Canon's Error 99: the Man, the Myth

Posted by

Now, Let’s Speculate

We know from the above that the Err99 code has existed since the D60, but most of the current Err99 online discussion and speculation started around 2003-2004. A large part of this is for obvious reasons: the number of Canon SLRs in service exploded around 2003 and 2004 with the introduction of the Digital Rebel and the 20D cameras. There are some other factors that may have contributed to the marked increase in Err99 reports around this time. Several changes that occurred, but probably did not have much to do with the Err99 increase include:

  • The EF-S lens mount was introduced in 2003 with the Digital Rebel.
  • Canon flash systems changed to E-TTL II in 2004. E-TTL-II largely incorporates a change in the flash calculations done in the camera body and communicated to the flash unit through the hot shoe. (Some people state Err99 problems involving flashes have only occurred since this change, but these are rare at any rate.)
  • In 2003 Canon increased the number of autofocus points in prosumer cameras from 3 to 7 (10D) and again to 9 in 2004 (20D).
  • The Digic image processing chip was introduced in prosumer cameras in 2003, and the more powerful Digic II in 2004 with the 20D and Rebel XT.

There are a few changes, however, that logic suggests might have had some causative effect on Err99 messages.

Lens-to-Camera Electronic Communication

Although Canon hasn’t said so specifically, pretty strong circumstantial evidence indicates that the electronic connections between lens and camera were changed at least once and probably twice since 1998. The first change is probably better documented and seems to have occurred first with the EOS 3 and EOS 1V film cameras, which introduced the 45-point autofocus system later used on the 1D series digital SLRs. A number of third party lenses (mostly Sigma) would not communicate autofocus information with these cameras, and required re-chipping by the manufacturer to regain compatibility. The same problem occurred with the introduction of the 10D digital camera, which increased prosumer autofocus points from 3 to 7 and introduced the Digic processor. Of note, those incompatible third party lenses gave an Err99 message, not Err01, when used with the 10D. As best I can find, the first widespread Err99 reports occurred when third party lenses couldn’t communicate electronically with the new 10D camera, and the soon-to-follow Rebel and 20D. This is the source of many people’s partially incorrect belief that Err99 always means a miscommunication between camera and lens.

Lens Current Draw

The second change is less clearly established. Some sources state that lenses with IS systems have higher electric current transmitted from the camera than other lenses do, which makes sense, considering that they have more work to do. In-lens image stabilization first appeared in 1995 with slight improvements in 1997 and 1999. A major improvement was made in 2001 with the faster IS system used in the 70-200 f/2.8L IS and again in 2006 with the new four-stop system in the 70-200 f/4L IS. The newest IS systems are more powerful and stabilize more quickly (0.5 seconds as opposed to 1 second with older systems), so it’s logical to assume they draw more current across the connections, although this is not documented anywhere that I can find.

Several lenses with newer IS, including the 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS (2005), EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS (2006), and 70-200mm f/4L IS (2006) became very popular with photographers shooting EF-S mount cameras. We know that malfunctions in some of these lenses, most commonly reported with the 17-55 f/2.8 IS, cause Err99 (and not Err01) on EF-S mount cameras. Cleaning the electronic contacts on the camera and lens will often fix, or at least improve the problem. There are a few reports that the problem is more common with original Digital Rebel and 20D cameras, and less common with newer cameras; our data supports this too. Some knowledgeable people have speculated that there was a change in contact alloy, a thinner layer of gold plating, or other electrical contact issues with the XT and 20D cameras that make it more difficult for these cameras to deliver the required current to the newer IS lenses. On the other hand, the problem may simply be more common with older cameras because the lens contacts are more likely to be worn.

In-Camera Voltage Drops

Another theory that has some factual basis was reported several years ago on DPReview. A tester found that Canon 20D cameras would display Err99 if the camera voltage fell below 7.3 volts. The BP511 battery used in all prosumer cameras prior to the 5DMkII should deliver a bit over 8 volts in fully charged state, but will fail to deliver sufficient voltage in certain conditions: dirty contacts, failure of a cell within the battery, age, rapid power consumption, or some combination of the above. This certainly would explain the Err99 problems occurring with bad batteries or bad battery contacts. Again, just speculating, but I would suggest that a fall in voltage across just part of the camera circuitry would also cause Err99—for example, across dirty or corroded electrical contacts, across a cracked ribbon cable, or perhaps a slightly corroded circuit board connector. I’ll come back to this idea later.

  • 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