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Can I send in for repair a lens that has a shattered front element?

UPDATE: The front element was not shattered, it was the UV filter. Factory diagnosis: Lens assembly had been impacted; cleaned and checked. Helpful notes by Crowley, David Richerby (x2), Michael Clark (x2), and mattdm (on element price vs UV filter).

Canon cleaned and checked my lens back to like new quality for $179 labor, no parts, not including shipping.

Jim Garrison answered my question, but Crazy Dino has the best info all around for a lens element shatter.

Original Question:

I recently opened my camera bag to find a shattered front element on a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM lens. There are a lot of micro glass shards on the second element. Does anyone have experience with this sort of thing? Some of the following are questions I have:

  • Can I get it repaired?

  • What will the cost be roughly?

  • Will the lens ever work the same and have a good image quality?

  • Should I ship it as is, or attempt cleaning it with air?

  • Where is the best place to cry a little?

Thanks, any good info on this would be appreciated. I will never rest a lens on another lens, I nearly lost a 24-70mm L that shattered a UV filter also. Good reason to have a UV always, never thought it could happen to me.

Update: Looking at it more it looks like maybe just the front ring came undone and the UV filter broke? I can't remember what it looked like exactly before.

I threw away the glass shards (polished sand) in the Nevada desert. Lens after UV shatter, front element is intact as comment by Jim Garrison suggest

UPDATE: Primary reason for thinking more than just the UV was broken, UV filter split into two rings, depositing the locking collar into the lens barrel. enter image description here

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    looks like the lens is ok, probably just the UV filter/protection that got broken. what happens if you take picture with lens ? does it work (zoom, focus and pictures sharp?) – Max Nov 24 '16 at 19:25
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    Am I right in thinking you're not sure if you had a UV filter on? Check the edge at the top of the lens, most (if not all filters) will be marked on the edge what it is. – Crazy Dino Nov 24 '16 at 23:24
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    Get the lens cleaned / serviced. Probably no part was damaged yet, but dust and filter debris can get stuck in the mechanisms and motors. – Crowley Nov 25 '16 at 8:30
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    I feel like all of the answers here about "actually, the lens isn't broken..." are very helpful to this particular actual situation, but not so helpful to anyone else who might come along and expect to find help based on the actual text and title of the question. – mattdm Nov 25 '16 at 20:45
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    @cliffclof The front element of this lens does indeed retract: mouse over the fourth image of Bryan Carnathan's review to see the minimum and maximum retraction. This mechanism is pretty common with Canon's wide-angle L zooms. – David Richerby Nov 29 '16 at 10:12
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I have the same lens.

Your front element is not broken

From your photo it looks like only a protective filter (UV?) broke. Notice the letters saying "16-35mm". They are printed on the outside of the lens, not behind the front element. It appears the filter mount ring is still attached, making the front of the lens look a little deeper than normal.

All that happened is some pressure got applied to the filter and it shattered, probably protecting the lens in the process. The front element is quite thick in comparison to a filter. If it had shattered there would be large chunks of glass, not a bunch of "micro-shards".

Your lens looks completely intact to me. Put it back on the camera and take some pictures, you'll see it's working fine.

Here's a picture of my lens for comparison:

enter image description here

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    Is there a rave going on inside your lens? That made a really cool effect. – Grant Nov 25 '16 at 3:08
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    That's an LED magnifier desk light I used for illumination :-) Does look kinda cool. – Jim Garrison Nov 25 '16 at 3:21
  • My lens looks deep because it sinks into the barrel, and the UV surround is still on. – cliffclof Nov 25 '16 at 5:38
  • The front element also moves in and out with changes in focus distance. It's always a good practice to store and transport lenses with such elements fully retracted as they're less susceptible to several types of damage when retracted that when extended. – Michael C Nov 26 '16 at 1:11
  • Jim, can you confirm the black region around the lens doesn't move in or out of the lens when focusing or zooming? Mine is currently moving in and out up to ~20 mm – cliffclof Nov 29 '16 at 6:36
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I'm answering the question based on if it wasn't the UV filter you broke, in case anyone stumbles here in the future.

Can I get it repaired?

This honestly depends on the age of the lens. For example the Canon 16-35 f2.8L (mark I) was discontinued in about 2007. Replacement parts may not be easy to come by, and due to front element diameter, definitly would not be compatible with the mark II. The mark III came out in 2016, however the Mark II is still readily available (as of Nov 2016) so spares shouldn't be too hard to come by (although Mk II and Mk III parts are most likely not compatible either). However it might be worth noting that the due to availibility of parts and cost to repair the lens, these could be more than the lens is worth.

What will the cost be roughly?

That depends on where you go, parts, labour, country of origin, tax. However you can usually get a quote before any work is carried out. You will most likely have to pay for a courier to transport the lens to and from its destination.

Will the lens ever work the same and have a good image quality?

Yes. Usually they're completely factory restored where applicable, including a service, it may come back better then it was before! However all lens are different, it might have a different soft point. I once had a lens come back to me and they'd broken the IS!

Should I ship it as is, or attempt cleaning it with air?

I wouldn't want to do anything which may cause any damage to the element beneath. However, those shards would move in transit causing more damage. Try using a strong suction or vacuum rather than a blower? Hopefully someone can provide better information on this.

Where should I go?

Ok. So I added this question myself. Naughty me. Have a search on the internet for your lens manufacturer (in this case Canon) authorised repair and service centres. Always go to an authorised centre. Why? because they'll know better than anyone what to do, they should have the parts, and hopefully they'll even provide some sort of warranty.

