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Canon’s Error 99: the Man, the Myth

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This article was updated in April of 2009 after Mark at Precision Camera, our favorite repair shop, provided us with some additional information.

This is probably the most boring article I’ve written for LensRentals. (Personally, I like Smashed Front Element the best.) But, I love a good mystery, and I love debunking dSLR “urban legends”. Every so often I run across an online forum where someone makes broad statements about Error 99 which I know are incorrect or at least incomplete. As is my practice, I’ve boldly charged into these online gunfights devoid of intellectual ammunition (i.e. facts). And predictably, the intellectual level of the discussions quickly spirals down from “Is not”, “Is so” into the traditional online-forum sign-offs of “You get Err99 because you’re a bad photographer” and “if you’ve never gotten Err99 you’re obviously not taking many pictures”.

Because Canon Corporate apparently believes that releasing no information about a problem makes it go away, there is little factual information to debunk the online myths regarding Err99 unless you really do a lot of digging. Googling Err99, Canon EOS error codes, etc. brings up several dozen pages of links most of which are the above mentioned “discussions”. There are a few nuggets of truth out there, though. The most complete of these is a multi-year 2,300 post discussion of Err99 problems at Richard’s Notes. There are also a few thoughtful and factual discussions that have taken place in some of the better forums online. After spending far more hours than I intended looking through these sources to settle an online debate, I thought I’d write a summary of what I found and what we’ve experienced here— LensRentals has over 700 Canon lenses and over 50 Canon bodies (as of December 2008), so we have a bit of Err99 experience.

The Myths

Some of the most common Err99 myths are listed below. Strictly speaking, they are not myths; almost every one is true. The myth part comes from thinking that any one of them is actually the cause of Err99. So:

  • Err99 results from an electronic communication problem between the lens and the camera.
  • Err99 results from using third-party (i.e. Sigma, Tamron, Tokina) lenses.
  • Err99 means that electronic circuitry in the lens has failed.
  • Err99 means that electronic circuitry in the camera has failed.
  • Err99 results from using third party batteries.
  • Err99 is a firmware issue, and can be fixed by upgrading to the latest firmware.
  • Err99 started with Canon XT and 20D cameras.

There are a lot more. Almost all of them are true for at least some cases of Err99. The best myth, though, is that Canon purposely created error 99 to prevent the use of third party lenses. As best I can tell, that one isn’t really true, but it does make fun speculation. And, of course, Canon’s nearly total silence on error 99 and other problems certainly helps feed the conspiracy theorists among us.

110 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!

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