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10-25-2010, 08:22 AM - 2 Likes   #1
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Spencer's Camera for IR conversion, or, How Spencer's Camera broke my K200D

The following is an account of my my experience trying to get a Pentax K200D converted for infrared photography by Spencer's Camera over the past six months. Today just happens to be exactly six months since I sent the payment, and for the last half-year I have been without a functioning camera. My purpose for writing this is not to defame or slander anyone; I am simply retelling my story so that others my know what they might go through when dealing with Spencer's Camera.

In March, 2010 I decided to pull the trigger on a used Pentax DSLR so that I could have it converted for infrared photography. I own and enjoy using a K-7, but using opaque IR filters required 10-30 second exposures and yielded rather noisy images. The advantages to having a dedicated IR camera seemed obvious. I located a barely used K200D (only a few hundred exposures) and paid $465. The camera arrived in near-mint condition and worked flawlessly. My only regret was that the camera did not come with a strap! Luckily, I still had my old *ist 35mm strap.

While researching the camera I also sought out a conversion service. It seemed as if there were few conversion services that would handle Pentax DSLRs, but when I discovered Spencer's Camera it appeared to be the right choice. The prices were competitive with other services like Life Pixel and the website, while not being very flashy, did include sample images created with cameras apparently converted at Spencer's. Spencer's Camera also offered a choice of different filters ranging from the typical 720nm variety (much like a Hoya R72 lens filter) to very limited-spectrum filters that allowed a very extreme portion of IR radiation to reach the sensor. The basic 720nm conversion and shipping cost $325. According to the Spencer's website a typical DSLR conversion took about 10 business days plus shipping. I decided to go for it. Looking back now, I regret the decision.

Here is a timeline of events:

4/24/2010 - Through the Spencer's Camera website I ordered my conversion service and paid for everything via the Paypal link provided on the site. Within a day I shipped my camera and a Pentax 18-55mm DA II lens (for calibration) according to the website's instructions and shortly thereafter my camera arrives in Alpine, UT on April 28.

5/18/2010 - I email Spencer's Camera asking for an update about my camera. Other than confirmation that it arrived at Spencer's I have had no information about my order being delayed, on time, or otherwise. No direct reply from Spencer's.

5/20/2010 - Receive notification via email by USPS that they have been notified they will be receiving an item for shipping from Spencer's Camera.

6/9/2010 - USPS shipping details still gives no update about the status of my package. I email Spencer's. I receive no reply.

6/14/2010 - USPS delivers my camera. I begin testing the camera around town where I live. I quickly discover there are two problems with the camera. It appears a particle of dust is permanently trapped between the IR filter and the sensor. A small, dark smudge appears in every shot in the upper right hand corner. I also determine that what I see in the viewfinder is not recorded by the camera, but rather everything is shifted downwards. See the attached images for examples. I realized the second issue when I tried to photograph the side of a building. The top of the wall should have been perfectly aligned with the upper edge of the viewfinder. Instead everything is shifted downwards by about 1/8th of the frame. The dust actually didn't bother me as most IR images require Photoshop editing anyway. However, the shift in the image was disturbing and it appeared that there was some extreme softening of the image along the top and top right corners. Testing demonstrated that it was not my lens.

*Note that in the example photo I said the image was shifted up. I got this wrong, it's actually shifted down. Nevertheless, it's not right!

6/24/2010 - I email Spencer's to learn what can be done about these issues. He says there may have been some damage during shipping; send the camera back to be fixed. I send the camera back to Alpine in the last week of the month with expedited shipping so it will arrive before the July 4th weekend in case Clarence Spencer, the owner of Spencer's Camera, has plans that would prevent him from being there to accept the package.

8/20/2010 - I email Clarence to ask for information about my camera. It has been about six weeks since my camera arrived back at Spencer's and I have had no indication when the camera will ship back to me. No direct reply from Spencer's.

8/24/2010 - Receive notification via email by USPS that they have been notified they will be receiving an item for shipping from Spencer's Camera, just like the first time the camera should have been shipped to me.

