First off, I just want to express that this review is an independent review. It is my sole opinion from my own experiences. I wish the review to be as professional as possible.
With that first, I must say the review I am writing today is far from positive. It was a hard decision whether or not to keep this review to myself or publish it. I initially posted it as a status on my personal Facebook page, more with the intention to help out fellow photographers who were my friends to help them avoid a similar experience. I try not to bad mouth a company because I know how much a little article can be damaging, but I felt I had given them enough chances to rectify their mistakes and what took the biscuit was them not replying to my letter of complaint. With what I put on Facebook people encouraged me to write this blog to help you, the wider audience.
So let’s start at why I needed to use 1st Aid Repairs. Back at the end of August I was in Cornwall, as you may have seen. It was our last night and we were at Lands End. We were actually shooting at Pordaneck Point hoping for a great sunset which didn’t happen. I have a bad habit of leaving my tripod with my camera set up and walking off to find a new composition. This had never caused me an issue to date. However, for whatever reason, I had a bad feeling about leaving it on this day, being next to a cliff edge. I went to pick my tripod up, but as I did my camera came loose from the tripod head. Somehow the arca-swiss plate had managed to slip out. I’m really not sure how it happened, I can only assume I hadn’t tightened it up enough but I had been using it previously. The camera fell about 5ft to the floor and landed on some rocks. That taught me for trying to be responsible!
I was with my girlfriend and she looked as horrified as I felt and rushed over to me to check the damage. On initial inspection, it didn’t look too bad. The filter holder had flown off, the camera had a little mark on the top corner but it appeared the L-Bracket had taken the brunt of the fall. The camera was displaying an error message and I couldn’t get the camera to respond. I pulled the battery, re-inserted and it booted up. I thought I had got away with it. Everything seemed to work fine, that was until I held the camera to my eye and realised my viewfinder had broken. I was sort of gutted but thankful it had happened on the last night as I didn’t have a spare camera body. I also had camera insurance with Photoguard, so I felt safe in the knowledge I was covered. I had never used my camera insurance in the last 6 years of having it. Just to be clear here, because there was confusion on my Facebook page, Photoguard dealt with the claim fairly quickly and the complaint isn’t against them. They asked me to choose my repairer and I’ll move on to why I chose 1st Aid Repairs in a moment.
So, the next day we headed home and upon inspection I had noticed the rear screen had small amounts of bleed around the edges, but this seemed to be intermittent. On the way home I put a repair quote into 1st Aid Repairs as it was a Friday in the hope they could get back to me before close of play. The reason I chose 1st Aid Repairs is both my girlfriend, Sarah and a good friend, Andrew Yu had used them before with no issue. Sarah had a slight drop with her A7 which knocked the IBIS mechanism and was fixed without the need for parts and Andrew had a failed shutter on his A7R. I had no reason not to choose them.
I got a reply from 1st Aid Repairs who said they would need the camera in for inspection before giving me a price. I was a little reluctant because it was postage there and a £24 fee for the inspection (which would be removed if I carried out the repair). I didn’t know at this point that I could choose my repairer from the insurance. I asked for a price roughly just for the viewfinder, as that was my main concern. They came back with £200. I checked my policy and the excess was only £50. I rung up Photoguard and spoke to them. I was concerned about next years premiums but they said the policy shouldn’t go up much due to my previous history of never claiming. I felt better and decided in my situation I was better to go through the insurance and sent my camera away to 1st Aid Repairs.
As I was using the insurance I asked for the rear LCD to be replaced and also for the lens to be serviced. The latter was for peace of mind, I know that lenses are fragile and the slightest knock can shift the lens elements out of place and cause soft images. I have seen so many photographer’s experience this. The lens did seem sharp, but as I said, it was for peace of mind because my eye may not be as keen as proper testing methods.
The quote came back at around £660, this was to replace the front panels (these were actually what had pushed into the viewfinder and cracked it), viewfinder, rear screen, service lens and tighten up the lens mount. It soon became apparent that using the insurance was the best idea. It’s what it’s there for. Photoguard agreed the price of the repair and I authorised 1st Aid Repairs to commence the repair. In the price there is a service of the camera too, so things like the sensor gets cleaned.
It took quite a while for the camera to get back to me due to waiting on parts from Sony which was fair enough. When I got the camera back, credit to them it looked like new. I was pleased initially but I found it odd that the body came back not attached to lens. This wouldn’t be a problem, but I had sent the lens and body attached without body and lens caps. It was returned without any caps! I quickly attached the lens to the body and set the camera up to my taste as the settings had been wiped. I went out a couple of days later to photograph Chrome Hill at sunrise and I noticed a problem. The sensor was full of what appeared to be dust spots, not just little ones but huge black ones very obvious on the image. Mirrorless cameras are hard to keep clean, but I had never had it this bad. I was frustrated.
