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.

New Years Partial Lunar Eclipse

Thanks to some of the information gained from reading my new digital imaging Astronomy books, I’ve managed to capture a few shots of the moon, in partial lunar eclipse on new years eve, the best of which is:-

(Click the image for a slightly larger version).

The image was took with my Canon S2IS running CHDK, attached to a mini tripod sat on the roof of my car. This the best of three shots, I didn’t get any more time to take any more as I was supposed to be getting ready for new years party! It was took at time of greatest partial totally, approx 19.22 UTC.

I also managed to get some shots around 1am of Orion in the western sky. Unfortunately they turned out to be overexposed so much that the sky was a light grey colour. The stars created a trail because I left the shutter open far too long (40 seconds). However, I still think this was a result as I caught the Orion Nebula on the image, something I never manged to achieve. I think I’ll need to shorten the exposure time by half to eliminate the star trails and exposure brightness.

Throwing these images into Registax resulted in all sorts of alignment errors, due to the rotation of the earth. Time to read some tutorials how to align stacked images I think!

How to turn your Canon S2IS into a DSLR

Getting into this digital astrophotography lark requires the right kit. This usually means some form of DSLR camera, starting at several hundred quid. Most people have some sort of digital camera nowadays, some from the Canon brand. I’ve owned a Canon S2IS 5mp camera for about three and a half years and its usually spent time on holiday or attending the local air show, once a year. Its a very capable camera, its 12x level optical zoom and image stabiliser helping me to take some great action shots of aircraft displays. It is what is classed as a ‘creative compact camera’, having DSLR-level controls but without the bulk and the ability to change lenses.

Whilst looking for information on how to get the best (if possible) out of the camera in taking astro pics, I was steadily coming to the conclusion that the lack of RAW file saving and the ability to take exposures longer than 15 seconds was going to force me to change the camera.

However, I stumbled across a website that mentioned how to hack your Canon Powershot digital camera, giving it extra capabilities such as RAW file support, a greater range of exposure controls and lots of other features.

Called ‘CHDK’ (‘Canon Hackers Development Kit’), it a freely developed kit, created by enthusiasts which taps into the operating system of the DIGIC CPU’s in the Powershot cameras, which increases the level of capabilities it has. So much so, my S2IS now has ‘as good’ capabilities as a DSLR camera, optically and electronically at least, even though I can’t do much physically with the lenses like an DSLR. It is a firmware add-on and does not permanently alter the camera, though as always with anything that ‘pushes’ the capabilities of hardware, you should use at your own risk and no warranty is offered.

The homepage for the site is . At the time of writing, around 47 Powershot cameras are supported with nearly 100 firmware versions.

Support is not limited to some of the more expensive cameras, even point and shoot digicams are supported such as the A400 series.

A quick summary of some of the features available:

– RAW image support and saving of files.
– Override camera parameters such as exposure control.
– Bracketing.
– Video capabilities extended.
– Scripting using a BASIC-like language.
– Motion detection.
– Histograms and Zebra mode for over-exposed areas of the screen.

What This has given me is increased the capabilities I have for taking digital astrophotography images; what sort of results I can achieve are to be decided, but I feel a lot more confident in having the potential ability to take low-light shots of the night sky.

And save a load of cash not having to change the camera… Watch this space…

Posted by Wordmobi