Podcast Episode

The Lensrentals Podcast – BEST OF: How to Break a Lens

Each week Roger Cicala, founder of Lensrentals.com, hosts conversations about the art and science of capturing images. From photography to videography, film, history, and technology, the show covers a wide range of topics to educate and inspire creators of all kinds.

BEST OF: How to Break a Lens (Or How the Lensrentals Camera Repair Department Has Fixed So Many Lenses)

Roger is joined by our Repair Manager Aaron and Senior Photo Tech Joey to discuss broken lenses, the types of repairs they’ve encountered, what they think can be attempted at home, and how to prevent repairs from being needed in the first place! They dish on which repair center takes the longest to get the gear back from, what environments they can count on to break a lens and advise the best gear for shooting in the rain. In this talk, they reference enjoying working with PhotoTech which is an authorized service center for Canon, Sony, Nikon, FujiFilm, and Sigma.

If you’ve frequented this blog before, you probably realize that we do a lot of repairs. With over 300,000 pieces of gear in our inventory, it’s not uncommon to get the occasional broken return. As a result, we have a repair department headed by Roger and Aaron. With their expertise, along with Joey (who is among the team that inspects the gear for damage), we share our insight as to what is often broken on lenses, and what you can do to prevent damage to the gear. From scratches on the front element to broken Image Stabilization units, tune into to this podcast to get a better insight on what might break on your lens, and how to ensure the longevity of your gear.


00:45 – Meet the heads of Lensrentals repair department! We’ve got Founder Roger Cicala joined by Head of Repair, Aaron Closz, and Senior Photo Technician, Joey Miller.

01:00 – We’ve seen all kinds of lenses stop functioning properly, due to all kinds of reasons. From slight misalignment to jammed rings, scratched lenses, to aperture failures, mechanical breakdowns are by far the most common type of breakdown we see.

3:30 – Stabilization(IR or VR) failure can be a little harder to detect, we tell you how we check for it when we suspect that’s the issue. Often we can hear a buzzing where you can tell something in the lens is trying to work but can’t. Aaron points out this is one way to begin to distinguish how different manufacturers build their lenses and get them to achieve the lenses’ objectives.

06:15 – How to detect if a scratch on a lens is insignificant and what needs to be repaired. We even wrote a whole article about this topic you can read up on here. But if you want our cheat code, we’ll tell you how we determine the severity.

07:30 – How Aaron tests photo and cine lenses to check if a scratch is causing any actual issues.

10:00 – Everyone speaking today has individual feelings on using UV filters for protection of the lenses apart from the official Lensrentals policy on using them.

13:20 – What is the quickest way to destroy a lens? Taking it to Burning Man, the desert, or the beach. Sand, dust, and saltwater are absolutely not comparable with cameras or lenses.

17:20 – BREAK

17:55 – Let’s talk repairs! What can we do in-house and what do we send to the manufacturer?

19:00 – Canon’s repair center is “fast” as compared to Nikon, a week vs a month and it is consistently reliable. Nikon may not have parts available or choose to re-work parts instead of replacing them. Leica sends most things to can take 6 months because they tend to work in batches and try to rework the whole thing.

21:50 – Phototech is our favorite repair center, certified to work on both Nikon and Sony and we love their work ethic.

24:00 – How do we determine what will do just fine to be sent away to get repaired and what do we send in and still feed the need to check it really is working correctly now? Some lenses are just not designed to be serviced and aren’t made to be broken down into smaller sub-assemblies.

26:40 – Higher-end cine lenses on the other hand are designed to be repaired, and are built with this in mind.

27:55 – Even Roger can be surprised by what can be repaired quickly vs what can’t.

30:00 – Want to fix your lens at home? We tell you what can be tackled, and what our own Senior Photo Tech won’t attempt at home. And, don’t ever do a home repair on your gear that’s still under warranty, that means taking out screws too.

34:20 – What just isn’t worth the money? Is a ring focusing autofocus more expensive to repair or linear electromagnetic? Corrosive element damage often isn’t worth spending money on trying to repair.

