In the first half of October, 2005, a number of digital camera and camcorder manufacturers issued service advisories involving a range of digital camera models (as well as some digital camcorders and PDAs that incorporate image sensors). In each case, the story was similar - CCD (image sensor) failures, particularly in conditions of high heat and humidity, led to cameras capturing images with either no picture at all, or with extreme distortion and severe purple or green color casts. An example of the latter symptom, courtesy of the Konica Minolta Europe website, can be seen further down this page. We first started hearing about this problem in late September and early October, 2005, with a significant increase in reader emails about it in the first week of October. The problem understandably caused considerable concern among our readers, with many wondering whether this was an ongoing problem that could affect current cameras.
Initial service advisories by Sony, Canon, Fujifilm and Konica Minolta were soon followed by announcements by Nikon, Ricoh, and Olympus. Affected cameras were all manufactured between 2002 and 2004, the underlying problems have apparently been found and corrected, so no cameras currently on the market are affected. (We are assured by sources that new cameras purchased today will not be affected by this problem. See the "What caused this problem" section at the bottom of this document, for a more detailed discussion of possible causes.)
We here at Imaging Resource did a little digging into the problem, and it appears that the problems trace to certain models of image sensor chips manufactured by Sony between 2002 and 2004. (Fujifilm has stated that they manufacture their own CCD chips, so it's not clear whether or not the problems with their cameras are in fact related to those of the other makers.)
What the problem looks like
The problem can take any of several forms, but all involve severe color shifts and/or severe distortions of the image. The images below show two examples (courtesy of Konica Minolta) of what the problem might look like, if your camera falls prey to it. In the early stages of the problem, the camera may still capture recognizable images, but with a washed-out appearance and a strong magenta or green tint.
|(Images courtesy Konica Minolta)
|(Image courtesy Tara D.S. Willgues)
What products may be affected?
Quite a number of products may develop this problem, including digital cameras, camcorders, and even PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) that incorporate an image sensor. The following is a list of affected models by various manufacturers that we are presently aware of. We will update this list as new information becomes available. We recommend that you check the site regularly for this and other breaking news.
Here are lists of the affected products, grouped by manufacturer:
Additional digital cameras added in the fall of 2006 to the original service advisory by Canon include the following, all of which went on sale starting from 2002 to 2004, depending on the specific model:
|According to the updated advisory, available on the company's US website (as well as other regional Canon websites), the additional eleven digital camera models shown above in red may now be eligible for free service regardless of warranty status, should any malfunction be caused by the CCD sensor.
For repair instructions, visit the Canon USA support website. To read the specific service advisory for your model, use the pulldown menus to browse for your specific model, or simply type the model number into the box provided at the bottom of the page and click the "Search" button.
The Canon support website holds no forms or other needed documents, so you can save yourself some time (if you live in the US or Puerto Rico) by just calling the Canon Customer Support line at 1-800-828-4040. Support hours are Monday-Friday 8am to 12 midnight, and Saturday from 10am-8pm. (All times EST.) Alternately, you can send email to: [email protected].
|Serial Number Range(s)
|� FinePix A303
|3JA4**** to 3JA5****
|� FinePix F410
32A6**** to 32A7****,
� FinePix F700
|� FinePix S2 Pro
|31A127** to 31A143**,
32A000** to 32A039**,
33A000** to 33A007**,
34A000** to 34A004**
|Serial numbers can be found on the bottom of the cameras. From the Fuji service advisor, the following applies to US customers:
IF SERVICE IS NEEDED:
Fuji Photo Film U.S.A., Inc.
For your easy reference, here is a link to the original IR news story on the Fujifilm advisory.
|The Konica Minolta support website has a PDF file posted on it that in turn links to a PDF service advisory form, and a Support FAQs area. We had difficulty following the links in the main PDF file from our web browser, so have reproduced both of them above. The most relevant one is the PDF service advisory form.
European Konica Minolta owners are referred to the Konica Minolta European support page.
