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
  • It was a retweet of theirs from Aug. 24: https://twitter.com/PostGraphics/status/900850232489062401
    Hope that works. Yeah, it’s plausible it was the NASA plane, but with all the other aircraft following totality, as this video shows, it’s more than likely it was another.

  • Tom Cass

    You can light a fire with a cheap magnifying glass. I know because I’ve done it.

  • Marcel LaB

    Not seeing a video on FlightRadar2’s twitter history of hundreds of planes following totality, I do see screen grabs about of 10 flight paths and this is the only one in that area and I don’t see much sweepback in the photo, I suppose it could be an old citation, but it seems plausible to me this is the NASA plane.

  • Devil’s Advocate

    The lens has a slot near the mount for a slide in filter – means smaller, lighter, cheaper filters can be used. The ‘drop in solar filter’ will have been a solar filter designed to fit in the slot.

  • Iron Aged

    This sort of heat only builds up if the camera is totally stationary and left in position unmoved so the suns rays can concentrate in one spot on the sensor or mirror or aperture. If you’re handholding, shooting fast, (as in shutter fast not aperture) and not in a desert type climate then the sun likely won’t cause any damage which is why so few people had issues. I shot it without a filter, but I didn’t keep my lens in one spot for more than a second or two, shooting at 4000th of a second had no issues..

  • bmat

    Could you name the (ir)responsible dumb @$$@$ who are responsible for these damages? We would like to know who not to loan, or rent, equipment to on the future! On the other hand … If whoever brought that Canon 600 back in, is the least little bit “crafty,” he can turn it into a nice lamp base and conversation piece.

  • Cranky Observer

    What is the material of construction of the diaphragm blades?

  • Daniel Gump

    I had everything on my camera dialed for the 1/4000s quick exposures I was taking before totality, so I was scrambling during the 2min or so to adjust everything and ended up with a black dot and a large white blob. Well, there’s always 2024!

    I did get some timelapse footage and some pre/post-totality light rippling on a white cloth, at least.

  • TurtleCat

    “Most”? Not at all on smartphones or any of the major camera companies.

  • TurtleCat

    Amazing what people will do sometimes. I sure would hate to be on the receiving end of that bill for damages. I wonder if people consider it like a rental car: drive it hard and $%!@ the consequences… until the bill shows up.

  • Eric Duminil

    Sorry about that, I meant a 80-200mm f/2.8D used at 200mm.

  • KeithB

    I had the issue of on and off cloud cover, so even though I was nowhere near totality (Albuquerque NM) I had to keep removing and replacing the filter. I guess I should inspect my camera now. 8^)

  • That wasn’t what I was told. What your person told me was that it did not cover accessories and that was considered an accessory.

  • John Talbert

    I have been saying this too. Thought I wrote it. So true!

  • Christine Guinn

    I think you nailed it. “unless they are very inexperienced or simply not thinking”

    This was the first eclipse I photographed, and I even used this as an excuse to finally purchase a DSLR, (only a Canon Rebel T6, but still…it’s a DLSR), and I got great results. I researched quite a bit before trying this, and knew about taking off the filter just before totality, to capture the Diamond Ring. My camera got hot, (it WAS sitting in the sun for several hours, with the Live View active), but I didn’t break anything, because I took the time to research what I was doing.

  • Drew Cicala

    E.J. – The LenCap plans have a 10% deductible, which is based on the retail price of the product you rented (the lens itself). A damaged hood would be will under the deductible amount.

  • I couldn’t tell you exactly, that’s what accounting does. But the part was under $200, plus about 3 hours of repair time.

  • donpedro

    I agree, that is strange. I myself shot with wide during the eclipse (as well as several practice runs in the month before the event), and never had an issue. I wonder if maybe they had the camera on a tracking mount, so the sun always hit the same spot on the aperture?

  • Impulse_Vigil

    Right OK, that would be my guess as to how it happened and I likely would’ve done something similar if I was shooting totality (my 8-16 + a 100-300, on M4/3)…

    My point wasn’t that it was strange someone was using a wide at all (although it is curious they rented that one, not exactly expensive to own), but as to how it happened exactly…

    I’ve been out with a wide on a tripod for an hour or two and never managed to damage one, granted they weren’t totally static but still, hadn’t heard about people doing time lapses having to worry about this for instance.

    So did the 20mm get damaged over the course of an hour? Was it left out much longer? That’s mostly what I was curious about… I guess the location and temperature there would be a factor.

  • I remain concerned about camera safety just before and after totality, especially a mirrorless camera, where the sensor is always exposed. In your experiment, what size lens did you use? Or, more important, at what f-stop (as this determines the image power density)?

  • donpedro

    Not strange at all if you want to capture the landscape as the eclipse is happening. I shot the eclipse with two cameras, myself; one was shooting at 300mm to show a closeup of the eclipse, and the other had an 8mm fisheye to show the overall scene.

  • Ethan T

    Same here! At first I was getting extreme exposure times, but I stopped and followed my golden rule: look at the eclipse with my eyeballs instead of fiddling with the camera the whole time. About 30 seconds in (of our 2-minute window) I remembered that I had left the filter on, so I popped it off and started shooting video.

  • Just how irresponsible can some people can be? Seriously. It must have been a significant loss for Lens Rentals. Next time, charge a damage fee for anyone who does that, and people will eventually take more care over camera equipment.

    This is what happens when someone thinks they know how to photograph everything. LOL.

  • “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. ”
    That’s not my experience with this coverage. An accidental crack that occurred on the lens hood of a Nikon 70-200E lens that I rented in January was not covered by this insurance. There was no negligence involved, it was a simple accident when someone ran into me cracking the hood. My conclusion – this insurance is primarily a profit center.

  • First, we have no idea what equipment was being used for the eclipse and what wasn’t. The eclipse made a blip on overall business, but the vast majority of our stuff was out there doing what it usually does so they didn’t need filters. Most of the people who were shooting the eclipse had done their research and already had filters. So we’d buy thousands of filters but only the small minority of people who were shooting the eclipse would need them, and well, we figured chances were high that group wouldn’t use them even if we included them.

  • Not necessarily the NASA jets. FlightRadar24 posted a video on Twitter of the flight paths of literally hundreds of planes that followed totality.

  • Best advice I got was to not worry about the photos. I just took a few snapshots and tried to enjoy they show with my family and it was magical. My photos captured my son’s awe, and so are meaningful to me, if nobody else. That’s all that counts. After a couple more, then I’ll worry about trying to capture the eclipse. Next up, Chile 2019.

  • Thomas Stewart Helms

    Sounds like you had a good setup. For 2024 you may also want to look into a software called Solar Eclipse Maestro it’s free but for Mac only. It allows you to write a script for the entire eclipse, you can even have it control multiple cameras simultaneously. I used it during this eclipse and doing so allowed me to still enjoy the eclipse. Additionally, it gives you the option of voice prompts to remind you to take the filters off etc.

  • Chris Adams

    If you want “insurance” to cover the cost of replacing something no matter how careless you are with it, there’s always the option called “purchasing the damn thing yourself.”

  • Chris Adams

    That looks amazing. Well done.

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