This is the first shot I had taken with the camera since repair. I hadn’t changed lenses or anything. This is meant to be a freshly cleaned sensor:
The next image is taken from Lightroom with the visualise spots option selected. This highlights a few more. When I zoomed into 100% I could see more which aren’t apparent here:
I got home and got in touch with 1st Aid Repairs. I noted that the sensor had dust spots and wanted to clarify if it had been cleaned or it wasn’t actually included in the price. They said it had and asked me to return it to them. I can clean my own sensors but had run out of swabs, anyway, if something should have been done and you paid for it, then in reality it should be done by them.
Next off, I don’t know what sparked my curiosity but I decided to check the back of the LCD. I had noticed they had put my original screen protector back on to the LCD, which I thought was very kind but I had also assumed they wouldn’t do this, so I wanted to check the LCD and there was a small, but noticeable scratch on the screen. This was meant to be a brand new screen.
My next email pointed this out to them also. With a bit of to’ing and fro’ing they eventually agreed to cover the postage cost to return the camera to them and they arranged for DPD to collect the camera the next working day (Monday). At this point, I checked how long I would be without the camera as a working professional I need my camera body. I was fortunate before to borrow my girlfriend’s, but I couldn’t keep taking the mick. Yes, it would be nice to have a backup body but for now, it’s not on the cards. 1st Aid Repairs said it should be turned around within the week, so I was happy as you can be in the situation with that.
On the Tuesday, I received a call from their technician (won’t mention their name) who I had spoken to previously. He said he was gutted the camera had come back as he was proud of the repair with it looking like a new body. To that point I couldn’t argue. However, things for me quite quickly got sour and this is where my experience went from being one I would have given benefit of the doubt to becoming irate. The technician first off accused me of carelessly changing lenses in the field to introduce the dust spots because “it left them fine”. I explained that I hadn’t even changed the lens after receiving it back and pointed out it had got returned without a body cap. He sounded shocked as he said “when we pass them for packaging, a paper stick on body cap should have been stuck on”. It definitely wasn’t stuck on and my question is why does it have to wait until packaging to be stuck on, why doesn’t the technician do it? I’m pretty sure in between that period plenty of dust could fall on the sensor. Anyway, he said the marks weren’t dust but actually water spots. Possibly from condensation. Again, he pointed out it didn’t leave them like that but he would clean it as a gesture of goodwill. I felt like I was being told that it was my fault and it was my word against theirs. I’m not a novice with cameras, I know how to handle and use one and best practices to avoid getting dust and water spots on the sensor. It was insulting. The only other thing I can think of is the camera went from a cold to hot climate on its delivery journey.
Next he moved onto the LCD and again he said “it left us fine”. He also mentioned that we had discussed transferring the LCD cover (I hadn’t brought this up) but I had no recollection of ever mentioning that because I was going to buy a new one. He said he would replace the LCD at cost price and waive the labour but I just said I felt frustrated that I received it back like that and it was my word against theirs. For a small scratch I wasn’t going to fork out for a new LCD, but it’s now something I have to live with.
At the end of the phone call, I just felt both frustrated and insulted. What happened to looking after customers and treating them with respect rather than playing the denial game?
Given the technician rung me on the Tuesday, I expected the camera back by Friday at the latest but hadn’t heard anything by the weekend. I chased them on the Monday and they said it hadn’t been cleaned until over the weekend and would be back with me Tuesday or Wednesday. So it was way over the week given. It actually turned up on Thursday without any prior notification from 1st Aid Repairs and not one apology was issued along the way.
So all in all the experience was less than satisfactory. The camera had come back in an unacceptable state, I had been accused of causing the issues and to top it off they took ages to do a simple sensor clean. There was no looking after the customer.
The camera’s sensor is now clean granted but with the experience I decided to put in a letter of complaint on the 31st October outlining pretty much what I have written above. As of today, November 14th I haven’t received a response. This is what initially caused me to write on Facebook and now this blog post. I wanted to give them a chance to explain themselves and it wouldn’t have to become public but as they haven’t, I have written this blog post in the hope that my friends and all you other photographer’s will perhaps look elsewhere for your repair. I don’t want to cost 1st Aid Repairs business, I don’t want to damage them in any way, but at the end of the day, I would much rather their pockets be hurt than your own. I feel I gave them ample opportunity to correct and apologise for their mistakes, so it is their own choice that this has had to come to light.
For now, I have a functional camera. I’ve learnt a lesson, to take pictures of the camera before sending it away along with sample images and take more on its return. I really wish I would have taken these pictures to show you, but I never envisioned it getting this far, so for that I am sorry.
Thank you for reading. I apologise if I have rambled on, ranted or come across as grumpy but I only think it’s fair that people know about these kind of things.