Buying a Canon Camera?

Photography is not really about cameras. I mean, you need a camera that will do the job, that’s all. (Apologies to a thousand camera clubs but, er – that’s pretty much it).
Photography as an art should be about light, tone, colour, feeling, expression, the moment.
When buying cameras in the past I have only looked for fairly basic functionality – yes, I’m a student of the ‘f8 and be there’ school.
There is one important thing though. When you have just flown from London to Delhi, spent 16 hours on a train, trekked 15Km into the wilderness, and there before you is a scene which will never again be repeated, which you were hoping to capture for a book or a magazine article, you need your camera to actually work.

I recently spent 5 days in St. Petersburg, my first visit there in 35 years. As luck would have it I made it through 4 days without a problem.
On the 5th day I was aiming my EOS 5D at the statue of Pushkin, and nothing happened. ‘Err01’ appeared on the LCD, and stayed there.
End of photography. No Pushkin.

‘Err01’ means a failure of electronic communication between the lens and camera. Clean your lens contacts, the book said. Don’t be silly, I said back, my lens contacts aren’t dirty. I tried it; it didn’t work.

A bit of Googling found a whole host of people with similar issues. I found post after post on web forums by irate and dissapointed people who had spent £750 or more on Canon’s 24-105L lens, expecting to get a piece of professional equipment, and who’d been forced to shell out a lot of cash for repairs, apparently because the wire between the contacts and the diaphragm ring is poorly designed/ installed and eventually fractures.

I put this information to Canon, who denied all knowledge of the issue. I sent them links to the above-mentioned web forums. Sorry they said, your lens is out of warranty, it’s a fixed price repair.

I vented my frustration about this to a weary-looking staff member at Canon’s repair centre at Denham. I told him that when I bought Canon’s pro lens I thought I was getting something which would be durable and tough. How come it has failed after only fairly light use? How come numbers of other people are experiencing the same issue, but Canon’s not acknowledging a fault? Surely this should be repaired free of charge? He replied that this was not listed as a known fault in their system, so I’d have to pay for the repair. Canon sell lenses which cost upwards of £6000, he said, but they still only get 12 months’ warranty. Somehow this did not make me feel better about Canon.

It’s not as if it’s the first time. Years ago I bought a Canon EOS 5 film camera. In those days £250 was a lot of money for a camera. After a year or two (again, of light use) one of the control knobs span and ceased to function. Again, I found a whole lot of EOS 5 owners on the web with the same issue, the detent ball and spring in the control knob had broken. Where I come from that’s called a design fault. Canon again denied all knowledge, and invited me to get it repaired at my own expense – a new camera top at £150 on a £250 camera? It went in the bin.

Canon make some pretty good cameras – when they are working. Of course years ago pros used to carry 2 or 3 cameras everywhere to cover themselves against technical gremlins. But hey, newsflash – this is the digital age. A pro digital camera body will set you back a couple of thousand minimum. I just can’t afford to carry a spare on the off-chance. Even if I could, would I carry this much conspicuous wealth around my neck into lawless hills where bandits roam and £50 is a year’s wages? I worry enough with the gear I’ve got. Plus there’s the question of who’s going to carry all this gear. No, I’m sorry – if I pay that much for a pro camera kit I expect it to work, reliably, full stop. We’re not just talking about missing a shot, we’re talking about writing off a trip which may have taken months to arrange, cost thousands in tickets and hotels, and which may be entirely unrepeatable.

Like many others, I have a lot invested in my camera gear. I have covetable lenses which – guess what? – can only be used on a Canon camera. It’s too late for me to change brands.
However if anyone now is starting out and deciding which camera to buy I’d urge them to think very hard about what kind of company they buy it from and what is their attitude to customer support.