I was shooting some images of the icebergs on the black sand beach by the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Iceland with a rental EF 24-70mm F2.8L II. Iceland is notorious for being windy, and while I was shooting there was blowing winds carrying ocean spray and water splashes all over me and my camera + lens.
Unfortunately, it seemed that sea water got into the lens either from the autofocus switch, the “weather seal”, or the extended barrel when you zoom out. After a short while, the lens stopped autofocusing and I got errors about connecting to the camera.
My worst fear happened, I could see the lens soaked with water. I was so focused on composing that I forgot to check the equipment conditions. I immediately disconnected it and let it dry. After a full day of drying, the autofocus failed but I could still use the lens on manual focus. The iris was working fine and I could take a photo no problem.
I explained my case to the shop when I returned the rental but unfortunately a few weeks later after they sent it for repairs (they send it to Canon), Canon replied back that the lens was damaged beyond repair due to sea water and nothing can be done, they will dispose of it and send it to recycling and I would have to pay the full price. I agreed as it was in my possession anyways but I asked that the lens be returned.
So I paid the full price (well luckily it had $500 off promo) and took the lens home. I didn’t really mind it as I already had plans on purchasing this lens but what bugged me was how could water damage the lens to the point where it was beyond repair.
I opened the lens and found that the parts affected were only the PCB (later I found some salt stains I the USM motor). I went on ebay and found an original new OEM PCB assembly for this lens for $36 so I grabbed it. Then I got a new USM focusing unit as well on eBay for $90, total with shipping: $140.
To my surprise I was able to fully fix it and it works perfectly fine. So I wrote this step by step visual guide on how to fix this lens for any kind of water/focusing damage or just as a general repair guide for this lens. The weather sealing is rather piss-poor, they use gaskets… but if I didn’t ask for the lens, this would have been a perfectly salvageable lens gone to recycling and I would pay full price for no lens in return. So I hope this guide will help you fix your lens one day or even show you how to replace critical components.
DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY DAMAGE YOU CAUSE FOR FOLLOWING THIS GUIDE. THIS WILL VOID YOUR WARRANTY.
Step 1 (Instructions for each steps are listed below each image)
Firstly, wash your hands. Next, be calm and patient. These devices are precision devices and you need to be patient. Please ensure you have the required tools as shown above. You don’t need to desolder anything. And please for the love of photography and DIY, use magnetic screws. If one screw slips and falls inside the lens assemble, it will be a nightmare to find it. Secondly, PLEASE be very gentle and careful, if something (except Step 5 might require some strength) doesnt come out easily then you are doing something wrong, check all screws were removed or try turning the barrels to a position so it will come off. I apologize I don’t know the number for these screwdrivers, its not printed, they come from a set I had a while back. I put a Canadian 10 cent coin to show the sizes you will need.
This is what a new autofocus unit looks like. (I forgot to take a photo of the PCB before assembling this guide but you will see it below in other pics).
Remove the rubber ring by sliding the flat head screwdriver and pull it off.
Remove this screw that holds the position encoder. This is hidden under some tape.
The only part that might be fiddly, insert the screwdriver between the contact PCB and this plastic cover, then lever it up gently.
Remove that peasant cover that uses no screws… grrrr!
Using the smallest phillips screwdriver, remove these two tiny screws first.
Remove the 4 screws as shown above.
Gently lift off the metal ring, note the “weather seal” gasket will come off as well. Store safely.
Gently lift off this plastic cover.
This is the PCB board exposed. Don’t remove the screw yet!
This is nightmare mode and the trickiest part, GENTLY remove these princess ribbon cables. Don’t use squeezing tools, you might break it (happened to me in the past). I use this screwdriver trick and gently pull it out perpendicular to the socket. You can use tweezers but make sure the tips are rubber coated.
Then remove this screw. Had you removed it first, you could have damaged the princess ribbons since the whole assembly will start moving.
Pull out this mofo gently to avoid breaking the princess ribbon cables. (fuck ribbon cables, seriously!)
This is where the water got in… Damage is visible, it probably shorted the board’s chip. Chuck this piece away. Funny enough, I couldn’t find any other places with the salt water, maybe some stains on the USM motor, but I wonder if I really had to change that part.. (Really Canon? This is what you call beyond repairs??!)
Once the board is removed, you will find 12 screws in a ring, remove all of them.
Gently pull out the top cover barrel, that’s where the autofocus switch is. You might have to zoom out completely so it comes off. Leave the part with the metal dip.
The USM autofocus unit is exposed. These two screws hold the focusing plate, remove these 2 screws and the plate and install them in the same location on your new autofocus unit.
GENTLY pull out the USM autofocus kit. Then chuck it away. (Well, one day I will test it with the new PCB, I have a feeling this part is ok but I wanted to make this lens as new as possible so I thought I would put in a new USM motor and explore this lens for the purpose of this guide. The problem with electronics is that if the motor unit is shorted, it could short the new PCB so I took no risks and changed both.)
Put in the new autofocus part. Please pay attention to the metal bar in the autofocus unit and make sure it is to the left-most position in its groove as shown above. When you insert it, it needs to align with the hole in the lens unit as shown above. The autofocus works by moving this bar, which once in the hole, moves the inner lens element to allow for focusing. Simple!
This is what it will look like once you assemble the new USM autofocus unit. Take care of the princess ribbon cables.
In case you forgot, please make sure you put the focusing plates back on, else you will have to repeat all above steps again.
Put back the top barrel cover, the part that has the autofocus switch. Be careful of hurting the princess ribbon cables.
Put the position encoder back in its place and don’t forget to put back the tape over it.
BEFORE putting the princess ribbon cables back, put the screw in first, this will make sure everything is held securely first.
Nightmare mode part 2 – Princess Ribbon insertion. Most of these cables have an extruded part behind the contacts, you can use a screwdriver tip to push each one in one side at a time or use tweezers to push both sides in at the same time.
Put back the plastic cover, make sure the line aligns with 24mm.
Put the “weather seal” gasket back on.
Insert the 4 screws first before the 2 tiny ones.
Insert the tiny screws and make sure they are securing the contact board to the metal ring.
Put back the peasant plastic cover and test the lens! Phew! We are done and we have a perfectly (electronically new) revived EF24-70mm f2.8L II :)
There is surprisingly very little electronics in this lens and its pretty modular. There’s the main PCB, then the USM motor unit, and then the iris (explains the lonely ribbon cable after removing the autofocus) and if my repair was to be questioned, I think it is pretty straightforward.
The lens assembly itself is very securely placed inside the lens unit and is separate as a module itself, so no, you don’t have to dismantle the lens assembly or remove any glass piece.
About the Author
Bimal Ramdoyal is a Mauritius born photographer based in Toronto, Canada. He is a hobbyist photographer and full time software developer. You can find out more about him on his website, and follow him on Facebook. Also published here and used with permission.