LensRentals.com

Lens Repair Data 2011

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What Is This?

We started doing this several years ago. We have a unique opportunity: we own a very large number of lenses subjected to rather harsh conditions: they get packed in boxes, tossed around by UPS, and sometimes the user isn’t as careful with them as you would be with your own lenses.

Our numbers reflect heavy and hard use. Your personal lenses shouldn’t fail nearly as often; they aren’t subjected to rental conditions. But since all of our lenses are subject to roughly the same number of rentals per year, it does provide some comparison about how fragile various lenses are compared to other lenses. It’s not scientific, but it’s a bit more useful than posts on a forum going back and forth between “never had a problem with it” and “mine sucked.” For those of you interested, I’d also suggest looking at the LensPlay Lens Defect Survey. Again, it’s not scientific, but it has responses from thousands of users, so it is another large series.

This list is not a comment about how good a lens is, it’s about how often it breaks under harsh conditions. Some of my favorite lenses are on this list.

What Is Different This Time?

After our last report we had planned to put the failure rate up on our website. Unfortunately that became way too complex and we had to drop the idea. We did, however, improve our evaluation procedures significantly during 2011. As a result we detected problems we might have missed a year ago. We also faced some shortages in early 2011 that forced us to keep a number of lenses longer than we usually do.

We’ve also (following suggestions made after the last survey) taken some steps to make our number of lenses more specific. Previously if we had 20 copies of the lens during the year, we called it 20 copies. But some of them may only have been around for 8 months, etc. Starting now we take the number of months each copy was in stock, add all the months together, and divide by 12. If we had 40 total copies, but 20 were only in stock 6 months of this year we would consider it 30 rentable copies.

All of these factors:a more accurate but smaller count of the number of copies; some lenses kept longer than 2 years in early 2011; and better detection of problems made the repair numbers higher this year. In the past about 5.5% of our lenses required repair each year. This year 8.25% did.

What do the numbers mean?

It is an annualized repair rate of the period from January 1 through December 31, 2011. The percentage we use is simple—number of lens repairs divided by the average number of copies of that lens stocked as covered above.

A physically damaged lens (by external observation or customer report) does not count as a repair for this list. It is probable that some lenses included in these numbers actually were damaged, but there was no overt evidence that it was so. We do not accept the factory service center’s word that the failure was “secondary to shock damage,” because a number of brand new, fresh-out-of-the-box lenses that we’ve sent back for repair came back with warranty work denied because of “shock damage.”

We make no comment at all on lenses that we have less than 9 copies of (we don’t think that’s particularly useful, it’s too small of a number). All of our lenses are rented with about the same frequency (we have many more copies of popular lenses than of less popular lenses), so there’s not a great difference in the amount of wear-and-tear one lens gets compared to another.

Now, for those of you who want to reach conclusions from the data, please note the following: Our average failure rate for all lenses during 2011 was 8.25%. If the lens is on the list below, we’ve had more than 9 copies and it has a repair rate significantly above the average rate.

The following lenses we carry were NOT evaluated because we have less than 9 copies.

  • Canon: 100 f/2; 180 f/3.5 L; 50 f/2.5 macro; 24mm f/2.8; 400 DO; MPE-65 Macro
  • Nikon: 14mm f/2.8; 16-85mm VR; 20mm f/2.8; 28mm f/1.4; 35 f/2; 85mm f/3.5DX; 105 f/2 DC
  • Sony: all prime lenses
  • Tamron: 70-300 VC
  • Sigma: 20 f/1.8; 70mm f/2.8 Macro; 4.5mm fisheye; 105mm macro300-800
  • All Leica, Voigtlander, Rokinon, Olympus, Panasonic, and Schneider lenses
If we carry the lens, it isn’t listed above, and isn’t on the list below, then it had a failure rate less than 150% of average.

