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
  • Benz Oberst

    That’s why you set a price that will allow you to toss them after the event and still at least break even.

  • sesquipedalian

    Wonder how much gear overall ends up being resold as “refurbished.” Kind of like buying a used car out of Texas in the coming weeks and months. Caveat emptor.

  • Brett A. Wheeler

    Maybe he meant 180 2.8. The 200 2.8 never existed http://www.photosynthesis.co.nz/nikon/serialno.html#70-xxPro

  • Brett A. Wheeler

    The idiot tally: Canon 3, Nikon 1, Panasonic 1.

  • Andrew

    After reading some of the responses, it sounds like I was one of the lucky ones. I was in Decatur, TN with my 400mm + 1.4extender. Of course I planned and practiced well in advance with a good filter. Then I used my custom settings on my camera for before, during, and after totality. I did not want to trust my timer on my remote so I manually took 7 bracketed pictures 7-10 min apart from beginning to end. I was also lucky to have some friends acting as my pit crew to start my secondary video camera (recording us and the sunset behind us) in addition to them swapping my filter on/off during totality. The hard work paid off as I captured every part of the eclipse without damaging my equipment. In Decatur, I too saw the NASA jets and even captured several cool shots of a satellite to the southwest edge of the moon/sun during totality. Blue skies the entire time.

  • Fred Enzo

    But the question remains, what did it cost?

  • Fred Enzo

    Wait – Nikon made a 200 2.8? When?

  • Suesheila

    I hope those people paid for the repair!!! They were responsible for that damage! Grrrrrrrr……..

  • David Peddicord
  • Joseph Palmeri

    Most lenses today are made of plastic only the upper professional lenses are still manufactured from salts and hand ground.

  • Joseph Palmeri

    Looks like Canon USA is going to have a lot of work repairing those long lenses. I can just picture the camera division going bonkers on the number of lenses that were damaged.

  • pistachoo

    “…used a drop in solar filter to protect the camera …the camera was protected… but the lens iris was not.”

    What’s a drop-in solar filter?

  • Sonny Edmonds

    Thanks for posting these.
    It’s a great lesson that can be referenced.
    Of course, it should be noted that these clients probably set the cruse control in a rented RV, then go back to fix a sandwich….
    With equally disastrous results.
    So glad I own two solar filters for this work.

  • KerryS

    Not to mention the idiots that put sunscreen in their eyes so that they could look at the eclipse! More than a few did that and ended up in the hospital.

  • tomsmarch

    Please understand that yes the reason some equipment was damaged was because there was a solar eclipse and people decided to photograph it. The equipment was not damaged because of the solar eclipses “heat”. The sun is not any hotter or brighter during an eclipse than it is on any other day. The equipment was damaged because people did not know how to photograph the sun safely.

  • Greg Dunn

    Yes, the trick seems to be capturing the diamond ring quickly, and of course with an unfiltered camera it will be a very short exposure. Mine were about 1/1250 sec. and I only left the filter off for about 20-30 seconds during the post-totality phase, giving me time for a handful of shots. The filter went back on as soon as the overexposure showed it was too bright. The corona shows up in the early ones just fine, and I verified no damage to any part of the camera system. Practicing with full sun in days before the eclipse gave me a good feel for what I’d have to do during the actual event, so it was something I’d practiced several times already.
    I was determined that I’d enjoy the eclipse without worrying about getting photos, but since I wasn’t fumbling and rushing to get ready, I was able to shoot calmly while still looking around and watching the spectacle for most of the totality. As a bonus, I captured some images which will enhance my memories of the event!

  • Pat Suri

    You can light a fire with chinese-cheap-shit-that-comes-with-candy kind of lenses. Not to mention high precision lenses…

  • Pat Suri

    This might be a stupid question, BUT: why didn’t you rent all gear including a Solar Filter along with the equipment? You can never trust on warning people. Just my 2.

  • If it did this to camera equipment, just imagine what it could do to your eyes.

  • BigAl

    I know how you feel. I took my then 9 year old son down to Falmouth in Cornwall for the 1999 total eclipse here in the UK. It clouded over about half an hour before it started, and cleared up about half an hour after. Almost the whole path of totality was quite close to the coast, so a high chance of cloud. From our beach location we could see a huge TV screen that had been erected the other side of the bay, so we were able to watch the BBC coverage live from an aircraft.

    We traveled down to Cornwall by motorbike, and it turned into an epic road trip for my son. We only decided to go two days before the eclipse, so it was really improvised. The trip took us three days, and the first night we just had a couple of hours sleep by the road side, and made it to Falmouth at about 06:00. A truly great trip though.

    I would really like to do another, with all the equipment to get some good photos.

  • Taz

    Insurance won’t cover it if you throw it out the window either. Same thing – you are being negligent.

  • Taz

    During sunrise/sunset you are viewing the sun through the thickest part of the atmosphere, which filters out a much larger portion of the light. That’s why you can look at a sunrise/sunset without going blind (also why the sun appears orange/pink). No danger to cameras either. There was an 80% annular eclipse visible from here a few years ago. Max occlusion happened only 30 minutes from sunset, so the sun literally set as a crescent. I got some really awesome shots of that without any filters and no damage.

  • Taz

    The cell phone camera’s aperture is so small that damage would take an extremely long time to occur.

  • Eric Duminil

    You can light a fire with a telephoto lens. I did it with an old Nikkor 200mm f/2.8. You just have to make sure the diaphragm is completely open and that nobody ever looks through the lens. Try to minimize the shadow area, and when the alignment is good enough, try to make the small yellow disk as bright and small as possible.

  • Ethan Radgowski

    tbh i wonder if they can sell it as is. i’d be interested in how the bokeh looks.

  • Ethan Radgowski

    sad to see that $12,000 canon lens got wrecked, and the $10,000 c300 mark ii. bummer guys! … side note, i hope it wasn’t the same customer for his/her sake.

  • John Sokol

    sooooo.. will there be a big gear sale soon ?

  • Alison Stern

    I promise to give you all credits. She just almost never gets shots of the plabest as they ate filling things.

  • Alison Stern

    Could you send me a copy of the photo with the NASA jets we know the NASA photographer on board them.

  • The only problem with that is that products like that are pretty much a one time rental, and would sit on our shelves for years after the eclipse. It’s much easier to remind customers to buy a solar filter, and trust that they will be responsible.

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