Horrible, isn’t it?
Not the photo itself, I’m actually quite happy with this image of John Edwards tearing through Turn 7 at Sebring International Raceway during the 12 Hours of Le Mans season opener last month.
No, I mean the absolutely filthy sensor in my BRAND NEW Canon 1D-X. It’s horrible. This photo is useless without a good 20-30minutes of clean up in Photoshop.
Before I go into details about the camera and the complete lack of help from Canon USA, I’ll fill you in a little about myself. I have a feeling some of you aren’t familiar with my work. I’m a photographer based in Southern California, a large portion of my work and income is from professional racing and autosports. One of my largest clients the last couple years has been Falken Tire. Last year I handled half the Le Mans series for them, their Off Road ad campaign, Monster Energy Supercross, and their 2012 promotional model photography.
Anyway, last year when the new Canon 1D-X was announced in February I decided to go ahead and pre-order it since I would be doing quite a bit more race photography than usual. I have shot Canon gear since I started on DSLRs back in college. I own several cameras and many lenses and Speedlites. The DX seemed like a logical, albeit very expensive, upgrade for me and my work.
My workhorse the last few years has been my 5D2, and I wasn’t impressed enough with the 5D3 to upgrade to that model. However, I was ready to retire my 1D-3 for the X because of the sensor, processors and focus system. But, as many of us pros soon realized, we would not be getting our pre-ordered X’s any time soon because of the Olympics. I finally cancelled my pre-order at the end of August because the racing seasons were done and pre-orders were still not yet being filled. I told myself I would wait til the ’13 race seasons kicked off and spend the money at that time.
Fast forward to February of this year. I decided to go ahead and order the DX even though my race schedules for ’13 seasons were not yet confirmed. I two-day-aired a camera from B&H Photo in New York to my home here in SoCal so I would have it in time for the Sebring race.
So I was packed up and ready for Sebring. I eventually decided not to carry my 1D-3 out to Florida – boy did I regret NOT having my perfectly good 1D-3 a few days later.
- Day 1 – Not realizing I even had a problem
Now, I didn’t check my new DX when it arrived three days before I flew to Florida. That was a mistake. I assumed that a brand new, $7,000 camera would be perfectly clean and in good working order – and I had other things to take care of since I was going to be in Florida for a week to see friends while in town, too.
I arrived in Sebring on Thursday and was busy most of the afternoon taking care of my hard card photo credential and attending the required photographer meeting. All stuff I’m used to doing and a totally normal start to a race weekend. At one point before the photographer meeting I wandered over to one of the turns that had closer access than normal and didn’t require a media vest (I did have my hard card however, so that allowed me into that area).
Now this photo isn’t anything amazing. But it’s a GREAT example of the problems I noticed with my camera. This is photo “JRX_0026”. That means it’s the 26th image I shot with my DX. The first dozen or so were just images around the paddocks. As I said, I wandered out to the track and started playing around with the settings on my DX before the meeting. Now, the auto focus system and interface is completely different than my 1D-3 and my 5D-2, so, excuse the bad shot. This is straight from camera as well. No processing since I wanted to show the dirtiness of the sensor.
The red circles are spots that you can see on the full res image in Lightroom, however they weren’t visible on the camera screen.
I didn’t actually notice this too much until later that afternoon. The first dozen shots in the paddocks were all shot around f/3.5 or so. It wasn’t until later (maybe photo number 200) when I was shooting at f/22 and doing 1/20 second pans that I realized my NEW sensor was dirty. Even in the image above it’s hard to tell unless you’re looking at it full res on your computer screen. only a couple of the specs were noticeable to me at that point.
Later that evening was night practice. And, of course, you can’t see any problems on those images since they’re all shot at f/2.8
At this point, Thursday night, I was unaware there was any problem whatsoever with my camera. The few specs I could visibly see on the camera screen (the two at the nose of the Ferrari in the image above) I just figured were on my lens and cleaned my lenses that night at the hotel.
- Day 2 – Realizing how screwed I actually was.
The second day at the track I arrived late, missing the morning practice.
So, when I did arrive around 11a I made my way out to Turn 7 since it was close to the parking lot and I only had a bit longer with the GT practice.
This is when I realized that my camera was going to need to be cleaned… after being a week old, with only 1k on the shutter.
