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Dealing with oily shutters on EOS cameras. DonationsCopyright © 2002-2017 NK Guy


There is a design defect in early EOS cameras. The 600 series, the 10/10s, Elan/100 and other Canon EOS cameras manufactured in the late 1980s to early 1990s have an internal foam bumper for the shutter curtain which deteriorates with time, breaking down into an oily black tar. The tar oozes down and gets onto the shutter blades, causing them to stick. This results in the shutter either failing to open altogether or opening too slowly, resulting in blank or unexposed photographs.

Since the problem takes years to show up it is not covered by any Canon warranties. It seems likely that environmental factors can affect this problem, particularly heat. I had an EOS Elan with tar on the shutter but in normal temperatures in a temperate climate it was rarely a problem. Then I took a trip to the desert. When I came back I found that I’d lost about two dozen photographs taken during the day - the frames were completely blank, since the shutter had failed to open. However, a third of my photos on that trip were taken at night and none of the night shots had any problems. Maybe it was coincidence, but there it is.

Finding the problem.

The problem is very easy to spot. Open your camera back and look at the shutter curtain - the rectangular area in the centre of the camera with a series of black horizontal Venetian-blind-like shutter blades. If you see small spots or streaks of a shiny black tar-like substance on the shutter blades, particularly the lower edges of the blade on the left side of the shutter curtain, then you have this problem.

Fixing it.

Repair shops can replace your shutter and foam bumper, but it may cost half to the full value of the camera. You can also try cleaning the shutter yourself if you’re extremely careful.

Though the obligatory warnings. First, don’t do this unless you’re extremely careful and confident you can do it. Admittedly if you do wreck the shutter you’ll need to have it replaced which you do anyway, so you’re no further behind. But it’s still worth being careful. And second, if you try this and screw up your camera it’s your own fault. I cannot and do not assume any responsibility for your actions. Thank you.

Okay - cleaning procedure. Take a cotton swab and put a tiny bit of isopropyl alcohol or lighter fluid on it. Don’t drench it - you just want it slightly moist. Rub the tip of the swab on the oily patch, back and forth extremely lightly. You don’t want to apply any pressure, as the shutter curtain is fragile and easily bent and destroyed. Keep lightly rubbing the swab back and forth until the oil is entirely gone. Alcohol is a weaker solvent and so it may take a minute or two of gentle movement to dissolve the oil. Remember to do both sides of the shutter - you’ll have to move the mirror upwards to get the inner side, so don’t get any fingerprints on it. The easiest way to do this is to set the camera into mirror lockup mode (assuming your camera has the ability) and starting the self-timer.

That should fix the camera for the time being. Of course, the foam bumper is still there and continuing to degrade, so you’ll have to do this cleaning every now and again unless you pay to have it replaced. How often depends on your camera. Mine has gone for a year since the last cleaning without problems.

Note that the presence of the tar and the cleaning procedure can result in telltale shiny areas on the shutter curtains where part of the texture of the plastic has been rubbed off. If you’re contemplating the purchase of a used EOS camera and notice a slightly shiny patch like this which is free of actual oil you’ll know it may have been cleaned this way. Of course, slightly shiny patches which align with the areas where the shutter blades overlap are probably caused by general wear and tear, not cleaning.

Thanks to Jim Strutz and Peter Kun Frary for their original posts on the topic.


- NK Guy,

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