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
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)|
|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.