9/15/2010 - Email to Clarence Spencer. USPS site shows no change in status for delivery for the past 2-plus weeks. For all I know the camera is still at Spencer's. I get no direct reply from Clarence.

Near the end of September I call Clarence Spencer with the 800-number provided by the website. I ask what is talking so long. Clarence tells me he shipped the camera back in late July and that the USPS lost the package. He also tells me the Post Office lost a Canon 5D II that was shipped to another customer. He says "We're waiting for them to find your camera" and that, if they don't find it soon I'll be getting a replacement camera. I thank him for his time and ask him to update me whenever details present themselves.

While waiting for Spencer's to send me details I went to my local Post Office to ask, in person, for more information about what is going on. I explain my case to some very helpful staff and they inform me that the tracking information I received does not indicate the Post Office in Alpine, UT has received my package. If it had been received by the USPS they would have scanned and logged the receipt of a box with a shipping label at a particular Post Office. This means Spencer's Camera used shipping software to print a label for my package which also contacts USPS with details about the shipment, but it does not mean a postal carrier has picked up the package or the package has not yet been dropped off at a Post Office. In other words, Spencer's Camera probably never took my camera to the Post Office and it was never "lost".

Because I'm willing to give most people a second (or third, or fourth) chance I wait about a week before contacting Spencer's Camera again. Finally, I call and Clarence tells me I must have been "reading his mind" because he is holding my camera in his hands as we speak. During the conversation he realizes it's not my camera he's looking at, it belongs to somebody else. He then finds my camera on a work bench. He says that it was just returned to them from the Post Office and they want to look at it to make sure there was no damage during shipping. He tells me he's going to ship the camera via UPS this time. I ask for a tracking number when it becomes available and he tells me I will have the camera by Friday, October 8th.

10/7/2010 - I receive an email from UPS saying that they have been sent shipping information about a package they expect to receive and ship that should arrive to me on Saturday, October 9. Once again, just like with the US Postal Service, this does not mean UPS has my camera for shipping. It only means Spencer's Camera has printed a label for it. The camera never arrives on Saturday and the status of the tracking number never changes.

10/11/2010 - I call Clarence and ask why the camera hasn't shipped yet. He tells me there might have been a delay because of the Columbus Day holiday (even though UPS does not break service for this holiday like the USPS does). I also ask him if he can clarify why I had the dust and alignment issues with the camera. He tells me the dust issue required simple cleaning. The alignment and softened corner/edges were caused by a broken screw-mount that held the sensor mechanism in place. Because something was out of place a magnetic portion related to the shake reduction feature was shorted, cause the sensor to be stuck out of position. These are Clarence's words. I tell him directly, you need to ship my camera. That evening I receive updated shipping information from UPS with an adjusted arrival date for Wednesday, October 13.

10/13/2010 - Camera and lens arrives via UPS. The box is an oblong shape, approximately 5"x8"x16" (I haven't measured it exactly) filled with packing peanuts. My lens, which was shipped in it's original box, was in the package in its original box. However, the camera was placed in a loose bag made of bubble wrap that was not taped shut, nor was it wrapped around the camera for extra protection. In fact, opening the package revealed that the camera was almost out of the bag, mingling with the packing peanuts.

10/17/2010 - The few days after I received the camera were either dull and cloudy or I had to work long hours that prevented me from testing the camera in sunny conditions. Sunday I had the opportunity to test the camera which revealed a serious malfunction.

Turning on the camera starts it's standard dust-reduction routine. What should have been a near imperceptible vibration of the camera was replaced by a violent shuttering of the camera that was very audible. Taking photos with the camera at first seemed normal, but I quickly realized something was not right. I frequently use my cameras mounted on a tripod in the 2-second self timer mode which also triggers the camera's mirror-up feature to give maximum stability and sharpness during exposure. During the elapsed 2 seconds the camera should be absolutely silent other than the initial movement of the mirror and then the shutter moving for exposure. Instead I could hear the camera doing something which I later learned was the sensor mechanism being forcefully moved about by the camera. It was as if the shake reduction feature had gone nuts. The shake reduction feature is meant to be turned off during the 2-second self timer mode, overriding the ON setting made by the photographer. Manually turning the feature off did nothing to improve the situation.

