March 8, 2007, Category: Rants

Canon 100-400L IS Error 99

556.jpgThis entry is just one long rant about Canon, so if you aren’t a photo buff I’d just walk on past.  Nothing to see here…

I have 5 Canon lenses (EF 50mm 1.8, 24-70 2.8L, 28-135 IS, 75-300 IS, 100-400L IS, 70-200 2.8L IS) and 2 bodies (1D MII, and 10D). I’ve also had other Canon equipment, an Elan, D60, and other lenses. I’ve spent a lot of cash on Canon gear. In the past few years I’ve gone with their pro gear. For those of you who aren’t camera buffs, the “L” lenses are the professional line; ultra sharp, extremely durable, and more expensive.

I had minor problems with the 100-400L shortly after I purchased it. Occasionally an “error 99” would force me to turn off the camera, remove the lens, remount it, and turn the camera back on. Initially this happened rarely (once in a full day of shooting). But by the end of the year, it happened enough that I researched the problem.

A quick Google search (try it: search 100-400 error 99) showed that I was not alone in my frustration. I posted this on the forum (it’s not the first time it’s been on it, see these other discussion lines: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 ) and had quick responses from others with the same problem. Other camera forums had long threads related to the dreaded “Error 99.” I called Canon and was told to try cleaning the mounts with an eraser. This helped, but in retrospect was harmful advice. By giving me advice that helped me get by, the problem was delayed long enough to put the lens out of its one year warranty.

The problem became progressively worse. A year ago while shooting my sons football games, I gave up entirely on Imagine Stabilization, the feature I paid a premium to get. I missed too many shots when it was enabled. My lens was crashing once in every twenty exposures.

Imagine my frustration when my other IS L lens, the 70-200 2.8fL IS (other than the Sigma 300-800, my most expensive lens) began showing the same symptoms, an occasional “error 99.” Now both of my Pro lenses, the ones that were supposed to be superior in ever way had issues with Image stabilization. I found it ironic my older lens, a plain old non-pro 75-300 continued to plug along without problems. I just stopped using IS on the L lenses although it really upset me that a feature I paid big bucks for wouldn’t work properly.

Two weeks ago while demonstrating some photography tips (and my Canon gear) to my brother-in-law (who is just breaking into photography himself), my 100-400 stopped auto-focusing completely. Tests at home on different bodies confirmed that my lens was dead. I was willing to forgo IS, but auto focus too? I called customer service again.

I sent in the lens and was told repairs would cost me $340. I realize the lens was out of warrantee but figured Canon would make an exception given the history of the problems and the widely spread problem of “Error 99” on this lens. I had no doubt Canon would stand behind their product. I may have been wrong.

I was offered a 20% discount which did little to appease my frustration. I have told my story to three different Canon reps today as this issue has been escalated. Wanda in customer service has been very helpful and is taking this issue to management. I am waiting to find out how they will address this problem.

Wanda mentioned to me that Canon would appreciate knowing the extent of the “Error 99” problem. They need customer feedback. For those of you having this issue, you can call Canon or post a comment to this article and I will forward it on to them.

Meanwhile, I’ll wait and see what happens…including a follow-up posting to what happens with my current open ticket and the future resolution of my 70-200 problem (although this lens doesn’t seem to have the high failure rate as the 100-400). To those of you having this problem, I feel your pain. Make sure you complain. My opinion is that the 100-400L IS has a higher failure rate than should be expected for a top end Professional quality product. Especially one from Canon.

Canon 100-400UPDATE:
Canon has reviewed this entry and wants to make sure anyone who is having this problem is taken care of. If you are having this problem don’t wait (as I did). Get your service request submitted ASAP.

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2 thoughts on “Canon 100-400L IS Error 99

  • By Robert harrington - Reply

    Having the same problem with the 70-200 IS L lens. Error 99 keeps coming on to the screen. This was an expensive lens that I purchased for my furniture business to take shots of my own designs. Please, any help will be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks Bob

  • By Warren - Reply

    Here are comments from when this was posted on my old blog. There may be info here that will help:

    Anonymous (Mar 8, 2007):
    good thing I have Nikon 🙂

    Anonymous (Mar 8, 2007):
    This is the main reason I stopped using Canon altogether a few years ago. Good luck with them!

    onymous (Mar 8, 2007):
    20% discount? If the failure rate is this high then I bet they expect it to fail again (after they fix it) and that’s why they won’t do it for free. Nice job Canon.

