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Just wondering after I dropped my lens and had it repaired is there any specific kind of damage that would ruin a lens to the point where you'd be better just buying another used one.

I'm specifically curious about mold, as I've heard stories of that destroying lens elements, but couldn't you just replace those elements?

I'm asking this question to help make decisions about cost effectiveness of preventive measures.

For exampe, if mold dmg can be easily repaired then I won't invest in a dehumidifier case for my lens.

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3  
It would help to know what degree of damage was repaired on your lens. Assuming no limitation on cost, probably any damage could be fixed. At some point, the cost of fixing a badly damaged lens is probably higher than simply buying a brand new one, though... –  jrista Jan 24 '12 at 1:59
    
"This here is my grandfather's old axe. The handle has been replaced three times and the axe-head two times..." Anything is repairable if you throw enough time and money at it but at some point it's just better to throw the stuff away and get a new one. That said, fungus/mold can be a killer that eats away at lens coatings, this is not realistically fixable without replacing lens elements outright. If you live somewhere like Florida with high temperature and high humidity, preventative measures should be taken. –  Staale S Jan 24 '12 at 17:05
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Ha ha - for UK readers, this reminds me of Trigger in Only Fools and Horses -- Trigger claims that he's had his road sweeper's broom for 20 years. But then he adds that the broom has had 17 new heads and 14 new handles. "How can it be the same bloody broom then?" asks Sid the café owner. Trigger produces a picture of him and his broom and asks: "what more proof do you need?" –  Mike Jan 25 '12 at 9:03

3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Since lens replacement parts exist and there are people who know how to disassemble and assemble lenses you can say that theoretically there is no damage that can't be fixed -

However in the real world there are kinds of damage that the manufacturers won't fix and even more kinds of damage where the cost of fixing would be more than the cost of replacing the lens.

Everything below this line is second hand information because I've never personally sent a lens to be fixed, I don't guaranty this information is correct and I will gladly edit or remove this answer if someone that has more experience or official information answers.

  • I've heard from multiple people who tried to get mold damage fixed and the companies just returned the lens as "can't fix", so I believe it's highly likely companies will not fix mold damage.

  • I've also heard of cases where lens companies won't replace broken inner elements, I don't know if this is a general thing or specific to some lens models.

  • And finally I've been told that the front element is always replaceable and that it's one of the cheapest things to fix in a lens - I've only heard this from one source (as part of a "why you shouldn't use a protective filter" speech) so I don't consider this information reliable.

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Thanx Nir, this was the type of answer I was looking for. –  Mark Hosang Jan 25 '12 at 16:11

They are precision assemblies, even though the components might be simple or cheap, replacing them requires a great deal of work comparable to making it in the first place. Anything affecting the lens elements (misalignment or damage) would require a factory rebuild and potentially huge expense. Anything less you might choose to live with.

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As jrista said, almost any lens can be fixed, but you have to compare the cost of repair against the value of the lens.

Nikon will often charge over $200 for repairs, but you can probably get a lens cleaned in most parts of the world for $50-100. You have to weigh that cost vs the cost of the lens. Repair or cleaning might cost most of the value of a kit lens, but be worthwhile for a $2000 professional lens.

Mold can be prevented by regular use of your equipment. UV light will kill the mold, so having your lens outdoors periodically should prevent it (but won't remove it once it's there). A small amount of mold won't generally ruin the IQ of a lens. Unless it's really bad it usually only causes loss of contrast or some flare, but most times it's not noticeable. A dry box needs to be weighed against the value of the equipment it's protecting, and it depends on the humidity of your location whether it's even necessary.

The other main preventative measure is having a filter of some sort on the lens. This can help protect the front element of the lens from scratches, or possibly protect the front element or outer rim/filter threads if the lens is dropped. Whether this actually helps depends on how you drop it I guess, but it's debatable whether it's worthwhile. The problem is a cheap filter can degrade the image quality (do you want to put a cheap $20 filter on a $1500 lens?, but an expensive filter may not be worth it (do you want to put an $80 filter on a $150 kit lens in hopes it might protect it?). Some debate about this topic can be seen here.

Other things that can go wrong: the most common would be autofocus mechanisms that stop working, aperture blades that get stuck, zooms that don't zoom smoothly. These can result from droppage, moisture, or old age.

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I've dropped a $1k lens on end on concrete, the only reason it still works is because the polarizer was sacrificed:). $150 for the CPL is better I guess. –  dpollitt Jan 24 '12 at 2:51
    
I actually had the same experience where the filter saved some of the lens, but wasn't enough to stop one of the internal elements from getting loss and cause the right hand side of my pics to be blurry. –  Mark Hosang Jan 24 '12 at 2:55
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I've also heard of filters cracking and the shards scratching the front element. But if the filter hadn't been there, then what? Possibly worse. On the whole a filter is going to give some protection if you drop it in the right way. So might a lens cap though :) –  MikeW Jan 24 '12 at 3:26
    
I had a lens cap, and a CPL, so maybe it would have been real bad without either! –  dpollitt Jan 24 '12 at 3:32

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