My M9 finally came back after being away for quite a long time – just over 2 months – for a sensor exchange performed in Germany. So what exactly was the problem? I’ll never know, because the report that came back was rather non-descript. Moreover, since the work was done by Leica as a gratis ‘goodwill gesture’, the report made comment that Leica wont provide warranty for that repair.. Hmm.. Anyway, it seems like a good repair, so fingers crossed.
Here’s what happened to the sensor. I noticed several of my images had a small thin hair-like defect (shot at small aperture, when viewed at 100%). I presumed this was dust. When I inspected the sensor closely, I noticed a strange vertical hairline mark or line on the sensor, which ran almost perfectly parallel to the short side edge of the sensor. I did try to clean the sensor very gently with a cleaner, but this line could not be erased. I may have made it worse by my cleaning attempts, but what struck me upon very close inspection was a small dark line below the filter surface could be seen. This suggested a tiny crack existed just below the filter. So off it went to Germany via Melbourne for (hopefully) a repair under warranty.
So what have I learned as a result of this experience? (Some of the following mainly applies to Leica users in or near Australia)
- Australian Leica users have limited access to service. Leica ought to upgrade the service capability of Camera Clinic in Melbourne (they did a great job as the intermediary in my repair). Seems like anything beyond a sensor clean, inspection or calibration, and the camera is off to Germany. I suspect the situation is similar for other ‘regional’ geographic areas. However by comparison, Canon’s service center in Australia is very comprehensive and probably world-class (their Sydney repair facility is comparable to the Shinjuku service center in Tokyo).
- Leica apparently don’t stockpile critical parts like sensors – at least 3 weeks was wasted waiting for a sensor to come into stock. This was a little bit surprising given there have been isolated reports of sensors cracking (though my issue may not have been that).
- During the repair process communication was stilted, and devoid of technical detail.
- As for the sensor itself, I suspect the filter surface is extremely soft. Leica themselves refer to the filter as ‘cover glass’ but I wonder how stable the IR filter layer itself is (probably deposited over the ‘cover glass’).
Based on the above, I have some suggestions for Leica:
- Two months is a long time – so consider authorising local distributors to offer a loaner camera in cases like these.
- Leverage the Tokyo service centers. I’ve read 2 reports online that Leica Ginza can replace sensors in around 10 days (see links in Japanese here & here, or Google translations here & here). Allow Australian service centres to send cameras to Tokyo for faster turnaround.
- While it’s interesting to see rapid retail expansion (eg. 3 stores and 2 boutiques in the US this year, plus Poland, Switzerland & others), it would also be really great to see some announcements about new or improved service centres.
- Improve service communications to customers – don’t treat customers like people who don’t have a clue. At times, I had to chase up the progress. Please provide meaningful and timely updates (particularly when there are delays).
- Place an optically-clear protective layer over the IR filter to protect it and provide a more durable surface for cleaning. Compare this to Canon’s ultrasonic sensor cleaner. Not only does this attempt to move loosely-bound dust, it serves as a durable barrier that is cheaper and easier to replace in the event of a scratch or chip. As an aside, the IR layer is an absolute dust magnet.
Anyway, it’s good to have it back. Hope all goes well with the camera hereafter..