Canon's Error 99: the Man, the Myth

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A Brief History of Error 99

Canon no longer officially comments on Err codes, but if we go back to the golden days when they did, we can unravel a lot of the Err99 mystery almost immediately. Back in 2000 Canon released its first mainstream DSLR, the 3.1 megapixel D30. The manual contained a helpful list of the camera’s built in error codes:

  • ERR 09: System Error. This error occurs when the EOS D30’s self-checking system processing time has exceeded the specified limit.
  • ERR 22: CF DRIVER. Data cannot be written to the CF card for some reason or another.
  • ERR 23: NO SPACE LEFT ON THE CF CARD. Space remaining is smaller than needed to complete the write operation.
  • ERR 50: CF FORMAT. The CF card cannot be formatted in the camera.
  • ERR 51: PLAY MODE. The CF card cannot be played back in the camera.
  • ERR 80: SHUTTER. The shutter operation sequence has not been completed correctly.
  • ERR 81: MIRROR. Mirror up/down status cannot be detected during shutter release.
  • ERR 82: STROBE. The built-in flash cannot be charged.
  • ERR 83: POP UP. The built-in flash’s pop-up operation cannot be detected.
  • ERR 84: LENS COMMMUNICATION. Electronic communication with the lens cannot be established, or the aperture diaphragm cannot be controlled.

In 2002, the D60 was released. It had a reduced set of error codes:

  • ERR 01: LENS COMMMUNICATION. Electronic communication with the lens cannot be established, or the aperture diaphragm cannot be controlled.
  • ERR 02: CF DRIVER. Data cannot be written to the CF card.
  • ERR 04: NO SPACE LEFT ON THE CF CARD. Space remaining is smaller than needed to complete the write operation.
  • ERR 05: POP UP. The built-in flash’s pop-up operation cannot be detected.
  • ERR 99: SYSTEM ERROR. There is an internal malfunction detected during the camera’s self-checking procedure which is executed before every attempted exposure.

Key point: Error 99 is a catch-all which can mean almost anything went wrong.

As far as we can tell, the Canon error codes have remained the same through the 50D and 5DMkII camera bodies, at least nominally. The more recent bodies have added an Err 06 code for ‘sensor cleaning unit malfunction’, and there are now Err 10, 20, 30, 40 . . . 80 codes on 5DMkII cameras (with the useful message ‘Shooting is not possible’. Duh!). Also some more recent manuals now define Eee99 as “an error other than one of the above (Err01-Err06)” has occurred. The only semi-official statement from Canon in recent years is one from Chuck Westfall in TheDigitalJournalist saying “[Err99] is a non-specific error code which can be caused by a wide range of malfunctions. … a variety of problems can be caused by the use of non-Canon accessories such as lenses, memory cards, battery packs, electronic flash units, etc.”

  • dont know anymore

    Most of the time I have found when working and repairing Canon lenses especially the older one is the aperture flex cable get's very fine cracks in it and causes error 99 because of an open contact at certain points when turning the lens range. It can be interment at first but will eventually fail with err99 all the time when the cable completely opens up. The only way to fix the problem is replace the flex cable on the aperture. Just thought I would pass this along.

  • Brett

    One thing to be aware of when diagnosing your issue:
    It seems that a fault often develops where every 5th shot gives Err99. So if you follow a standard test procedure like outlined,when you take the 5th shot you may think that it is bacasue of the setting/lens/card/whatever change you just made, whereas in reality it may have nothing to do with what you changed and may have occurred anyway.

    Multiple lenses, no lens, several batteries, different CF cards, no CF card etc always gives the same result on mine: the fifth shot gives an Err99. Turn off/on, next shot gives Err99. Drop out battery, turn on/off, reinsert. You get another 5 shots and so on.

    I've found other forum posts with the exact same issue, unfortunately no solution. The age of the camera means it's probably not worth sending for repair, but for sentimental reasons I wouldn't mind repairing myself if I could.

