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Please, Don’t Take Our Photography and Video Gear to Burning Man

Each year around this time, we’re faced with what we call a ‘doomsday’ event within the office; where dozens of our camera, lenses and other gear arrive back from rental orders, destroyed by the environment. And while our customer base is amazing, and often accept their repairs and replacement costs to the destroyed gear, each year, the same thing happens. So this year, we decided to take a different approach, and plea – Please don’t bring our camera gear to Burning Man.

Burning Man is an annual event and art installation that takes place each year in the deserts of Nevada. With over 60,000 people in attendance each year, Burning Man has become one of the most popular events among creatives, looking to find inspiration in their work. It has also been a favorite place where people look to document the experience, and as a result, come home with destroyed cameras and lenses. 

Despite the warnings from articles scattered around the internet, as well as warnings from Burning Man themselves, people each year attempt to take camera equipment to Burning Man. Many will prep, covering their cameras with gaff tape, plastic bags, and filters, but there is no failsafe to the damage that can be done to cameras and lenses alike. Events like Burning Man are why we have a neglect clause within our rental agreement, though each year, we do have a few pieces of gear that have obviously arrived back from Burning Man.  We have a talented repair department, and these things happen, but we wanted to share with you why Burning Man, in particular, is so rough on equipment.

One would think that the biggest concern when going to Burning Man would be the sand from the desert in which it is held. While the sand is a menace and will jam up a zoom lens in no time, the biggest concern is actually the dust. One of the more interesting phenomena that happen during Burning Man are the dust storms. Thes dust storms occur erratically and with little warning, kicking up the fine dust buried within the sand and quickly causes damage to your electronics, your skin, and your lungs.

But dust storms aren’t the only potential damage your camera might endure; you also run into water damage – or more particularly, sweat damage. Last year, temperatures at Burning Man were over 100°F (38°C). This level of heat causes people to sweat, and when you’re sweating with a camera hanging around your neck all day, some of that sweat is bound to get into the internals of the camera. As we’ve talked about before – water isn’t good for electronics, but what is the real killer is the impurities within the water – and in particular, salt. Salt builds up on electronics, is a conductor of electricity, and will fry electronics in no time. A topic Roger discussed last year with his Sony a7sII Teardown.

Examples of Damage

While it’s easy to heed a warning, it’s much more effective when we put together a few examples. So here are some of the returns we’ve seen from Burning Man in previous years.

Canon 1DX Mark II

Canon 1DX Mark II Destroyed

I know what you’re thinking, the Canon 1DX Mark II is the camera choice for the Nat Geo photographers climbing to the summits of Everest, and the cameras that are snapping photos in front of photojournalists travel to war ravished cities. But while the Canon 1DX Mark II is built for abuse, it doesn’t mean it’s impenetrable to that abuse. This Canon 1DX Mark II was sent back to us after a Burning Man trip, and needed a full inspection and cleaning from Canon. The cost was a few hundred dollars, but despite claims of ‘weatherproof’, the dust still found its way into the camera system.

Nikon D810

You may recognize this Nikon D810 from a post Roger did a couple years ago, where he needed to take it apart for cleaning and inspection. Not only was the outside of the camera caked in dust and dirt, but the insides of it were as well. After a full teardown and cleaning the camera was able to pass all of the tests and make its way back into the rental program. But not without a couple hundred dollars being charged to the customer for the servicing.

Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Series

This Sigma 24mm Art Series came back to us a few days after Burning Man and had some of the dust to prove it. Repairs on the lens included a full replacement of the housing and lens grouping directly from Sigma, bringing the damage to $235.

Canon 5Ds

Canon 5DS Destroyed Burning Man Burning Man Camera Destroyed

This Canon 5Ds came back and required a full cleaning from our repair department. The process is long and tedious and resulted in over an hour of disassembling and cleaning of the insides and out.

 

If you do take a camera to Burning Man, please know and accept it will be damaged by the event. For every one of the “My friend Steve brought his camera and it was fine” stories, ten stories end in heartbreak.