I’ve significantly increased the contrast on this image so you can see all the dust/specs on the image. Look at the both the track and sky. This is shot at f/22, ISO100, 1/30 handheld.
Part of me was STILL thinking “How the HELL are my lenses this filthy?! I clean all my gear before any gig AND I double checked it last night”. I was still naive enough to think it was a lens problem. If your gear suddenly starts having problems like never before, it’s likely the new piece you added, not your existing gear. Obviously. haha.
Here’s a better easier-to-understand screen grab from Lightroom that afternoon when I got back to the media room…
Those are all the dust removal points I had entered before pulling into Photoshop… Once in PS I still had to remove a number of spots that were in areas too tricky for the LR dust removal and needed cloning to take out.
I’m sorry, but this is just bullshit.
You can imagine how pissed off I was sitting in the media room realizing all my photos I shot were useless. I actually cut shooting that practice short because these were totally noticeable on the camera screen. Today was a bright, hot, sunny day – unlike the afternoon before – and the sensor damage was very apparent.
Well, I had cleaning swabs with me and decided that I would have to clean my new camera back in the media room.
I used three swabs that didn’t appear to help much at all.
I saved my final one for the next day since Friday was now pretty much over and I was just going to try and get some portraits of the Falken Tire drivers who I know since I wanted to create nice portrait shots of them at the track. My camera issue would have to wait til later and I knew portraits at f/2 wouldn’t be a problem.
I called Canon support that afternoon to talk to someone and find out if there is a Canon certified repair center in Orlando, Florida – I knew there wasn’t, but I wanted to call anyway and discuss the whole issue with someone at the company.
I explained the issue, that the camera was brand new. The man on the phone pulled up my Canon account and saw all my gear registered, including my new DX. He explained what I already knew, that the closest Canon service center was in the New England area and nowhere near Florida. I said I would just take it into the Irvine center the following week since I live in SoCal.
I was told that because my camera was a week old it was still under warranty and they would take care of repairs needed.
On race day I tried to still use my camera a little bit. I was there working. I HAD to take photos at this race.
- Nope. Camera is still pretty useless.
This is the photo from the top of this post. Contrast increased so you can see more of the sensor damage.
I went back to the media center and used my very last cleaning swab to try and clear whatever the hell this was on the sensor off… it didn’t work, of course.
So at this point I’m basically screwed. I used my 5D2 for mayyyybe 20 minutes before I decided there was no way I was going to get the images I needed for my client with just a 5D… that focus system isn’t enough for racing. Ha.
I spent at least an hour here at the track that afternoon… may as well take a nap since my sports camera is useless…
Once dusk set that evening I was able to open up to f/11 and wider where the dust was not as much of an issue.
I don’t think I’ve ever kept my camera at ISO50 so late into the evening hours. However, it was the only way to allow me to shoot wider than f/11 sooner in the evening than usual.
- Canon basically blows me off once I’m back in California
Here’s when things really took a turn for the worst for me…. when I returned to California.
My last night in Florida was about three hours long. I had to get up around 430a to leave for the airport and have time to return my rental car and make my 7a flight. After landing in San Diego, I picked up my car, repacked my things and started my drive to Vegas where I had work the next couple days.
I stopped in Irvine at the Canon Service Center and their headquarters, ready to leave my camera for the week if needed…
I explained the issue to the girl behind the desk. There was only one other person in there that afternoon being helped, so, at least I didn’t feel rushed. It was also 5:15 and they close at 6p. So, I was likely one of the last people of the day.
I told her that the camera was brand new and that the sensor seemed to have arrived filthy, that I would like it cleaned and checked. I told her I spoke to someone on the phone and they said to bring it in and it would be serviced.
She asked to see my invoice… I asked what she meant, and she said she needed to see an invoice for the camera purchase with my name on it as proof that I bought and own the camera. This surprised me a little since I’ve never been asked to prove that gear I’m bringing in for service is actually mine however this was a warranty issue so I understood. I pulled up my Gmail account on my phone and showed her the receipt of sale from B&H Photo that was dated approximately 10 days before that afternoon’s date.
To be honest I was a little put off by her reaction to having to read an email on my phone – even though she had just said that it was acceptable proof of purchase.
Says right there… John Remus Photography… B&H Photo… $6,820….
