Introduction: FrankenCamera: a Guide to Camera Surgery

Murphy's Law states that if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. It's a phrase that I'm deathly afraid of, and unfortunately, it happened while I was holding my Canon S90 point-and-shoot. While hiking across some rocky terrain near a waterfall, my camera managed to slip out of my hands and took a damaging hit to its lens unit, which had been extended at that particular moment. To my dismay, the impact was forceful enough to completely jam the lens at an angle, so it could no longer retract.

Luckily, my camera didn't suffer any other damage, and this Instructable will show you how I replaced the lens unit on my S90 camera, in the rare case you have also suffered from this dilemma.

You will need:

  • Your damaged camera
  • a spare lens unit** (I acquired mine from eBay.)
  • a precision screwdriver set (make sure you invest in a quality set--otherwise, your screwdriver will either wear down while you're using it, or you risk stripping the screws of the camera.)
  • several parts containers (magnetic ones works well, but you can use whatever you have on hand)
  • an air blower (something like this You do NOT want to use compressed air--it will destroy your camera's sensitive electronics.
  • and tweezers

**I had 2 spare lens units, more on that note later.

If you like my Instructable, please vote for me in the Before and After contest as I transform my heap of camera parts into a functional device again!

Step 1: Disassembling the Main Body

Remove the battery and memory card of your camera first! Try to work in a relatively dust-free environment if you can. Otherwise, let's begin!

Locate all the screws on the outer body of the camera and remove them. NOTE: some of them may be differently sized so take note and keep your screws carefully separated. Remove the back cover, but be careful--the bottom cover of the camera may be attached to the back covering as well! You may have to wiggle the bottom cover around and lift it up in order to remove the back. Watch the video to see how these two parts were attached.

The front cover of the camera in my case was attached to internal electronics by a ribbon cable. Be very careful, as these ribbon cables are very fragile and can easily snap! To detach the cable, lift up the latch holding it down, and pull the cable out. It's very handy to use tweezers. Video below illustrates this process.

You've just removed the outer casing parts--set these aside along with their screws. See video below for an overview of the camera with the outer casing removed. This is what it should look like.

Step 2: Removing the LCD Screen

Next, remove the right cover of the camera. There was an additional screw (picture 1) holding the plastic piece in place, so unscrew it and remove the piece. Then, the top of the camera needs to be removed. For my camera, there was one screw holding it in place--after you unscrew it, just pry off the top. See video below for reference.

The LCD screen is connected to the camera's electronics by 2 ribbon cables. One of them is directly visible (picture 2), and the other cable is hidden underneath. Use the tweezers to flip open the latch on top, pull out the ribbon cable, and then gently lift the LCD screen. You'll see a wide ribbon cable on the bottom (picture 3); again, use the tweezers to lift the latch and pull out the cable. Your LCD screen should now be completely free--put it aside. See videos below for reference.

Step 3: Removing the Lens, Sensor, and Flash Components

Take a deep breath, because we're now entering pretty tricky territory.

First, remove the plastic cover over the buttons. It's secured by a screw. (Picture 1)

The metal frame that you see has two parts. In order to access the lens and sensor, you must remove all screws that hold the frames together, and the screws that hold the sensor to the frame. See videos below for reference and follow carefully. NOTE: The screws holding the metal frame will be differently sized as well--pay close attention and don't get them mixed up.

Once you have removed the screws, lift up the right metal frame. Be very gentle! There is still a ribbon cable connecting this part to the main camera electronics. Underneath you'll see two more wide ribbon cables leading from the sensor to electronics board. Lift these cables UP from their sockets. See video below.

Now, at the top of the camera there is one more ribbon cable. Lift this cable UP from its socket, and you should have now successfully removed the lens/sensor unit, along with the flash unit from the rest of the camera. See video below.


Step 4: Removing the Flash Unit

The flash unit is attached to the lens/sensor unit by only a single ribbon cable. Pull the ribbon cable out of its socket (there's no latch), and place the flash unit to the side. See video for reference.

That was relatively painless, let's move on!