Lenses with failure rates 50% or  more above average (8.25%)

Lens Repair Rate Typical Problems
Sigma 50-500 OS * 40% AF system, OS system
Sigma 120-300 OS 26% Autofocus system, OS system
Sony 70-200 f/2.8 20% Zoom sticking, AF system
Nikon 70-200 VRII 20% VR (7), AF (4), zoom (6), soft (4)
Sony-Zeiss 16-80 20% focus (3)
Nikon 70-300 VR 18% VR (6), AF
Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 17% Zoom sticking (13), soft (6)
Canon 100-400 IS # 17% IS(13), zoom (7), tighten ring(7)
Nikon 24 PC-E 15% Screw/knob stripped, housing crack
Canon 28-300 IS 17% Zoom sticks (4), metal bits in lens (3)
Canon 18-200 IS 16% Zoom Jam, AF
Canon 50mm f/1.4 16% AF motor(8)/MF(3)/loose element(3)
Canon 24-70 f/2.8** 16% Resolution (19), zoom (6), AF/MF (6)
Canon 35mm f/1.4 15% Resolution (8), AF/MF (6)
Sony 70-400 15% AF
Nikon 80-400 VR 14% AF, zoom
Canon 70-200 f/2.8 ISII 14% IS (10), zoom lock (15), soft (7)
Canon 17mm TS-E 14% MF (3), resolution (2), knob
Nikon 17-35 f/2.8 14% AF/MF (3)
Sigma 85 f/1.4 13% Autofocus (3), aperture
Canon 70-200 f4 IS 13% Resolution, IS
*This looks a little worse than it is. We had a large number of theses lenses in the Sigma recall SN range, but Sigma refused to repair until the AF unit actually failed. That pushed a number of repairs into 2011 that really should have been done in late 2010. Once that batch was done the repair rate dropped significantly, to the 20% range.
** The Canon 24-70s have never been problematic lenses but when we started computerized testing we found 19 copies that were soft at 70mm . They all went off to Canon at the same time, giving a big hit to that lens’s repair rate for 2011. Previously we wouldn’t have noticed the problem.
# The Canon 100-400 IS had a very large number of IS unit failures this year. Interestingly all 13 failed IS units came from SNs 43xxxx – 48xxxx. That range covers about half of our 100-400s in service, but has all 13 of the IS failures.

A Few Observations

  • Fanboys love to misuse the list above, and one of the common things I’ve seen is,“Brand X has the most (or least) lenses on Lensrentals’ high repair rate list.” Let’s keep it in perspective. There were 49 Canon, 39 Nikon, 18 Sigma, 15 Zeiss, 6 Sony, 6 Tamron, and 4 Tokina lenses eligible to make the list. The final makeup was 9 Canon, 6 Nikon, 3 Sony, and 3 Sigma lenses.
  • I complained last time about how costly Sony repairs were in proportion to the other brands. Sony service remains expensive (and slow) but the other brands have made great strides, raising their prices in an effort to catch up and make Sony look better.
  • We kept repair statistics on camera bodies for the first time this year. I didn’t list them because failure rates for all bodies were about the same. Pro, prosumer, consumer, brand, it didn’t matter much, about 18% of bodies required repair during the year.
  • As with our last report, it seems some of the sharpest lenses may also be the most difficult to keep working. The Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS MkII, the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 VRMkII, and the Sigma 50-500 OS all continue on the list.
  • Newly released lenses tend to have higher repair rates. IS lenses have higher repair rates. Zooms have higher repair rates. Newly introduced IS zoom lenses would seem to a repair just waiting to happen. But then that’s why they give warranties.

And a Few Last Thoughts

During the year I will see this data pop up on various forums, often for the purposes of bashing Sigma lenses. Those who do that are painting with too broad of a brush. Yes, Sigma supertelephoto zooms have reliability problems. The current versions fail, the previous versions failed. But what nobody seems to notice is that the other Sigma lenses NEVER end up on this list. From a reliability standpoint the Sigma wide zooms and primes are extremely reliable.

