Friday Q&A: My iSight can’t see

Q. Suddenly the iSight camera on my Mac has stopped working. The red light never comes on when it should and all I get with iChat, Photobooth and FaceTime is a black window. Skype’s video option has since been greyed out. I have had the error message ‘camera is in use by another application’ when nothing is running, even when I’ve just switched it on. An internet search suggests the problem may lie with QuickTime, but I’ve no idea what to do about it.
Peter Gutteridge

A. It is possible for iSight cameras to fail spontaneously at the basic hardware level, but it’s very rare. What’s much more likely is that this is a firmware problem. Start by checking that the issue isn’t restricted to just your account. Log in to another account (create a new one, if necessary) and if the camera works there, then the fault probably lies with preference files, which you can delete one at a time until you find the right one. Or else just copy your documents across to the new account and then migrate to that.

If the iSight camera is broken on all user accounts, then try resetting the PRAM. You can do this by rebooting your Mac and holding down ç+å+P+R before the chime plays. Hold them down until the chime plays at least twice then let go and let your Mac restart. If that doesn’t help, you’ll need to reset the SMC. This stands for System Management Controller and it’s common to all Intel Macs. The exact procedure for resetting varies from Mac to Mac but just remember that for most desktops, you need to shut down and remove the power cord completely, then hold the power button in for five seconds before reconnecting the power and booting back up again. If you have a Mac with a non-removable battery, you’ll need to plug in the mains adapter and start up by pressing ß++å+ the power button all at the same time (whoever thinks up these things?).

If none of these arcane manipulations have helped you, then your particular problem is one of the rare ones and you’ll need to get the hardware looked at by an authorised service centre.

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This question originally appeared in issue 232 of MacFormat, the UK’s best selling Apple magazine.
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