One of our readers, who is a very busy professional wedding photographer, asked me if proactive maintenance with the manufacturer is worth the money or not. After a busy wedding season, she sent one of her Canon 5D Mark III cameras to Canon service center for cleaning. Shortly after the service center received the camera, she was told that her 5D Mark III had over 200,000 images, which was way above the shutter life of the camera, which is rated at 150,000. For a $600 fee, the Canon service center suggested to replace the shutter mechanism with a brand new one, promising that the camera would keep on clicking. Since $600 sounded better than paying $3K for a replacement camera, the reader asked advice from me, to see if it was indeed worth paying for the shutter replacement as proactive maintenance. I recommended not to do it for the following reason: shutter mechanism failures are completely random and it is best to replace the shutter when it actually fails.
A number of people have been trying to gather data to find out if there is actual correlation between the “rated shutter life” and actual shutter life. One of such individuals is Oleg Kikin, who created the Shutter Life Expectancy Database a while ago. Although the data is now quite old and has not seen large updates for a while (particularly on newer cameras), there is some very useful information there that one could look at. For example, take a look at the data for the Canon 5D Mark II and Nikon D300. Although both are rated at 150K shutter actuations by manufacturers, shutter failures range anywhere from 2000 to over a million! If you look at other stats, you will not see any correlation between the expected shutter life and real shutter life. This means that the shutter mechanism could fail any time, irrespective of the total number of actuations.
Hence, there is no point of trying to do proactive maintenance on your camera. Your camera is not like your car, requiring you to change oil every x number of miles. Anything could fail any time – whether it is the shutter mechanism, mirror or electronics. The best way to prolong the life of your gear is to properly use it and care for it. Do not drop your gear, do not use it in extreme weather conditions without understanding the effect and risks of condensation, fogging, fungus growth, dust, etc. Learn to properly clean your camera gear and make it a habit to do it after every shoot.
In the case of our reader, she was not concerned about not having a backup camera for photographing weddings, since she always takes at least 3 camera bodies. She just wanted to find out if replacing the shutter mechanism would help prolong the life of her camera, which, based on the above information and my experience, does not.
What is your experience with camera maintenance? Have you previously had shutter or mirror mechanism fail on you? If yes, how did you deal with the problem? We would love to find out, so please leave your feedback in the comments section below.