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


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.

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

Pete said:

Hope you and all rental companies put in a policy that if there is any evidence that the gear was used to shoot a "Color Run" upon return, that they will not only be responsible for purchasing the uncleaned lens/body/etc., but that they will be blacklisted across all rental companies and not allowed to ever rent equipment from any shop ever again. Seriously, why on EARTH would anyone not being actually paid by a media outlet want to put gear through that crap? No, the picture "coolness" doesn't justify it anything.

How is this not like running through tear gas?!??!?!?!?!


Adam said:

Wow this is just crazy. Personally, I treat rented gear BETTER than my own stuff. The reasons I rent some equipment are either the piece is way out of my price range or it is a specialty piece that I don't want to invest fully in. Either way; it's equipment I don't want to pay for, for myself let alone pay back the rental company.

John H. said:

I must be living in the dark ages. I hadn't even heard of Color Runs / Fun Runs until today. Good to know to stay away.

Andrew W said:

Can I ask were any of these lenses weather sealed products (e.g canon L lenses with weather sealing) and were they fitted with filters over the front element?

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Andrew, there's no such thing as weather sealed, but yes, several were 'weather resistant'.

Reggie said:

You'd need to shoot these events with an underwater housing.

Alan O. said:

I'm wondering the same thing as Reggie, if even an UW housing will keep this dust out, if it's that fine.

My interest is academic only; I have no desire to ever be anywhere near one of these events. I can buy new gear, but new lungs? Not a chance.
Thanks for the warnings in this article.

Gavin Greenwalt said:

Anyone tried one with an underwater enclosure? I would think if it could survive saltwater and depth it could probably survive dust but maybe not.

Cody Caissie said:

That's wild! I saw those ads on Craigslist looking for photographers for such a low amount. Now I am glad I didn't even try for it. I'm so sorry to the photographers who got involved and had this happen to them. Should they try to get damages out of the client?

Dan said:

An underwater enclosure would do the trick to keep the camera and lens free of color dust, but the hinges and seal on the UW housing would be a mess. Considering a good housing costs a few grand....

It's just better to stay away from those runs because of what the color dust will do to your lungs, and because The Color Run is a bunch of scumbag thieves. http://fstoppers.com/the-color-run-counter-sues-college-photographer-after-he-asks-for-compensation-for-image

Brian Lingle said:

The foundation used for the color powder during the Festival of Color in India is corn starch.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Brain, that's correct, but I don't want people to think that 'natural' cornstarch makes it harmless (it is harmless for most people, but not for everyone, especially with repeated exposures). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12762351

Brian said:

Just think what it is doing to peoples lungs!!!!!

Mitchell Dennis said:

I had ideas of shooting color runs myself. I thought it would be cool. I reconsidered, because I kept thinking about all that dust. I saw how it sticks to everything. I even read all the comments that my friends posted about it being hard to breathe because it got all into their lungs. Even those that wore makes our bananas. So I opted not to take photos at the color events, be it dust or paint.

Domanique said:

Thanks so much for this article! I was thinking if I should bring my camera and lenses to the color run or not, and now I will NOT be!! Thanks!

TT said:

Color runs are dumb anyway.

Trina said:

Thanks for the heads up on this... I saw some cool shots from the one that was just done here recently...but after this.. won't go anywhere near it.. and can you imagine if it gets into the lenses like this what about the runners lungs... Wow!

Earl_J said:

In reality, I would rent a lense only in the event I wanted to stay out of the fray and get shots from a distance... never going into the cloud or having the cloud blow in my direction.

It also appears as though the renter changed lenses while near the cloud...

It's a fine powder, I know. . . might creep in there without
changing lenses. . .


Maybe not a fully guaranteed UW housing...
perhaps one of those plastic 30-foot bags
for snorkeling and such might work...

oh well. . . some photographers have no
respect for other peoples' stuff. . .


Lori said:

why would anyone want to shoot colour runs anyway? it's a 100% copyright grab, they own all your shots, photographers are not paid, its volunteer.

Jenny said:

Well all I have is kit lenses so I'll definitely be marking color runs off my photography bucket list.

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.

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.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:


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.


Jim said:

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

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.

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?

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

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

Lynn Allan said:


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.

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:

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.

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!

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