Canon G9 Autopsy

Right in the middle of my house renovation, about the worst possible time it could have chosen to do so, my long-time-trusty Canon G9 decided to brick itself. No power-up, dead, fresh battery didn't help. Oh noez!! I limped through the next few days on a cellphone and then a couple of borrowed cameras from friends [which is how most of these pictures were taken], but really wondered what on earth could have made my faithful photographic companion go suddenly and completely tango uniform.

A little research on the net turned up that many of these particular cameras had an issue where one or two internal screws would loosen up and eventually tumble around inside the case next to the electronics, randomly shorting things out and at a minimum blowing the main power fuse. This thread gets into some of the details, but unfortunately its link to a better description doesn't work anymore and that's one incentive for creating this page. I found that someone else had a fairly good picture of the issue as they discovered it. Most other references about the problem seem to lead back to one or more of these links. No comment or acknowledgement from Canon can be found, of course.

So I just had to get in there and see if the same thing had happened to mine. There was no audible rattling to be heard, but some of the spaces inside this thing are pretty small so there's not a lot of wiggle room even for a small part.

[Small images link to larger, more detailed versions.]

The Canon G9 which bricked itself, no power The unit in question on the bench, ready for autopsy and/or repair depending on how a bunch of surrounding circumstances would play out. It's held together with ordinary phillips-head screws, but a very fine driver tip is needed to fit them correctly.

This wouldn't be the first time I'd have the covers off this; I made a brief but inconclusive investigation into a broken zoom-lever return spring a few years back but decided to get that fixed under warranty. More on that later.

Mind you, this camera doesn't owe me a dime. I got it in early '08, wrote at length about some of its finer operational points, and have put it through hell. It's roadtripped with me, hiked and climbed with me, crawled under cars to capture those detailed service procedures, gone with me from frigid New England winters to 120F desert heat, and always captured just what I wanted when I didn't bugger up the shot myself. Most of the paint is worn off the zoom rocker and the parameter wheel on the back needed at least one round of getting a little touch of silicone lube under it so it would continue to spin freely.

One of the loose screws that fell out One of the screws in question fell out fairly early in the disassembly process. I'm not sure exactly where from but it really didn't matter.

Canon should take careful note of which finger the screw is sitting on.

Top cover coming off The top panel came off fairly easily. It's a fairly complex part due to the number of controls on the top of the camera.

We can also spot a memory keepalive battery on the next board down, the round silver thing with "7805" printed on it sitting in a holder. I wonder how long that was supposed to last??

Under the top cover, where two screws are missing On the underside of the top cover it was immediately obvious where the two loose screws would have come from. Both holes turned up empty here, leaving only the red goop that was supposed to prevent any self-unthreading in the first place. Eventually the other missing screw emerged from somewhere deep inside the works and dropped out onto the bench too.

Working down to the main processor board After separating the top cover and removing the display screen and control block, we get down to the level where the main processor sits.

Power board assembly Sort of wrapped into and around the area behind the main board and under the top cover is the three-piece power board assembly, which is more or less what I was looking for. The red connector brings power from the battery contacts up into this.

The tiny little blown fuse A small amount of detective work pinpointed the tiny white SMT chip with the single "R" on it as the offending blown fuse, clearly in line from the power connector to the rest of the electronics, and in contrast to the "R00" zero-ohm jumpers nearby it tested as open. If its marking system is similar to that used by Tyco/Raychem in their 2410 fast-acting line of SMT fuses, this one could have a rating as high as 8 amps -- which might seem rather overspecified for a camera, but let's consider that these can draw on the order of an amp and a half with all the electronics powered up in shooting mode, with the display bright and zooming and focusing all at the same time. There's a reason they can get warm after a little while. The main safety purpose is to protect against lithium battery shorts.

At this point I called Canon to ask about options. I was candid about the fact that the camera was now in pieces all over my workbench, as it was way out of warranty, and that I'd confirmed the same known issue with it. They quoted a flat $139 to repair, which frankly is probably about what they think the camera is worth by now -- where in some number of hopeless cases they'd have to simply send back a full replacement. They also mentioned some sort of "loyalty" sales/exchange discount for upgraded models, which got me thinking that I'd read about the further evolution of the "G" line up to the G12 and had seen many favorable comments on it and that maybe, four+ years down the road, a step up might be nice.

The G9 hit the market near the peak of the "megapixel wars" -- at 12 Mp it was on the leading edge of the time especially for a point-n-shoot form factor, but with the attendant downside that a small sensor so packed with pixels is inherently rather noisy. Anything taken above 200 ISO was pretty much unusably grainy and/or blotchy, even after various post-treatment. No noise filter could really deal with the odd but characteristic blue/yellow patchiness that often appeared in low-detail areas. I adapted by simply keeping the ISO down and recognizing the limitations of slower shutter speeds. Despite that I utilized the camera's unusually tall 6x optical zoom to the fullest and shot my share of shows from the back of the room in whatever lighting they had, resulting in quite a few nice presentations/reviews of same for the people involved. They loved that, said it was better than a lot of "professional" jobs they'd seen.

It was therefore interesting that later G-series models, after peaking at 15 Mp but having its higher ISO settings dismissed as "pointless" due to the noise levels, had sensibly stepped *back* on the megapixel count. Canon surprised the market a bit by reducing the sensor to 10Mp for the rest of the line and working on improving the sensor sensitivity and surrounding optics. I used to wonder where was the threshold of pixel count that would competently rival most film, and determined that it was somewhere around 8 - 10 Mp for typical photographic uses. So 10Mp was clearly "enough" even when taking partial crops of JPEGs, and came with compelling image-quality advantages over its higher-count predecessors.