    Scabby (Mar 8, 2007):
    They have to go to management to see if they should stand behind their product? Either they’re unwilling to do anything or their policy is to do nothing. Either way it doesn’t seem like a very promising sign. I’m looking forward to an update on this.

    Anonymous (Mar 8, 2007):
    I had the same problem a few years ago…it only happened once or twice though. Went away on its own.

    Anonymous (Mar 11, 2007):
    I was going to buy Canon equipment when I retire next year. I will wait and see how this resolves and may have to go with Nikon.

    Warren (Mar 11, 2007):
    Just to clarify, I think for the most part Canon gear and service is still at least as good as anywhere else. If you buy the 100-400, just get an extended warranty. Actually, I think I’d do that with any IS lens at this point.

    Anonymous (Mar 15, 2007):
    There has always been a rumour that non Canon lenses can cause damage to the camera bodies due to poor power regulation. This could subsequently lead to issues with Canon lenses that require more power to drive such things as IS. This is why you should only use genuine Canon gear.

    Warren (Mar 15, 2007):
    I agree, but with one exception. I have used a few Sigma lenses since my first Canon Elan back in 1990. Sigma lenses are widely and successfully used on Canon gear all the time. There are other brands I would avoid, but I have confidence in Sigma. I prefer the Canon L lenses (because of glass quality and their tank-like build) but I have recently owned 3 Sigmas.

    * 50-500: One of my first lenses purchased for my initial digital body (the D60). Replaced it in 2004 with 100-400 ONLY because I wanted IS and a water/dustproof lens. Other than that, this was a great lens.
    * 15-30: Another superb lens. Also purchased with my D60, I still own it because I rarely shoot wide angle and can’t justify the $$$ to upgrade to the Canon L equivalent. My 24-70L gets wide enough for most of my needs.
    * 300-800: Oh I Love this lens! Canon has no equivalent to this extreme zoom. It’s big, it’s heavy, but wow…the reach. It opens to 5.6@800 and is unusually sharp for a zoom.

    My Gear is 90% Canon, and I prefer it that way. But if you tell me by sticking with Canon I can’t enjoy some of the unique products offered by Sigma…well, that might be enough of a reason for me to suggest Nikon. That, however, isn’t the case. Sigma works fine and I’m glad I can use a few of their lenses.

    Anonymous (Mar 16, 2007):
    Actually, it was Sigma I was talking about. A national chain here in teh UK stopped keeping Sigma lenses – customers who had bought sigma lenses reported dead canon bodies. I admit that it could have been a particular batch of lenses, or bodies, as with everything, buying non-manufacturer parts generally voids the warranty for a reason.It si easy to assume that any manaufacturer is locking you in on price, but I can guarantee that without designing the inards of your facvourite Nikon or Canon camera the “other” lens manufacturers cannot guarantee you that their product is 100% compatible – they also want your hard earned cash. Unfortuantely, most of the time we only hear about the 1% of failures, not about the 99% of users who never have a problem!

    Warren (Mar 16, 2007):
    I will contact Sigma for a response to your claim. I’d contact Canon, but I think we can safely assume they will suggest only using Canon gear. My buddy bought a refillable Soy sauce container which stated “only refill with Kikkoman brand Soy Sauce.” Like Kikkoman, of course Canon prefers we buy their gear (which I choose to do most of the time). I know a LOT of people who use sigma gear and know of very few problems. My buddy who also has the same 100-400 lens problems only uses Canon lenses. I honestly don’t think that Sigma equipment will create or has a higher failure rate in Canon gear than actual Canon gear, but I am open to consider the evidence that suggests otherwise.

