Canon's Error 99: the Man, the Myth

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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.

112 Responses to “Canon's Error 99: the Man, the Myth”

amy said:

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

Melvin said:

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?

Rafael Casal said:

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?

Rob said:

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.

Michelle said:

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.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

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.

Markus said:

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.

Tom said:

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 ???

Michael said:

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!

Chris said:

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?

Other Chris said:

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

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