If I was an investigative journalist (as opposed to just being a curious writer) I would go deeper into this story. Search google for the term “Error 99” and you get about 41,000 hits (update in May 2011 – now 140,000 hits, and again in Jan 2013, now 546,000 hits. It seems the problems continue). The top ranking page is Richard’s Notes, which is a blog containing a vast archive of photography related articles. Richard’s Error 99 page was my starting point when a few months ago I suddenly started getting Error 99’s on my EOS 20D. It was exclusively with my 17-85 EF-S lens, and only within the zoom range of 17 to about 40mm. I read Richard’s page over a number of days (scroll and you’ll see why it took days) and discovered that the issue was both wide ranging and attributable to a vast possible number of causes. Great! I started of course with the most common, and the ones possible to attempt yourself without voiding any warranties. Basically, that amounts to resetting the camera, and cleaning the lens and camera contacts. Unfortunately for me that didn’t help. In the end, I realised the camera had to go in for repair. Luckily it was under an extended warranty, and so back to Canon it went.

The fact that it took me over 9 weeks to get my camera back from them is not the topic here (however it’s worth a post of its own that one, when I get a reply to my complaint letter), but rather that I got the camera back with no report of what they had done with it, and what was in fact wrong with it. Reading other “Error 99” people’s experiences with Canon service centers around the world, you begin to get a feeling that this problem is even more wide ranging than anyone realises, and that Canon is not being straight up about it. The Rebel camera for example seems to be rather prone to the issue, and even 1DS’s were reported encountering the error. However it seems clear it’s primarily affecting the cheaper end of the market.

In the Canon 20D manual, it says this about Error 99s: “An error other than the above has occurred. Remove and re-install the battery. This error may occur if you use a non-Canon lens and the camera or lens does not operate properly.” Clearly, a lot of these errors are being reported by people using non-Canon lenses. It is an electrical issue with the contacts, or in a broader sense, it’s a communication error between the camera and the lens. But I have only ever had Canon lenses on my 20D, and it was not affecting any of my other Canon lenses. Hmm..

It’s a weird problem, and I suppose as consumers we cannot expect complicated electronic items to always function perfectly. It would be nice, but mass consumerism doesn’t really encourage perfection in electronics now does it. But my concern is just how widespread this problem is. Richard’s Notes page is 291 pages long if you go to print it. It is the longest single web page I have ever encountered in my 12 years on the Internet. What does that say about the problem?

And what does Canon say about the issue? I attempted to search for Error 99 on Canon’s vast network of websites, and my search returned not a single hit on the query “Error 99”. Now I am known as being very good at finding information on the net, but this search turned up a blank, both in their corporate site and their consumer products. That’s not to say there’s nothing written about it though. Searching for information can be notoriously difficult with such huge corporations. Their sites are just so massive it’s not funny. But nonetheless. I get a feeling that Canon is being less than upfront about this issue, and of course that should be no surprise to anyone. Since when have multi-national corporations been known for bringing problems to the light of day? The fear of major recalls would be enough to keep a whole company quiet.

Maybe I’m chasing ghosts here. I don’t know. But I’m not impressed by Canon’s lack of information on the subject and I’m deeply concerned by the apparent breadth of the problem. Any good investigative journalists out there want to run with it?