    Anonymous (Mar 19, 2007):
    Like, I said, you only ever hear about the failures, not the successes and given the number of Canon and Sigma lenses sold each year, I would hazard a guess that the actual percentage of failures is less than 1. However, as I said in my previous post, the nu,ber of failures was significant enough for one UK retailer to stop stocking Sigma. What we don’t know is the age of camera that the “new” lenses were fitted on. It could now be the case that everything is compatible.. at leasr until Canon change something under the auspices of a “new feature”. I also agree with your last comment, not all Canon gear is failure proof either… if only 😉

    Anonymous (Mar 26, 2007):
    I asked Sigma to comment, here is what Tim Sobey from Sigma Customer Service had to say:

    The report which you quote (from an unidentified source), apparently originated in the U.K.and has to do with a “national chain here in the UK…”, so Sigma Corporation of America in the U.S. would be unable to make any official comment on that issue (your inquiry would be better directed to Sigma Imaging UK Ltd.

    However, we are unaware of any verifiable claim of Sigma lenses causing “..dead Canon bodies…” The report is quite vague (no dealer name, no time frame, no specific lenses or cameras or number of incidents), and we suspect it is somewhat less than reliable. Considering that “other” lens makers often make lenses for the major camera manufacturers and bearing those camera makers’ nameplates, belies the claim that the “other” lens makers don’t make lenses to the camera makers’ specs. You know from your own experience that Sigma (and other independently made) lenses can perform well with Canon (and Nikon, Pentax, etc.) cameras, often outperforming them (numerous published test reports in Popular Photography, Amateur Photographer, Practical Photography, fotomagazin, Color Foto, etc.)

    You didn’t describe what issue with Canon lenses you wrote about, but you may be aware that there have been a number of articles published in major European photo magazines (e.g. British Journal of Photography, What Digital Camera, fotomagazin, Chasseur d’Images) describing problems, popularly ascribed to lens failings, which in fact are resultant from deficiencies in the digital SLR camera bodies. These contradict “reports” posted on various forums of people having “bad copies” of lenses.


    Anonymous (Mar 26, 2007):
    Funny to see on DPR that I was a “less than reliable source”. The national UK Chain was Black & Lizars. The date was December 2003 Jan 2004.
    Their website is

    I was purchasing an Eos 30v (film camera and was trolling the UK dealers including Jessops.
    B&L categorically stated that they had switched from Sigma to Tamron as there had been a number of customers who had significant issues using Sigma lenses. Dead Canon bodies was a catchall. Since I am now in to specifics, it was believed that the usage of non-Canon lenses had lead to AF and lens control faults – typically damage to the camera electronics due to the power requirements/regulation of the lens being outside Canon specification.

    I note that Sigma refer to “describing problems, popularly ascribed to lens failings, which in fact are resultant from deficiencies in the digital SLR camera bodies…”
    They seem here to back up my post. However, since these failures do not occur with Canon lenses (on the whole) it would seem that the Sigma lenses have indeed caused issues (which Sigma USA seems to be tacitly agreeing to in their reply).

    The DPR posts seem to point the finger at the Canon lenses as well. However, I assert that from the posts one could summise that other Canon lenses still operate correctly. However, posts on both DPR and POTN suggest that once a third party lense causes a failure, even the Canon lenses have issues fitted to the same camera.

    Unfortunately, very few pople are really scientific in fully diagnosing the failure issues / chronology and therefore it is easy to draw a less than accurate conclusion.

    Anonymous (Mar 26, 2007):
    Oh, and by the way. Black & Lizars are stocking Sigma again 🙂 Maybe it was a glitch around 2003-2004 – Market forces may have forced a return to selling Sigma lenses.

    Anonymous (Mar 26, 2007):
    Similar article here.

    Warren (Mar 26, 2007):
    Good points. My understanding is the claim that SLR Digital bodies have electrical issues is not related to the use of Canon or Non-Canon lenses specifically. There were issues regardless of the lens manufacturer. I will try to find the specific articles referenced. I know my friend who has this problem has only used Canon lenses. Several others who have posted on various sites have also said they only have Canon lenses. From my experience, I see nothing that can point directly at 3rd party lenses as causing this issue.

    As a site note, I never thought you unreliable 🙂 The Sigma guy only said “unidentified” when I quoted you. Thanks for the references.

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