Trying to repair a sticky shutter on a Canon EOS Rebel S

When I reviewed this Canon EOS Rebel S not long ago, two thirds of my test roll’s photos were mostly or entirely black. The shutter was clearly not firing properly. I said I thought it was failing.

Canon EOS Rebel S

Fellow film photographer Mark O’Brien left an incredibly helpful comment: “…the problem with the shutters is that the foam used as a light baffle in the shutter mechanism turns to a gooey mess and infiltrates the curtains. … So, it’s not so much that the shutters fail, they fail because they get gummed up by something else.”

I opened the camera to check, and there it was: a gooey mess on the shutter curtains.

I dipped a Q-Tip in rubbing alcohol and gently wiped the goo away. After the curtains dried I mounted my 50mm f/1.8 Canon EF II lens and loaded a roll of expired Kodak Max 400. What a perfect use for expired film! I shot la-de-da stuff around the house. The subjects didn’t matter — I just wanted to know whether my hacky fix restored the shutter.

The processed negatives arrived presently. I figured they’d tell me everything I needed to know, so I didn’t order scans.

Wolverine Super F2D

My fix seemed to help, but didn’t solve the problem entirely. One shot was partially exposed and the last six were entirely blank. And several shots looked to be severely underexposed. Could I rescue them in Photoshop?

I decided I wanted scans after all. I’ve loaned out my flatbed scanner, so I dug out my Wolverine Super F2D, a cheap film digitizer. It’s essentially a light table with a built-in digital camera. It yields noisy, soft images, but it works fast and is easy to use. I figured it’d be good enough to see how the images turned out.

It was. And I had my scans in about ten minutes. It reminded me of making a quick contact sheet in the darkroom. Here’s a lonely little purple petunia, with my gas grill in the background.

Petunia with my grill in the background

The Rebel S really wants the photographer not to be bothered with matters of aperture and shutter speed. It’s an entry-level SLR, after all. But it does let you scroll through all the aperture/shutter combinations that yield a good exposure in the available light. I scrolled it for the widest aperture I could get so I could shoot this coffee-table scene handheld.

On the coffee table

The Rebel S’s shutter never sounded very good to me, making a hollow clacking sound with each exposure. I wasn’t sure it was working at all. So I peered into the lens and fired the shutter to see if I could detect any shutter movement. I couldn’t, of course; how silly of me. But the Rebel S’s autofocus did its job even at close range. The puzzled/angry look on my face cracks me up.


While these images are usable, they reveal flaws in the scanner itself. The Wolverine isn’t exactly a refined instrument. First and foremost is the light area in the upper left of each image. I can’t tell what causes it but my guess is a light leak in the film transport. Also, the Wolverine did nothing to correct a fairly stout lateral curl in the negatives, which distorts the resulting images. And when you view these at full size, the noise makes the images look like mosaics.


But at the sizes I’m showing them here, these images work okay. I bet they’d make acceptable 4×6 prints. The detail is good, though the colors are a little off. I can’t tell whether that’s the scanner or the expired film, though.


I couldn’t save any of the underexposed shots, by the way. But it was fun to see the images that did turn out.

I really want this dumb camera to work! Because, and it almost feels like telling a dirty secret to say so, I like using it. So small, so light, so easy. Such an about face from the big, metal, manual SLRs I normally love to shoot.

But I’m two for two on busted Rebels. Despite my irrational attraction to these cameras, I’m not sure I want to go three for three. I was browsing Used Photo Pro the other day and found a Canon EOS A2e body for $27. This is a big, solid, semi-pro SLR that retailed new for about $1,200. It arrived the other day. So my EOS journey continues, just in a different direction.

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17 responses to “Trying to repair a sticky shutter on a Canon EOS Rebel S”

  1. dan james Avatar

    I have very few SLRs now, a handful of Contax plus two M42s – a Spotmatic F and a Fujica ST701.

    But I was curious about the EOS bodies a couple of months ago as so many people seem to use them. I found an EOS 500 (called a Rebel XS in the US) for literally a few pounds and thought I’d try it.

    I thought I’d hate it, with all that plastic and a tiny viewfinder (I’d assumed). But it’s actually great – small, light, ergonomic, with a very respectable and usable viewfinder (I use M42 lenses on it with an adapter). Plus it takes cracking photographs!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I thought I’d hate these Rebels too. I have also owned the analogous Nikons, such as the N60 and N65, and I didn’t enjoy them. But just as you say, these Rebels are small and light, the viewfinder is good, and they feel good in the hand.

      1. dan james Avatar

        I only really got it because I’d bought a couple of M42 lenses from a guy in Germany and he’d sent M42>EOS adapters each time. I had the M42 lenses but not the EOS.

        It’s amazing that such a camera, plus adapter, plus a wonderful M42 lenses like a Takumar can be had for about £20 total. You really don’t need anything else!

