Canon S2IS – the Black Screen of Death (Update 2015)

I thought I’d repost this article from a few years ago as it has been one of the most popular articles on my blog. Since I changed the name of my WordPress account from to (bringing it more in line with my other web activities) I realise that a number of links will break. So I’m going repost the more useful and popular articles over the next few weeks with updates where appropriate. I hope my visitors will continue to find them useful!

Update March 2015

My Canon S2IS is continuing to work well with continued, regular use. Well, when I say regular use, I mean a couple of times a year to exercise the motor and lens, which occasionally exhibits the ‘black screen of death’ problem. However, it does seem to get better with age and I regularly use it for long intervalometer runs to produce some time-lapse photography. I did use it with a CHDK script to capture a lighning storm last July, I have quite a dramatic photo from the run which I’ll have to find for this blog later!

Original Article (2nd June 2010)

The Canon Powershot S2IS digital camera is getting a bit long in the tooth now, having first come out in 2005. Unfortunately it suffers from a design fault that seems to affect the camera, increasing with age.

Known as the ‘black screen of death’, it is a disconserting fault that effectively renders the camera usless. The problem manifests itself when the camera is switched on and nothing no view appears on the LCD screen. Only a black screen with the OSD is displayed. When the shutter is pressed, the camera takes a black image.


This is a design fault with the camera where the ‘iris’ of the camera fails to open, sticking in the closed position, due to lubricant that starts to thicken over time. If the camera is not used for some time, this oil causes the iris to stick and the CCD sees the back of iris, being black.

However, there is a way around the problem which costs nothing, though it does not cure the problem permanently.

I hope this tip may prove useful to other S2IS owners, though I should say I take no responsibility for any damage incurred for any advice given in this article – use at your own risk.

1. Turn the settings dial to ‘Tv’ mode.
2. Use the left cursor control button to set the Tv value to 15″.
3. Press the shutter and wait about 7 seconds.
4. Open the battery cover and let the batteries out of the camera, the camera will ‘bleep’.
5. After about 30 seconds, re-insert the batteries back into the camera and close the battery cover. The lens will retract and the camera will power off.
6. Power the camera back on in ‘record’ (ie. take a picture mode) and press the shutter several times, taking some pictures.
7. If the black screen reappears, repeat steps 1-6 until the camera takes pictures repeatedly and reliably.

Note you may have more luck in running the camera in ‘Tv’, ‘M’ or ‘C’ modes (taking multiple images), it seems to take longer to get out of the black screen problem rather than switching immediately back to ‘Auto’ mode.

By taking some pictures, probably every day then less so, this will keep the iris ‘exercised’ and stop the lubricant from gumming up.

One method I use to keep my camera in working order is to use the CHDK script ‘ultra intervalometer’ and let it run for 100+ shots, which will give the camera a good work-out.

Canon and photographic companies can ‘repair’ the camera, though I don’t know what form this takes.

Posted by Wordmobi


Chasing the ISS with a Canon SX20IS

The International Space Station passed over my house this evening, about to dock with the STS-133 Discovery space shuttle. Though I wasn’t able to see the shuttle (I understand from tweets that it was very close), the ISS pass was pretty bright and lasted for a good few minutes. Fast moving cloud spoilt the first image where the ISS approached from the SSE. However the following three images I hope you’ll agree aren’t too bad despite the weather doing its best to spoil the view.

ISS Pass 1

Here the ISS (the long line, a 32 second exposure), left hand part of the line is passing over Betelgeuse and Bellatrix in Orion. Aldeberan can be seen up to the right and faintly, the Pleiades can be seen.

ISS Pass 2

In this second inage the ISS has passed Orion (whose distinctive outline can be seen on the right of the image) and is approaching Castor and Pollux in Gemini to the upper left.

ISS Pass 3

This final image shoes the ISS track partially obscured by cloud, just before it disappears from view.

I used my Canon SX20IS mounted on a Jessops photographic tripod, taken at ISO100, using CHDK to set a 32 second exposure, at f7.1. I used a two second delay to allow the camera shake to settle down before the shutter engaged. The images have had a small amount of post-processing applied to brighten the scenes slightly.

Website Update

Just a quick update as to what is going on, as there hasn’t been a posting to my blog for a (unbelieveably) couple of months. I’m working on a substantial update to my website which will consist of a number of tutorials, based on what I have learnt in astronomy and astrophotography.

Watch this this space for announcements before the end of the year…!

Posted by Wordmobi

CHDK for the Canon SX20IS

One of the reasons I purchased the Canon SX20IS as a replacement for my ageing S2IS was the prospect of CHDK being ported. I’d been reading the forums and it seemed that the prospect of a port wasn’t far away.

Thankfully, it seems as though my wishes have been granted as there is a beta version of the SX20 port available on the ‘autobuild’ server. If a build reaches the CHDK autobuild server, its a good indication that the port is almost ‘mature’ and the bugs are gradually being ironed out.

I loaded the current build to a spare SD card (note that it will only load from a bootable SD card, instructions how to this are on the CHDK website) and a quick summary of my findings are as below:-

RAW mode isn’t working just yet as image file sizes don’t correspond to the 4000×3000 resolution.

Scripts act a bit strange, especially the ‘ultra intervalometer’ script I use a lot. At the moment, they can’t be edited, ie. Parameters can’t be changed on the camera, though you can edit them on a PC and the camera will run the script.

