maker isn't going to help you here. If they're out of parts, they're out of parts. That doesn't mean those parts don't exist or can't be obtained. eBay and a good local repair shop are your friends here. Type BRAND MODEL PARTS into the eBay search bar, and you'll find quite a few. Indeed, you'll find both new and used parts. I just did that for the Nikon D850—i.e. "Nikon D850 parts"—and found pretty much every part and sub-module was available. (eBay, by the way, is also where you go to find a new battery chamber door when you break it, or a replacement rubber grip when you wear it out. In other words, there are repairs you can do yourself if you're even moderately capable.)

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