And a reminder once again that our lenses are used and abused far more than anyone’s personal lenses will be. This is a lens torture test. It’s entirely inappropriate to say something like “17% of Canon 100-400 lenses fail each year”. It would be appropriate to say “the Canon 100-400 is on the Lensrentals high repair list every year, it probably is more likely to break than the Canon 400 f/5.6″.

It may just be us, but during the last year we’ve had an amazing increase in the number of repairs that went straight back to the Service Center because the repair wasn’t made correctly. About one in 20 repairs had to be done over, far more than any previous year. If the problem was inadequate resolution it was one in 10 repairs. We had 8 lenses that required 4 or more trips to finally get repaired properly.

Probably the most disappointing part was that 19 lenses were returned to us with a fingerprint or lubricant smear left on an inner element during the repair. I could name names, but our experience has been this year’s best repair service is often next year’s worst, and vice-versa, so it probably isn’t worthwhile. But man, do I miss Jamestown.

But back to the point: for purposes of the data above, if I lens went to repair 4 times before it was finally fixed, it was considered just one repair.

Roger Cicala

Lensrentals.com

January 2012

26 Responses to “Lens Repair Data 2011”

dx said:

I am really interested in how is the repair rate of camera body.

CarVac said:

Tell me about the repeat repairs. I brought my camera in for warranty service, and it came out with a different problem, which took two more trips to fix.

Hanspeter said:

And following on what CarVac said, what about repeat breakdowns over time? Do the lenses that had to be sent in for repair have a higher rate of needing repair later down the line (vs needing to be sent back immediately for insufficient/bad repair the first time around)?

Jason said:

As an engineer working for a premier jet manufacturer, I must say that you have the coolest job in the world, Roger! Thanks for statistics that’ll keep us techno geeks thinking. Cheers!

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

We haven’t seen a pattern of a lens once repaired being more likely to need repair again with one exception — we have occasionally had a lens (or body) that needs several repairs in a fairly quick period of time. Basically a lemon. BUT they’ve been very rare and given the number of lenses we have it is probably just a statistical aberration. But there have been a few lenses (like maybe a dozen out of thousands) that we finally just sold for the parts for that reason.

The repeat repair thing is different. In most cases it simply is the repair not done the first time, and is much, much more common when the problem was low resolution (a soft lens). The second most common problem used to be a lens that was taken apart to replace the IS unit or focusing motor, something deep inside, and comes back with low resolution that it didn’t have before the repair. For the last year, the second most common problem has been lenses returned with fingerprints, grease smears, or foreign object on the internal lens elements. Which drives me crazy because that’s just sloppy work.

It used to be that Canon had the lowest rate of repeat repairs but that’s definitely not the case this year – I assume because we’ve been forced to change from Jamesburg service center to the new center in Virginia. But remember, different centers treat different customers differently and have different levels of service. Comparing a corporate customer like us to a standard customer to a professional photographer customer is comparing apples and oranges.

Elliotte Harold said:

You mentioned “Sony service remains expensive (and slow) but the other brands have made great strides, raising their prices in an effort to catch up and make Sony look better”. Nice snark.

I’m curious what, if any discounts you get for Canon repairs in particular. As an end user, I see that Canon repairs can vary by as much as a factor of *three* depending on whether you’re in Canon Professional Services or not and at which level. That means many customers are overpaying by an astonishing 200%.; sadly including me. E.g. Repairing a 7D cost half as much as the camera did when I bought it used from you a few months ago. (Impact damage caused by a failing BlackRapid strap in Panama; the camera was fine when I got it from you). I’d guess that as a volume customer you’re at the low end of that scale, or maybe even lower?

Paul D said:

Just curious, what’s your opinion on buying extended warranties for lenses? Does it differ based on IS? Zoom? Track record? Cost of lens initially?
Thanks

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Elliotte,

I’m not allowed to comment specifically (nondisclosure agreements), but I would love to be able to get the rate and service CPS members do.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Paul,

I don’t really have an opinion on that, but I think most extended warranties are based strictly on lens cost.