At this point she looks at the camera sensor herself.
I wish I had a photo of the sensor – it was visibly dirty when being held in front of you.
“What did you use to clean this?” – her
“Standard sensor cleaning swabs… normal ones…” -me
“Well, you’re actually not supposed to clean this sensor yourself.” -her
“You’re not supposed to clean the DX sensor yourself. It’s too delicate and you’re supposed to send it into Canon to clean. We use a no-liquid type of cleaning to clean the DX sensor…” -her
Ok, small mini-rant here as a professional photographer: If you are selling SEVEN THOUSAND DOLLAR CAMERAS that experienced professionals ARE NOT supposed to clean themselves… you MIGHT want to let said camera owners know about such a requirement.
There was no big-ass note card in the box saying “Warning: Do NOT attempt to clean sensor with cleaning swabs. Send to Canon facility ONLY”. Honestly, I found that comment on her part to be extremely convenient for Canon. As in “Oh, you tried to clean this camera just like the other three DSLRs you own? Yeah, we don’t want you doing that.”
Also, I actually read my camera manuals when I buy new gear. Here is the part about cleaning your DX.
That’s it. It says right there recommended not “required”.
This bit also acknowledges that the DX might get oil on the sensor from the internal moving parts of the camera – a problem you easily read many cases about by doing a quick Google search on “Dirty 1D-X sensor” or variation of the phrase.
Anyway, the girl takes my camera back to the service guys to have them take a look. I’m thinking “Great. They’re going to clean it, or worst case scenario I have to leave it here for repairs, but the guy on the phone said it would be handled under warranty.”
- Canon says it’s not their fault, wants money
I would say about 15-20 minutes went by before the girl reappeared from the back. I immediately knew this was a bad sign when not only did it take that long, but she was still holding my camera when she returned.
The conversation that followed went something like this:
“Well, I have some bad news…” -her
“The sensor is damaged. There is some sort of liquid damage to the outer coating. Our service guys tried to clean it off and they couldn’t. We don’t know what it is, but it’s not from the cleaning fluid (that was on the cleaning swabs).” -her
“Ok… So I need to leave it her then (for repairs)?” -me
“Well, it wouldn’t have left our facility this way, so because of that it’s not covered under warranty..” -her
“What?!! This is a brand new camera” -me
“Well it has about 4,000 clicks on the shutter” – she interupts
“Yeah, well, I told you I was at a race. I had to work. I couldn’t NOT take photos. This camera is BRAND NEW. I can go get my laptop out of the car and show you image number 10 where you can see some hints of the dots on the sensor…” -me, getting a little aggravated at Canon’s accusation that I damaged my sensor
“Oh! No! You’re right! 4,000 is NOTHING for this camera!” -she quickly acknowledged.
“But you’re saying it’s not under warranty?” -me
“Well, it wouldn’t have left our facility like this. We’re not saying you did it (the damage) but we are saying that it wouldn’t leave our facilities this way.” -her
“So what are my options? I have to pay to repair my brand new camera??!!” -me
“Well, let’s see… what’s your name? I’ll check and see what the cost is for you…” her, logging into the computer.
Now, there is a program called Canon Professional Services. Membership is free, $100/year, or $500/year depending on what level membership you want. I rarely need repairs so I have the basic (free) membership. With that comes no discount on repairs. I knew this was what she was checking to “see what it would cost me”.
- Then I’m accused of bringing in a camera I can’t prove is mine… WTF?!
“Um, replacing the sensor would come out to $1,985.96…. ” -her
“WHAT?? Um… wow.” me, completely shocked
“Yeah, unfortunately the sensor is the most expensive part of this camera….” -her
“So, I’m expected to spend two-thousand dollars to repair a one-week old camera…” me, at this point I’m shocked that Canon seems to care less about their pro-shooters than I expected.
“Well, we don’t know that it’s just a week old….” her, seemingly accusing me of something
“What?! You don’t know?” – me, getting more annoyed
“Well are you sure it was new when you bought it?” – her, seemingly accusing me of buying used gear and trying to get it repaired
“I showed you my invoice from B&H… do you want to see it again?” me, pissed but trying to stay calm as I’m realizing there is little hope that Canon will do anything for me.
