Entry: Servicing the Canon G3 digital camera Monday, November 10, 2003

OK, first rant. Now, I own a Canon G3 digital camera. It's just a brilliant device, I'm completely satisfied with it in every way and would recommend it to anyone. In fact I carry it with me most places I go, and that's where this little tale of woe begins. A few months back, I was up on Australia's Gold Coast, taking a walk along the clifftops and admiring the rather wild sea below. Going close to the edge to get a better look and a picture, a sudden freak wave suddenly washed straight up the cliff-face and rained down on me with some force - I got out of there as quick as I could and started to count my blessings that I hadn't been swept away! Drying off, I noticed that the G3 was now sitting in a few millimetres of salt water in its carry case. I quickly emptied it out and dried it off as best I could, also removing the battery "just in case".

Later, I tried to operate the camera and discovered that it was working rather oddly - perhaps not unexpected. The lense extension/retraction motor would work intermittently and the camera would not focus properly. Then it would work. Then it wouldn't. After a while it kept reporting a "lens" error and shutting down. In short, it was buggered.

I let the camera dry out for a week, but no joy. I took it to my local friendly camera dealer who said yes, they could send it off to Canon in Sydney for analysis and repair, but they also warned me that Canon were notoriously slow getting around to doing the work, so not to expect it back anytime soon. Also, it was fairly expensive to ship it there and back and there was a considerable charge just for them to look at it. Well, the prospect of having to buy a whole new camera didn't appeal, so I went ahead.

About 8 weeks went by, then I got a call from the camera shop. They'd received the report from Canon - the main optical assembly and main PCB needed replacement, the work would cost AU$899. They also offered a replacement new camera for $1,099. I'd just seen the G3 advertised at a discount camera centre for $999, so this didn't seem very generous. I said not to bother, please would they return the camera unrepaired. Two weeks later I had it back. Inserting the battery and powering it up, it worked perfectly.... for a few minutes. Then the "lens" error message flashed up again and it shut down. Back to square one.

Or was it? The fact that it worked once demonstrated that no permanent damage had occurred to the unit - it was capable of operating properly, but something was preventing it. I've seen what salt-water can do to an piece of electronics - it ain't pretty, but then again corrosion is usually in the form of a semi-conducting salt that is easily cleaned off. I figured that's what must have happened to the camera, and knowing that the amount of water that got in there was probably quite small, I figured I'd have a go fixing it myself. Nothing to lose after all, I was resigned to buying a new camera anyway.

Carefully removing first the front, then the back cover of the body, I could see that the bottom part of the chassis showed minor signs of saltwater ingress (discolouration of the steel chassis), but it was only a few millimetres deep. The water had not touched the majority of the innards. In passing I was impressed at both the design and the build quality of the unit, a triumph of miniaturisation. The main board is at the back of the camera, and there are three connectors at the bottom edge of the board, connecting film-wire (flexible circuits) to other parts of the camera. One of these was lower than the other two and in the "wet zone" of the corrosion. Carefully unlocking the connector and releasing the film wire showed that the tiny fingers of solder were bridged by salty corrosion. Taking a pencil eraser I carefully rubbed it off, using an eyeglass to check it was completely clean. I reassembled the connector and powered up the camera, covers off. Success - it worked perfectly, and still does now, weeks later. The fault has been fully rectified.

I'm very happy to have my camera back, but at the same time pissed off that the repair dept. at Canon Sydney are such a bunch of inept losers. They knew it was salt water damage, the extent of which was easily seen by the telltale "tide mark" on the chassis. Given the symptoms of the fault, the cause was pretty easy to guess at. So glibly opting for replacement of the two largest and most expensive parts of the camera without proper investigation is to my mind a failure of good service. I'm not even sure they took the covers off the camera - they probably plug it into an external diagnostic tool and blindly do what it says. I can imagine that in many cases of damage to a camera there is little can be done other than replace major assemblies, but this case wasn't like that. The fact they couldn't tell the difference tells me there is something wrong somewhere with Canon's training, procedures or attitude. Incidentally the whole repair took me half an hour and I'm not even familiar with dismantling the camera, so there would be little merit in claiming that a more thorough investigation would be too time consuming. It's just lazy.


Sarah G
November 21, 2003   05:30 PM PST
Hey, you grabbed my attention with this entry!! Going through a similar dilemma with the company in question. I've emailed you to share my story and find out if you followed it up anywhere. Keep blogging, you never know who's watching!

Cheers, Sarah G

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