Alternatives To Renting

While many blogs may follow up the damage with tips on how to better weather seal your camera, we’re a little more cynical. With an entire repair department working on thousands of pieces of gear, we’ve learned that weather-sealing is a bit of a marketing tool, and not really indicative of any real standardized meaning. And while plastic bags, waterproof kits, and gaff tape may help, it isn’t a failproof solution, so our best alternative for you is to just purchase what you need for Burning Man, and recognize the risk.

Lens Authority

This also gives us the proper segue to recommend our sister site, Lens Authority. Lens Authority is a used marketplace where all the gear is inspected, cleaned and then rated on an easy to understand scale. This is where our rental equipment usually ends up after a few months in the system. You’re able to get well maintained and inspected gear, at a fraction of their new cost. 

 

We recognize that sometimes mistakes happen, and try to make these posts be in good light, while also making you ill with our photos of damaged equipment. If you do damage the gear rented from us, that’s not a problem. Just send it back, and we’ll contact you when it is received, with a repair cost. Our repair department is highly skilled and always preferred over people trying to fix it themselves before sending back. Damaged gear happens, which is why we offer insurance solutions like LensCap. And while our insurance system is excellent, it doesn’t cover neglect like that shown above.

Do you have some gear you brought along with you to Burning Man? Share some photos and your stories in the comments below.

Author: Lensrentals

Articles written by the entire editorial and technical staff at LensRentals.com. These articles are for when there is more than one author for the entire post, and are written as a community effort.

Posted in Photo
  • grubernd

    the trick is the pressure. two parts press against each other with a sealing material between. the principle is used everywhere, from pipes to bottles and so on – where you tighten (screw) the two halves together.

    for stuff that goes underwater you can skip the tightening part, because just a few decimeters of water will create more pressure than you need to keep the seal tight. it’s like a pressure cooker inside out. =)

  • Athanasius Kirchner

    Well, it’s worked for me in sandy environments.
    The housings that I’ve used all work well even with normal atmospheric pressure around them, because that’s kind of the point – if a housing can’t keep the much larger sand and dust at bay in a low-pressure environment, then how in blazes will it stay watertight?

  • Athanasius Kirchner

    I mean no offense, but you could start by reflecting upon your own language before calling other people “a jerk”.
    Also, I can guarantee you that there’s some sand in the area as well. I’ve yet to see a dried-up body of water that features absolutely, positively no sand in thirty miles around (either from ancient beaches or rivers, the erosion of surrounding rock strata, or simply from being carried far away by the same powerful winds that ravage the area every so often).

  • F. Lee

    Buy a $125 D200 with a $150 35mm lens. If it gets damaged at the fest, throw it in the garbage when you get home and enjoy your pics. Or put the damaged camera on the mantle as a conversation starter about your time at Burning Man.

  • grubernd

    well, if it scratches easily, it is also pretty useless in that
    enviroment, because dust and air and sweat make a great sanding mixture.

    so, i made my comment too general. sorry, that shouldnt happen when Roger is just around the corner. yes there are other diving enclosures made from other materials. aluminium, plastic bag, etc.

    they still have the problem that they are mainly designed to work at
    high pressure and i would not trust them to keep out alkaline dust under regular atmospheric pressure. a ziplock bag is probably better for that.

  • James Bong

    Yes I did. Did you read for comprehension?

    “One would think that the biggest concern when going to Burning Man would be THE SAND FROM THE DESERT IN WHICH IT IS HELD. While the sand is a menace and will jam up a zoom lens in no time, the biggest concern is actually the dust.”

    This implies that the event is plagued with dust and sand, and is reinforced by later phrasing of “dust and sand”.

    But look, I’m just being pedantic about the local geology and the grammar in the article. You don’t have to be a jerk about it

  • If it’s a Pentax, you “clean” it by just putting it under a faucet and scrubbing it with a toothbrush. Done.

    😛

  • I bought the pink tripod and red camera specifically for their cuteness. It was very important to me. 😛

  • Patrick Chase

    Did you then rent those cameras and lenses out to paying customers who expect them to be in “near new” condition?