To investigate what was going on I intentionally set the camera to a ten second exposure with the lens removed. I could visually confirm that, during exposure, the camera sensor was being strongly moved about by the camera. Also, when using the camera's mirror-up feature for manual cleaning of the sensor the same movement could be seen and heard. The movement by the sensor was so extreme that it was striking the inside housing of the camera. Typical exposure times for converted DSLRs should be well within the range that can be hand-held by a photographer using a standard zoom lens for sharp images. Images shot at 1/125 and f/8 yielded rather soft pictures. The exposures were good, just bad image quality. Longer exposures with a tripod at 1/8 sec. (for example) demonstrated the movement of the sensor by the camera, giving a jittery, double-exposed appearance. See the attached photos.

10/19/2010 - I ship the camera body back to Alpine, UT with a letter explaining the malfunction.

10/20/2010 - I send Clarence Spencer an email explaining the malfunction. This time I tell him that he has three options: 1) Fix the camera so that it operates properly with IR conversion. 2) Reimburse me for the amount I paid for the camera and conversion. 3) Send me one of the pre-converted K20D cameras he sells on his website as a replacement. (He sells K-x cameras as well, but I bought the K200D because it is weather sealed and can use a grip, neither of which are features for the K-x. I already own the battery grip for the K200D, and I would need to purchase one for the K20D).

Also in my letter I said that I wanted this resolved by the end of the month. Not in three weeks. Not in December. I wanted a repaired or replacement camera by October 31. I have confirmed that the camera arrived and was signed for at Spencer's Camera, but I have not yet received a reply from Clarence Spencer regarding what he is going to do for me. I also stated that if he does not act in due time on one of these options I will be forced to pursue litigation. I also might contact the Better Business Bureau, although that does little good as he apparently is not a member. Perhaps I will also see if I can have my credit card charges reversed, but I don't know how this might be impacted by the fact that Paypal was involved.

To summarize, over the past six months I have paid $465 for a camera, $325 for IR conversion, and approximately $100-plus for shipping. Most of the shipping should never have been needed. Over the past half-year I have only received frustration and a broken camera I can't even re-sell. I went into this transaction with my eyes open, believing the claims on the Spencer's Camera website. He says they have trained technicians using industry standard equipment, that they even repair cameras converted by other services. So far I have seen nothing that support these statements.

If you have read this entire story then you are to be congratulated. I know it's a lot of information, but I've tried to be thorough. I generally consider myself to be a patient person. Probably too patient. But when I began this project I figured it was a specialty item and I didn't want to try hurrying a result that would take as long a necessary. Now I believe this whole time I've either been scammed or taken for a fool.

Again, this post is only to share my experiences with the Pentax community. I know some of you may have used Spencer's Camera to convert your cameras for IR use with great success and no problems. Some of you may be contemplating such a project like mine. Our choices are limited in many respects when compared to CaNikon users, but we can learn from each others' experiences and, hopefully, not be ripped off in the process.

Thank you for your consideration and attention.

Attached Images
View Picture EXIF
PENTAX K200D  Photo 
View Picture EXIF
PENTAX K200D  Photo 
10-25-2010, 09:10 AM   #2
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Not a good story. I have my k100ds in for conversion as well. So far it's been two months and no camera. I did call them last week and was told that there was a problem (EPROM needed updating to fix infinity focus) that needed software from Pentax and that this had taken 3 extra weeks. Hopefully my camera should be here soon and I will follow up with whatever happens. LV- sorry for your troubles and I have my fingers crossed that I won't have a similar story when my camera returns...
10-25-2010, 11:23 AM   #3
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This situation is deplorable. Don't they test stuff before shipping it? And I hate when people don't answer e-mail after I've given them hundreds of dollars.

Also, "software from Pentax" should not take 3 weeks. Havn't they got an internet connection. Sheesh... Glad I saw this because I have been contemplating having my old K110D converted once I get my K-5 next spring.

