Technology is great when it works. When it fails, sometimes the only savior is customer service. When customer service fails, well then, you’re screwed.
Back in April 2012, Olympus released its new OMD EM-5 digital camera. This was its premier model, a Micro Four/Thirds (M4/3) design that was simply…beautiful. It has a retro design that harkens back to the OM-1 film SLR cameras of the early 1980′s. To say it stirred nostalgic feelings would be an understatement. When I first saw this camera, I was very intrigued, but I vowed to avoid looking at it, reading about it and even thinking about it.
At that time, I was exploring the M4/3 format and I was pretty heavily involved with Panasonic camera and lenses. I knew I could not afford, financially or emotionally, to get involved with another system camera. The specs of the EM-5 camera were even more impressive than its design. It was a very tempting purchase, one that I managed to avoid.
Until this last June.
During those 14 months, I gave Panasonic M4/3 cameras an honest try. But I decided I couldn’t keep them. The images seemed muddy-flat and any attempts to punch them up in post-processing left the images looking plastic-y. I also wanted to use the M4/3 gear for sports photography, but it wasn’t really up to the task. So I sold off all the M4/3 gear and decided to hang with my Canon gear a little longer.
I don’t really know why I bought an Olympus EM-5 in June, maybe I decided it was OK to buy it once the emotion wore off. Also, I was seeing some very impressive imagery from some fellow professionals who were using the Olympus M4/3 system exclusively. So I ordered the EM-5 silver body with the 12-50mm kit lens, just to check it out. Once I started using it, I felt the fun of photography rush in. I wanted to take this camera with me everywhere. I realized its compact size coupled with excellent images was a terrific match. I bought some prime lenses and another EM-5 body, this time a black body version. I started using the Olympus system for more of my professional work. I began selling off some of the peripheral Canon gear to make room for more Olympus stuff.
And then it happened.
I first noticed a problem with the black body EM-5. Whenever I removed the battery, the date and time would be lost. I would need to reset it each time I changed the battery. I did some online research and learned that this is a known problem with the EM-5. It has a capacitor that is supposed to hold a charge to keep the date and time in memory. When it works. This capacitor wasn’t holding the charge.
Fortunately, I discovered this problem within the 30-day window for complete exchange, so I sent it back to the retailer and got another one. The replacement camera does not have the date/time dementia.
More recently, I noticed a problem with the silver-body EM-5. It has a bad habit of making a black frame exposure when you first turn it on and use a shutter speed faster than 1/1000. The second frame is about 3 stops underexposed, and the third frame approaches correct exposure. If I turn off the camera and wait about five minutes, it happens again. Every time. Sometimes if I leave the camera on for a few minutes without shooting, the next frame I take is black or dark. Even in manual mode, the first three exposures are unreliably different. More online research revealed that this, too, is a known problem with some EM-5 bodies.
Since I discovered this problem after the 30-day return window, I invoked my one-year warranty with Olympus. I brought up the online customer support page and submitted my warranty repair request.
First sign of trouble: I needed to pay for shipping for warranty service. Hmmm, this seemed unusual, probably because it IS unusual. Most companies show you they care by making sure warranty service is as little trouble as possible. Costco or Amazon, for example. I went to the local UPS Store and, $72 later, sent the camera off for repair service, insured and with two-day air delivery.
Olympus needed about four days to repair the camera and then they shipped it back…7-10 day ground. Argh. At least they paid for that leg of the trip.
When the camera arrived, two weeks after I sent it to them, I was dismayed to learn that the shutter problem still happened. They didn’t repair it. Actually, “dismayed” is not the right word. Pissed. Livid. Outraged. Ranting mad. Two weeks and $72 later, and no repair.
I called their customer service and was connected to a guy who said his name was “Oscar.” That’s probably his stage name. He cheerfully assured me everything would be great and I should trust him to take complete care of me. I had a feeling that he was acting. He said they would even pay for shipping both ways. 7-10 day shipping each way.
I told “Oscar” that taking care of me would look like Olympus sending me a new camera and I would return the defective one in the same box, to make sure I had a working camera as soon as possible after the failed repair attempt. “Oscar” said Olympus doesn’t do that.
I told “Oscar” that taking care of me would look like Olympus using two-day shipping each way to make sure I had a working camera as soon as possible. “Oscar” said Olympus doesn’t do that.
But “Oscar” did promise me several times that Olympus would make sure I was completely satisfied. I told him Olympus doesn’t do that.
I was not interested in playing the circle-jerk game of shipping the camera and getting it back un-repaired. Fool me twice, it’s my fault, right?
I then appealed to the retailer I purchased the camera from in June and they agreed to let me return it, even after the 30-day window, for a full refund. I was much happier to do this. I submitted the return request and sent it back to them. At the same time, I ordered another new EM-5 (silver) body and got it two days later.
Fresh out of the box, the brand new camera has the same problem with the shutter. At this point, I’m guessing there is whole stack of these inbred, defective camera bodies waiting for people to buy them. I could take my chances and try another exchange. At least I am inside my new 30-day return window now and the shipping will be free to me. If this exchange cycle turned into a revolving process, maybe I could convince Olympus to pay me for doing quality control on their cameras. At least, that way, SOMEONE would be doing it.
I believe many people would not notice the shutter problem; it happens under some very specific circumstances. This leads me to believe that the problem is significantly under-reported.
Here is what it looks like, with histograms:
The above images were taken on Manual mode (1/4000, f/4.3, ISO1600)
Here is how to check your EM-5 for this issue:
1: Go outside on a sunny day and set the camera to Manual mode.
2: Set the shutter speed to 1/4000 second.
3: Adjust the ISO and aperture to get a good exposure (Don’t use Auto ISO for this test.)
4: Turn off the camera and wait 5 minutes.
5: Turn on the camera and take three photos of the same scene.
6: If the first frame is black or very dark, your camera has this problem. The second frame may be lighter, but still dark. The third frame should start looking pretty good.
6a: Sorry, it sucks, trust me.
7: If all three frames look the same, congratulations! You are a lucky person and should immediately go buy a lottery ticket.
At this point, I’m very frustrated. I’m not sure how to get a working camera. I really wanted to like these cameras. The cameras and lenses are very light, compact and amazingly sharp. They look great, the images look great (except for that, you know, black-frame-problem.)
One person suggested I just shoot around the problem… burn off a couple of frames every time I fire up the camera, then get on with my life. I find this difficult to accept. It acknowledges that the shutter, the very heart of the camera, has an intermittent problem. I find that unacceptable.
Actually I find several things about this episode unacceptable.
- Nobody should have to pay shipping for warranty service. Period.
- Warranty shipping should be expedited, not shipped ground service where the owner can track the package crawling across the country.
- If a company fails to make a repair, it needs to climb all over itself to make it right. Having some person named “Oscar” telling me to trust him in a sing-song voice is not making it right. That is just insulting.
- If a company has manufactured a product that has recurring reports of a significant problem, it should recall the stock, test it thoroughly, and only sell the ones that pass the test. It’s the only way to restore real trust with customers. Think: Tylenol in 1982.
Two days ago, Olympus released news of its newest flagship camera, the OMD EM-1. The price of the body alone is $1399. That’s a lot of cash and Olympus says it is a huge improvement over the EM-5. If it takes consistent exposures, that would be a huge improvement.
Just trust them.
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