It’s been a while since I made a DIY repair or modification post as I thought I had seen the last of the problems that can sometimes plague us. I’ve had my share of problems from annoying issues to camera failure at the worse possible moments. Yet no matter how careful and forward thinking you may be, Murphy’s Law follows us everywhere. I know this because the number of photographers who have encountered flash-related problems are more than a handful. Just check out the number of forum posts that link to my Speedlite 580EX-II Hotshoe Fix post including a new threads that I discovered this morning on Fred Miranda and also Canon Board and a members-only DWF.
It all began two nights ago when I fitted the now notorious Speedlite 580EX-II on the EOS 20D and it wouldn’t fire. My first reaction, Oh, here we go again. The hot shoe screws on the camera probably needed tightening.” Careless me, after removing the whole metal assembly, I fiddled with the plastic micro-switch and the whole piece fell inside. There is no way to recover it and since it’s plastic I am not at all concerned about the possibility of shorting the circuits. This is when I came across a fantastic resource by wedding photographer in Philadelphia, Conrad Erb. While the idea of using something so readily available such as a paper clip sounds so inviting and practical, I’m concerned about it getting lost (again) so I looked around the house and found a hairbrush bristle made of strong plastic and it fitted perfectly as a replacement to the original item.
How about that eh, an American solution (USA made hair brush) to fix a stupid Japanese design flaw that’s caused by the carelessness of a Chinese owner? I say stupid because there has got to be a better way to design a micro switch that isn’t a piece of unsecured 0.5 cm plastic. Incidentally, professional SLR bodies such as the EOS 5d and 1 series do not have this switch as they don’t come with a pop-up flash. This micro-switch tells the camera if an external flash is being used so that the pop-up flash isn’t activated either automatically or intentionally.
I have done a number of tests while I was looking at fixing this. In the camera’s confused state (should the micro-switch trigger is missing like mine), pressing the pop-up flash button while an external flash is being used, the camera attempts to pop the onboard flash up but after 3 failed clicks on the actuator, you’ll see ERR 05 on the LCD. This is designed to prevent damage to the mechanism (the person behind this logic was smarter than the one responsible for the 0.5 cm plastic idea)
So here we have one of the freshly snipped bristle (my wife has not noticed her brush’s newly acquired defect and she doesn’t have to either). Note that it should be precisely 0.5 cm and no longer. Not even a wee bit longer as I discovered that it didn’t work so I had to have it filed down to the exact length. According to Conrad’s article, 0.4 cm worked too. ** To avoid any confusion as a reader pointed out, 0.5 cm is how long the bristle needs to be cut, not the thickness of it.
Note the stub that appears through the metal bracket. This picture was taken before I filed it shorter. In my tests, this is what I noticed. If this micro-switch trigger or stub goes missing, power to the hot shoe contacts is cut off. ie the Speedlites do not fire at all. I tried the 580EX and 580EXII and they consistently failed to fire. I think in most cases users may have a stuck stub in which case the pop-up flash would not pop because camera thinking an external flash is present.
Now, these four screws tighten the entire hot shoe and hold the flash in place. Over time, they work themselves loose and you’ll notice the bracket has a tendency to wobble. Of course, you don’t normally see the screws as they’re covered by a metal shim (picture below). You can refer to Conrad’s article on how to get the shim off.
If you have a Canon EOS 300D, 350D, 400D … 20D, 30D, 40D, 50D and future four, three and two digits models, this post applies to you although I sincerely hope you never have to fix yours this way. There is a saying that creativity is born out of isolation and where I live, I’m fairly isolated from where I might get this DIY mess fixed. However, I would be happy to hear from non Canon owners to post their finding as to whether their camera’s hotshoe has the same brilliant design.
Trivia: The Goody hair brush has (yes I counted) 60 bristles. Each bristle is good for two fixes so one brush (quite possibly an obsolete model too) gives you a solution for 120 micro-switch replacement. Hahaha—keep your woman’s hair brush away from me—when I run out of spares, I might have to go look elsewhere! :)