Last year, I decided to buy a new camera–I wanted something that was more flexible than my ladypocket size point & shoot, but not something so large that I felt like I was lugging around a toddler, so a mirrorless micro 4/3 camera felt like the ideal compromise. A professional photographer friend of a friend suggested the Olympus OMD EM10, so that’s what I bought.
The camera failed for the first time less than a month after purchase. At one point during our visit to Casa Bonita, I shut the camera off, and it wouldn’t turn back on. Even with a fresh battery, it remained unresponsive. It’s been a long day, I thought. I’ve taken a lot of photos, maybe it just needs a rest. Never mind that it’s a piece of electronic equipment and not an overtired toddler. Back at the hotel several hours later, it began operating again. When we got home, I called tech support, and they insinuated that I didn’t know the difference between a fresh battery and a dead one. If I had been smart, I would have insisted on a replacement right then, but I didn’t.
The camera continued to have issues. I could practically guarantee that when I went out of town, at some point, my camera would fail and it would be some time before I could turn it back on. The refractory period (if you will) grew longer with each failure. The longest one, on my trip to San Diego, put it out of commission for over a day. Each failure was so frustrating: I love having photos of things I’ve done and seen, and without it, I can maybe use my phone, maybe. I didn’t want to have to buy another camera along with all of its various accessories just to haul around in case my primary camera decided it was done for the day–between the both of them, I may as well have invested in a full size SLR.
I researched the issue online and it seemed like I was the only person with that problem . I called Olympus customer service again and they said I could send it in at my expense and see if their technicians could diagnose the problem, but not without again strongly indicating that it’s possible that I don’t know the difference between a charged battery and a dead one.
I finally decided that I couldn’t wait any longer and that it wasn’t some form of user error and sent the camera to their repair center on January 5th. They had it for two weeks before they sent me an email stating that they couldn’t find the problem and that they wanted to know if the issue I was having was the “only bad thing” otherwise they were going to send it back. I told them that under no circumstances were they to send it back without resolving this issue and again explained the situations under which the error was most likely to occur. They called me and said they couldn’t find the problem. I called them back and again explained in detail the problem I’d been having and how it could likely be replicated. I tweeted at Olympus on January 23rd, hoping someone there would have the power to exchange my camera since the repair techs were unable to replicate my issue. They replied three days later and told me to call customer service. By that point, I had already emailed the repair agency again, asking them to do an exchange because I absolutely did not want to see the same issue pop up again after it had been in the repair shop for a month. They did not reply. On February 2nd, I checked the status of my repair and saw that my camera had been shipped back. I emailed customer service again and asked if this meant they were able to replicate the issue and fix it, or if they’d sent me a replacement as I’d requested. I received two emails in return: one from the tech stating that the camera was repaired and on its way, and one from Olympus customer service in general stating that it’s not their policy to just replace cameras. I received my camera back from Olympus and the repair notes indicated that they were not able to replicate the issue, but replaced the mainboard, which I guess is their “catchall” repair method.
One month later, my camera failed again with the exact same issue.
It’s not enough to say that I was angry. Furious doesn’t even cover it. At that moment, I was filled with a white hot nuclear rage that could have quite possibly ended the Earth as we know it. Because now, the camera was out of warranty, which meant that I could pay $200 a crack for the privilege of sending the camera BACK to the repair center only to have them not bother to fix it again and send it back to me. I found the thought of this unbearable and I emailed Customer Care and asked for them to do one of two things for me: exchange my camera for a new, working unit, or find a way to refund me for the kit, for the macro lens, for the entire shebang, so I could go and patronize a different company. I tweeted at Olympus incessantly. I thought that through one of these two avenues, I could get a resolution to this issue. The camera failed on Wednesday afternoon. I didn’t receive a response to my email on Thursday or Friday. When I didn’t receive a response to any of my tweets by Sunday (the account was actively tweeting and retweeting the entire period, so it’s not that they weren’t online or checking their mentions), I resolved to call customer service again on Monday morning.