For your easy reference, here is a link to the original IR news story on the Konica Minolta advisory.
Note: Sony has since taken over servicing of Konica-Minolta digital cameras. Sony's customer support website now lists the affected Konica-Minolta models along with a troubleshooting guide and repair request form here.
Additional digital cameras added since the original 2005 service advisory by Kyocera include the following:
|Kyocera sold digital cameras from 1996 under the Contax, Kyocera and Yashica brandnames, but by early 2005 competitive pressures saw Kyocera withdraw all of its brandnames from the digicam market.
In late 2005, Kyocera announced that four of its digital camera models could suffer from failure of the CCD image sensor, with symptoms such as images that either showed no picture at all, or showed extreme distortion and severe purple or green color casts. Affected cameras included the Kyocera Finecam S3L, Kyocera Finecam S5, Kyocera Finecam S5R and Contax TVs Digital models. Kyocera stated that in cases where the CCD was found to have failed in one of these models, it would repair the problem free of charge for a period of up to five years after production of the specific model was halted.
Two years later, and Kyocera has added a further three models to the list. The Kyocera Finecam M400R, Kyocera Finecam M410R, and Kyocera Finecam SL400R - all models which were discontinued when the company exited the digicam market in March 2005 - can apparently suffer from similar problems, which tend to occur most often in humid environments. As with the earlier announcement, Kyocera is extending the warranty on these cameras to cover CCD failures through to March 2010.
At this time, both announcements only seem to cover the Japanese domestic market. We've yet to see any announcement from Kyocera in other markets, and would advise customers who have experienced the problem to contact their local Kyocera office to determine whether their camera may be covered under warranty. For customers in Japan, instructions on how to seek repair of the covered digicams can be found in the Japanese-language service advisory.
For your easy reference, here is a link to the original IR news story on the Kyocera advisory.
|Leica and Panasonic
|In December 2006, we told readers about a warranty extension for Leica's DIGILUX 2 digital camera, covering problems with the CCD image sensor. Given that the Leica DIGILUX 2 is a variant of Panasonic's Lumix DMC-LC1 design, it isn't surprising to find that some LC1 digicams can suffer from the same problem.
Panasonic Canada have published a notice on their customer support page indicating a limited number of 2004 model DMC-LC1 digital cameras within a specific range of serial numbers are affected. The serial number ranges are A4SYxxxxx and G4SYxxxxx. Canadian customers are asked to call Panasonic Canada's toll-free call center number at 1-800-561-5505 for assistance in arranging a free repair.
A similar announcement can be found on Panasonic Japan's website (Japanese-language only), also indicating the company is offering free repair in cases where the problem has manifested itself in that country.
We've yet to see any announcement from Panasonic in other markets, and would advise customers who have experienced the problem to contact their local Panasonic office to ascertain whether their camera may be covered under warranty.
For your easy reference, here is a link to the original IR news story on the Panasonic Japan advisory.
Additional digital cameras added since the original service advisory by Nikon include the following:
|There's a button on the Nikon USA Photography home page, labeled "Coolpix Service Advisory: 3100-5700-SQ-5400-4500-5000-3500" that displays information in a popup window. Here's a link to it in a standalone window: Coolpix Service Advisory. Here are links to other pages from the Nikon site, namely the Coolpix Advisory FAQs, and the Service Advisory Product Return Form.
For your easy reference, here is a link to the original IR news story on the Nikon advisory.
|Olympus is distinguishing themselves by offering to repair affected cameras, even if they aren't displaying the problem yet. Their free repair policy is extended for up to four years from the original purchase date. They do ask that, if your camera is currently operating properly, you hold off on sending it in until after January 2006, due to the high volume of repair business during the holiday season. To determine if your camera is affected, call Olympus repair at 888-553-4448, Monday-Friday, 8am -10pm EST, or email to [email protected].
See the Olympus PDF file explaining the above for further info.
For your easy reference, here is a link to the original IR news story on the Olympus advisory.
