Physical damage to cameras and lenses

No matter how careful you are, accidents happen. When I dropped my Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L lens while shooting in a temple in a small Chinese village, I didn’t have a lot of options for repair and I seriously needed that lens for the trip. I had been very careful when changing lenses, but it simply slipped and the lens fell to the stone floor; while the glass didn’t break (I had a UV haze filter on the lens which broke instead), the zoom ring became nearly completely stuck. In that situation, I purchased an inexpensive Leatherman-style tool and sat for nearly two hours (as shown in 10-3), carefully bending the zoom ring until I got it to operate — albeit stiffly, but nonetheless functional. When I returned home, I had a professional camera technician repair it completely.

Sometimes you don't have much choice about your working environment when you need to attempt emergency repairs, such as when I had to work on a damaged 24-70mm f/2.8L series lens on a village street near Shanghai, China. Taken with a 1D Mark IIn using an EF 16-35mm f/2.8L lens at 1/250 second at f/9, at ISO 200.

Some damage to cameras, such as dropping or hitting them on a hard surface, can be fixed, but often it must be done by a technician to reduce the chance of damaging the camera further. Determining whether your camera is field-fixable is risky and should only be attempted in cases of necessity. If you simply must use it and you have no ability to replace it, rent another, or get it repaired, then you might want to try loosening the stuck part just enough to get it to work— even if not at optimal performance. You’re unlikely to fix it to its previous state of perfection, and, at worst, you might damage it further.

I have found Canon camera bodies to be remarkably strong and able to withstand surprisingly hard jolts and knocks without any apparent damage. However, you should always wear your camera strap and/or use a hand grip, especially when walking or shooting in a busy or precarious area, because it is one of the best things you have to protect your gear. While it’s not practical to shoot with a strap around your neck in every situation, keeping it there for as much shooting as possible can go a long way in preventing a drop, such as when someone accidentally bumps into you while you are taking a photo or you drop it while fumbling to change lenses at a busy time. If you don’t like camera straps, consider using a Canon camera grip that wraps around your hand with a leather-and-webbing strap.

Dropping a lens may reveal no external damage, but the complex internal components may have sustained damage. Usually you will know this if the lens doesn’t work, or if it seems to be operating but makes noise when it’s moved. Without a doubt, this kind of damage will require professional help.

If you’re shooting with a tripod, ensure it is durable and strong enough to support your camera. If you have a lightweight tripod with a heavy dSLR, you’re asking for trouble. If it’s windy or there’s a risk of someone bumping into your tripod, secure it with a weight.

Using a filter along with a hood/shade on your lens is the best way to protect it in the event of a drop. Should the hood get knocked off, the filter acts like a crash helmet and breaks, instead of the lens itself breaking. The main danger of the filter breaking is that the broken filter glass can actually scratch the surface of the lens; this, however, can sometimes be polished smooth by a technician.

Also, using a functional camera bag that suits your shooting style will help tremendously in preventing physical damage. If you shoot while standing and moving around, use a design that allows you to access and interchange lenses and flashes safely and easily; typically, these bags are journalist-style designs that store components horizontally on your hip. Accessing a backpack-style pack while standing is a recipe for disaster. I cover more about camera bags later in this chapter in the section on keeping your equipment in top shape.

Unless it is absolutely necessary, do not attempt to disassemble or operate on your camera or lens. If you’ve bent a lens ring — a common problem — you can sometimes ease it if you very carefully work the ring back to a near-normal position with a knife or needle-nose pliers. However, you can easily break the delicate metal or cause other damage, so I don’t suggest this except in extreme situations.

If you break a lens filter, often you can unscrew it, but you want to be very careful that you don’t scratch the actual lens. You can lightly use a pair of wide pliers over a soft cloth to help unscrew a broken or stuck filter, but again be really cautious and don’t force it. If it’s stuck and bent too much, a technician may actually have to use a saw to get the filter off (which, incidentally, doesn’t necessarily mean your lens will not be able to accept a filter again).

If you drop a camera and lens combination and cannot remove the lens from the camera, you’ll definitely need to get professional help because you can very easily damage the lens mounting hardware if you try, turning a relatively simple problem into a very expensive repair job.

Category: Camera care

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