Mike
10-25-2010, 11:29 AM   #4
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In my case, I'll see how it goes. Right now I'm still feeling good about the experience. The future is TBD though.

10-25-2010, 12:54 PM   #5
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I'll only make two comments.

1. It seems to me from your version of the events, you had to call the guy to get him to do Anything with your camera. I suspect that your camera would arrive and just sit on a shelf until he got around to doing anything with it.

2. Your alignment issue. Maybe I'm wrong but the only cameras with 100% viewfinders are the K10/20/7. The others are cropped to something like 93%. That could explain the different framing of your photo compared to what you see in your viewfinder.

I lied. Three comments..

3. I think you are completely right to ask for the resolution you did. I don't think however that at this late date, your CC company is going to do anything for you, especially on the original purchase of the camera itself. In that instance, you did receive what you paid for.

10-25-2010, 01:11 PM   #6
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I wonder if these conversions are something Eric Hendrickson could do. I know he works on film cameras but this could be a lucrative sideline for him. And I'd trust him far more than these guys at Spencers.

Mike
10-25-2010, 01:30 PM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by blackcloudbrew Quote
Not a good story. I have my k100ds in for conversion as well. So far it's been two months and no camera. I did call them last week and was told that there was a problem (EPROM needed updating to fix infinity focus) that needed software from Pentax and that this had taken 3 extra weeks. Hopefully my camera should be here soon and I will follow up with whatever happens. LV- sorry for your troubles and I have my fingers crossed that I won't have a similar story when my camera returns...
Ah, so I'm not alone in my adventure with Spencer's Camera! All I can offer you are some crossed fingers and maybe lighting a candle... I truly hope your experience is better than mine.

Like I said in my first paragraph, for my part, I'm not interested in saying somebody is a scam artist. I'm simply trying to let others know what happened to me with a particular dealer.
10-25-2010, 01:45 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by MRRiley Quote
This situation is deplorable. Don't they test stuff before shipping it? And I hate when people don't answer e-mail after I've given them hundreds of dollars.

Also, "software from Pentax" should not take 3 weeks. Havn't they got an internet connection. Sheesh... Glad I saw this because I have been contemplating having my old K110D converted once I get my K-5 next spring.

Mike
I'm very grateful that I have some sympathy from a moderator.

Once I started thinking something fishy was going on I did some rather intense research on Spencer's Camera reviews. One such result took me to an ongoing discussion at the Sony DSLR site, Alpha Mount World, where somebody posted a similar story to mine (I believe they were discussing a Canon G9). The poster had never written anything else on the site; the complaint about Spencer's Camera was his first and only message. Somebody there banned the user because they felt he was only using the site as a soapbox. This started a huge debate among users over whether or not the ban was warranted. There were accusations abound that AMW was "on the take" from Spencer's or was some kind of sponsor, as there were quite a few articles about infrared photography and Spencer's Camera came up often as a place to have conversions done.

I'm not going to give any opinion on Alpha Mount World. They are entitled to manage their site as they please. All I can do is repeat that I want other (Pentax) users to know what's happened.

And I appreciate all your well-wishes!

10-25-2010, 01:55 PM   #9
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In the interest of fairness - as I have no other agenda here that to report on my experience like LV - I'm going to try to recall what specifically I was told about the need for software from Pentax.

What the person said was that the work (conversion) had been completed 3 weeks ago but in testing they found that my K100ds would not focus to infinity (that would be clearly something I would not want). The person said that they then had to go to Pentax (no idea where) and order a CD for software to upgrade the EPROM on the k100ds. He indicated that it (the CD) had finely come in and that the conversion would be finished very soon now.

To be continued when it actually shows up...
10-25-2010, 01:55 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by JeffJS Quote
2. Your alignment issue. Maybe I'm wrong but the only cameras with 100% viewfinders are the K10/20/7. The others are cropped to something like 93%. That could explain the different framing of your photo compared to what you see in your viewfinder.

I lied. Three comments..

3. I think you are completely right to ask for the resolution you did. I don't think however that at this late date, your CC company is going to do anything for you, especially on the original purchase of the camera itself. In that instance, you did receive what you paid for.

