We got an email from Canon the other day, gushing about "spring news and offers." It included an ad for the EOS 300 Digital SLR Camera -- "Perfection Refined" was the headline.
We found it a little irritating for two reasons:
1. Canon's cameras are far from perfect. Millions of them have a defective chip, not to mention other problems. Canon knows about these defects but is keeping very quiet about them, while bombarding its customers with perky emails that, to say the least, fail to warn consumers of known defects..
2. Through its incessant emails, Canon demonstrates that it is able to communicate with its customers, so what is its excuse for not warning customers about the defects? Eh?
It's not like Canon just found out about the problems. It issued a service notice on its Asian Website last November but has never notified its American customers of the defects and, even after a class action lawsuit, continues to stonewall and mislead customers whose expensive cameras stop working.
There are several major defects in many Canon cameras currently slung around consumers' necks or nestled in seatback pockets en route to some long-awaited tour:
• The "e18" error, which locks up the lens barrel so that it will not extended or retract, making it impossible to take photos.
• A defective CCD, which causes images to fail to appear on the LCD screen, or causes blurry, distorted or greenish images to appear.
• Faulty LCD screens. Many consumers complain that their LCD screens are cracked.
• Memory cards. Many consumers receive a memory card error, which results in an inability to view or retrieve images that may be on the memory card
Dora of Bayside, New York, was using her Canon Powershot A80 when it locked up and displayed the e18 error, which is rapidly becoming to shutterbugs what the "blue screen of death" is to Microsoft Windows users.
"I just called customer support, and they offered me no explanation for the problem, but rather automatically started explaining how much it would cost to get it fixed. Namely, $108 as a starting estimate, and they said it could be more," Dora said in a complaint to ConsumerAffairs.com.
"They also offered me the option of sending me a refurbished camera in exchange for the one that I have plus $149. I believe that this is unacceptable. I paid a lot of money for this camera, and it all of a sudden stopped working, and now Canon wants me to pay a lot more money to get it repaired."
But what really irks Dora and many other consumers is that Canon professes complete ignorance of the problem when confronted by customers seeking support, or simply offers the telephonic equivalent of a shrug.
"They offered me no other solutions, no troubleshooting tips, and didn't seem at all concerned that their product just stopped functioning," Dora said.
"After doing some research on the Internet, I saw hundreds of other examples of people in situations similar to mine. If so many people are having the exact same problem with the same company, I would venture to say that their product is defective. They should replace it free of charge and apologize instead of expecting consumers to dish out more money for faulty products," she concluded.
Particularly galling to many is that, like many defects in electronic equipment, the problem often presents itself when the product is still relatively new. That's what happened to Ramy of Memphis.
"In May 2003, I bought a Canon Powershot A60. It was a great camera indeed, until -- after less than 6 weeks -- it was totally paralyzed displaying a weird message: Error-E18. I was so disappointed. It seemed there was nothing I could do," she said.
Bruce of Farmingville, New York, bought not one but two new Powershots in October 2004. "I went on vacation to Australia Jan 12, 2005 thru Feb 4th. I used the camera before going and had no problems," he said.
"The day before the end of the second week, we went to the zoo. At that point I had taken about 1,600 pictures. I had purchased extra cards so I could capture about 300 pictures. All of a sudden the camera stopped working with the lens in the out position."
"I went to a service center in Melbourne and they said I would have to send it back when I got to the States because it was an electrical problem," Bruce told us. But when he did so, Canon declared the warranty voided, claiming it found a "sticky substance" inside the camera.
Maybe Canon is emulating Ford Motor Co.'s time-tested method of dealing with customers stranded -- or worse -- by product problems.
Ford is, after all, the foremost practitioner of the "hear no evil" school of product support. To this day, despite lawsuits, news stories and thousands of letters, Web postings and complaints to dealers, Ford blithely tells complaining customers it has never heard of such defects as F-150 truck fires, spark plug blow-outs, collapsing springs and leaky head gaskets, to name just a few.
Selective memory is a common malady, of course, but it can spell big trouble if one's carefully forgotten actions come to light in court.
It just so happens a class action lawsuit is pending in New York U.S. District Court before Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum, who presided over Martha Stewart's trial and sentenced her to five months in prison and five months of home detention on charges of lying to federal investigators.
"Is the number of defects greater than with Ford? I hadn't made that analogy, but it is a good one," said attorney Richard Doherty, who filed the class action now pending before Judge Cedarbaum.
"Of course, there's no safety issue with a camera but just imagine if this happens with the camera you bought specifically for your daughter's wedding or your long anticipated trip to Machu Pichu," Doherty said.
Canon Blames the Weather
The advisory on Canon's Asian Web site claims the recording-error problem manifests itself mostly at high temperatures and humidities. Canon Asia is directing customers to their service centers in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Malaysia.
Cameras sold in Asia that are found to be suffering from the problem will be fixed free of charge, regardless of warranty status, the company said.
That's a far cry from the treatment Canon's customers in the U.S. are receiving. Maybe Canon thinks North America is free from heat and humidity, in which case its executives should try spending August in Washington, D.C., St. Louis or what's left of New Orleans, not to mention Miami.
"Canon has refused to stand behind the cameras, and offers consumers who paid approximately $400 for what they thought was a high-quality digital camera the option of a repair costing at least $150 or the opportunity to purchase a refurbished, used camera for $175," Doherty said.
What To Do
Canon-lovers, what are your options? Well, be sure to hang onto your purchase receipt. Keep a copy of your warranty. Keep copies of any repair records. And keep your fingers crossed. It's always possible you'll be one of the lucky ones who cameras don't experience either of these problems.
If your camera does fail, notify Canon in writing, citing this article and the numerous complaints on our site. File a complaint with ConsumerAffairs.com. Complaints filed with our site are made available to class-action attorneys, including Doherty.
If you are willing to spend a little time and a few dollars, head for your local Small Claims Court and file against Canon. Check our state-by-state listings to learn more.
Are there more reliable cameras out there? Maybe, but it's important to note that the internal workings of most digital cameras are pretty much the same, and are often manufactured by the same supplier. It's the optics and the "packaging" that differentiate one brand from another.
Digital cameras are arguably more convenient than film cameras and, while they are generally more expensive to buy, they may be cheaper to use over the long run, depending on what process you use to print your photos. But more reliable they're not, at least not yet.
For those can't-miss moments, it's still a good idea to keep a small film camera in pocket or purse. Nothing beats a back-up.
Canon Leaves Camera Customers in the Dark...