As of Monday morning, my camera was still dead. Either the refractory period had grown to span days or it was simply dead, period–I don’t know. When I called customer service, I asked to be immediately transferred to someone who had the authority to replace my camera. This did not happen and I had to again explain the problem I had and again be told that I probably didn’t know the difference between a fresh battery and a dead one. The CS rep asked if I wanted to send the camera in for repair, and I would like to emphasize that while I remained polite because I know what it’s like to be on the other end of that kind of exchange and also because I’m a decent human being and not a goddamned monster, I told her that the only way I would be shipping the unit in would be for an exchange because I did not want to repeat this cycle. Eventually, I was transferred to a supervisor, and she said that she would be willing to ship me a refurbished unit. I asked why they wouldn’t ship me a new one, and she said that unless the replacement was happening within the first thirty days, they only exchange for refurbished units. Bear in mind that my first failure did occur before the thirty day mark and that their repair center had the camera for nearly thirty days as well, which means that even if my camera had failed on day one, it would have never made it through the repair center fast enough to be replaced with a new unit. I voiced that I was concerned that I’d receive a unit like mine, that was “certified working” from the repair center but still fundamentally broken, and was told that all refurbished units are warrantied for a period of six months. Supposing that a formerly broken camera would be better than the dead one I’d babied for the last year, I agreed to make the exchange.
When my refurb camera arrived, the box rattled in such a way as to indicate that the camera was essentially floating loose inside. This isn’t with a “kid on Christmas morning” sort of shake, but merely with the motion of picking it up and carrying it up the stairs. This meant that it had rattled in its box much more violently all the way from New York to Washington state, getting thrown on trucks and planes, because you know and I know that large carriers don’t have the time to gently pick up and nestle each box in place. When I opened it up, it was a box packed into a larger box (with absolutely no packing material between them). Inside the smaller box (but still much too large for its contents) was the camera and its accessories, the camera encased in one thin layer of bubble wrap, with no other packing materials. Compare this to how a new one is packaged with absolutely no room to rattle and shake, and you’ll understand why this poor packing job doesn’t inspire confidence in the refurb camera or the company as a whole. Hell, UPS made me use six inches of packing material on each side to ship my broken camera to the repair center–and this is the replacement? Also included in the package was a copy of their refurbished unit warranty, which specifies that it only covers 90 days, or half the time I was told by the customer service manager, which at this point feels like an extra dose of “go fuck yourself”.
So I’m still angry. The ridiculous part is that it would have taken so little effort on Olympus’ behalf to make me happy. Replacing the camera when they couldn’t find the issue would have thrilled me above and beyond. It could have made me a loyal customer for life. I’d be talking up and down about how great they are that they acknowledged my problem and made the effort to make things right. Instead, they chose to treat me with suspicion, like I was a liar who was somehow trying to game the system. I cannot for the life of me figure out what I would have stood to gain by sending them a working camera and insisting it was broken, losing the use of it for a month, and getting a bunch of wear and tear on it in the process while they tried to replicate the issue, all in the hopes that they would err on the side of customer service and send me a different working camera. An extended warranty period? Because what the hell else would be the benefit of that? As of today, Olympus never responded to my email about the camera still being broken, or my series of tweets. Acknowledging my problem would have been another solid thing to do, even if it was just to say “I’m sorry, we can’t handle that problem through Twitter but if you call us, we’ll get it sorted.” Demonstrating that you’re ignoring me by continuing to tweet really only served to make me angrier. Hell, even ten more cents worth of packing materials would have made me more confident in the company and the quality of the camera they shipped to me. As it stands, last February I bought a brand new camera for $700, which failed within 30 days, and only after much antagonizing did they agree to exchange it for a camera that someone else broke once upon a time, which arrived rattling in its box like a marble in a jug. I hope this camera works. I hope that it works for a long time. But if it doesn’t, Olympus gave me zero reasons to ever, ever buy something else from them.
*Update: I just finished charging the battery to test the refurb camera, and the camera doesn’t work. It turns on, but refuses to focus. This is unbelievable.
*Update 2: The Reckoning: After pushing back on Customer Service repeatedly (they insisted that they could only send me a refurb camera but that they didn’t even have any to send so I’d have to send this one in for repairs) they are finally going to make things right with a new camera. I sincerely, sincerely hope that this one does not break in-transit. Otherwise prepare for Update 3: Mellzah ends the Earth.