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How to Ruin Your (or Our) Gear in 5 Minutes (Without Water)

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If there hasn't been a Color Run 5k or 10k race near you, there probably will be soon. And with all that color, you certainly want to take some pictures, right? Not with your camera you don't (and not with ours either).

I'm never one to worry much about lens dust. I've written about why you shouldn't worry about some dust in your lens. But the color bombs they throw out at Color Runs are different. In the last month we've had over 20 lenses and several cameras nearly ruined by these things. For what it's worth, all of the renters tell us they really weren't near any of the major 'color bombs.'

Here's a few pictures from a brand new lens that returned after its first rental -- at a Color Run. These pictures are, of course, after the lens was cleaned externally. All of that dust is inside the front and rear elements.

Now a few dust specs rarely cause problems, but this kind of dust affects light transmission and contrast, as well as causing fascinating flare (in pretty colors). The color dust is very fine, tiny specs, made to stick on people as the run by (I'm still trying to figure out why someone thought this was a good idea).  Because of this, the lenses' weather sealing, front filters, etc. don't even slow this stuff down. It's throughout the entire lens stuck on every element, on the gears and helicoids, and in the mirror box of the camera too. And yes, that includes pro-level lenses on pro-level cameras, all of which are supposedly weather sealed. As an added bonus, it doesn't blow out like regular dust. It must be wiped off.

Here's a look at the inner rim after the front element was removed.

Here's the front of group 2, nice and deep inside the lens (excuse the lights, this is a quick post just using worklights).

And here's one of a dozen Q tips I used to clean out around the focusing gears and helicoids. Remember, this was a brand new lens only used for this one shoot.

The end result for this lens was complete disassembly and cleaning. This was a fairly lucky one - it's a lens that we can disassemble and clean without requiring factory readjustment. For a lot of lenses that's not an option.

A number of lenses, including Canon L's and Nikon Pro lenses had to go to the factory, and at least one has been given the "financially not feasable to repair" sticker. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether they cover it under warranty or not.

You know what I'd probably find more interesting than the photos of what the insides of lenses look like after this? What the inside of the runner's lungs look like. All my medical training leaves me curious about that kind of thing.

 

Addendum - here's a bonus picture. A Sigma 8-16mm with the barrels removed so you can see how pervasive the Fun Run dust was throughout the entire lens. The dust around the mount side of the lens is so thick that it's blocking the AF motor from working properly and it's so caked into the lubricant that the helicoids don't zoom normally. This will have to be completely disassembled and cleaned piece by piece.

 

Roger Cicala

Lensrentals.com

May 2013

 

BTW - Because I've already been asked: this won't be covered by the rental damage waiver going forward - it's considered negligent use of equipment just like when salt spray soaks the camera on the beach.

133 Responses to “How to Ruin Your (or Our) Gear in 5 Minutes (Without Water)”

Me said:

"...The powders are not toxic. Based on stuff one would use in cooking..."

None of the the stuff one would use in cooking is meant to be sniffed and inhaled. "Non-toxic" means they are safe to ingest (eat), not inhale (breathe).

Have a thought about how non-toxic ordinary flour is, then google "flour dust exposure".

Use common sense.

Octavian said:

I just shot one of these events with my own gear. I put filters in the front of the lenses (Canon 6D + 85mm F/1.8 and Canon 7D + 17-40mm F/4 L USM) and I wrapped the combos in plastic wrap, carefully so that it was tight around the filters. A whole lot of it! Of course I decided some the settings ahead of time: picked a focal length on the 17-40, etc. I went in the middle of the action and took a whole bunch of shots. The powders are not toxic. Based on stuff one would use in cooking. The only things that got messy were the neck straps... which were dirty to begin with, so now I washed them and they're cleaner than before the event.
It is a very nice event, totally worth trying!

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

HI Lynn,

We don't really see much trouble on Ocean cruises except the occasional camera dropped overboard. If we do, it tends to be sand, not salt spray causing problems. We don't ding renters for sand getting into the works, but we do a lot of disassemblies to clean sand out of focus and zoom rings.

Lynn Allan said:

Roger,

Good article ... and this reply is rather long after it appeared.

I thought I’d check with you on a semi-related issue that came up on DPReview, about an appropriate camera to take along on a week-long ocean cruise.
http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/54305077

One of my first reactions to the OP was “rent a nice camera for the week”, but then I got to wondering if that would be fair to the rental company.

I was wondering if anything like the above "color run issues" might apply, except for the scenario of renting a camera to take on an ocean cruise. Have you and your repair techs observed that cameras and/or lenses need special attention after an ocean cruise? I suppose you would tend to not know how the camera was used.

I suppose some would return with obvious salty residue on the front element. Or not?

I guess my question is whether I am too cautious about taking my camera to the beach. I wouldn’t take a “bare camera” without something like a gallon freezer zip-lock for a DSLR, or quart size for point-and-shoot.

Is the air heavy with salty humidity an issue? Or is that yet something else I'm uninformed about?

I have observed that when I attempt to take star trails in lower temperature in high humidity, the lens can mist over, or frost over if that chilly and a certain dew point. The camera body will be moist, clammy, and almost sweaty.

I have to think something like that is going on inside the camera also, maybe to a lessor extent. Residue from salty, humid air can be wiped off with a damp towel, but not the internal logic board, or the sensor.

If you have the time and interest to respond ... not really expected but appreciated ... perhaps you could also respond directly to the DPR post, por favor?

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

echoy97 - no, we don't work that way.

echoy97 said:

A lot of camera rental requires customer to use credit card to pay a safety deposit, enough to cover the cost of a brand new lens. Cant you just make your customer buy the ruined lens?

Bernd said:

That's gotta be excellent for your lung.
My only conclusion is that these particels are extremely small so they can creep into the lens.
I've been in the Sahara in Sand storms with my gear an never had such an infestition of dust.
Thanks for making us aware on this.

Jim said:

I've been hesitant to shoot these. This is telling me maybe I'll still stay away.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

David,

I accept your point of view, but this isn't "a bad renter". We've written off a dozen or so lenses and a couple of cameras from color runs not to mention spending hours and hours disassembling and cleaning other lenses that could be salvaged. Not a big issue, we write off and repair damaged goods every day. But it has always been our practice to let people know when we detect things that can harm equipment, or find equipment that has issues. But if you'd looked at this blog other than to click one link and get defensive, you'd already know that.

I'm glad you haven't had problems. But other people have. Another "sad part of the internet" is people who assume because they haven't had a problem, the problem doesn't exist. See D800 left focus points, D600 sensor dust, Movi electrical fires, or dozens of other examples.

I allowed your post, despite the fact that newly created, anonymous hotmail accounts have a tendency to be people who for whatever reason don't want others to know who they are, which often turns out to be people who are invested in some way in the product. But I do think it important to let people know there are two points of view here and numerous people have survived color runs with their equipment intact.

Roger

David said:

I believe that this is a bad blog. As with any rental, the rental was not taken care of, by any stretch of care. I have been to many color races and I can tell you that not camera has been ruined.

If you are upset that you rented something and it got ruined then I would contact the person that was in charge of the equipment. The problem was not where it was used but the lack of care while in the possession of the renter.

This is just another sad reminder of our society. Instead of telling the person at fault it was there responsibility, we lay fault at the person or in this case the event, as being liable. At the end of the day, it is the owners responsibility to rent or no rent the equipment.

Bert said:

I know a photographer who went to one of these. She wrapped her camera in plastic. She didn't have to do any unusual cleaning of lenses, etc, that I know of - but she did say she was really worried about her camera while she was there.

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