  2. roykarlsvik Avatar

    Grat post as usual, Jim. And a nice try to save this fine little camera from the bin.
    It’s kind of weird though, that we keep on going down this kind of road when we still have cameras enough to use for a lifetime to come. I find myself doing the same thing from time to time. Last time it was my FE2, as you perfectly well know everything about. It’s not about the fact that there’s already more than enough cameras to pick from when I need one, but it seems to be more about the reluctantness of throwing away something that is both neat and functional (if you look away from the fact that it’s broken, of course) and the underlaying wish of having just this camera in an operational state. All other cameras seem to come in second line for a while, and lots of efforts going into saving this particular thing.
    Well, it’s strange but true. At least as seen from my side. It seems like a strange thing to do, and I might have to stop doing it. Some other day, of course…!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Funny you should mention the bin, because that’s where I put this camera.

      After my test roll, I looked at the shutter curtains and they were starting to get gooey again. I put the camera on rapid fire and held the button down for about 100 actuations, and the curtains got even gooier.

      I give up!

      But yes, it felt very wrong somehow to throw it away. Yet it’s done.

  3. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    I applaud you for “sticking” with this camera as long as you did. I don’t have the patience.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I will do only the simplest repairs to my cameras; I just don’t enjoy the work. A Q-tip and some rubbing alcohol is a simple enough thing to try. But if I didn’t really want to have a working entry-level EOS SLR, I wouldn’t even have tried that.

  4. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Might I suggest the Canon Elan II as well. Since I never did much 35mm film professionally, I had one at the close of the film years for shooting the odd thing, and I see mint ones are going anywhere between 10 and 30 bucks! A little better built than the Rebels, since they were “pro-am” cameras, rather than just bottom line. I never got a bad picture out of it either. I had the 28-105 Canon, which was sharp, but for some reason, a dog on digital. Tried it on a 20D and there was nothing even close to what it was putting out on film. Go figger.

    There was a time that Canon used to report on their “shutter” life, and I believe they made multiple 35mm film shutters, maybe 3 or 4 and built specifically dependent on “pro” usage and camera cost. I heard they don’t really do it any more because they only make a few shutters now. Would you buy a Canon 80D if you found out it had the same shutter as a T6i? Probably NOT. I’m not saying that’s true, I’m saying I wouldn’t be surprised!

    Anyway, I used to know a wedding photog back in the film days that just shot with Canon Rebels, he kept a back-up with him at all times. He’d shoot until it broke, and then toss it and go to the next one, it wasn’t even worth paying to repair. I remember him saying not only was the shutter pretty weak, but the mirror box was “meh” and many of the mirrors just stopped popping up and down, even tho the shutters worked.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Helpful to know that the Elans are a step up and that they had so many different shutters! I appreciate the knowledge share!

  5. Joshua Fast Avatar

    That’s funny you mentioned that you need another camera like a hole in the head. I have gone through at least 2 gear clearing phases, where I have sold all of my film cameras but a few favorites I can’t live without. But after each sunset there is a sunrise, I will find a camera or whole genre that fascinates me and I’ll end up with the shelves full again.

    Currently I’m on a Russian streak, zorkis kievs and zenits oh my.

    Is this a sickness?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      yeahhhhhh. I’m taking them in as fast as they go out. But most of the inflow is donations, thankfully! Still, yes: a sickness.

  6. aagctt Avatar

    Hope the A2e you received is in good working order. It is a great camera. I managed to wear out the clutch on the mode selector and had to pay $40 to have it fixed by a local repair guy. It has sentimental value to me though.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve shot two rolls in it and they await processing. Everything felt and sounded right; we shall see what develops!

  7. Trying to repair a sticky shutter on a Canon EOS Rebel S | Down the Road

    […]If psychotherapy reinforces this perception, it can be counterproductive.[…]

  8. Josie Gruber Avatar
    Josie Gruber

    Hey! I have this exact camera and I’ve been using it for years. Like you said it’s not the best, but I love it. I have the gooey shutter, too, but don’t know how to open up the back to access and try to repair it. I know this is an old post, but I can’t find anything else on this fix. Any pointers would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Josie, a shutter repair on an electronic camera is best left to the professionals. I’ve not used Garry’s Camera yet but some of my online friends have and they give good reports that he does good work at a very fair price.

      Another option is to just buy a different EOS body for your EOS lenses. I generally tell people to stay away from the Rebels because of this shutter issue, but the Elans have a better shutter less prone to this failure. But arguably the best EOS body, the A2e, sells today on eBay for less than $100 and it’s just a crackerjack body. If I wanted another EOS camera I’d just get one of those.

      1. Josie Gruber Avatar
        Josie Gruber

        I had a bad feeling this might be the case. Thanks for the advice, I’ll look into one of these! Cheers

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