Technical Discussions

Lens Repair Data 3.0

Published May 17, 2009

What is this?

It has become our practice to publish our lens repair data every 6 months. We started it at the request of some customers who felt the large number of lenses we deal with and the harsh conditions they are subjected to provided an opportunity to get some factual data about which lenses hold up the best and which are more fragile. Many of our customers are renting lenses to decide if they want to make a purchase of that item. They can read reviews, they can try it out by renting it, but we still get asked almost daily “I read online that some guy tried three copies before he had one that was sharp”, “I heard they break a lot”, etc. The usual forum post ends up being a series of “I had 3 of that brand, they were all great”, “I had one that sucked and another one that was good”. Not terribly useful unless you try reading several hundred posts.

We’re in the unique position of taking care of over 1,500 regularly used lenses (and having had over 2,300 rotate through our stock) and as far as I know we’re the only ones willing to comment on failure rates. While not a scientific study, we think its useful that we can tell you “We’ve had 171 copies of the Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS, used on average 20 weeks each, and the repair rate was 6.6%”. 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 Lens Defect Survey at LensPlay. Again, its not scientific but has responses from over 4,000 users so it is a large series.

A lot of people appreciate having the data available. A few brand-name fanboys got their feelings hurt and took our numbers very personally when their favorite lens showed up on our ‘frequent repair list’. Several of them thought we had an agenda – basically that we were encouraging people to rent more expensive lenses. In response to that I’d like to make clear that we do not care what you rent: our prices figure in the same profit margin per dollar invested if you rent a Nikon 500 VR or a Lensbaby for Canon. And reality is several of the ‘frequently repaired’ lenses are quite expensive. And this list is NOT a comment about how good a lens is, its simply about how often it breaks under harsh conditions. One of my favorite lenses, the Canon 17-55 f/2.8 IS, is high on the list. I still think it is a great lens, but it is a bit fragile.

What do the numbers mean?

It is an annualized repair rate for lenses that have failed (meaning stopped working with no obvious signs of damage). A dropped lens does not count as a repair for this list. Its possible, even probable that some lenses included in these numbers actually were damaged but there was no overt evidence that it was so. For full disclosure, we’ve stopped accepting the factory service center’s word that the failure was “secondary to shock damage” because we’ve had a number of lenses, sent back brand new out of the box for repair, come back with warranty work denied because of ‘shock damage’ even though we sent the lens in straight out of the manufacturer’s shipping box.

The percentage we use is simple: # of lens repairs during the last year divided by the average number of that lens stocked during the year. If we owned an average of 40 copies of Lens X and 4 of them needed repair during the last year, the repair rate is 10%. 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 is too small of a number). We only comment on new lenses (less than 6 months in stock) if something is spectacularly bad, which has only happened a few times: the Sigma 150-500 and Tamron 70-200 f/2.8, for example, both made the list after just a few months in stock because we saw a dramatic problem.

Now, for those of you who want to reach conclusions from the data, please note the following:

  • Our annual repair rate for all lenses for the last 6 months increased to 7%, we think because our inspection has improved.
  • If the lens is on the list, we’ve had more than 9 copies for more than 6 months and it has a high repair rate.
  • There are three reasons a lens is not on the list:
    • We don’t carry it.* Hence we have no comments on the Sigma 70-200 f/2.8, Canon 18-55 EF-S, and a number of other lenses because we don’t carry them.
    • We carry the lens but have fewer than 9 copies of it and therefore don’t feel any comment on reliability is appropriate (all Olympus, Zeiss, Voigtlander, and Sony lenses fit in this category, as well as specialty lenses like tilt-shifts).
    • If we stock the lens, it isn’t in the ‘low copy’ category mentioned above, and its not on this list, then its failure rate is NOT high in our experience.

One other note: Several people have asked why we don’t post the number of copies of each lens. The reason is pretty simple. When we started this business there was one other online rental house. Now there are 22. It took us quite a while and a lot of trial and error to determine the number of different copies of each lens we needed to stock to maintain maximum efficiency in our reservation system. We’re not willing to post that blueprint online for everyone else to follow – they can waste a summer season figuring it out like we did :-).

The Data

Lens Annualized Repair Rate Typical Problems
Sigma 120-300 f/2.8 41% Zoom mechanism, calibration, autofocus
Sigma 18-200 OS 37% OS, Autofocus, zoom, barrel separation
Nikon 18-200 OS 31% OS, Autofocus, zoom
Sigma 50-500 31% Zoom mechanism, autofocus
Canon 300 f/4 IS 25% IS, autofocus electronics, barrel separation
Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 27.5% tight mount (Canon), autofocus
Tokina 12-24 f/4 PRO 25% zoom mechanism, autofocus
Nikon 17-55 f/2.8 25% Calibration, zoom ring, motor burnout
Canon 50 f/1.4 22.5% AF motor
Canon 35 f/1.4 22% Calibration, focus mechanicals
Canon 17-55 f/2.8 EF-S IS 22% IS failure, AF electronics, ERR99
Canon 10-22 EF-S 17.5% barrel separation, autofocus
Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 VR 17% zoom mechanism, manual focus clutch
Nikon 17-35 f/2.8 17% calibration, electronics
Nikon 80-400 15% Electronic issues
Canon 85 f/1.2 13% Electronic issues
Sigma 30 f/1.4 12.3% calibration
Canon 24-70 f/2.8 11% Calibration, zoom mechanism
Canon 100-400 IS 11% Zoom tension ring, Err99, calibration
Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 10% zoom mechanism

Just because we get asked it a lot, I’ll add that the Supertelephoto primes (300 f/2.8, 400 f/2.8, 500 f/4, 600 f/4 from both Canon and Nikon) are our lowest repair rate lenses. Basically we’ve only had damage repairs for any of them.


  • The Sigma 120-400 and 150-500 are no longer on the list because we no longer carry them. Both had failure rates of about 45% while we had them. New batches may be better (ours were all bought early), we don’t know.
  • The failure rate for the Sigma 120-300 is still high, but much better than it used to be. We think this is because we’ve changed the way we pack this particular lens. We no longer see the very high failure rate after shipping that we once did.
  • The Canon 300 f/4 IS has leaped up this list. It was a lens we’ve never had trouble with in the past. It may be notable that we turned over a large number of copies (6) about the same time last winter and these seem to be the ones having trouble, despite being newer lenses. I have no certain knowledge, but wonder since the problems seem largely electronic, if there was a batch of bad circuit boards or connectors.
  • The Tokina 12-24 f/4 PRO also climbed up the list only recently. It may be significant that a number of our copies are now 18 months old, particularly since most of the failures seem to involve zoom mechanism mechanicals.
  • The Canon 35 f/1.4 is probably a bit of an outlier: when we started using a more sensitive tool (Lens Align Pro) for calibration checks we immediately found several copies that needed calibration which raised its repair rate significantly.
  • Two lenses (the Canon 50mm f/1.2 and the Sigma 100-300) have behaved so well they’ve dropped below the 10% repair rate cutoff.


Author: Roger Cicala

I’m Roger and I am the founder of Hailed as one of the optic nerds here, I enjoy shooting collimated light through 30X microscope objectives in my spare time. When I do take real pictures I like using something different: a Medium format, or Pentax K1, or a Sony RX1R.

Posted in Technical Discussions
  • Roger Cicala


    Yes, that refers to the Nikon 18-200 VR model.

  • Pierre


    Talk about a “Nikon 18-200 zoom OS”.

    We do not know this model in Europe. Can you clarify what this is? Nikon 18-200VR ?

    Thank you & good day.


Follow on Feedly