Equipment

Rental Camera Gear Destroyed by the Solar Eclipse of 2017

We recently had quite a spectacle in the United States, with a Solar Eclipse reaching totality throughout a large portion of the United States. Being that this was the first solar eclipse passing through the Continental US since 1979, excitement ran wild on capturing this natural event using the best camera gear available.

But with such excitement, came a treasure trove of warnings. Warnings that this event can easily damage your camera, your lens, and your eyes if you do not have the proper protection. With all of our rentals leading up to this event, we warned everyone to view the event with appropriate eyewear and to attach a solar filter to the end of their lenses to protect the lens elements and camera sensor.

 

But despite our warnings, we still expected gear to come back damaged and destroyed. And as evidence to our past posts of broken gear being disassembled and repaired, we figured you’d all want to see some of the gear that we got back and hear what went wrong. But please keep in mind, this post is for your entertainment, and not to be critical of our fantastic customer base. Things happen, and that’s why we have a repair department. And furthermore, we found this to be far more exciting than we were disappointed. With this being the first solar eclipse for Lensrentals, we didn’t know what to expect and were surprised with how little of our gear came back damaged. So without further ado, here are some of the pieces of equipment that we got back, destroyed by the Solar Eclipse of 2017.

Melted Sensors

The most common problem we’ve encountered with damage done by the eclipse was sensors being destroyed by the heat. We warned everyone in a blog post to buy a solar filter for your lens, and also sent out mass emails and fliers explaining what you need to adequately protect the equipment. But not everyone follows the rules, and as a result, we have quite a few destroyed sensors. To my personal surprise, this damage was far more visually apparent than I even expected, and the photos below really make it visible. 

Camera Damage Solar Eclipse

Burn damage through the shutter system of the camera.

Burning of the shutter system

Solar Eclipse Camera Damage

Under the shutter, you can see the additional damage on the sensor.

solar eclipse damaged camera system

Damage to the sensor is really apparent even through visual inspection.

 

Mirror Damage

The images above are likely created because people were shooting in Live View mode, allowing them to compose the image using the back of their screen, instead of risking damage to their eyes by looking through the viewfinder. However, those who didn’t use live view (and hopefully guess and checked instead of staring through the viewfinder), were more likely to face damage to their camera’s mirror. While this damage was far rarer, we did get one particular camera with a damaged mirror box caused by the sun.

Mirrorbox Photography damage from Eclipse

Damaged mirror on a Nikon D500 resulting from the eclipse.

 

Lens Iris Damage

Another common problem we’ve had sent back is the lens iris being destroyed from the heat and brightness of the solar eclipse. In short, the lens iris is the mechanic piece that changes the amount of light that enters the camera, or in simpler terms, the aperture adjustment. Apertures are usually made from 8-12 pieces of black plastic or metal and are susceptible to heat damage. In one particular case below, a customer used a drop in solar filter to protect the camera from being damaged by the eclipse. He was right, the camera was protected….but the lens iris was not protected, and was destroyed.

Camera Lens broken from eclipse

Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 with Iris Damage from the Eclipse.

Solar Eclipse Damaged Lens

From the outside, this 600mm looks fine. But quick inspection shows the aperture system is destroyed thanks to the eclipse.

Solar Eclipse Iris Damage

Another angle of the damaged iris of the Canon 600mm f/4L IS II USM

Solar Eclipse Damage to Camera

A partially disassembled image of the Canon 600mm from above.

ND System Damage

Filed under the unexpected, we also received a built in ND filter system damaged in one of our cinema camera systems. Most cinema cameras are equipped with a built in ND system that slides over the sensor, allowing them to adjust f-stop and shutter speeds to work better with their frame rate and shooting style. However, a common misconception is that an ND filter could properly protect the camera from the heat and light when shooting the solar eclipse. It doesn’t, and as a result, the damage is similar to that shown above with the sensors.

Damaged ND Filter from Eclipse

Canon C300 Mark II with a Damaged Built in ND Filter

 

Overall, we were really impressed with how few pieces of gear we got back damaged. And of the things returned, we were equally impressed with our customer-base, and their guilt and owning up to the damage. Unfortunately, these types of damage are considered neglect, as warnings were given out to customers before the solar eclipse. Our LensCap insurance plan, which can be added to rentals for a small nominal fee, does not protect from neglect but is an excellent tool for those who are worried about their rental and want to protect themselves from any accidental damage. This is just a few of the pieces of gear we’ve gotten back that have shown damage from the eclipse, and will hopefully serve as a warning to those who are already prepping for the next eclipse in 2024.

 

Author: Zach Sutton

I’m Zach and I’m the editor and a frequent writer here at Lensrentals.com. I’m also an editorial and portrait photographer in Los Angeles, CA, and offer educational workshops on photography and lighting all over North America.

Posted in Equipment
  • denim

    Original, uncorrected and uncropped: http://shubs.net/private/VenusTransit.jpg

  • denim

    Exposure was too low: ISO 200, 300mm (450mm effective) f/45, 1/1000s. Increasing the exposure to 1/80s or so worked better, but I could have opened up the aperture as well, to keep the shutter speed down. RG film is do-it-yourself solar filter material. It comes as a very flexible plastic sheet. I think I got it from http://thousandoaksoptical.com/ where they seem to be calling it silver-black polymer sheets these days. $22 for an 8.5×11″ sheet, though it’s available in other forms.

    The largest dark circle in the upper right is Venus. The rest are sun spots, I think.

  • Impulse_Vigil

    Right, but we take thousands of those every day with such a lens, often longer exposures of a few seconds or even a minute, and we aren’t panicking about the sun in the background melting our lens iris… So how long did they leave that 20mm out there?