I totally get what you're saying about the slight crop within the viewfinder. Again, it's hard to explain with only the sample image I uploaded, but I'll put it this way: Using the camera, if I shot something in landscape-orientation, anything that lay across the center-axis from left to right would not be reproduced that way in the digital file. It would be off-center. It would fall below where it should be.

In other words, framing something in a shot would result in something extra showing up at the top of the frame. Meanwhile, anything I saw in the viewfinder at the bottom of the frame would drop out of final image.

I am nervous about what my credit card company might or might not be able to do for me. And now that it's been exactly six months I'm even more nervous as it sounds like a critical juncture. I am willing to contact the Utah State Attorney General, however, if it will light a fire under Clarence Spencer.
10-25-2010, 02:11 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by JeffJS Quote
3. I think you are completely right to ask for the resolution you did. I don't think however that at this late date, your CC company is going to do anything for you, especially on the original purchase of the camera itself. In that instance, you did receive what you paid for.

Oh, and also I forgot to mention I don't expect my credit card company to take the money back from Spencer's for the value of the camera. I'm talking about only the money paid for the conversion. As far as I'm concerned, I still haven't received what I paid Spencer's to do, and that is convert a camera and return it to me in satisfactory condition.

In my message to Clarence Spencer I gave him the option of reimbursing me willingly for the camera and the faulty conversion. He didn't complete what we agreed on (the conversion) and the camera is, so far, useless to anyone. Essentially, he destroyed my property. Spencer's website proclaims its craftsmanship and experience, but they haven't proven it yet. If I hire somebody to install a furnace in my house and, through the installer's negligence, it burns my house down then I expect them to pay for the damages.

If he doesn't want to pay me back then he could at least do the decent thing and replace the camera.
10-25-2010, 02:17 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by LowVoltage Quote
I totally get what you're saying about the slight crop within the viewfinder. Again, it's hard to explain with only the sample image I uploaded, but I'll put it this way: Using the camera, if I shot something in landscape-orientation, anything that lay across the center-axis from left to right would not be reproduced that way in the digital file. It would be off-center. It would fall below where it should be.

In other words, framing something in a shot would result in something extra showing up at the top of the frame. Meanwhile, anything I saw in the viewfinder at the bottom of the frame would drop out of final image.

I am nervous about what my credit card company might or might not be able to do for me. And now that it's been exactly six months I'm even more nervous as it sounds like a critical juncture. I am willing to contact the Utah State Attorney General, however, if it will light a fire under Clarence Spencer.
Ok, if you're talking about the center of the viewfinder vs center of the result, then I could see how you can conclude it is misaligned.

I'm sure you have options as far as being a consumer, I'm just suggesting I would be surprised if the CC company actually did anything. Paypal's limit for instance is 45 days. I think it would depend on exact terms of billing and circumstances (no real knowledge of this btw), but your credit card was billed by Paypal, not Mr. Spencer. Either way, good luck with it.

QuoteQuote:
In my message to Clarence Spencer I gave him the option of reimbursing me willingly for the camera and the faulty conversion. He didn't complete what we agreed on (the conversion) and the camera is, so far, useless to anyone. Essentially, he destroyed my property. Spencer's website proclaims its craftsmanship and experience, but they haven't proven it yet. If I hire somebody to install a furnace in my house and, through the installer's negligence, it burns my house down then I expect them to pay for the damages.

If he doesn't want to pay me back then he could at least do the decent thing and replace the camera.
I kind of figured that as far as the camera and the CC company are concerned but I never really know what people are cooking up in their minds. I completely agree that he should do something to make you whole, both on the conversion and the camera. In the case of the furnace installer, he should be carrying insurance for such things.




Last edited by JeffJS; 10-25-2010 at 02:22 PM.
11-01-2010, 10:34 PM   #13
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The following is an update on this whole situation as of 11/1/2010:

The deadline I imposed on Spencer's Camera to ship me a fully-functional K200D with infrared conversion by the end of the month (October) came and went, so I decided to call Clarence Spencer. I don't like confrontation but it seemed I needed to make it clear I wasn't going to ignore the situation anymore. I'm not sure if the latest development is just another stall tactic on Spencer's part or if I have something to actually look forward to.

