Sony admits glitch in digital cameras

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Sony, struggling to improve its brand image amid the biggest consumer electronics product recall in history, has admitted that several models in its best-selling range of digital cameras might not be able to take pictures.

The company has identified eight models of its Cyber-shot line of “family friendly” digital cameras that can develop problems when exposed to tropical climates.

Heat and humidity of the sort widely experienced across south-east Asia, can degrade one of the adhesives inside the camera and affect the performance of the image sensor – the critical chip that controls how the pictures appear on the camera’s own liquid crystal screen.

Already under fire over issues of quality control, Sony on Friday night acknowledged that the camera problem arose from its own failures at the design stage. Since 2005, Sony has built its cameras with a more robust adhesive.

In the summer Sony released its first digital single-lens reflex camera in an effort, said one senior executive at the time, “to evolve into a serious camera maker”.

Of 1m units of the eight troubled Cyber-shot models shipped in Japan between September 2003 and January 2005, around 4,000 have developed a fault where the images taken were distorted, or not visible at all.

Sony said that “millions” of the same cameras were shipped to the US and Europe in the same period, and that future problems emerging with those models cannot be ruled out.

The company is not conducting a recall of the Cyber-shot cameras affected, but is offering to fix any malfunctioning ones for free. The cost of that operation remains unclear, but a spokesman said that the glitches would not require Sony to alter its financial forecasts.

The vital importance of Sony’s digital camera business became apparent earlier this year when the company swung back into the black in the first quarter of fiscal 2006. Sony said that the14 per cent rise in sales at the group’s flagship electronics division owed much to the success of Cyber-shot.

But the Cyber-shot line has not been without its problems. In January this year, Sony was forced to suspend Chinese sales of six Cyber-shot models assembled in that country because of performance problems with several key functions.

Sony is still reeling from its massive global recall of 9.6m lithium-ion batteries after isolated incidents where laptop computers caught fire. The debacle hit the company with Y51bn in provisions to cover the cost of the recall.

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