How safe is your lens from breaking or failing?

Sigma 120-400mm Lens

Some of your lenses will not get as much use as others…
but they can still get broken.

If you look after your lenses…

Generally lenses last for years. The well built and robust lenses last well and give great service. But despite looking solid and unbreakable they are vulnerable. Lets look at the situation.

What makes a lens vulnerable?

Lenses are often metal cased and quite heavy. While they are pretty resilient they still break or fail.

There are various vulnerabilities for modern lenses. Here are the sort of issues you should look out for…

  • Lens scratches – every lens has a front element that is open to the air. That element is highly vulnerable to impacts and scratches.
  • Lens glass breakage – the front element can be impacted by another object or bashed against something. It is breakable and may shatter.
  • Internal impact damage – everyone drops lenses! Modern ones are breakable. Internal components can break or go out of alignment. Jambing is common after an impact.
  • Electrical component failure – modern lenses are sophisticated electronic systems with motors and computers on-board. All these components are potentially liable to failure.
  • Dirt entering the lens body – happens surprisingly often. Sand and fine dust particles can enter in a number of places in the lens. The dirt gradually builds up in the lens.
  • Water and damp in the lens – these build up over time and cause the potential for rot, growth of fungus and corrosion of electronic contacts.
  • Mechanical failure – lenses wear out or deteriorate from wear and tear.
Lens damage – how does it affect me?

Lenses are expensive. The better lenses are an investment but are very expensive. For a good return from your purchase look after the camera and its lenses. A recent blog from Lens Rentals  External link - opens new tab/page exposes how they are vulnerable as a business to heavy wear and tear on lenses. They base their whole business on renting lenses. The renters are sometimes (frequently?) less careful with a rented lens (surprised?). Lens rentals get involved in lens repair a lot. As a result they have a range of things to say about different manufacturers, the different lens models and the various vulnerabilities.

Lens Rentals analyses the data related to the repair and maintenance of their lenses. They only keep lenses two years. They have data for lens returns from repairs, types of repair; failure rates and so much more. It is a worthwhile (but somewhat heavy article) to read. For the majority of us it is worth noting some rather more important impacts of lens damage…

Lens damage – the effects!

  • Repairs are very expensive – typically exceeding $100
  • Repairs take a long time (many weeks with shipping / factory queueing).
  • You may not get your lens back – if you decide you don’t want to pay.
  • You may be charged if you do not get your lens back.
  • You may be charged worldwide shipping costs in addition.
  • Repair costs may exceed the lens value if an old model.
  • Repair and shipping costs may exceed replacement cost.
  • You may have to pay a fee for a repair estimate.
  • Estimates may turn out to be inaccurate (rare).
  • You are going to be weeks without that lens even if repaired.

Lens repair is expensive and you will be without the lens a long time. It is therefore worth considering just buying another – especially for cheaper lenses. Or, if the damage is not too bad, just living with it.

A tiny scratch on the front element may irritate. They consider it important to have perfection, so they ship the lens for repair. A lens costing, say £600 may have a total cost of estimate, parts and repairs of around £150 for repairing the tiny scratch. You may be without the lens for, say three months. Is it really worth it? An alternative for many of us is to remove the tiny scratch in post processing, and save the money for an up to date replacement later.

About lens protection after this…

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How do I protect my lenses?

Here are some ways to protect your lens against more common vulnerabilities…

  • Don’t drop your lenses! Always work on or over a surface so lenses cannot drop far. To reduce slipperiness: Do not change lenses while wearing gloves; have clean hands; always change lenses when dry and out of the rain; do not allow chemicals or grease onto the lens body. Place lenses on surfaces in the middle or away from the edge. Watch out for the lens rolling off tables etc. Don’t give your £1500 lens to a child!
  • Keep your lenses dry and chemical free! Water/chemicals in your lenses cause all sorts of problems. Going out into damp cold air or hot air from air conditioned rooms causes problems. Let the lens cool down/warm up slowly in your bag before use in the new conditions. Condensation can form in a lens if they suddenly change conditions. This will not suddenly have an impact but over time could cost you a lot of money. This precaution lengthens the life of your lens.
  • Keep your lens out of dust or take protective measures Wrap a plastic bag around it if you must use it in a dusty environment. Always wipe the lens down before putting it in the lens case or it will build up dirt in the case and pollute the lens more and more over time.
  • Keep your lens in proper, padded lens cases. Impacts are the most damaging events for a lens. Padded cases provide protection  External link - opens new tab/page when the lens is off the camera (a surprisingly damaging time for a lens).
  • Be careful where you put your lens/camera down. Lenses/cameras get kicked while on the ground! They also get knocked off things. So make sure they are secure against that. You can use a camera strap to secure it to something while is it put down.
  • Use a lens hood! The lens hood will protect against side swipes, frontal crunches and rain on the lens as well as prevent stray light from creating flare.
  • Use a skylight filter! While they are optically useless in most situations they are one way of stopping scratches and coating damage on the lens. They are cheap and relatively disposable. More on skylight filters here: Skylight and UV filters

Maybe it is not a damage issue, but you should be vigilant against theft. Be careful where you use or leave your lens. A recent video shows a lens theft while on-camera around the photogs neck. See this short video (24 seconds):
Thieves in Saint-Petersburg (Russia)  External link - opens new tab/page

Simply being careful…

In the end being careful and sensible with your lens will ensure that it remains an investment and not a disaster. Think about what you do with lenses, where you put them and the environments you use them in. But more than all of that, think carefully about insurance. Many of us walk around with huge amounts of money around our necks! Be acutely aware of your investment.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

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2 responses to “How safe is your lens from breaking or failing?

  1. Great article. I insure my lenses. And that is the smartest thing I did. My camera caddie (husband) dropped my macro lens while we were in the Rockies. I stopped in Colorado Springs at Mike’s Camera and replaced it with a better one so as not to ruin the vacation. On returning home I was pleasantly surprised that the rider had no deductible! I left State Farm with check in hand. Insure your gear!!