  • Athanasius Kirchner

    So, here comes the inevitable question: Have you guys ever had a Pentax come back from Burning Man? I’d love to see _that_

  • Athanasius Kirchner

    They look cute like that, all colorful and covered in crystals 😀

  • Athanasius Kirchner

    Er, what? My cheapo Chinese housing works wonders for dust and sand, and isn’t “made out of pretty brittle polycarbonat” (sic) – it’s a soft-as-butter plastic that can’t resist anything beyond a feather for scratches, but wouldn’t break from an impact – ever? I don’t know, a meteor strike could *melt* it, and a big mining truck would probably flatten it, but I sincerely doubt it’d ever break.

  • Athanasius Kirchner

    So? Did you read the article? Hint: It opens by talking about the difference between dust and sand.

  • Athanasius Kirchner

    How about carrying a waterproof camera, or an underwater housing? Those should work, right?

  • Athanasius Kirchner

    Well, a rogue wave, torrential rain, and 90% humidity didn’t kill my Sony RX10 IV. The rain and humidity also didn’t even tickle my A6500 and lenses, despite substantial condensation.
    On the other hand, a Fujifilm X-T20 that I had lost the touchscreen to just a little condensation, an Olympus E-M1 (a supposedly TOUGH camera) had its rear dial die on me just because, another E-M1 developed a faulty battery latch, and a Canon 6D had its hot shoe shorted by a spontaneous shower.
    How’s that for useless anecdotes?

  • Not that simple. All lenses, fixed or expanding, move air. As a place that cleans dust out of a couple of hundred lenses per month, let me just say that about half of those dusty lenses are primes.

  • hussey

    Just don’t use zoom lenses that expand. And keep all of the equipment in a sealed pelican case except when you’re actually using it!

  • hussey

    Yes, a waterproof housing would help. I’m not sure what these people are talking about.

  • James Bong

    I’ve been going to Burning Man since 1997 and have taken thousands of pictures of the event both with my own equipment and rented gear. I have NEVER come back from the event with gear that looked like that. The rental houses couldn’t tell if I shot in the desert or a wedding. These renters just didn’t give a crap about your gear. That’s it.

    Oh, and there’s no “sand” at Burning Man; just dust. A fine, corrosive, alkali dust. It’s held on a dry lake bed, not the Sahara.

  • DrJon

    Maybe an opportunity for some zip-lock bags full of disposable film cameras… 🙂

  • Perry

    looks like a normal day in every chinese city. 🙂

    i doubt you cameras had to endure the same as the examples here on lensrental.

  • chris lynch

    Yes, I took photos in dust storms. My cameras and lenses did just fine.

  • Perry

    you took them out of a bag during a duststorm and photographed?….. i doubt that.

    people don´t take care of equipment they rent. especially not at events like burning man.

  • Perry

    don´t take sony gear outside… i did not follow that rule and my A7R2 broke.

    a spritzer of saltwater killed my sony. something all my other DSLR cameras over the years would have survived easily.

  • asad137

    FYI — it’s “segue”, not “segway”.

  • grubernd

    a real diving enclosure will not help. they are designed for making the high pressure of the water to seal by pressing the halves of the enclosure together onto the o-ring. also they are made out of pretty brittle polycarbonat, drop it on ground and it breaks.

    my best guess for events like burning man, color runs, etc would be one of those tough beach cameras, but i would never rent it or have any hope of bringing it home in prime condition. get a few images, thanks.

  • DrJon

    Would taking a camera in a waterproof housing work (note, not going there, just curious)?

  • Gary

    How does Antelope Canyon do for damage? I’ve heard the blowing grit and dust down in there can be quite horrific.

  • chris lynch

    I took a Nikon D90, D700, and several lenses to Iraq with me for 4 months in 2009. Went through 3 or 4 dust storm.
    I guess they don’t make them like they used to?

  • It ain’t exactly Burning Man, but this is the worst I’ve ever done to cameras…
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/2e81d0b7e5c2da83b17da9cc26636146d8264730917c65f05f78f133d9ff0610.jpg

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