Roger

Steve Singer said:

Roger:

Could Zeiss have it correct by manufacturing only a prime lens without image stabilization and manual focus? Is it possible that building a lens with all metal construction also helps Zeiss deliver an overall well built lens lineup? I realize that you did not measure Leica and Schneider lenses, but I am assuming they would also hold up better than their competitors due to their construction methods and that they manufacture prime lenses without autofocus.

There is something to be said for keeping it simple. Many thanks for your lens repair data, most interesting.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Steve,

I can’t say with certainty, but when you consider most of our repairs are IS systems, autofocus electronics, and zoom mechanisms, it seems an inevitable conclusion that those well-built, purely mechanical lenses will be more reliable.

I have a collection of 100+ year old lenses that I can actually shoot with. And I use 30 and 40 year old primes reularly. I don’t think there’s any chance at all that 50 years from now someone will be shooting with a working 70-200 f/2.8 IS or VR. I love the features of a zoom, the modern optics that are so sharp and contrasty, autofocus, image stabilization, all of it. But from a pure reliability standpoint all those features are things that will break eventually.

A said:

Another interesting article; thankyou Roger!

As a matter of interest, have you ever considered doing lens repairs in house?

I know many/most of your lenses are within warranty, and the distribution of failures should favour the time they *are* within that warranty, but I there has to be a cut-off point when it becomes more effective to do it in house.

I know in house repairs would be expensive, but I don’t know how much more or less expensive it would be for you…

You already have lens sanity testing facilities in house though, so have you given it any thought?

I guess sourcing parts might be tricky/slow though.

On the flipside you’re unlikely to stamp it NFF and post it back to yourself ;)

Joachim said:

I’m not convinced, Roger, that 50 years from now there would be a wish to shoot with a 70-200/2.8 from these days, maybe all amateurs would shooting 3D then. Looking back from today’s perspective, there was also a lot of crap on the market of 1962 nobody remembers or wants to work with today, with some reason.

Also, Zeiss was another company 30, 40 years ago. And I remember how excited I was to be able to spent my first earned money on a 35/1.4 Distagon. That was only 2 1/2 months of work for me as apprentice, when these lenses came down from their original price regions. The first discounters in Germany made them affordable by demanding 25-30% less than a nomal foto-dealer was asking for. The parcel arrived, after opening I saw a Distagon with a front lens looking like somebody had washed it with chalk water.

Today, the Zeiss named as Distagon 35/1.4 would probably come from Cosina which is manufacturing several ZF lenses, “designed and controlled” by Zeiss. Haha. One can not rely only on a name or a brand.n And you can’t produce high quality by only designing and controlling it, the biggest part is “making it” which is done well by Cosina. And for sure I’m not saying these Cosina versions are worse than the Zeiss Oberkochen versions were.

Other side of that medal: If we photographers would have stayed happy with the technical state-of-the-art as it was 30, 40 years ago and at the same time told the manufacturers yes, we gladly work and save money as long as it takes to afford one of your precious glasses, then we won’t have fast tele-zooms, ultra-wide angle with only slight distortions and we won’t have autofocus, digital cams and mobile phones with cameras in. How much pictures would not have been made? We’re a part (and not the smallest one) of that game: cheaper, “better”, bigger focus range.

And except two of the Zeiss’ today, nothing in their lineup would let me think of buying some of them and shooting all time with slow live-view. I was enjoying the fast 35 and 85 for a long time but I never enjoyed the shots I missed because I was too slow to focus manually and could not have prepared them. I also read a bit too much of tests of “Zeiss” branded lenses for Sony cams which simply were disappointing.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Hi Adrian,

We do some things in-house, but parts and training are hard to come by. Unfortunately being a rental house warranty doesn’t exist for us other than if there’s something wrong when it first arrives. Once an item has been rented we can’t ask for warranty service.

focus said:

Isn’t the metric (days unavailable/days owned) with the failing rental unavailable?