-I get kind of a blank stare from the girl-
“So you’re saying my only choice is to pay a couple grand and have it repaired?” – me
“Well, you can either leave it here to be repaired or you can take it up with B&H…” -her, brushing off a Canon problem to the retailer.
“Well in that case I’ll contact B&H and see if they’ll help me. Because I’m not paying $2,000 to repair a one-week old camera. That’s ridiculous.” -me
At this point I ended the conversation and left. But I still had a four hour drive to Las Vegas to stew about how Canon basically gave their own little Screw-You to an industry professional and said “Pay us to fix it or go bother someone else with the problem.”
- B&H Photo pulls through where Canon blew me off
The next morning I called B&H Photo from Vegas, where I would be working on a gig the next couple days for Pabst Blue Ribbon. At least I had my 5D2 to use over the next few weeks since my DX was still useless.
I called B&H and explained everything after they pulled up my order number and asked what the problem was. I told them the issue, and my experience with Canon saying they wouldn’t help me and that I had to take it up with B&H.
B&H paused on the phone – and there was that brief moment of terror when they came back and said “Well the camera is brand new, so it should still be under warranty….”
Cue panic on my part that B&H is going to say I have to take it up with Canon…
“But, don’t worry. We’ll take care of you. I’m sending you an RMA (return authorization) to your email. Actually, I just sent it so you should already have it. Send the gear back to us and we’ll take care of you.” – B&H
“Seriously?!!! Just send it back and you guys will replace it for me?!!” -me
“As long as it’s in mint condition and has everything included, yes, we’ll take care of it” -B&H
I was SO relieved. I went on to add that I was shocked Canon basically blew me off and accused me of damaged the sensor, then accused me of “maybe not even having the camera a week. And THEN said that it wasn’t under warranty.
B&H’s service guy just goes “Well, that’s bullshit. It IS covered under warranty. But again, don’t worry about it, we’ll handle it.”
That’s all I needed.
I’m a professional photographer. My camera is how I make my money. I bought what turned out to be a damaged camera from Canon and instead of helping me Canon wanted me to pay them another $2,000 to fix something that shouldn’t have even been a problem.
B&H is the hero in this story. Instead of questioning my motives, accusing me of possible scenarios of damaging a new $7k piece of hardware, they gave me the exact answer I needed. That they would replace my faulty equipment so I can continue with my work.
I’m incredibly upset with Canon.
But Canon knows that us pros can’t just up and switch because we’re treated poorly. I have four DSLRs, a half dozen lenses, and a couple speedlites. I can’t just switch to Nikon – but believe me, I was definitely thinking “My friends at Nikon wouldn’t stand for this if I called them saying my new gear was damaged…” But companies have us by the balls once we’re invested. Sure, I could switch if I wanted to take a severe loss on selling my equipment to buy new equipment of another brand. But most of us can’t afford to do that.
Currently I’m waiting on my replacement DX. Because of the holiday weekend all returns for B&H were delayed. And now I should finally have my replacement camera tomorrow afternoon – just in time for the Formula Drift race this weekend in Long Beach where I’ll be shooting for my old employer K&N Filters.
I’m incredibly disappointed in Canon and how they would treat a professional shooter – or any customer for that matter. Does it matter that I own tens of thousands worth of Canon gear, all of which is registered to my account on their system…. no, it shouldn’t matter. But I DID think they might take me a bit more seriously than they did.
This instance has been enough for me to strongly consider Nikon and jump teams. I don’t care what gear I shoot with, I’m shooting Canon because I’m heavily invested after many years of shooting with their products. But being treated so poorly makes me not want to continue with the company. However I’m stuck for several more years after such a massive new purchase. Perhaps in a couple years during my next big upgrade I’ll look at switching.
B&H Photo will continue to receive my business. I’ve made several purchases through them over the years and bought two of my four DSLRs through them, among other gear. It is clear that they value their customers by how quickly they replaced my gear with zero accusations. I didn’t want money from Canon or B&H, I wanted a working camera. That’s not much to ask.
Now one last note: something I learned that isn’t printed anywhere and I can’t find anything online searching for it “Canon doesn’t want you to clean the DX sensor”. I think this is an excuse for them to say that any damage you might have is something they can now blame on you. If you don’t want people cleaning their cameras, you better make that VERY well known because right now it just sounds like a convenient excuse for Canon USA to place blame.