Olympus C-5060WZ mode dial problem

My other pages related to the Olympus C-5050Z, C-5060WZ, and X-7070WZ

This article, originally posted in 2004, has been last updated in 2008. It describes a common problem on the Olympus C-5060WZ of 2003, otherwise an excellent camera, even after all these years. If you see your '5060 misbehaving in a quite random fashion, read on.

Here comes trouble: the symptoms

It was quite surprising when one day late July, 2004 my '5060 (purchased at the end of November, 2003) just stopped responding to controls, including the mode dial and arrow buttons, from time to time some others. For example, I could turn the dial as much as I wanted, ant the camera would stubbornly stay in the program mode.

As if to compensate for that, the camera would sometimes activate a feature without any buttons being pressed, e.g., switching the exposure lock on.

Resetting the camera to manufacturer's settings (the two-finger salute, pressing both top buttons) would not help. Neither would removing batteries for a week or so. (I have spent three weeks trying that; some experiments resulted in camera behaving normally for a few minutes, only to go bad again.)

I am running the 756-81 version of camera's firmware, installed about five months ago and working just fine until now. Interestingly, the symptoms I'm experiencing were somewhat similar to those addressed, according to Olympus, in the recent C-8080Z firmware upgrade. Could that be that both cameras share the same flaw, but only the '8080 got a face lift?

By coincidence(?), in August I started receiving emails from other users, experiencing exactly the same problem, and it almost became clear that it was hardware-caused. The subject also surfaced on the Internet. Looks like my camera was not alone.

On the Web

As I already mentioned, the problem is (was?) quite common. A number of online reviews or discussion group threads mentioned first-hand experiences with it. Unfortunately, most, perhaps all, links I've included in the original posting of this article are no longer valid. In particular, the Yahoo discussion group dedicated to the mode dial problem was closed in 2004.

(As of September 15, 2004, just before it was closed, the original group had 92 postings, among which I counted 46 mode dial problem reports with exactly the same symptoms as those described above. Interestingly, six postings report the same failure in two different cameras!)

Olympus caught with pants down

Most of the affected users report good handling of their repairs by Olympus, although some had the same problem to reappear later, and that's quite worrisome. I remember a user who has two C-5060WZ cameras, and both went wrong at approximately the same time. Some people report having a camera exchanged at the store, only to discover that the next one was not better at all.

What worries me, however, is the way Olympus is handling the cases with expired warranties. This seems to be a major design flaw, and if it is not handled right, it may cost Olympus much more than just the parts and labor: a loss of face.

There was no official statement, admitting the problem and outlining how off-warranty cases will be handled. I'm not thrilled with the option to pay $160 to repair a camera just a year after I bought it. An organized and well-publicized recall/repair program may be more efficient in gaining (or retaining) user loyalty than 2-page spreads in Popular Photography.

Dazed and confused. In the meantime, Ms. Smith-Clemons (U.S. & Canada Spokesperson for the Olympus Product Group) seems to be sadly left to her own devices by her corporate headquarters. In a recent July, 2004 discussion at the Yahoo group, the best of what she could say was (with my comments shown below the quoted paragraphs):

I think this is a fairly isolated problem, but it does appear as though there are issues with some bodies — the good news is they will be fixed at no charge. My 5060 has never malfunctioned in this way, so that is why I say isolated. [...]

"That is why I say isolated"? I am sorry, but this is the best joke I've heard in some time, and I'm going to use it (with due credits, of course) the next time I teach mathematical statistics and probability.

I guarantee you that if there was a production run issue it would have been corrected so not all units would be affected. Those with issues are fixed at no charge. [...]

Another gem. This is the first time I hear that correcting a problem means that not all units are affected. There was no problem on Titanic, either: not everybody died.

[...] no need for concern if your camera mode dial is acting up send it back to Olympus for a free repair. This appears to be a fairly isolated issue. It's an awesome camera... [...]

Every time my camera dies on me for no apparent reason (without being dropped, splashed, etc.), it is a matter of concern, especially if it happens in the middle of Yosemite. Even if I carry a backup. Minimizing the probability of such event would be most welcome.

[...] my guess would be that if there was a production issue Olympus would take care of it regardless of warranty — I would have to check with the repair facility to confirm this [...]

I am a lay person; it is my right to guess. A corporation spokesperson should be not guessing, but rather announcing the corporate policy.

Olympus hasn't stated that there officially IS a problem with the mode dial on the 5060, but if there was and it was a production run issue, it would be repaired at no cost. [...]

Judging from the number of postings in this forum (and the technical contents of these postings) I would say that there is a problem, whether "official" or not. Equally unimportant is whether we call it "production run" or not. Both terms are just arbitrary labels, and guess who assigns them. Therefore the statement means "we'll repair the cameras if we decide to". Not too specific.

A Norwegian participant of the same group reports (in a September 13, 2004 posting) a conversation with a local Olympus representative who said that (a) 0.5% of cameras had the problem, (b) it was software related, (c) it usually appears before six months after the camera is sold, and (d) cameras will be fixed for free during the guarantee period of two years.

This is difficult to comment upon, as it was just a phone conversation, not an official statement. Still, I find it a bit strange that a "software-related" problem is fixed by a mechanical part replacement, and there was no official word from Olympus about extending the warranty period.

I also find hard to believe is the 0.5% failure rate. Regardless of how we look at it, this is not consistent with 12% Yahoo group postings reporting the same failure in two different cameras. With all statistical selection bias which may be present in such a forum (happy customers usually sit quiet), this number indicates a failure rate in tens of percent: a really major problem.

