Have you ever dropped your camera? Did it end in tears?
I’ve had a few accidents over the years, and was reminded of them recently when a student held out the shattered wreck of an SLR with a sad look on her face. And then over the last weekend I heard from friends overseas who’d been busy dropping cameras…
There are 3 major points to consider:
- Be careful. “Well, duuuh” I hear you say. It sounds obvious, but have (and use) a neck/wrist/hand-strap, and a lens hood.
- Have access to a backup camera. Not necessarily a duplicate of your main camera, but something you can take photos with.
- Consider insurance. And read the fine print. Some home contents policies provide surprisingly extensive levels of cover. Many specifically exclude gear you earn money with, and push you towards business insurance. But there’s probably a policy out there somewhere that will suit you.
Check the tripod/camera attachment!
Stirling Range, WA
(Western Australia, not WAshington!)
One cold morning at Bluff Knoll in the Stirling Range, WA I was up before dawn, getting ready to catch the sun as it hit the slopes of the Knoll. This was early in my week-long trip to the region. In near-darkness beside my car, I extended my tripod, set up my EOS 30D and 17-40mm/4 L lens, mounted the camera on the tripod, and closed up the car prior to heading off to a nearby vantage point I’d picked out. I was racing as I knew the sun was about to broach the horizon. The tripod I was using was quite tall, and I pushed the legs together to lean it against my shoulder while walking. The next thing I knew was the sickening sound of camera and lens hitting the bitumen beside the car! It turned out that I hadn’t properly attached the camera to the tripod in my hurry in the dark…
The lens hood was broken off, and the front of the lens was mashed in. It was obviously not going to photograph anything that morning. The camera body fared better. Once the camera had bounced lens-first, the RRS L-plate had obviously protected it from too much damage. But it didn’t turn on straight away, although it did start working later that day and passed inspection at a later service.
Wanting to put off the depressing situation in front of me, I turned to the scene unfolding in front of me. But first I put the broken camera on a seat of the car, and dug out the EOS 350D and 28-135mm IS lens from the bag. Not my favourite lens at the time, but serviceable. And the 350D at least had the same number of pixels as the 30D. Grabbed the backup camera and tripod, locked the car, and set to work photographing. The morning wasn’t a write-off, nor was the rest of the trip. The 17-40mm lens was repaired once I got home, and is still one of my favourite lenses.
I’d made a basic mistake that caused the accident, but I had a backup camera and lens on-hand, and the camera insurance avoided having to pay for a replacement lens. The accident happened almost 3000 km from home, but my policy covered accidental breakages anywhere (although when you read the fine print it specifically excluded North America – go figure).
Check the neck strap!
Ngorogoro Crater, Tanzania
While going through a border crossing into Tanzania from Kenya, we had to leave our bus and bags for a while. I took a camera and lens (another 30D body) with me, putting the neck-strap over my shoulder. Unfortunately I made another stupid mistake when putting my hand in my pocket to check my passport: I put my hand inside the loop of the strap, meaning when the strap slipped off my shoulder there was nothing to stop the camera dropping to the pavement from hip-height and resulting in the sound of something breaking and scattering across the road under a nearby car! Not what you want to happen at the beginning of a 2-week photo safari! But it did.
The ground had hit the edge of the body next to the battery door, causing the door to pop open and then break: the metal spring from inside the door was what bounced across the road. I quickly gathered up the parts and dealt with the local passport situation. The lens was fine (although the outside of the lens hood was scratched). The camera still worked, but only if I held the battery door in place (there’s a microswitch that turns the camera off when the door’s open). Once back on the bus I quickly rigged up a solution: the roll of black electrical tape from my camera bag fixed it. I just had to un-tape the door when changing the battery (which luckily was only once or twice a day with that camera). Despite the scary start to the trip, the camera performed admirably during the rest of the trip. Most of the time it had a 100-400mm lens mounted to it (not during the accident though) and the backup 350D camera got a lot of use as a second body with the 17-40mm lens attached.
When I returned home, a replacement battery door was only around $20 or so!
But insurance, camera repairers, etc weren’t going to be much use to me in the African outback. The important tools out there are: being careful (oops), having spare equipment (check) and having enough nouse to jury-rig a solution (check). Whew!
Most of us will have at least one accident with our gear. If you can, treat them as learning experiences (for example, I know someone who will now be more careful with neck straps on ferris wheels!). I do take care of my cameras, and accidents are few and far between.
Unfortunately the same can’t be said for my sunglasses (luckily not prescription)! They’ve fallen off my head when bending over the side of a boat to fix a mooring rope (and last seen sinking into the depths), been left on a car roof, sat on, etc. The last pair got badly scratched on a basalt ahu on Easter Island.