Step 5: Notes on Camera Transplantation Surgery!

If in your case you wanted to replace just the entire lens/sensor unit, your life is much easier! All you need to do at this point is take your replacement unit, swap it for the old, and redo the previous steps in reverse older. You're done!!


Now, with respect to my problem--replacing just the lens unit. You may be wondering why I have 2 lens/sensor units + 1 lone sensor unit in the first picture. The topmost unit is missing its lens because that was the lens that became jammed. However, its sensor unit was still functional.

I had bought one replacement lens/sensor unit prior to this Instructable. This is the middle unit in the picture. However, when I used it as the replacement fix, I discovered that a single line of dead pixels would show up in all of my pictures. To my disbelief, I believed that the sensor unit that I received was nonfunctional.

Finally, the bottom-most unit in the picture is the 2nd replacement I received. Murphy's Law came into play once again, and quite unfortunately, the lens unit didn't work properly as it could not focus at infinity. Luckily, the sensor at least was fully functional.

In summary:

  • Top -- Functional sensor, broken lens
  • Middle -- Nonfunctional sensor, functional lens
  • Bottom -- Functional sensor, semi-functional lens (I could live with not focusing at infinity, but I can't live with dead pixels.)

This continuation of the Instructable is an attempt to salvage/remedy this nightmare of parts. I planned to use the first sensor unit (top) in conjunction with the lens unit from my first spare (middle). The bottom I left as a last case scenario spare. Read on for details if you need to swap your sensor/lens assembly!

Step 6: Surgery in Process!

The sensor, as you can see, is just a thin plate connected to the lens assembly (Picture 1). You will need to detach all ribbon cables from their sockets. Unfortunately, I do not have video of this process, so IMPORTANT NOTE: TAKE PHOTOS/VIDEOS of the cable locations/configurations BEFORE you remove any cables. In addition, there are several screws holding the sensor to the lens. Again, TAKE PHOTOS/VIDEOS so that you know where the screws are located. Once you have removed all the screws and detached the ribbon cables, carefully lift the lens assembly off the sensor unit, while holding the sensor unit firmly on a flat surface. The sensor unit has several gears that are used in extending/rotating the lens: if you remove the lens assembly while holding it in the air, you will almost certainly drop the gears. (See picture 2) See video for reference in removing the lens from the sensor.

Use the air blower to remove any dust that may have accumulated on/around your sensor. Now you can retrieve your spare lens unit, and place it on top of the sensor unit. Keep note of the correct orientation. Attach the screws and ribbons back to where they were. See the below video for reference in several screw locations. You're done with the transplantation!

Step 7: Reassembly

Now comes the tedious work of putting things back together. As you can see in the first photo, Murphy's Law strikes again, and a plastic piece used to hold the ribbon cables in place snapped off. Tape sufficed.

Reattach the flash unit first. Fit the lens/sensor/flash unit into the metal frame, while simultaneously lifting up the right metal frame so that you can tuck the 2 wide ribbon cables from the sensor underneath. See video for reference on assembling this part (NOTE: there is a metal tripod connector that needs to fit in as well. Don't forget about it like I did).

Once you have gotten everything in its roughly correct location, align the sensor unit and flash unit and screw the bottom metal frame temporarily into place. Then, reattach the top ribbon cable, the 2 ribbon cables underneath the right metal plate, and then screw that plate in. Finally, screw the metal plate in permanently. See video.

Attach the LCD screen (wide bottom cable first, then top). Then attach the side cover and top cover and screw those pieces in. Reconnect the ribbon cable of the front cover to its socket, attach the front cover, then the back cover (along with its bottom cover pair), and screw everything all together.

Your camera surgery is now finished! Put in the battery and make sure everything works. Congrats on hopefully fixing your camera, and I hope you've learned a little more about your camera in the process!

Thanks for reading, and vote for me if you liked the Instructable!

Full Spectrum Laser Contest 2016

Participated in the
Full Spectrum Laser Contest 2016

Before and After Contest 2016

Participated in the
Before and After Contest 2016