  • Igor

    Hi guys,

    A great blog! I experienced error 99 for months.
    Now I didn't find the best solution but I'll tell you what works on my camera now.
    I'm using Cannon 1000D. My auto power off was set at 30 secs and I cahnged it to Off.
    Now true when the camera works it always stays on and ready to shoot but now it doesn't show the err99 problem. However when I switch the camera off manually with the off button and then whenever I switch on it shows err 99. That means every time before I switch on the camera I must remove the battery and put it back. After that it works perfectly as long as you don't switch off the camera manually and then you must reinstall battery and switch on. True I'm wasting battery but at least once set for shooting I don't get the problem back again. Hope this will work for others.

  • Riaz

    i have problem with my canon eos 300d problem facing is error 99 apply all steps but cant fixed the error please suggest me some more steps to fix it .

  • http://www.charliejphoto.com CharlieJ

    This error occurs ONLY with my Tamron 75-300mm and ONLY when the barrel is zoomed past 200mm. I use the lens on my 5D MkII body and my 60D body. Neither has issues with several other lenses I have owned and tried. I even sent the Tamron lens in for repair. It worked for approximately two weeks, then back to the Err99 at 200mm or higher. Weird issue, but I am certain is the lens...and not my cameras.

  • Other Chris

    My 1000D has had this problem for awhile, and it seems to be caused by the camera "forgetting" what number it is up to if it is turned off and back on. THe camera tries to assign existing image names from the last image taken, but if i delete that image it starts from the start of images taken the last time the camera had the battery removed ("reset"). Ie if I took 10 images last time, '11'-'20', then turned off/on, I get Err99. Off/on, then delete '20', camera will shoot once. Second shot, it will try and use '11' --> Err99. Off/on, delete some more images, more photos work. If I remove/replace battery, or open SD card door and close it again, the fault corrects itself until the next time the camera is turned off/on

  • Chris

    My 50D developed the ERR99 in the middle of a Powder Puff Football game the night before a kindergarten graduation shoot. I followed all the steps on here and had no luck. I did notice something strange though, I ONLY get issues w my Canon brand lenses. Even my L series lenses would not work BUT my Sigma EX HG 17-35 works perfectly... Any ideas before I send it to Canon?

  • Michael

    I have a Canon EOS 400D, that developed an error 99 with a few of my older lenses.
    Turned out to be the first contact post on the body that the lens hits can get slightly bent and does not spring out quite as far as it used to, making intermittent contact.
    I used isopropyl alcohol to lubricate the pin and levered it fully up with a sewing pin. I then used tiny needle-nose pliers to straighten it under a magnifying glass.

    Fiddly and annoying but so far working fine without errors!

  • Tom

    I have a mark11n 1ds. , I had this error I did the cleaning etc and thought it was fixed but now I have a 1 in the view finder and no images ? Could this be related or find i do ome thing like hit a wrong button ???

  • Markus

    I have a Canon EOS 1000D and have been experiencing this Error 99 problem for a couple of months now after a visit to the beach. I've done the usual tests, watched theYoutube video, worrried sand might be grinding in the lens mount (no) and thought i had isolated it to the CF card, since I found a work around that allowed me to shoot everytime the warning came up- eject the CF and reinsert immediately!

    This allowed me at least a few more shots so long as I didn't manhandle the camera or turn it off. That seemed to trigger it again, pressure on the camera body or refocusing. But I've just had that the whole thing fail to turn on, which sounds like a battery problem. Trouble is the battery was reading "fully charged" at the time.

    If the Err99 also gives a incorrect battery reading or a battery on it's way out reads as fully charged that could be it. I must admit I've had the battery for over 4 years- probably could do with a new one. But great article on the low voltage.

  • Roger Cicala

    Michelle, if you're seeing that many postings about Canon problems, you obviously haven't looked into the other brands very much. Canon is a bit better, although none are great when it comes to reliability. Nikon's far and away the worst for repairs and warranty work in the U. S., although it's very different in other countries.