The G12 also fell under Canon's "loyalty" sales program and they were able to offer me a factory-refurb [read: basically new in box] at a price slightly *under* ballpark at Amazon -- which has really become the de facto "get it for cheap" benchmark, hasn't it. As the refurbs are basically retail overstock and a tiny fraction of the cameras come from actual end-customer returns or defectives, I knew this would basically get me a new unit. They would also send a prepaid UPS label to ship back the old G9 for proper recycling. I warned them that it would likely come as a bag of loose parts, and they said they'd be perfectly okay with that.

It didn't take long to make the decision, and I went for the upgrade.

This wire might fit... With that resolved and on the way, back to the G9. The next challenge, once ensuring that stray screws weren't rattling around shorting random parts to ground, was to get power back to the unit just to see if it had any life left in it. One fine strand separated out of of 22 or 24 ga wire might do the trick -- on the scale of these parts, it still looked like a log and when used as a bypass, could probably withstand more than 8 amps. But this was a temporary hack.

Ugly bridging job Working under the binocular microscope and trying to be as steady as possible still yielded a butt-ugly bridging job, but would likely work well enough for the moment. The special constructed tip extension I usually use for the Prius MFD fixes didn't get quite hot enough to flow solder on the larger areas of copper here, so it was back to the ordinary fine tip which still felt like trying to make jewelry with a sledgehammer.

One of the clear-encased chips inside Time out for sort of an art shot: one of the chips on the main board has a completely clear case, and shows an intriguing landscape under the 'scope.

So at this point I had high hope that nothing other than the fuse was borked, and I'd be able to at least get the camera up and limping again. Naturally there would be a nonzero chance that something else more sensitive got damaged in the process of the loose screws shorting things out, but it was worth a try just for geek value. This would require putting most of the unit back together as all these boards and their flexible extensions and connectors are sort of one interdependent system. In particular, several parts would have to get connected up just to have the power buttons on the top panel able to tell the power board to try and fire up.

Alas, other impediments arose that prevented ever having that little moment of glory.

Connector shredding itself The connectors are very small and simply friction-fit with no locking mechanisms, and this particular one from the top panel didn't seem willing to insert at all. The little holes in the center and the side ears are pretty clearly for pulling on the flexible end during factory assembly, but as I tried to carefully get it going into its slot the delicate spring pieces at the back of the connector shell started *breaking off* and sliding out the other side. Aaiiiggh! After losing one I extracted the tiny, hair-like loose piece and tried more careful insertion with a little downward angle so the edge could dive in under the contacts -- no joy, as it snapped a couple more of the pins right out of their positions in the connector.


This went far beyond what I was about to try and fix, so at this point I declared my faithful G9 truly dead. Ding dong. Canon would receive pretty much a bucket of parts as promised.

As long as everything was opened up, though, I also wanted to track down the zoom-lever return spring that had plagued me through the years. This damn thing broke *three* times in the course of my ownership, leaving the zoom rocker still functional but floppy and generally needing the touchy step of re-centering it manually. The first time it went the camera got sent back to Ritz who made it work again but completely screwed up the repair or used the wrong spring or re-bent the remains of the original one, or something -- it felt much stiffer than before and broke again within a couple of months. It then got sent off to Canon who fixed it "right" but due to perhaps an inherently poor design, it broke for its third and last time while I was lining up an external shot of Scotty's Castle in Death Valley. From that point forward I decided to just bloody live with it, or at least make trying to fix it again a very low priority.

Zoom return spring location But with this chance to dig in and finally find it and not worry about collateral damage any more, it was rip-n-tear time on the top panel. Under the hefty metal bracket that also forms one of the neck-strap attachment points I found the spring, or what was left of it, installed around a plastic post next to the zoom rocker assembly. The spring is supposed to have two little arms sticking out, not one, bearing against either side of the small black post until the pin on the zoom lever plate pushes one or the other away.

The two little angled touch-switches on the board are what activates zoom in or out once these halves go together; they could provide a very slight amount of restoring force but usually not enough to overcome the rocker pivot friction so I had to always re-center the lever manually. It was operationally annoying because if the rocker was stuck either way, the scanning matrix for all the switches and buttons wouldn't be able to see any *other* control activations until the rocker was centered. Definitely lost a few good shots because of that.

Broken zoom spring Textbook fatigue break.

The missing fragment of the spring was *another* stray metal part rattling around inside somewhere. I never even found that at all; it's small enough that it could have gotten anywhere. Maybe I got lucky and it fell away from the electronics and rode around in the bottom. There's clearly something inherently wrong with either the return-spring design or the way the spring itself was manufactured, given how unreliable it proved itself. A spring of this sort *should* be able to handle the repeated smallish deflections it would undergo in this setup, but maybe it should have been three-turn instead of two for better elastic flexibility. There's enough space in there for that.

Hopefully the later G-series models have addressed these issues, because for the moment I'm sticking with that because I enjoy the image quality and full-manual-control user interface they've built into a nice compact unit. Unlike some of the other forum posters who were saying things like "Screw this, I'm buying Nikon." ... Maybe next time. Canon in fact did mess this whole transaction up a bit, first sending a G12 that couldn't remember its date and time across power-ups and I had to return *that* for another round of exchange, and they almost lost the whole order in the process.

They finally got their shit together and the second G12 has been in my hands for a few days now so far doing quite well. What's especially nice is the additional finger wheel on the front of the case in addition to the usual wheel on the back, giving direct and simultaneous adjustment of shutter and aperture without having to swap parameters with a button. That alone gives a more "professional feel" to the whole shooting experience, essentially placing DOF and brightness control right into muscle memory.

_H*   120901