Monday, October 17, 2016

Build Quality: Crash-testing 5 Lenses and Cameras!

Few things are more disappointing and frustrating than equipment failure, especially when your camera or lens stops working just when you need it the most (read: on the eve of a wedding, or when you've arrived in the African savanna for the safari of a lifetime). But guess what's even more frustrating? When you're dealing with an accident instead of a failure. Dropping your Nikon camera or your Nikkor lens and then seeing them malfunctioning is devastating, you blame yourself (and perhaps rightly so).

Equipment failure can be frustrating, but accidents make you feel even worse.

But sometimes, lenses and cameras survive to see the next day. Today's article  features a list of 5 lenses and cameras I've crashed in recent years, together with the aftermath. What worked, what didn't, and what kind of conclusions can we draw.

The first and second items in the list were involved in the same incident; the Nikon D3200 camera and the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 OS macro lens, that was attached to the Nikon at the time of the mishap. I was near the banks of a river, taking photos of insects. I was holding the camera with my hand, the strap was not around my neck or shoulder. As I tried to move a bit further away, I stepped on a very wet patch of grass and came tumbling down. OK, brace yourselves for what happened:

Instinctively, I stretched my arm. I saw - what a traumatic image - the Nikon literally smashing the ground still in my hand. The lens hood came off and flew a few feet away. My first thought was "there goes both camera and lens, they're shattered".

Guess what?
The lens hood of the Sigma had broken and had flown away but there was no other damage to lens or camera! I still own both the Nikon D3200 and the Sigma lens and use them without any issues. Amazing, I would say, and it's a testament to how much beating even entry-level cameras can suffer and still function. I talked about the incident online, and I discovered the lens hood of the Sigma is the weakest spot of the lens, with quite a few users having seen theirs breaking in various happenings. But hey, I'd much rather lose a $10 plastic hood than a $600+ lens.

That's the only damage from the whole thing

The third item on our list involves the Nikon Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.8 which is one of Nikon's most widely used lenses (and for good reason). I was taking photos in freezing cold, which can be a problem when taking photos, though it has some benefits as well, and I was about to remove the 50mm f/1.8 from the camera to attach a longer zoom. My fingers perilously close to getting frostbites, I could barely feel what I was doing. No wonder the lens slipped through my fingers and a terribly long second later kissed the cold hard concrete.

What worked/wasn't damaged:
- lenses OK, all elements still aligned properly
- autofocus worked consistently and reliably
- manual focus ring worked as expected

What was damaged:
- plastic casing cracked
- filter thread damaged (it could still take filters)
- a light squealing noise was introduced when autofocusing.

Eventually I sold the lens as damaged, as I was bothered by the noise. Considering this is a very simple, cheap lens, I think it's a small miracle that all-in-all it worked so well afterwards. Its basic function was unharmed, and the problems were mostly aesthetic and ergonomic (noise).

The fourth item on the list is an old, cheap, consumer tele lens which I have actually reviewed before, the Nikkor AF-D 80-200mm f/4.5-5.6. The accident happened while I was actually taking photos of the lens itself, being in the process of selling it forward after having reviewed it. I had placed the lens on my desk sitting on its mount. Then, after having taken a couple of shots, I placed it on its barrel in order to take some shots through its elements. All it took was a couple of moments of absentmindedness, adjusting my camera's settings, for the lens to gently roll sideways and fall from the desk to the floor. It was a drop of about 3ft/1m. I picked it up, examined it carefully, tested it on the camera scrutinizing the results at all focus distances and focal lengths.

The result:
NO damage whatsoever!

Say what you want, even cheap consumer teles can take a beating - or a drop

The fifth and final item on our list is another lens I have reviewed (and another lens I've damaged on the process - I'm accident-prone, what can I say). It's the Tokina AF 28-70mm f/2.8 AT-X Pro SV, a somewhat older glass but very, very competent. How about its survival aspects?

Usual story: I was swapping between the Tokina and a longer zoom, when voila! it slipped through my fingers and fell to the floor. Horrified, I examined it quickly and noticed a piece under the filter ring had broken (see picture below) but otherwise it was completely unscathed.

It looked ugly, but the problem was only aesthetic

In conclusion, when all is said and done, I think it's safe to say that not every fall or accident results in total loss. Some lenses are tougher than others - I think it's a sad coincidence (?) that the most serious/obvious issue was with the newer, AF-S 50mm f/1.8 lens than with older ones. Still, I'm happily surprised with how well even that lens functioned afterwards. Also notice that none of the lenses involved suffered a broken glass. Of course, it all depends on how a lens falls. If you drop one on its element, it will very probably crack. But - and this is the moral lesson of this article - an accident doesn't mean a certain loss, even for cheap consumer lenses.

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