  • Michelle

    I get the error99 message with the Canon EFS 17-85mm lens in manual mode only; however no problems when using the Canon zoom 70-300mm. I inherited this camera and plan to use it as much as I can to learn the basics of photography and then I will likely look into a Nikon as I'm pretty astonished by the number of postings related to problems with Canon.

  • Rob

    It looks like a lens problem rather than a camera body problem. I have a Canon 10D and a 30D. I have two identical Canon EF 28-80mm lenses. One of the lenses causes the Err99 message on both cameras except when shooting indoors on Auto with the camera implementing the pop-up flash. The other lens causes no error messages on either camera body. The display on the 10D says nothing about the problem. The display on the 30D tells me to turn the camera off and reinsert the battery. I do this but the very next shot brings up the ERR99 message again, so turning it off. reinserting the battery and then turning it on again is no solution. I have tried cleaning the contacts on the problem lens with a pencil eraser to no avail. The contacts have never had even a spec of dirt on them, but I still tried the eraser rub just to say I tried it. I'm still looking for a real solution, because turning the camera off and reinserting the battery hardly seems like a fix to a problem, especially when one lens causes the problem and the other one does not...on two different camera bodies.

  • Rafael Casal

    I am sending you this message from Alicante, Spain. I’ve read your great article from the beginning to the end very carefully. I’ve cleaned the lens contacts as well as those from the camera body.
    I have a Canon EOS 1000D and my particular problem is that I can make photos with any of the 2 lens I have – both are original Canon lens - with no problem but when the camera turns off automatically or when I turn it off manually and turn it on again, I can make no further photos.

    Nevertheless, I have found a solution to this problem. I set the auto power-off time to off and press the “DISP” button to save battery power. I can shoot, this way, all the photos I want with no problem at all. Once I have finished with the camera, I turn it off before keeping it.

    I have to remove the battery and insert it again before turning the camera on the next time. And then shoot all the photos I want.

    The thing is that I would like to know, in my case if possible, where the problem is. Is the battery the problem? Do I have to purchase a new battery? Or can it be an in-camera circuitry failure?

  • Melvin

    Had this issue 2-3yrs now on my 30D. Had to take out battery and rub battery contacts in a fast motion on my clothing to build up static, reinsert into camera just to get another 6 shots and then repeat it again.
    SOLUTION: Drain camera battery dead as possible and put in fridge overnight. Take 2 car batteries and connect (+) posts together and do same with the (-) posts. Now run a loose wire off (-) post and another off the (+) post. Take the (-) wire from car battery and hold it or tape it on the (-) of your camera battery. Take wire coming off (+) post of car battery and rapidly tap it 7 times on the (+) leg off camera battery. Wait 30 seconds and repeat. WEAR GOGGLES!
    Now insert camera battery into camera and kiss error99 goodbye! Good for another 2,000 cycles b4 error99 reappears.
    Better yet...buy a new battery! Best...sell your Canon gear and buy a Nikon Camera because who needs this crap?

  • amy

    I have a cannon rebel with a 300 mm lens, the lens reads error 99 in cold weather and or to bright a light' I have taken to smacking the lens for the last 2 years and it works as long as I shut of the camera first..I use the small lens that came with the camra with no problems..my camera is now 4 years old but it still works great..the lens is the pproblem

  • JM

    This article from Canon USA may help dispell some myths.

    Still working through what's brought Err99 to my 7 yo 350D & 17-55IS lens.
    Interestingly article makes clear NOT to use eraser on lens contacts.

  • Bob McCarthy

    I have a Canon 20D and I only get the Err 99 with my Canon EFS 17-85mm lens. I cleaned the contacts and it worked intermittantly, but that wasn't the problem. When I read some of the info in this article, I saw the reference to electronics and the image stableization of the lens. I went and turned off the IS function and no error. I switched back to IS function and no error. This seems to be what my Err 99 is associated with. I'll have to experiment and see.