Richard said:

Thanks for sharing this data with us Roger. One thing that worries me is the never- and poorly-completed repairs you report: “…repair not done the first time …common when the problem was low resolution (a soft lens). …comes back with low resolution that it didn’t have before the repair …lenses returned with fingerprints, grease smears, or foreign object on the internal lens elements.” Now I’m guessing that you, as a large buyer, have a little clout with the manufacturers and, as you deal with them a lot, maybe get the chance to build up a relationship with the repair centres? Or at least more than the average consumer who buys a camera every 7 years and lens every 3 or 4 years. My point here is whether consumers are being fobbed off (whereas you have the measuring capability, and the experience, to stand your ground). It’s not so bad with a clear failure but with a soft lens, say, not being able to measure it we would be very unsure of our ground in sending back repeatedly even if we weren’t happy – when the repair shop just sends it back and tell us it’s fine. Ah well, I have a 7 month old Nikon D5100 with a stuck mirror that I need to go and box up for return – here’s hoping that comes back properly fixed!

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Richard,

We have some influence with smaller shops for whom we can be a very large account. But with factory service we have less than no influence: they know they are the only ones who can do certain repairs (independent shops can’t).

Roger

Steinar Knai said:

Hello Roger, thanks for sharing more valuable info with us. One of the obvious conclusions, since very few prime lenses appear on that list, should be to buy good primes and look after them and your probability of having a problem will be substantially less than 8.5%, which are good odds. As a non pro, but very frequent user of the gear, I very rarely miss a photo because I don’t have a zoom and I tend to stick on a prime more and more often. I also believe that my IQ increases because of the use of primes, maybe because I tend to think about the photo in advance, which I rarely do when I use a zoom.

Jason said:

Very interesting indeed. I had a pretty bad experience with Canon’s Irvine service center. Sent a 50 1.4 in for focusing issues (it was front focusing by several feet at medium-far distances, but was fine close to MFD). It ended up making 4 trips and still was not fixed. I thought I was the only one with such a terrible experience but seems like it happens more often than any of us thought.

iJared said:

Based on my extermly limited experiance I would agree that prime lenses can be very reliable. I until recently used a Canon EOS 50mm F1.8 Mark I lens as one of my primary lenses. I only stopped using it as much because I bought a nice used F1.4 lens.

The canon Mark I lens is still popular used and can often fetch a higher price than the newer Mark II.

The Mark I was discontinued in 1990 and all those lenses are at least 20 years old. Not as old as the 40+ year old lenses mentioned, but much longer than I would expect from many newly purchased lenses. Of course I am not sure that many people expect their current system to be around in 20 years.

Hadi Khademi said:

To get a true picture of lens reliability; one must scale the repiar numbers with mileage (i.e. number of days in transit + number of days in the field). That way, you will have a better reliability picture; just me 2 cent.

Anton said:

Hi Roger, you have very interesting data, but I would like to correct your statistics.

A lot (if not most) of your lens failures caused by shipping. It means 1 thing:
The lens is not mechanically strong relatively to its size.
An ant can pick up 10 ants, while an elephant barely holds another elephant.
No wonder huge lenses top your list. And also this explains why better packing reduces failures.

IS system obviously damaged by throwing the package. And again, big lenses = big suspended group in IS = easier to rip it off.

What is more interesting for normal user – electronical problems, inherent mechanical problems (like AF motor or diaphragm failure) and problems due to wear and tear.

I can not suggest you how exactly you can separate those, but maybe you get an idea.

Jim said:

Hi Roger, You didn’t list stats for a pro telephoto like the Nikon AFS 300mm f2.8 VR. Do you have any estimates based on your experience of how long (years) the VR module and AF motor will last in such a lens under “normal” use?

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Jim, we’ve only had a few repaired so I hate to generalize from that, especially since we only keep them 2 years.

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