Occasionally the CHDK menu disappears and you have to keep reloading it from the shortcut key or the menu button, depending upon how far it drops out.

A minor annoyance is when the mode whell is turned to the ‘C’ position is that the lens fully extends, so you have to retract it. Not a show-stopper though.

However the ‘normal’ CHDK settings (photo menu) are there and work well, such as extended exposure time above the standard 15″. Full control of the ISO value is also there, even going all the way upto ISO5000, though in reality I think the actual result is closer to ISO3200.

CHDK for the SX20 can be found here:

Certainly worth monitoring for progress on an incredibly useful tool for the Canon Powershot series.

Astrophotography with the Canon SX20IS Part 1

I’m writing this blog entry whilst still on holiday and not having any means of transferring my digicam pics to my smartphone, so I’ll present the text first and images later.

A holiday to the Scottish Highlands presented itself with an opportunity to take advantage of (potentially) clear dark skies as I usually have to put up with light-polluted skies at home.

I hadn’t really tried out my new Canon SX20IS digicam for some astrophotography, preferring to continue to use my ageing S2IS with CHDK. However the SX20IS really offered a number of advantages over the S2IS such as better ISO capabilities (ISO 800 to 3200) and better resolution. So over a couple of nights, whilst dodging some broken cloud, I managed to obtain some impressive (in my eyes and with my limited photographic ability) images that kicked the S2’s images on the first night into a cocked hat.

As a comparison, on the first night I mainly used the S2IS with CHDK and took a number of exposures 20-32sec in length, ISO400. A lot of noise was picked up and only the brightest stars were picked up. However I was able to save these as RAW images so I may be able to obtain more detail once I get back to my laptop. I took a couple of disappointing shots with the SX20 which only picked up the very brightest stars in Cassiopeia.

However the next night I decided to use the SX20 and after making some aperture changes and setting the ISO value to 1600, this really opened up the quality of the images. Once the broken cloud had nearly completely cleared, I set the camera up on a wooden table on top of the tripod (there were trees all around so I couldn’t get any horizon shots) and started snapping again and Cassiopeia. With the ISO set to 1600, aperture F2.8, manual focus and time 15″, the images taken had substantially less noise than from the S2IS and more stars were picked up by the SX20’s CCD.

As I took more shots and applied the zoom slightly to M31 (Andromeda Galaxy) which I managed to pick up in the image, the aperture adjusted automatically to F4.0. However because I couldn’t see M31 in the viewfinder, it was hit-and-miss (more miss actually) aand couldn’t get a closer image of the object. Even though ISO has more image noise, I’ve been very impressed with the SX20’s ability to take low light shots – and I haven’t even tried the ISO3200 mode yet!

Posted by Wordmobi

Chasing the International Space Station

After several attempts and waiting for the right opportunity, I finally maanged to get a couple of shots of the ISS as it passed overhead this evening.

Using my Canon S2IS digital camera, with CHDK (Canon Hackers Development Kit) loaded, I applied the following settings:-

ISO200, aperture value 16, length of exposure 32 seconds, save RAW image. Pointing west, I caught the first shot below; which I have had to apply some adjustments to the image to make the ISS ‘line’ in the image appear more prominent.

Click on each image for a larger version; time of day taken was 6.45pm. Stars were just starting to become visible in the evening sky.

For the second image I grabbed the camera and tripod and pointed it east, thankfully the ISS remained high in the sky for me to capture another image using the same settings. No post-processing was applied to this image as the sky was already a little darker.

Both images have been saved at 300dpi with 7% JPEG compression.

Moon and Mars Opposition

The 29th and 30th of January was the closest approach of Mars since 2007 and the ‘largest’ Moon of 2010. Thankfully the skies in the UK were clear (well, where I live at least!) and gave good opportunity for some observing and astrophotography.

Though my first target was Mars, because the telescope was still ‘warm’ from only just being brought out from the house, this created poor ‘seeing’ from the small air turbulences inside the telescope as it cooled down. This created a shimmering blob effect that when coupled with 2 and 5mm lens, ruined the image.

Whilst I waited for the equipment to cool down, I decided on a bigger target that would be affected less by the aclimatisation problems. So I turned to the Moon and grabbed my Canon S2IS digital camera, holding it upto the eyepiece. Because I’d already worked out some test shots with aperture and shutter speed in CHDK, I applied the settings and managed to get the whole of the Moons disc in the eyepiece. One of the shots is pictured below, though I haven’t had chance to correct the rotation of the image so that the Moon looks the right way up. I had my Moon filter attached to the eyepiece and the only post-processing applied was auto-levels in Photoshop.


By this time the scope had cooled down sufficiently to view Mars. Even though I’d fitted various combinations of barlow lens, 5 and 2mm lenses, I couldn’t manage to quite get much surface detail imaged, except two horizontal curved bands, one of which I guess corresponds to the polar cap. There was a hint of red-orange colour around the edges of the sphere, I didn’t bother trying to try imaging it with my hand-held afocal coupling method of taking pictures with the camera, as I felt it it would result in a blurred image.

Instead, I fixed the camera to the mount on the telescope and took a shot of the Moon and Mars (which was directly overhead), displayed below:-


The image has been rotated and cropped due to the angle that the camera was viewing the scene. A small amount of red’ blue, brightness and contrast has been applied to the image.

Final shot for this post is the equipment setup:-


Mars is at closest approach to Earth for the whole of this week, before receeding until 2012.

Posted by Wordmobi