  • Impulse_Vigil

    Probably not, since getting held at gunpoint is entirely out of your control, unlike wrangling children which should be a duty as a parent…

    I hope you’re seriously not trying to say getting mugged is analogous to the other examples discussed. There’s a reason there are insurance policies against theft and natural disasters but not against your 5 year old’s disobedience or your willful ignorance. 😉

  • Melissa Petersdorf-Bowen

    Huh! Oddly enough I used my smartphone with no filter, BEAUTIFUL Photos and no damage! That’s weird’ https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c677b700207147bc21b2729c597753f0c2094dd098fe670bb295c7938dcb14a2.jpg

  • Ben Nieves

    Sigh! I’ve shot four eclipses dating back to 1979 with no camera or eye damage. I guess it’s true what they say: common sense isn’t so common!

  • sadsongs

    Yes, what did it cost to fix?

  • sadsongs

    Really?

  • sadsongs

    What’s RG film? How did you get it so dim to begin with? Are the lighter dark circles sunspots?

  • fsurfer4

    I was near Gallatin doing reconnaissance and a local said there were 300 japanese scientists in the area.

  • fsurfer4

    Welcome to the club. I did the same thing.
    https://goo.gl/photos/ibsyd9TMUBPcMEU2A

  • Brutikus32

    It’s not a rental anymore, proud new owner!

  • Ren von Gar

    They could have avoided this kind of damage!

  • btsc

    If they were renting camera gear they were more than likely inexperienced. I waited too long to look for a solar filter and had to use a homemade one, which worked like a charm.

  • MRBILL2008

    User error or just “it’s a rental, who cares!”

  • Baldrz1

    If they refuse, contact your credit card company. When you pay in full for damaged goods, you’re entitled to keep them.

  • feelgood13

    What if someone pulled a pistol on you and takes your rented camera/lens and decides to shoot the sun on bulb mode and destroy the equipment? Would that be considered “neglect”?

  • Peter

    Landscape photo with the eclipsed sun in the background?

  • feelgood13

    What if you get held up by gun point and the guy takes your camera and takes pictures of the sun on bulb mode melts your rented camera and lens. Would that be considered “neglect”?

  • Peter

    Carewolf, it’s “civil liability insurance” in English, but you may find that a lot of people struggle to understand the concept. I first came across it through a Dutch friend.

  • Ralph Hightower

    I practiced daily, four days before the eclipse. The first day was a total failure! I gave up after trying to find the sun with the filter on the 300mm lens (full frame 35mm DSLR); outside was incredibly bright and the sun almost overhead. Heading back to the house, I thought of using a windbreaker to drape over the camera and myself. The windbreaker worked great! I was able to block out the light from the environment and I was able to sight the sun; I’m buying a focusing dark cloth for 4×5 view cameras for the next eclipse. I bought a Vello ShutterBoss II and set it for one minute intervals. I tried to make it work with the Auto Exposure Bracketing for the Canon 5D (5 shots: -3 to +1 for the partials and 7 shots: -2 to +2 for totality). The day of the big event, I figured out how to set up the ShutterBoss II to work with AEB. I may have gotten more photos than necessary, but I got the bracketing.
    For 2024, I’m buying a motorized mount. I used the “drift” method for 2017 with my pan-tilt head and occasionally, I clipped the sun at an edge.

  • Carewolf

    They cover everything. It is an insurance against crap your kids or pets do. It could be due to negligence or even malice. You can get them for yourself, but then the insurance do not cover malice or gross negligence.

    Not sure what they proper English term is though. Responsibility insurance is just a translation from the same term in Danish and German.

  • Shark

    idiots don´t go extinct…..

  • Joe T.

    That’s the thing I’ve noticed too. I’m glad I worried more about seeing it than getting a photo of it (though I did get what I considered fairly decent photos considering I was working with loose foil, a rubber band, a no-name telephoto lens and my iPhone!)

    I’m seriously considering taking up painting just to try to accurately convey what it looked like.

  • Khürt L. Williams

    Are you saying that responsibility insurance covers one for negligence?

    ?ne?l?j?ns/

    noun

    1. failure to take proper care in doing something.”some of these accidents are due to negligence”

    What would cost for lensrentals to have insurance against renters who are negligent??????

  • Khürt L. Williams

    I don’t think you understood what negligence means.

    ?ne?l?j?ns/

    noun

    1. failure to take proper care in doing something.”some of these accidents are due to negligence”?????

  • Carewolf

    Well a responsibility insurance does, but other insurance typically doesn’t. And you usually get responsibility insurance for your kids not for yourself.

  • Bowserb

    Never overestimate the intelligence of the general public. It’s how people walk into fountains or into traffic while texting. It’s also how some replicated the burned sensor experience with their own eyes–a mistake they’ll not be able to make again.

  • jeff2016

    Took heed of the advice not to shoot without a solar filter, so I went with the Lee. My question is, what about sunsets? I was shooting the Grand Canyon, as the sun was setting, but was concerned about damaging my sensor, any pearls of wisdom regarding sunsets, can I damage my sensor, especially with prolonged exposures?

  • Richard Sanderson

    That’s sad, but hopefully he spent at least part of totality simply staring at the eclipse. Photographs of totality are very striking, but I’ve never seen an image that completely captures the delicate, translucent beauty of the corona. Some high dynamic range images come close, but many of these go too far because their goal is to maximize detail, not replicate the visual experience. So, he can take some consolation in the fact that his two eyes did a better job than his camera would have. But of course, I love my images and appreciate their value too.

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