Technical Discussions

Lens Repair Data 3.5

Published November 1, 2009

What Is This?

It is our practice to publish our lens repair data every 6 months (data published in May of 2009 is shown in Lens Repair Data 3.0). We started it at the request of some customers who felt that the large number of lenses we deal with and the harsh conditions they are subjected to provided us with an opportunity to extract 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 hear 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.

The numbers reflect the repairs we’ve made on over 2,300 lenses currently in stock (and over 3,200 that have rotated through our stock). While not a scientific study, we think it’s 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 6.8%.” 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, it’s not scientific, but it has responses from thousands of users, so it is a large series.

This list is not a comment about how good a lens is, it’s 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’s a great lens, but it is a bit fragile. Remember that these are rental lenses: 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. What we have here is a “lens stress test”—our repair rates should be much higher than any individual would experience with their personal lenses. We may show a given lens has a 15% annual repair rate, but that doesn’t mean your copy is that likely to need repair—you won’t abuse it as much as ours get abused. On the other hand, all our lenses are rented at about the same frequency, so if lens A is repaired twice as often as lens B with us, chances are it’s also going to be more fragile in the real world.

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). The percentage we use is simple: number of lens repairs during the last year, divided by the average number of copies 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%. If the lens has been stocked less than a year, the rate is annualized (for example, if we’ve carried a lens for 6 months and 5% of those lenses needed repair during that time, we’d say it had a 10% annual repair rate). With newly released lenses the data is going to be less accurate than for lenses we’ve carried a full year. Sometimes a few repairs on early copies makes a lens seem worse than it really is, long-term. On the other hand, sometimes lenses hold up great for 3 or 6 months and then start to go belly up like lemmings off of a cliff.

A dropped or physically damaged lens does not count as a repair for this list. It’s 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 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,” even though we sent the lens to them straight out of the manufacturer’s shipping box. Certain manufacturers seem more likely to do this, but we’re not going to call them out for it. They may be entirely correct, but we don’t feel comfortable taking them at their word anymore.

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), or on new lenses we’ve carried less than 6 months (unless something is spectacularly bad, which has only happened a few times). 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 annual repair rate for all lenses during the last 6 months dropped back to 6%.
  • If the lens is on the list below, we’ve had more than 9 copies for more than 6 months, and it has a high repair rate.

There are two 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 we don’t feel any comment on reliability is appropriate (all Olympus, Zeiss, Leica, Schneider, Voigtlander, and Sony lenses fit in this category).

If we stock the lens, and it isn’t in the ‘low copy’ category mentioned above, and it’s 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 24. 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
Tamron 70-200 f2.8 41.5% tight mount (Canon), autofocus, manual focus, zoom mechanism
Canon 17-55 f2.8 EF-S IS 29% IS failure, AF electronics, ERR99
Sigma 120-300 f2.8 28% zoom mechanism, calibration, autofocus
Nikon 80-400 23% electronic issues, zoom ring, autofocus motor
Canon 50 f1.4 19% autofocus motor
Nikon 18-200 OS 15.5% OS, autofocus, zoom
Canon 100-400 IS 15% zoom tension ring, autofocus
Canon 50 f1.2 15% autofocus, calibration
Nikon 14-24 f2.8 15% zoom mechanism
Sigma 100-300 14% zoom mechanism
Nikon 24-70 f2.8 14% zoom mechanism
Canon 28-300L 12.5% zoom tension ring, autofocus
Canon 300 f4 IS 11% IS, autofocus electronics, barrel separation
Nikon 70-200 f2.8 VR 11% zoom mechanism, manual focus clutch
Sigma 50-500 10% zoom mechanism, autofocus
Canon 35 f1.4 10% calibration, focus mechanicals
Nikon 17-55 f2.8 Dx 10% calibration, zoom ring

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) continue to be our lowest repair rate lenses. During the last 6 months we had one IS failure on one supertelephoto lens.


  • 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 45 Canon, 36 Nikon, 17 Sigma, 6 Tamron, and 3 Tokina lenses eligible to make the list. The final makeup was 7 Canon, 6 Nikon, 3 Sigma, and 1 Tamron. Every brand seems to have some troubled and some trouble free lenses.
  • The Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 is joining the Sigma 120-400 and 150-500 (45% failure rate) in the Lensrentals Hall of Shame: lenses we no longer carry because their failure rate is so high we just can’t afford them. Almost half of them have failed, usually after 3 to 6 months in service.
  • Two lenses, the Sigma 120-300 f2.8 and the Tokina 12-24 f4 Pro, have had much lower failure rates during the last 6 months. Both of them also have been renting much less frequently, so their “rental per copy” rate is a bit lower than other lenses. Also, we changed our packing method with the Sigma 120-300, which had lowered its failure rate during the previous 6 month period, too.
  • The Canon 300 f/4 IS has dropped back down on this list compared to our report from 6 months ago. Our initial thoughts, that we had received several from a batch with electronic issues during the last reporting period, were probably correct.
  • The Canon 17-55 IS has always been a high repair rate lens, although it’s been more problematic during the last 6 months than previously. We don’t think anything is really different, since the types of repairs are the same as they’ve always been and the rate, while up a bit, isn’t hugely higher.
  • The Canon 50 f/1.4 joins the list this period. Auto-focus motor failure tended to hit hard at about one year’s use, which is why it hasn’t shown up until now—we only started stocking this lens about 18 months ago.
  • The Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 and Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 both made the list, and every single repair was the same: zoom ring stiffness to the point they are difficult to use. They both have a similar inner-outer barrel zoom mechanism, so we assume there’s a common issue with them. These are rather recently introduced lenses, so we’re watching to see if the rate gets higher as more copies age—right now our average copy is only 9 months old.

Finally, we get asked frequently about the different manufacturers’ repair capabilities. These are general comments based on our experience with several hundred repairs. YMMV and there are tons of variables involved, but for what it’s worth:

  1. Every manufacturer misses some repairs, but the rate of redo repairs is about 2% in our experience. And we have seen clearly that missed repairs are more likely when we don’t do a good job of describing exactly what’s wrong with the lens.
  2. Canon Factory service has the fastest turnaround time by far (7 days average vs 15 days for all others). Their average cost per repair is lower, too. There are a lot of variables involved in cost of repair and turnaround time, but all the other brands are fairly similar with only Canon as a low-cost, rapid-turnover outlier. We mention this largely because in 2010 our damage insurance will be slightly lower for Canon equipment than other brands. Hopefully Canon won’t read this and decide to match prices with the other brands.
  3. We had stopped using Sigma Factory service in 2008 because they were so slow. In mid 2009 we began to hear they had made efforts to improve their service department, so we gave them another try. We were vocal about their bad service, so we’d like to be vocal about praising their obvious improvement, too! Sigma has made major strides in improving their factory service, both in ease of use and in turnaround time.

Addendum: In answer to a good question someone emailed: we stock different numbers of copies of each lens so all lenses rent roughly the same amount, about 13-18 weeks per year (which also means they get shipped 26 to 36 times per year).

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
  • Chia

    By the way, could you share what model does the Tamron 70-200mm has the highest rate of repair? is it the new Tamron 70-200mm VC USD or the older 70-200mm without the VC USD?

    Thank you

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