Canon's Error 99: the Man, the Myth

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Experience at LensRentals.com

There are a number of “what to do when Err99 occurs” lists that I’ve summarized below. Before we jump to them, though, I think its important to try to narrow down the Err99’s cause, rather than to go through the list and hope everything is better. I realize “finding the problem” sounds remarkably obvious, but bear with me for a second. With hundreds of lenses mounted to hundreds of different cameras at any one time, we deal with a lot of Err99 problems. Some Err99 issues are specific and immediate: suddenly the camera starts giving Err99 with almost every shot. Resetting the electronics helps for a few shots—or doesn’t—but the problem recurs and the camera is basically useless. These “catastrophic” Err99 episodes usually means there’s been a major injury in the camera or lens: shutter failure, circuitry burnout, etc. Sometimes the fix is easy—new battery, smoothing a jammed shutter curtain, changing lenses, etc… but most often a trip back to the mothership for either the camera or the lens is in order.

Other Err99 problems are more subtle: Err99 shows up after a lens change, lets say. Cleaning the contacts makes it go away, but it comes back a week later, getting more frequent over time. It may just be with one lens at first, but may start occurring with other lenses. In these cases I think it important to remember the point about electrical voltage made above: if voltage drops below 7.3V in the camera’s circuitry, Err99 is likely to occur. Voltage drops across different connectors are cumulative, and batteries produce less voltage as current increases. What may seem a case of dirty contacts may really be a narrow power margin, due to oil on the lens contacts, an old battery that’s not producing its rated voltage when fully charged, a lens that’s sucking down power to run the IS servos, which finally drops below the lower operating threshold when autofocus is activated. Cleaning the lens contacts might help, but that doesn’t make it “the problem”. So, be careful when diagnosing an intermittent problem. Its also important to do everything you can to narrow down the problem. Sending the camera to Canon for “intermittent Err99” without more information is likely to lead to “can’t reproduce problem” at the Canon Service Center.

For example, once or twice a month we’ll have a customer tell us “the lens is causing Err99 on my camera, none of my other lenses do that”, so we send them a replacement. We have the luxury most individuals don’t get in that situation: the ability to test that lens on multiple cameras, plus the customer will try another copy of the same lens on their camera. In some cases, the customer will tell us the second lens is the same as the first on their camera; meanwhile, the first lens seems fine when tested on other bodies. Here, the problem is a weakness in the customer’s camera body that became apparent only when a lens with heavier power requirements was used. In other cases, the second lens works fine for the customer and the first lens, when returned, gives Err99 on other bodies. Again, problem obvious, the lens had internal damage to the electronics or aperture system.

In a lot of cases though, the problem is less obvious. The new lens works fine for the customer, the old one seems to work well on other bodies. At first, we just shrugged our shoulders and said “one of those things” but over time, as we track the problems that occur with various copies of lenses and cameras, something became apparent to us. Unless we found the specific cause of Err99 and corrected it then the problem, while intermittent, would recur. We’ve worked on developing an Err99 stress test for lenses that only show the problem intermittently: we use an older camera body, halfway charged battery, and take up to several hundred shots being sure to change the aperture, zoom, and focal distance frequently. Doing this we’re sometimes able to reproduce the problem in a lens that otherwise seems to have just had some isolated Err99 reports.

That being said, there are also circumstances where Err99 has occurred and then never, ever happened again:

  • Using older battery (solved after replacing battery)
  • Bad CF card (solved after replacing card)
  • After marked temperature change (solved after letting the camera sit for a day or so, probably condensation)
  • After mounting battery grip (solved after remounting the battery grip)
  • With single lens only, all other lenses fine (solved by repairing the lens)
  • Early copies of 50D (solved after firmware update)
  • Camera used with third party shoe mounted flash (solved after flash removed)
  • Dirty contacts (solved by cleaning, sometimes that is the only problem)
  • For no apparent reason, it went away for good after doing the routine Err99 protocol. This part reminds me of “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”…

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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