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What to Do When Your Camera Won’t Work and You Wanna Scream

You love your camera and care for it with due diligence. You (hopefully) clean the sensor and wipe down your lenses, being careful to keep them dry and avoiding high humidity. But what happens when no matter how careful you’ve been, your camera won’t work and starts to act funny? What if that dear, dear equipment of yours stops working the way you try and expect? Then what?

What to Do When Your Camera Won't Work and You Wanna Scream

Easy Fixes

There are some fairly common problems that you can fix yourself. They involve a little bit of fiddling with your camera, but you don’t always need to run to your local camera store for repairs. So before you go running to the experts consider these options if your experience the following issues with your camera.

1) The lens won’t focus

  • Check that the autofocus is turned on – This is a fairly easy fix most of the time. The first thing you should always do is check to make sure you have the lens’s autofocus turned on. There have been a few times when I didn’t realize that I had pushed the switch to manual focus and I can’t understand why the lens won’t work. Always, always check this button first.
  • Try removing the lens and reattaching it. Sometimes when changing lenses you may not quite connect the camera and lens properly. In this case, the camera and lens can’t communicate and the camera can’t send a message to the lens to start the autofocus adjustments. Make sure you hear a click and the lens is attached tightly to the camera body (if not it can also fall off!).
  • Try using compressed air or a blower. It may be that there is some dust that is interrupting the proper workings of your camera use a blower to clean out the attachment area for both lens (metal contacts) and the area on the camera.
What to Do When Your Camera Won't Work and You Wanna Scream

Try using a blower to clean the attachment area for your lens. Just remember don’t ever touch the little gold squares with your fingers. They can corrode and then your camera cannot communicate with the lens. I will apologize for the camera shake on this image. It’s not easy holding a camera while shooting using a blower tool.

  • Take out your trusty user manual and see if the there’s a troubleshooting section. Most camera user manuals will have a section where you can find solutions to common problems.
  • You’re too close – Every lens has a minimum focusing distance. If you get too close to your subject, the lens will not be able to focus. For example, if the minimum focusing distance for your lens is 18″ and you try to do a macro shot of a flower and get right into about 8″ away from it – you lens physically cannot do that job. Try adding a close-up filter or using extension tubes to solve this issue.

2) Memory Card Errors

  • Check it’s not locked – If your camera won’t allow you to take or to delete photos it may be because you’ve not removed the write protect on your card or you’ve locked it. If the memory card is locked you can move the switch to unlock it. Sometimes the switch will break off. This is an easy repair. Place a piece of tape over the space where the switch should be and the card will once again be unlocked.
  • Format – If nothing is working, it may be time to consider formatting the card. You will lose all pictures currently on the card (download them first) but this may be the only way to get the card working again.
What to Do When Your Camera Won't Work and You Wanna Scream

Here you can see the little switch on the SD card. If you can’t write to the card check here.

3) Weird Exposures

It can happen sometimes, you read the exposure correctly, and somehow everything comes out way too bright or too dark. The first thing to check is your exposure settings.

  • Perhaps you’ve got exposure compensation turned on. This means that the camera will alter the value selected when the camera is set in various automatic modes (with some models it even applies in Manual Mode, like most Nikons). Check to make sure you haven’t accidentally turned on exposure compensation.
What to Do When Your Camera Won't Work and You Wanna Scream

Oops, yep definitely did not look at camera settings when I shot this. Always check those when you consistently get a weird exposure.

  • Also, check what metering mode the camera is set to use. Often, issues can be caused by using Spot Metering mode if you are not careful and understand how to use it. If in doubt, use Average or Evaluative Metering Mode as a safe fall-back.
  • Check you haven’t activated Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) by mistake. This is a common accident and you may not even realize it’s happened, but auto bracketing will take a series of images both under and overexposed that could be throwing off your exposures. If one shot is dark and the next is too bright this could be the culprit, check your bracketing settings.

Know when it’s time to put your camera to rest

What to Do When Your Camera Won't Work and You Wanna Scream

There are times when there’s nothing you can do. Your camera is just like other tools and eventually, it will wear out. So let’s talk about the signs that you may have a camera on its last legs.

  • The ISO grain on your camera has become way more sensitive. In this case, it’s time to consider a new camera. If your camera’s ISO 400 is starting to look grainy in good lighting then you may need to go shopping.
  • The shutter is very slow. A camera usually has a lifespan of maximum shutter actuations. Once your camera reaches its limits, there’s nothing you can do. You will know if you’re reaching the end when the shutter on your camera starts to become very slow and there is often a delay after you press the shutter button before it takes the photo.
Image: The dark band at the top is a sign that your camera shutter isn’t functioning properly.

The dark band at the top is a sign that your camera shutter isn’t functioning properly.

  • You’ve surpassed your camera’s limits – There’s another factor that has nothing to do with the proper workings of the camera. Sometimes you may outgrow the capabilities of your equipment. I used a Canon 50D for years. But then when I became much more serious about my photography, and I needed something with a higher megapixel count I knew it was time to put my lovely camera to rest. Sometimes we need better equipment. It’s okay to accept this fact and move on. I know this sounds like you’re breaking up a relationship of sorts. Well, the truth is you are. Do what’s best for you and the goals you have for your photography.


So go ahead and tell us more about your camera. Give us some nice anecdotes about your frustrations with your gear. Tell us about the quick fixes you’ve found and tell us about your love-hate relationships with your older gear and why you moved on.

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Erin Fitzgibbon
Erin Fitzgibbon

is a freelance photographer, writer, and teacher, from Ontario, Canada. She specialises in portrait, sport, and fine art photography. In her free time, she escapes to the backcountry or the beach with her family.

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