The failure rate

What may be the failure rate? Assuming that a single failure is enough to prompt a user to post a note about his/her problem, and that all such users try another camera, we may use the second failure rate as a general failure estimate. This would give us a failure rate of 13±4% (with error margin estimated from the binomial distribution, if you have to know).

There are three possible bias sources in this estimate, and as a part-time statistician I owe you at least some explanation.

  1. A user who experienced two failures may be more likely to post a report than a user who experienced only one. This would lead to rate overestimation. I don't think, though, that this is much of a problem, as usually one failure is enough to complain.
  2. My calculations assumed that the failures are statistically independent. Actually, they may be correlated, with "bad" and "good" batches of cameras being made. Still, this would mean that while the general population has a failure rate lower than my 13%, the "bad" batches have a much higher value, not much of a consolation.
  3. Many, if not most, affected users had their cameras repaired, not replaced. This means they've never tried another '5060. If they did, this would bring my estimate significantly higher; and that's why I may suspect that I'm actually underestimating the rate.

If someone more qualified may correct me on my failure rate estimation, I'll be more than happy to stand corrected. As of this time, this is the best I could come up with. This is why I suspect the 0.5% quoted above is just taken off the ceiling.

I'm basing this on the statistics collected in the aforementioned Yahoo forum, whose participants (especially the forum founder) have to be given full credit and our gratitude.

By the way, during 2005 this page was averaging 600 unique visitors (not just hits!) a month. This means hundreds of users were desperate enough to look for help using a search engine.

Houston, we've got a problem.

In addition to the technical problem, Olympus faced a major public relations issue here, and, unfortunately, they never managed to handle this right: no public acknowledgment, no recall, and no warranty period extension.

Repairs were (are?) handled on a case-by-case basis, which is another way to say "we still do not have a policy". About 30% of my respondents (most of whom are U.S.-based) reported free out-of-warranty repairs, while the others had to pay ($175 or so), and I'm unable to see a pattern here: perhaps all depended on how persuasive you were talking to the tech support rep.

This was, I believe, a totally bungled case, and it might have had some impact on Olympus' withdrawal from the advanced compact market just a few (seven?) months after the C-7070WZ, a successor to the '5060, was introduced. Too bad.

Olympus warranty repair

While my own experience with Olympus handling the repair (luckily, the camera was still under warranty, as this was 2004) was positive, it became largely irrelevant: the '5060 went out of production in 2003, and all warranties have expired as of this update (2008).

Homebrew remedies

Here is what a Reader from the U.K. wrote in April, 2007:

[My '5060] bought late 2003 suffered the dreaded mode dial problem [...] out of guarantee January 2006, after being used outdoors in damp conditions [...]. I tried all the obvious things (including a chat with Olympus UK) with no success, so I resorted to flushing out the switch using WD40 [...].

This worked partly for a period of about two months at which point I had to resort to a more thorough flushing. The camera has worked perfectly ever since. I wouldn't part with this camera for anything as I have yet to see better digital photos from a compact.

At few more Readers reported success with injecting some WD-40 lubricant underneath the mode dial and on/off switch ensemble. This is certainly worth trying, as all you risk is $3 or so for a can (check your local hardware store).

As my '5060 has been fixed, I wasn't able to verify this on another camera, but it you have the dial problem and try this, let me know.

If you are desperate (i.e., the failure caught you on a photo trip or session, without a spare camera on hand), you may benefit from an observation submitted by a Reader whose '5060 developed the symptoms just a few days after the warranty expired. Here is what he wrote:

It may be the on-off switch that's the culprit. In the 'on' position the problem occurs about 70-80% or more of the time. When I exert slight pressure to the 'on' button to the left, the problem occurs only 10-20% of the time, a useful workaround. On the other hand, when I put a very slight pressure (with my fingernail) to the 'on' switch to the right (i.e., toward 'off' without actually turning it off), it truly goes haywire. Hence my conclusion that it's a problem in the switch, either with transient currents or dirt on the contacts (mine has been very well protected from weather and dust, and has had no drops or abuse).

The dial replacement procedure

Because it is difficult to replace your trusty '5060 with something else, and the off-warranty cost of repair by Olympus is quite prohibitive, a do-it-yourself repair may become an option, at least for some of us — if the WD-40 trick does not work. I've never done it myself, but I know someone who did. Klaus (a.k.a. Spindizzy) of Germany identified the part you can order, and documented the repair procedure as he was fixing his camera. It worked.

Here is his description, as a PDF document: in English or in his native German. I hope it may help some desperate C-5060WZ owners — but, please, do not ask me for details, as I haven't done the repair myself; I'm just providing a nice and cozy place on the Web for these documents, without supporting them technically in any way.

Good luck!

The '7070

In February of 2005 Olympus released a replacement for the '5060, the C-7070WZ. This is essentially the same camera, with seven megapixels, predictive AF (which I haven't tried) and some other minor improvements. From what I've seen, the image quality is at least as good as that of the '5060, i.e., outstanding, and the camera was, at that moment, my number one recommendation in the advanced compact class.

The dial mode design problem seems to have been fixed in the new model (actually, the dial is the only external part which looks different from the '5060), and I haven't received a single report on the issue from a '7070 owner.

For reasons known only to Olympus, the camera was withdrawn from production just about seven months after it was introduced. If you are looking for a replacement for your '5060, as of this update (2008), the Canon G9 seems to be the only reasonable choice.

My other pages related to the Olympus C-5050Z, C-5060WZ, and X-7070WZ

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Posted 2004/09/15; last updated 2008/06/23; cleaned up 2013/11/05 Copyright © 2004-2008 by J. Andrzej Wrotniak