Thursday, September 13, 2012

Canon product service life expectancy

My Canon Speedlite 430EX died on me recently.  Much to my dismay, I found that Canon factory service no longer repaired that model.  Nor, in fact, would several other third party repair facilities.  This stuck me as odd, because the flash had only been out of production for four years, and although the 430EX wasn't their flagship model, it was closer to the top than the bottom of their product line.  This caused me to do a little digging into the amount of time for which you can expect to have a particular piece of camera equipment repaired, should it fail on you.  This info is especially useful for people like me, who like to save a buck by buying used gear.

The warranty that you get by buying brand new gear is nice, but in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't last very long.  Canon's standard warranty is one year for new products and 90 days for refurbished products.  What happens when your reliable, old workhorse dies on you after the warranty expires?

If you can afford it, you can keep upgrading your gear to newer products every few years and then sell of your older models while they're working well and still new enough to have a decent resale value.  This is what I should have been doing.  I'd been wanting to upgrade to a 580EX flash for months, but hadn't.  Now I've lost any resale value that my 430EX may have had, so the upgrade (which I can no longer put off) will cost me a lot more out of pocket.

My 430EX was introduced in 2005 and replaced by the 430EX II in 2008.  Repair service was discontinued sometime before Summer 2012.  The flagship speedlite, the 580EX, was introduced in 2004 and is still serviced by Canon, despite being replaced by the 580EX II in 2008 and then by the 600EX-RT in 2012.

Because I'm a member of Canon Professional Services, I contacted Canon to see if there was a standard timeline for when service for aging products might be discontinued.  Their response?  No, not really.  There's no fixed timeline for when Canon will cease service on a given product.  The service rep I spoke to said only that for Canon's older equipment, camera bodies tend to be serviced for 11-12 years from the time they're first introduced, and lenses tend to last longer than that.

My theory is that there are a whole lot of factors that go into this:

  • Has this product been superseded by a new version of the same model?  Such as the 430EX II or the 580EX II, for example.  The 100-400mm lens is a dinosaur, but it's still being produced and it hasn't ever been updated, so it still gets serviced.
  • Is this the flagship model for this type of product?  The 580EX is used by lots of full-time pros that give Canon lots of money on a regular basis, so keeping them happy is important.  The 430EX, by comparison, is primarily a consumer-grade flash, and consumers are far more fickle about where and how often they purchase equipment.
  • What's the typical failure mode for the product?  If the product suffers from chronic failure of a small, inexpensive part that's shared with several other products, then keeping a huge stockpile of these parts on hand for many years is no big deal.  If the typical failure is the circuit board specific to one product, that's a different matter.
  • How much did the product cost?  Customers would be pretty upset if their $3000 body or lens became a paperweight in just a few years, but decommissioning a $300 flash is a little easier to swallow.

So what are your options when Canon refuses to work with you?  Fortunately, there are plenty of camera repair shops out there.

United Camera is one of the better known third party camera repair shops.  According to their web site, they won't repair the 430EX any longer, either.

The story is similar with Precision Camera.  They'll repair a 430EX II for $90, but they won't touch a 430EX.

I emailed the repair center at KEH (best known as a used equipment broker).  They said that 90% of the flash problems they see are caused by dead flash tubes, which are still repairable by them for $120 plus shipping.  If it turns out that the problem is with the circuit board or some other specialty part, then I'm out of luck.  I'd have to ship it to them for analysis to be sure.  $120 seems excessive, since I could buy a fully functional 430EX off eBay for $150.

For the handy-folk among us, I was also able to find "official factory service manuals" for the Canon 430EX for sale at also has user-submitted repair instructions for various problems.  No word on where to find replacement parts if something's dead, though.  eBay is the first place I'd look.  As I write this, there's a brand new 430EXII flash tube on eBay for just $10.

At press time, I've already picked up a lightly-used 580EX (first generation).  I haven't yet decided what to do with the 430EX, but I'll probably tear it down & try to repair it myself when I have a spare evening.  Unfortunately, I've already got a few other old devices waiting in that queue.

If you've got a working 430EX and would like to improve its functionality, read my article about increasing the head rotation angle.

What has been your experience buying and/or repairing used camera equipment?  Have you ever gotten burned by a device that died right after you got it?  What is Nikon's service life expectancy like?  Do tell in the comments below.


  1. LOl just reading this and it was posted on my Birthday LOL

    Anyway I have a 430 EXII and it failed on me where first all the up/ down buttons for range failed then one day it wouldn't turn on. I purchased it on 2009. Decided to open it despite the risks and figured realised if i unplugged a connector to the mainboard i could use it. Then one day any photo I took in ETTL would come out dark. Fixed that by just using it in manual. NOW the thing turns on and then flickers... it'll shut off and turn back on for itself at random every few seconds to minutes... and it keeps reverting it back to ETTL which makes it practically unusable. It's a pity they don't repair em anymore and where I live here in the caribbean we have to multiply the USA prices x 10 to compensate for exchange rate, customs duties etc.

    I couldn't even find a service manual or parts catalog online. And because of the costs involved you tend not to want to risk getting a used one which could fail as you get it. That would be money down the drain.

    Looks like I will have to bit the bullet and save at least $4000.00 in my currency to get another one...

    1. It's the first version of the 430EX that is no longer serviceable. Your 430EXII is still being sold new, and can still be repaired by Canon. I'd definitely call Canon (or your local camera store) and check.

      From your description, it sure sounds like the main circuit board itself is at fault. That won't be cheap to buy, but it'll be cheaper than shipping your whole flash to Canon to fix it for you.


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