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

Published May 8, 2013

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). ┬áBecause 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.

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 Equipment
  • Jenny

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

  • Lori

    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.

  • 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. . .


  • Trina

    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!

  • TT

    Color runs are dumb anyway.

  • Domanique

    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!

  • Mitchell Dennis

    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.

  • Brian

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

  • Roger Cicala

    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).

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

  • Dan

    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.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • Alan O.

    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.

  • Reggie

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

  • Roger Cicala

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

  • Andrew W

    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?

  • John H.

    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.

  • Adam

    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.

  • Pete

    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?!??!?!?!?!

  • Balloon dog

    It amazes me that there are posters here who still claim, after seeing and reading this article, that their camera and lens made it without any precautions.

    The dust may not be inside the lens elements, but I am sure that if you disassembled you gear, you would find a fine, gunky, colorful mess at every spot that has lens lubricants or oils.

    I bet your cameras are pretty foul too, once the cover comes off.

    Plastic bags, taped to a UV filter lens is the least amount of protection I would use.

    Most likely I would use a (bagged) disposable camera or a (bagged) throw-away anslig with kodak ektar or provia film.

    Why risk thousands of dollars in equipment anyway?

  • Noted. For beach shoots and color run shoots I will rent from BorrowLenses , and I will use you guys for everything else I shoot.

  • Anthony

    Time to rent Nikonos’ again, they’d eat color runs for breakfast!

  • paul

    you should add this new disclaimer to your rental contract “if your use our gear in a ‘color run’ event you pay for cleaning cost”
    that is every disrespectful to you guy and all of us who will be renting it next.

  • ken

    Wow…didn’t realize salt spray was enough to void the insurance (picturing stereotypical bikini shoot in the surf ­čÖé

    I’m amazed that much dust got in. FWIW, I never had problems w/ Pentax gear in the slot canyons in AZ and there’s a lot of dust there…just not this man-made stuff…

  • W Sanders

    A lot of the synthetic colors used for Holi in India are toxic or carcinogenic. For this reason some festivals have banned synthetic colors and gone back to using traditional, natural spices. I would hope the US festivals have vetted their powders for toxicity.

  • Andrew

    ..Oh and Nikon NC filter’s on both lenses.

  • Andrew

    @Luke Mike

    I live at the coast and take A LOT of shots in windy conditions. When I get home, I lick the camera and if its salty I wipe it down, same with the lenses. The only problems I have had is that the rubbers on the lenses and body have ‘grown’ quicker than normal. Im assuming they are absorbing the salts. – Nikon D200, Nikon D700, Nikon 24-70mm 2.8 and nikon 70-200mm f2.8

  • Brett

    I think that is totally negligent of the renter, I have rented for years from LR – and I treat the lens I rent as if they were my own; always very careful about where and HOW I am using the lens. I never change lens outside, instead do so in a near clean-room environment and do it fast to reduce any chance of dust entering either the camera or lens itself. I usually do not get the extended coverage, but do so for certain lens i.e.(Canon 300mm f/2.8L ISII) – I just always want to be a ‘good’ renter of the products I can get from LR, because there are soooo many other lens I want to try ! Roger you guys are great ! I tell everyone that I in fact, do not own the $5,000 lens projecting from my Canon 60D – but am renting it, and peeps are always keen to know where from…

  • It’s good to have an article like this that explains the risks of covering a color run event. I strongly believe that the renters of the equipment that had these issues didn’t care about your gear and should have paid for the maintenance, because they did knowingly abuse your gear. They are saying that they weren’t close to the color bombs and it just isn’t true. The lens with all yellow came from a direct hit of bag of yellow or they camped out in the yellow color zone for the duration of the event and took several direct hits. If it was in or around the festival it would have had a blend of colors and not be just yellow.

    When you get ready to go into the festival area, you know that color is going to be everywhere, so by going in with rental gear is just plain abuse. Also, they do a countdown, so you would have had plenty of time to get out of the way.

    We cover these events all the time and haven’t had any problems at all with our gear. We also don’t go into the middle of the Festival areas where a majority of the color is being thrown. The better photos are from the outside of the festival anyways like a few have said in the comments. If someone were to want to get some nice stills inside the festival… I would recommend just using a GoPro on a mono-pod with a water proof case. Most photos are not usable after the first couple seconds of the color throw because it’s just a haze.

    The color runners are some of the most positive people. They are very respectful and appreciative of you trying to help them capture their moment. It’s a great event and photographers shouldn’t be afraid to cover it as long as they respect the gear.

    It’s completely reasonable for you to charge people that return gear in this shape. It’s not right and people should pay for this kind of abuse.

    Also, if you do want to cover this kind of event, you should try to get with the company organizing the photography. It takes a lot of photographers to cover 15-30k participants in an organized manner. Your photos will get the most exposure, you’ll get full access to the venue, make some money, and have a blast doing it.


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