Where is the best place to cry a little?

Personally I like wherever I can curl into the fetal position.

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    I like the added, where should I go. You are verreh verreh sneaky. That is great for someone reading this later, I always send my stuff back to canon and assume max 1 month down. Usually less. – cliffclof Nov 25 '16 at 5:44
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    +1 but I think the advice to use vacuum is bad. Vacuum cleaners build up a lot of static, so you should never use them to clean electronic equipment. Also, it's very difficult to hold a vacuum nozzle close to a surface without getting the nozzle sucked onto that surface. When the surface in question is a camera lens element, this is going to do even more damage. – David Richerby Nov 27 '16 at 14:29
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    @DavidRicherby any ideas on alternatives? Personally I think a blower or a brush is riskier as you could move the shards across the surface. – Crazy Dino Nov 27 '16 at 14:37
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    @DavidRicherby The risk of a blower is surely you could blow glass shards into a now exposed mechanism. I think the best course of action is ask the place you're sending it to to for their advice before sending. – Crazy Dino Nov 29 '16 at 9:41
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    @DavidRicherby The moving parts of an electric motor or agitator are what creates static with a vacuum. If the vacuum is applied using a rubber hose to isolate the business end from the motor there should be no concerns with static. Much more sensitive items than a camera lens are cleaned with vacuum in clean rooms and other high tech facilities all of the time. – Michael C Nov 29 '16 at 11:33
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From what I've seen online, front element replacement for Canon L lenses typically runs around $200. A good UV filter in that diameter is $60 (or more); to me, that's not a great price for insurance given the image quality compromise, except if you're in a particularly unsafe environment (and the desert might count).

  • A DIY option could be buy a broken lens sold as is, making sure the front element is nor shattered...then with some tools and dowloadable instruction replacing the front element...and you are left with the rest of the as is lens if later other repairs are needed. can be time consuming as modern lenses are full of small parts and electronics, but doing it on one lens will give you transferable experience if you need to repair another lens...and the front element is the easiest part to get to. – Reed Nov 25 '16 at 19:57
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It appears your filter is what shattered, not the front element of the lens. While some might argue that the filter "saved" your lens I see it a bit differently. Due to the presence of the filter on the front of the lens you now have a lens full of sand which will need to be disassembled and cleaned.

Just because a thin flat filter sitting directly under the lens cap shattered is no proof that the front element would have suffered the same fate had the filter not been present. The front elements of lenses are much thicker and shaped in a way that gives them more resistance to damage (such as being pounded upon with a hammer!) than a filter can withstand. I've had the front of my lenses take direct hits that would have very likely shattered a filter and they weren't even scratched.

In the case of your EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II the front element is also rather retracted into the front of the barrel when focused at infinity. It's always a good practice to store and transport lenses with such elements fully retracted as they're less susceptible to several types of damage when retracted that when extended.

I do have one lens that has a very small chip in the front element that is visible to the naked eye. It's been there for several years now and has made absolutely zero difference in the performance of the lens. It takes a LOT of damage to a front element to affect optical quality!

Then there is this to consider before attaching the wrong filter to the wrong lens.

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    I agree that the shattering filter may have damaged the lens. Having said that, the question does say that the asker was in the Nevada desert when the incident occurred, so the filter may have been useful to keep the (natural) sand out of the lens, up until the point where it decided to deposit its own (man-made) sand there. – David Richerby Nov 25 '16 at 11:09
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    True. It did read to me (and I may well have gotten the wrong impression) that the damage was discovered when the bag was first opened upon arrival. I do place protective filters on the lens in certain shooting environments, but I don't transport lenses with them attached. It's easy enough to spin it on just before exiting the vehicle and attaching the hood. It sounds like the lenses were also stored in the bag in a way that allowed one to put a load on the other, which is not good practice either. – Michael C Nov 25 '16 at 11:30
  • I was just reading up on this lens after noticing some confusion between the Mk.I and Mk.II at the top of the page. It might be worth noting that, because of the moving front element, the lens isn't fully-weather sealed without a front filter. – David Richerby Nov 29 '16 at 10:15
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    The 17-40, which I've owned for several years is made the same way in that respect and I've never had issues with dust or moisture under normal conditions of light rain. If I'm in heavy dust or salt water spray or some other similar environment then I'll put a protective filter on while shooting. But I don't transport any of my lenses with a filter on them. – Michael C Nov 29 '16 at 11:13
  • I've had the same experience with my 17-40. The mechanism does include a gasket to keep out light rain and dust. – David Richerby Nov 29 '16 at 13:33
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Don't cry - even if your front element is really cracked it's not going to affect your photos that much, unless your photgraphy requires some serious serious detail. In which case you probably already have insurance and/or should be saving some of your photography income for the inevitable accident.

  • The photos in that article with scratches and dirt are fine but the cracked front element is unusable. The whole lower-right quadrant of the image is covered by what looks at first glance like an out-of-focus plant in the foreground but is actually artifacts from the broken element. OK, you can literally take photographs with a cracked front element but the resulting images have much lower quality than even a crappy cellphone. – David Richerby Nov 27 '16 at 14:38
  • At least for parts of the image. I mean, is it great? No, obviously not. You're not going to be selling those photographs to any stock agency, and certainly not to any job. But a broken element seems more like an opportunity to embrace the challenges rather than give up and cry in a corner. – Wayne Werner Nov 28 '16 at 13:42
  • Just like a broken leg is an opportunity to embrace the challenges rather than give up and cry in a corner! Yay! Everybody loves being challenged! – David Richerby Nov 28 '16 at 14:28

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