Pentax USA have published a brief note on their Customer Care & Support homepage which refers customers to a separate PDF file for further information. This document pledges repair of the problem free of charge, regardless of warranty status, as long as the camera doesn't have other symptoms not described as part of the problem.
This PDF document in turn refers customers to a separate PDF form which must be filled in, and includes instructions on how to return a camera for service. The return address from the form is:
We couldn't find any details regarding the duration of the free repair offer, nor of serial numbers affected. We suggest you simply contact Pentax for clarification of these points.
For your easy reference, here is a link to the original IR news story on the Pentax advisory.
|Ricoh US support took a little digging to track down. Ricoh Global issued the service advisory itself. Service centers for various regions around the globe are listed here. US, Canada, and South American service for Ricoh cameras is handled by:
We couldn't find any details regarding the duration of the free repair offer, nor of serial numbers affected. We suggest you simply contact C.R.I.S Camera Services directly to learn how to proceed.
For your easy reference, here is a link to the original IR news story on the Ricoh advisory.
|Camcorders, CCD-TRV models
Additional digital cameras added in the fall of 2006 to the original service advisory by Sony include the following models:
|Camcorders, DCR-DVD models
|Camcorders, DCR-TRV models
|Camcorders, DCR-IP models
|Camcorders, DCR-PC models
|Camcorders, DCR-VX models
|Camcorders, DCR-HC models
|CLIE Handheld Computer Models
|As Sony is the original sensor manufacturer for all of the other manufacturers' products listed above (and given the vast array of products that they manufacture themselves) it should come as no great surprise that Sony has by far, the greatest number of affected products. This should not be taken as indicating any inherent deficiency in Sony products beyond the now discontinued sensors involved.
According to the update, which currently seems to be available only in the Japanese language, the defect may potentially be found in an additional eight digital camera models (shown in red above), which went on sale from 2003 - 2005. The Japanese advisory states that these newly added models will be eligible for free service regardless of warranty status should any malfunction be caused by the CCD sensor, in the same way as detailed in the original service advisory.
The original service advisory was posted on the Sony Asia Pacific Support site. The Asia Pacific post lists all affected models in a concise format. On the Sony US website, the advisories are only listed on the support pages for each individual product. To see the information for your product, go to this page, enter your model number and click "Search" to find all relevant information. If your product is one of those listed above, you should see a link (probably dated 10/3/2005) under the "Product Alerts" section, titled "Important Notice about your Sony Product."
Regardless, in the US, the story is the same (at least it is for all the products we checked): "From October 3, 2005 through October 2, 2007, Sony will repair, free of charge, affected products exhibiting the above-mentioned problem where it is caused by the image sensor device. Sony will also cover the cost of shipping and handling to service to correct this issue."
No service forms or mailing addresses are provided on the Sony US site. Rather, owners are instructed to contact the Sony Customer Information Services Center for further assistance at 1-866-703-7669.
What to do if you have an affected product:
In all cases, the manufacturers involved are offering free repair of affected products, even if the original warranty period has expired. If you have a product that displays the problem described here, you must contact the manufacturer to arrange for the repair. This is important. -- None of the manufacturers involved are contacting consumers to announce a blanket recall: It's up to the consumer to contact them to take advantage of the free repair service.
Can I send in a product on the list, even if it isn't showing the problem yet?
In most cases, the answer is unfortunately no. While all the manufacturers involved have offered to repair affected devices, even if they are out of warranty, only Olympus has so far offered to perform preventative service on units that aren't yet showing the problem. Depending on variations in the manufacturing process, the amount of use a product has seen, and (apparently) the environmental conditions in which it was used, it's quite possible that a product built around one of the affected sensor chips may never show the problem. On the other hand, a camera that's working fine today could easily fail next week. We highly applaud the approach taken by Olympus, of offering to repair affected units, even if they aren't currently exhibiting the problem.
If there are other problems with my product, will the manufacturer fix those at the same time?
