How to Quickly Ruin Your Camera and Lens

Published October 17, 2022

Typically, this blog stands on the idea of “Please protect your gear, and if it’s our gear you’re renting from us, please absolutely protect the gear”. However, mistakes happen, and things break. When you have an inventory as large and diverse as ours, that reality happens way more than we’d care to admit. So after seeing thousands of broken cameras and lenses over the years, I figured we could write a pretty good guide on how to break your gear.

This is something we’ve talked about in depth on our podcast, so check out these episodes if you want to hear about some of the horror stories directly from those who work closely with our repair department. But we see a number of the same types of damage to gear, so we can only assume those are the best ways of how to ruin your gear, so let’s cover them.

Water Damage

The first one is probably the most obvious, water damage destroys cameras and lenses. Though technically, water isn’t really the problem here – water is a poor conductor of electricity, and generally wouldn’t damage your camera or lens. To be clear, that’s when we’re talking about pure distilled water. Most water, however, has minerals, salts, and dirt in it – as do most electronics. So when you pour (non-distilled) water on electronics, the minerals, salts, dirt, and debris in that water will help short out the electricity, and effectively destroy electronics.

Salt buildup from a returned Sony a7SII which was submerged in the ocean

Saltwater, in particular, is much more conductive and is one of the leading causes for a lot of our gear being destroyed over time. While this does usually occur when a camera or lens is dropped in the ocean, the salty air at beaches can also cause plenty of damage over extended periods of time. This is why Roger once said he’d never buy used camera gear from a coastal location – the salt in the air will slowly creep its way into the seams and eventually cause damage to the electronics. But there is an even bigger culprit for ruining gear where you’ll often find large bodies of water – Sand.

Sand Damage

Next on the list of effective ways to destroy your photo gear, is sand. Sand can do damage to camera bodies, but destroys lenses with ease. To put it simply, no rubber gasket is perfect, and those little imperfect gaskets line just about every seal in your lenses. A quick drop in the sand and just about every lens will suddenly have a crunchy focus ring, no matter how ‘weather-proofed’ the lens claims to be.

Though not all sands are equal, and the problem generally comes with the finer grains of sand. The art experience known as Burning Man was just a few weeks ago, and despite our old pleas, we of course got some gear back that ventured out to its first and last burning man. Most notably, are a few Canon R5 Cs that were sent back to us from a Burning Man catastrophe. In the images below, it’s easy to see why these cameras are no longer functioning. All of this is important to note, as Canon claims the Canon R5 C has the same high-quality weather sealing as the Canon R5, something we’ve taken apart in the past and was impressed with. Despite how well the sealing may seem, sand always wins.

Color Runs

While easy to classify as sand, Color Runs in particular always leave gear destroyed because of the fine powder used at the runs. A Color Run is a style of a marathon that encourages spectators to throw colored powder at the participants of the race. The results are a great photo opportunity to capture bright colors coating the faces and bodies of runners, but almost always at the expense of the gear used.

Lens returned from a Color Run

While Color Runs have seemed to drop in popularity in recent years (or maybe people finally learned not to photograph them), we’ve had several cameras come back coated in pink and blue powders over the past decade. Suggestions have been made to cover your camera in plastic wrap before shooting one of these events, but nothing seems to stop this very fine powder from finding its way inside your camera and lenses. And once it’s in your camera or lens, it’s almost impossible to get out.

Dropping Your Camera

Finally, the last way to destroy your camera or lens in just a few seconds is the most common and obvious – gravity. Whereas sand, water, and Color Runs can be marked as intentional negligence, everyone is prone to dropping their camera once or twice. And from my personal experience, most cameras and lenses can take a fall or two before failing. I admittingly beat up some of my gear, and watched my camera and lens take a 3-4ft fall on more than one occasion. However, depending on the height and landing angle, falls can destroy your gear pretty quickly, and make for a costly repair.