37:20 – Be aware that depending on the brand, some service centers will take a look and let you know an estimate while others will charge for that initial inspection. You can call and ask what their process is though!

38:30 – Dust isn’t worth the repair unless you’re selling it. Really.

39:30 – Basic things to prevent needing repairs? The more padding in your camera bag the better, don’t bump your lens, and don’t forget to clean your caps so nothing transfers! Avoid sand and salt or if you’ll be around those elements forget fancy rain gear and just grab a gallon kitchen bag or trash bag and some gaff tape!

41:50 – Finally, get lens insurance.

Included in the original episode: Spotlight on Ryan Hill
(aired 11/21/2019)  Ryan is our Video Product Development Specialist, which is a mouthful but means he helps figure out what new products we want to carry, how to inspect, support, and accessorize it, and how we’ll market it. Ryan has had all the jobs. Really. But before working at Lensrentals he used to PA in North Carolina. His favorite job was working on Eastbound and Down and tells us why and how he got the gig which is quite a tale indeed. Ryan’s favorite new piece of gear is the Quasar Science QLED light kit which is super bright 4ft long LED’s that are easy to control with full RGB spectrum.

Gear mentioned:
Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L III
Sony FE 70-200mm GM f/2.8 OSS III

Resources for further reading:
Understanding the Differences in Production and Equipment Insurance
Front Element Scratches
Front Element Lens Protection Revisited
How to Clean Your Camera Lenses (And Check For Problems)
The Apocalypse of Lens Dust

The Lensrentals Podcast is a production of Lensrentals, founded by Roger Cicala. Our production staff includes Drew Cicala, Ryan Hill, Sarah McAlexander, SJ Smith, Julian Harper, John Tucker, and Zach Sutton. Other contributors include Roger Cicala, Joey Miller, Ally Aycock Patterson, Joshua Richardson, and Philip Robertson.

Thanks to Jacques Granger for our theme song.

Submit a topic idea, question, or comment, leave us a voicemail at 901-609-LENS, or send us an email at podcast@lensrentals.com.


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 Podcast Episode
  • Eamon Hickey

    Late to this podcast, but I wanted to second your comments (I think it was Aaron talking) about the trend to build camera products in such a way that they are designed to be repaired by doing simple sub-assembly swap-outs, typically with a flat rate fee associated with it. And then the service procedures are set up to work within that system—it’s an integrated approach.

    As you guys pointed out, one consequence is that often a repair will cost more than a product is worth. I experienced this recently with a lens that had an autofocus issue (but worked fine in manual focus). The authorized service center didn’t even want to see the lens; they simply asked for a general description of the problem (on a web form), then quoted me a flat rate, sight unseen. This could only be done in a product design/product service system that is set up for simple flat rate sub-assembly replacements. The flat rate they wanted was more than the lens is worth.

    I don’t know whether this is good or bad overall (it was bad for me in my particular case, but I can see pros and cons for both manufacturers and consumers), but it’s definitely a change. When I started in the photo industry 30 years ago, this was not the norm at all.

    Obviously, camera companies did not pioneer this approach; other sectors of the electronics industry were doing it earlier, and probably other industries I’m not aware of. But it’s a notable change.

  • John Dillworth

    Excellent, useful information. Sounds like buying primes without image stabilization may reduce lifetime repair costs……unless I do something stupid. Zooms are useful but troublesome beasts

  • Frank Kolwicz

    Please pay attention to the audio levels, often your voices drop way down, as is normal in common speach, but it can be a pain when listening to a sentence that slowly dissappears into inaudibility.

    Also, regarding the subject, I think you didn’t emphasize using the lens cap enough. I often have seen photographers walking around with the camera swinging around on the shoulder, just walking along, talking to someone, with a naked front element exposed, as if they had to be ready for that next instantaneous photo op that might jump out at them. When that lens hits something hard, especially with a small hood or none, it ain’t gonna be good. If you’re not actively making images, put the lens cap on and, even if you have a soft drop, you probably won’t damage the front element, no matter what else goes wrong. And, unlike a filter, it won’t break and jam the broken pieces up against the front element.

Follow on Feedly