Not for free. While it would certainly make sense to go ahead and have any other needed repairs performed while your product is once back at the manufacturer, the policy across the board has been that only the CCD repair will be performed for free. Any other needed repair or maintenance will be billed at normal rates.
Is there a time limit on the offered repairs?
Possibly. In most cases, the manufacturers involved have simply issued service advisories and said that they'll repair affected devices regardless of whether the original warranty had expired. Most manufacturers aren't specifying a time limit. Two exceptions are Olympus, who has set a time limit of four years from the date of initial purchase, and Sony, who has set a cutoff point of October 2, 2007 for their free-repair offer (at least, all the products we explicitly checked on Sony's US service website showed that time limit).
What if I've already paid to have a product showing this problem repaired, outside the warranty period?
In most cases, there's good news for you, provided you have a record of the repair and your payment for it. We don't have an exhaustive list of the policies of all the manufacturers involved, but many appear to be offering a refund of repair charges if non-warranty service was performed to correct this problem. Contact the manufacturer in question. If you have copies of the service records and proof of payment, there's a good chance that you can get a refund for the service expense.
Is it safe to buy a digital camera today? Is the problem fixed?
While we can't predict the future, it certainly sounds like this particular problem has been put to bed. Based on what we've heard from our industry contacts, the first inklings of the problem surfaced as far back as sometime in early 2004. Whatever its cause (see below for a range of theories), the issue apparently was researched and solved at a manufacturing level by March of 2004. Given the extraordinary impact that it had, it seems safe to say that manufacturers will be particularly vigilant that this particular problem doesn't recur. Beyond that, we feel that the responsible manner in which the industry is dealing with it bodes well for the future, should anything of similar scope occur again. We don't think there's any reason to have any hesitation in purchasing a new digital camera at this time.
What caused the problem?
If you have an affected camera, you probably don't care too much about what the underlying problem was, as long as you can get it fixed. If you're the technically curious type though, here's a synopsis of the information we've been able to assemble about the underlying cause.
Several different explanations for this problem have been put forward by various parties. Our own industry contacts indicated that the problem was caused by the use of epoxy chip packages for the failing sensor units, rather than more robust (and also much more expensive) ceramic packages. The environmental sealing of epoxy circuit packaging is generally not as good as that of ceramic packaging, and in the case of the failing sensors appears to have let moisture enter the chip cavity itself. This seemed to be a quite plausible explanation, but subsequently, two other possible causes came to our attention.
An article published by Japan's Nikkei Business Publications agreed that the sensors in question were sourced from fabs operated by Sony Corp., but provided a different reason for the failures. According to Nikkei journalist Naoki Asakawa, the problem was twofold: Changed settings on a wire bonding system resulted in weaker joints between wires and electrodes; and iodine-bearing bonding compound vaporized inside the CCD package which further decayed the joint surface. Nikkei reported that Sony removed the iodine compound from its CCD manufacturing process, and said that the company also introduced a test for bonding strength in March 2004.
Finally, an email from reader Paul Taylor pointed us toward another possibility. We've since heard from several readers that they were able to get failing cameras to work again for short periods, either by bumping or flexing the camera chassis. This is obviously something we do not recommend trying, as it could damage other components in your camera and lead to expensive repair bills. Still, given that little if any force could be transferred through the sensor package by these methods, it does hint at another problem coming into play in at least some cameras. Paul theorized that the zero insertion force (ZIF) connectors and flex cables inside the camera might not be providing sufficiently good contact, and mechanical action on the camera body could move the cables inside the connectors enough to temporarily improve the situation.
Regardless of whether the problem is one or more of the above, or something else entirely, the important thing to note is that the manufacturers are doing an admirable job of standing behind their products. In every advisory that's been issued to date, the company involved has stated that it will fix the problem regardless of warranty status of the affected cameras. Not only is this good news for customers who own affected cameras, but it is certainly encouraging for those consumers buying new cameras today and in the future. And to reiterate... We are assured that current and recent models are not affected by this sensor problem.