There is no surefire preventative way to avoid dropping your gear, but there are a few things that can help. All of our cameras rented come with their straps attached to them. Sure, camera straps aren’t cool, but they work well at keeping your gear attached to your body. And if you’re against having a strap branded with Canon, Sony, or Nikon in big letters, Peak Design and BlackRapid both make incredibly sleek and easy-to-install straps that we recommend.

Certainly, these aren’t the only ways we’ve seen our gear damaged over the years, these are just the most common and frequent damages we see returned to us. If you’re interested in learning more about the more extreme examples of how some of our gear was returned, we have a few interesting articles from the archives to read below.

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Author: Zach Sutton

I’m Zach and I’m the editor and a frequent writer here at I’m also a commercial beauty photographer in Los Angeles, CA, and offer educational workshops on photography and lighting all over North America.
Posted in Equipment
  • Alex Greenfield

    I would love to see a full internal breakdown of the R5C and what is different from the R5.

    I would also recommend people invest in something like an Outex silicon underwater cover for their camera. I don’t consider my Canon R5 weather sealed despite Canon says its “weather sealed” and “dust and splash-proof”.

  • Kevin Cole

    For the motorcycle riders out there, saddlebags on most bikes are not a friendly environment for camera gear. The only bike that MIGHT be smooth enough is the Honda Goldwing. Otherwise, your gear will experience a slow death due to minute vibrations and bouncing as you roll down the road. I learned a long time ago when my wife and I were riding two-up a lot with her Nikon 8008s. The smoothest part of most bikes is the gas tank, making a tank-bag with ample soft padding under and around the camera(s) a must do. I rigged up my tank-bag with soft foam so there was a 1″ thick piece under the cameras and two layers of the same foam cut out in shapes that fit the contours of the cameras and lenses. Over the 7 or 8 years we used the bikes for vacations, those Nikons probably travelled at least 25K miles and we never had a problem with them. Then a few years ago, I had the thought of using a padded bag made for a spotting scope as it was long and narrow making it easy to get in and out of the small saddlebags on my most used bike. I lined it with a denser foam than the tank-bag making dividers for each camera and small spots for extra lenses. It only took a couple years of regular day rides of the 200 to 400 miles for our best lens to experience some type of failure requiring an experienced technician to fix. He confirmed a loose ribbon connector to be the culprit and said it was most likely due to the abuse it had in the saddlebags. I recently decided to rework the old tank-bag with soft foam again cut out for our Canon 80D and the most used lens, a 17-85 which is the one that had the failure and a kit 55-250 lens. Hoping to have the same success with that as we did with the Nikons.

  • Linda

    Wow. Niice

  • DwrCymru

    The only problem I seem to have now, due to age is dropping a lens when removing it from the camera. I have dropped two lenses, a Lumix 45-140mm from about 0ne meter onto a carpeted floor and a standard kit lens the Lumix 14-42mm with the 46mm filter thread onto a hard wooden floor, neither suffered any damage which amazed me as the 45-140mm is quite a complicated lens construction wise. I think mostly it’s all down to luck but also part of the process of owning expensive equipment. Life goes on, what was that saying, “No point Crying Over Spilt Milk”? Great post by the way.

  • Brat Pix

    You may add taking pictures at laser-illuminated events with a hybrid or bridge camera, which may distroy the sensor more or less instantly. I learnt this the hard way with a Sony RX10iii….

  • Károly Zieber

    And what happens with the damaged gear? Who will pay for repairs or for a new one, when the user/renter is the one to blame for the damage? Just curious:)

  • John Q Smith

    Olympus’ London address 40 years ago (from memory) 2-8 Honduras Street, London. Those OM2 shutters were a little sensitive to normal use……

  • Admittedly, they may have gotten the idea of tampering after reading one of our several teardowns on this blog

  • John Hermanson

    As a technician servicing Olympus OM (film cameras) for 40+ years, I couldn’t agree more. You should add “tampering” to the list. A user has something simple wrong with his camera. He buys a screwdriver and thinks “now I is a technician”. NOT. Usually there is much more damage cause by the tamperer.

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