The abbreviated version of the story is, I called and spoke to Clarence. He told me he ordered and received a new shake-reduction mechanism for my camera from Pentax on Friday, October 29. Today (Monday) they had a "training day" with Nikon in their office, so they didn't get much done in terms of repairs or conversions. My camera is #2 of the two cameras to get preferential treatment on Tuesday and I should have some kind of UPS tracking number by the end of the day.

Considering the history of this entire affair I have my doubts. First, when Clarence answered the phone I identified myself and very simply said "It's the end of the month and I don't have my camera" and before I could say anything else he said, shocked, "You still didn't get it yet?" as if it had been shipped to me and I should have received it, or, from the last time he "repaired" the camera over the summer it should have arrived by now. His reaction was almost as if he didn't even realize the camera was now back in his possession. I replied that he should have my camera, that I know somebody there signed for it, and then he seemed to realize who I was and what camera I was talking about. I'm not sure if he simply has a lot to keep track of or if he didn't know what I was talking about but it doesn't give me a lot of confidence.

Once he explained that he ordered and received a new shake-reduction mechanism from Pentax and that it should be on its way sometime late Tuesday I requested a shipping notification which he said he would send. In all fairness I wouldn't be surprised if I don't get anything from UPS until Wednesday here on the East Coast considering the time difference with Utah and any delays that are caused by simply handling packages at sorting facilities. Then again, as I described earlier, it seems Spencer's tactic is to print a shipping label for a package that doesn't get shipped right away, regardless of the carrier; USPS and UPS send notifications of a pending package for arrival, but it doesn't mean they have it or that it has left for a destination.

I never said this to Clarence Spencer, and I don't know if it would really register with him, but something that would go a long, long way to calm a lot of frustration in this situation would be better communication on his part. If he really had to order the shake-reduction mechanism for my camera some time last week it means he took the time to check over the camera and confirm the problem I described. Did he not have 10 minutes to sit down and write an email detailing the necessary steps to fix my camera? I was counting down the days until the weekend thinking I was not going to hear from him or receive my camera; I was expecting to make a lengthy, angry phone call today. Another person might have opened the phone conversation with a lot of expletives and demands for money.

Ok, I'm ending the rant early. Anway, I will update this again as things (if things) progress.

As I've stated before, I'm glad I have a forum as well read as this one because it means I can share my experience with others. To PF's credit, I have researched various photography-related subjects and Google searches often bring me right back to discussions found on Pentax Forums. My hope is that somebody will type "Spencer's Camera" into a search engine and they will be better informed because I wrote out what happened with my situation.
11-02-2010, 12:10 AM   #14
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You are certainly more patient than most. I won't mention what I would have said and done in this situation....

Looks like you need to call this guy every day. If he answers the phone check in and see how he's doing.

During one of the next phone calls I would ask him to package the camera in a way that will protect it. The small parcel shipping environment is sometimes very abusive. Packing peanuts around a loose item do not provide any real protection. A heavy camera will sift through the loose peanuts and sit on the bottom of the box where it is not protected against any kind of drop or impact.

Spencer's Camera seems to be behind in a few key areas for their business:

1) Customer Service
2) Competent repair work
3) Safely returning products
4) Doing business in any sort of timely manner

There are some bad reviews for this company that I found quickly with google. Caveat emptor.
11-02-2010, 02:04 AM   #15
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Sounds like more of the same old shit to me. I think you are correct, expect a random tracking number that never goes anywhere. Training day or not (which I have my doubts), it would have taken 30 seconds to hack out a note letting you know he'd ordered a part and had received it. There is No way in hell he didn't know who you were, after the first words out of your mouth unless he is a complete idiot. Not with all that has happened with this fiasco. I find it interesting that nothing ever happens with this guy until you call him with, I imagine, ever increasing frustration. Personally I would have blown a gasket by now because I put this right in the shitcan along with the contractor's stock excuse, "My Truck Is Broke Down".

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