  • Matthew

    I have the 450D (XSi). I have had the issue show up only twice in over 50,000 actuations on this body. Once was with my old Tamron 80-210mm EF f/4.5-5.6. The other was this morning with my new Canon 18-200 EF-S f/3.5-5.6. Both times, the camera functioned just fine after a power cycle and a moment of rest. The first was during a wedding I was shooting, reinforcing the need for two bodies for any shoot. In short, though, I haven't had the extensive problems as of yet that many of you have had. There were about 20,000 shutter actuations between each error. Still, the trend seems to show a positive correlation between larger lenses and lower power bodies. I might add that I have the grip with the extra battery on mine and both errors happened in excess of 1000 photos in a short time. The fact that mine corrected shortly after may lend merit to the power issue, as my extra battery would of course supply more power and reduce the frequency/severity of the error.

  • E J

    Yepper. Also been plagued with Error 99 when using Quantaray 70, especially in a full-zoom. New batteries; cleaned contacts; works OK with regular lens.
    Hmmmm, seems like time to switch cameras---to another brand!

  • Andrea

    I had an issue with my camera, it just completely stopped working, but I never had an err 99. I had to send it in to Canon to get it repaired. After I got it back, from then on it has done nothing but give me err 99 messages. Very frustrating. I am wondering what may have been done at the factory authorized canon repair shop.

  • http://www.tinyurl.com/stop-corruption Gordie

    @Bharat --
    Care to share the name of the repair shop in San Jose? I'd ship my Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT with Canon EFS 17-85mm Lens to be repaired. Thanks in advance.

  • O8h7w

    As established in this article, you're likely to get the same error message if any problem comes up - not necessarily the same one. How likely it is that problems does come up is probably best guessed by looking on used cameras for sale of that model, if many of them have problems I'd stay away from that model. Having bought a nice lens I'd stick with the brand.

    Might I guess your camera, during your Hawaii trip, was exposed to a lot of moist air? Maybe even some water ended up right on it? Then it might be a good idea to give it to someone with basic knowledge of electronics, just to take it apart and look for corroded contacts.

  • Trish

    By "no one will touch it" I mean no one will try to fix it-they allsay I have to pkg it up and send it down to Canon in Toronto.

  • Trish

    I have a dslr Rebel EOS XS that started getting error 99 after we came back from Hawahii. it is incredibly frustrating as I am not a pro but take shots of my kids and wildlife to draw from. I have missed a lot of perfect shots so to speak, because of popping out the battery and turning on and off. I have taken it in and no one will touch it (I live in Calgary, Alberta) though they have tried all the little fixes and we have tried the firmware downloads, with no effect. I am told it will cost about $250 to fix. I can pick up the same model for $350 on sale at wal mart where I got the first one, on credit, as I cannot afford a new model or different brand so I could at least have a working dslr until I can afford a better one. I have a 300mm Canon telephoto that I use all the time. is it worth it to buy this again so I can take it on vacation? Or is it this model or brand and I am likely to have the same problem all over again?

  • Jim

    Thank you very much for the information. I believe my problem with a Canon 1000D is due to a bad contact getting worse. I had error 01 a few times with a zoom lens. This changed to error 99 and then also started to happen with the standard lens. I also noticed that some settings wren't being saved. The only way to stop error 99 is to open and close the battery or card door. I tried everything on the internet but it did not help. Cleaning contact gave only a temporary relief. The backup battery in the 1000D is a surface mount rechargeable battery. It can be access through a pull-out panel in the main battery compartment (difficult to see) but it can't be removed. I discharge this battery through 20 kohm resistor over 24 hours, but all that happened when I turned back on was a request for the time and date. Nothing else changed. I believe, in this case, the problem is a poor contact or short ahd can only be fixed by cleaning and remaking contacts. I was going to take the camera apart but some screws are very stubborn.

  • O8h7w

    @Andy: No error when initiating live view for you either, just that the shutter remains closed and therefore the screen is black? This sure seems odd to me, but then again, I have practically no experience.

    Thanks in advance /O8h7w