Canon Fodder

After a lot of research, I settled on a Canon PowerShot SD870 as my combined Christmas/birthday (Dec. 26, sympathy PayPal donations accepted) present for 2007. It cost $296 plus shipping. Within days, the lens failed to retract and I exchanged it for a new unit through Amazon, from whence it had come. No problem with that; as usual, Amazon blew me away with its seamless customer service.

Over the course of the next year, I sent the new camera back to Canon for the same repair two more times. I also sent back a less-expensive model I'd bought for my daughter with the same complaint. Canon's one-year warranty covered the repairs in all instances, but what a pain in the neck - not to mention the $7 or $8 it cost to ship and insure the cameras each time.

A few weeks ago, I was taking a walk in the woods and jumped over a stream. I heard the unmistakeable plink of an object that belongs in your pocket hitting liquid, as if it were Odysseus responding to sirens. Even as I was fishing the camera out, my two companions were urging me to submit it to the "rice cure," which another friend had recently mentioned to me as the best way to rescue a cell phone that has plunged into the depths of a toilet. Well, rice notwithstanding, over the next day I watched the camera slowly lose its facilities and succumb like one of those sad youths in an old war movie who says he can't feel his legs.



Since the warranty had expired, I had to commit up front by credit card to Canon's standard repair cost of $129. The Web site warned that it might be more if the repair technicians detected water damage, but I figured I'd take a chance. Summoning my most ardent sense of denial, I told myself that maybe the water wasn't really the cause - after all, the camera had died several times before without having taken a plunge.

Truth is, I couldn't bring myself to throw this camera away, even though I'd seen that I could buy a new camera of better value for about $200. Despite all the repairs, I'd fallen in love with its ease of use, versatility and, most of all, the quality of the pictures. (Yeah yeah, okay. I'm talking about the resolution, not the composition or choice of subjects.)

Well, last week Canon informed me that it had determined that the damage was indeed due to water, and that it would cost me $400 and some odd dollars to fix it. I said no, and immediately ordered, on Amazon, a Canon PowerShot SD890 that produces 10.0 megapixel photographs as opposed to 8.0 on my SD870. It also has a 5x zoom lens as opposed to the 3.8x Ion the SD870. It was $199 when I ordered it last Thursday. I say "was" because I see today that Amazon is accepting pre-orders for a new 12.1 megapixel SD890 that costs $380. And it doesn't look like the deal I got is still available.

A couple of observations.

I stuck with Canon despite the inordinate amount of times I had to send the camera back for repair because they were always efficient in getting the unit back to me and the process was relatively hassle-free. I do hope that this new camera has fewer problems, of course. If not, I'll move on to a new brand.

I had also invested in a spare battery and a case for the 870, and I was happy to see that the 890 could use both of them, as well as the upgraded 2 GM flash memory card I'd purchased. (Why do cameras ship with 32MB cards, which are virtually useless when I was able to get a new 2GB card for $5?) As digital devices get smaller and smaller, it's rare that batteries (and other accessories) can be swapped out. One big reason I stuck with Canon this time was because I could keep my batteries and memory card as backups, even though I was getting new ones.

The real question, though, is why Canon didn't use this as an opportunity to sell me a new camera. Surely it knew that the cost of the repair to my unit was higher than the retail cost of the model that it has yet to release. Why not give me a deal on it? Or make me a really good offer on a discontinued model like Amazon did. Seems like a wasted opportunity to really bond me to the brand.

You could point out that they didn't have to, and you'd be right. I bought my first Canon SLR in 1974 and it's still around here somewhere. My wife, Deirdre, who was a professional photojournalist, also went with Canon for her personal gear even though she was using Nikons at work at the Daily News in New York. So I have a long-term affinity for Canon, but I do feel it's unrequited. It's like a spouse with a tendency to take things for granted. At this point, all it needs to do is wake up reliably every morning and say, "I'm here for you."

I will say this: I was gearing up for a fight to get back that $129 that I'd committed to up front for the basic repair. I was afraid Canon's repair service would charge me just for opening my package. Evidently not. It seems strange to applaud common sense, but these are strange times we live in and there you have it.

Shaeffer used to fix an inherently faulty clicking mechanism on a sterling silver ballpoint pen I've had for decades for free; now there's a minimum charge of $50 for any repair. Last time my pen broke, I figured out how to repair it myself. And I basically stopped using it -- and buying refills -- except for special occasions.

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