After you have bought your camera the most expensive accessories you will buy are going to be the lenses. In fact, some of my lenses actually cost more than my camera (I shoot a Canon 6D and have several L series lenses) so I have invested a fair amount in lenses over the years, and I know that many other photographers have done the same.
The other day I was having a discussion with a bloke at the local camera club about lenses and what to do when/if they got damaged. As a kid my father would have a go at fixing everything that broke down and replacing anything would be a last resort. When I was growing up everyone would try and fix things that broke than buy new, that’s just the way society worked. If my father was a photographer and he broke a lens the first thing he would do is try and fix it, because that is what he was like.
Times have changed and nowadays we live in a “throw away and replace society” If something breaks or we damage it, we don’t bother trying to repair it we simply replace the item and carry on. Well, this is the case with most things but is it the case with camera lenses? I think the answer to this depends entirely on the lens.
For example, I shoot a Canon 50mm f1.8 (one of only two lenses I own that are not Canon L series lenses). This is a cheap, and I mean cheap, and cheerful lens that is very good and capable of capturing awesome photos. If I broke my Canon 50mm f1.8 I would be annoyed however I wouldn’t be overly fussed because the lens cost me £80 when I bought it (many years ago). I know the cost of this lens has increased however you can still buy one for under a hundred pounds, which in the big scheme of things isn’t that much. Repairing a lens is an intricate and skilled job, which is expensive, and I think the cost of repairing a broken Canon 50mm f1.8 would be more than buying a new one, so in this instance I would throw and buy new.
My other lens that isn’t a Canon L series lens is the Canon 35mm f2 IS lens. This lens is a mid-priced lens that was more than the 50mm f1.8 but not as expensive as any of my L series lenses. This is another lens that I think would cost more to repair than replace (although I would confirm this in the first instance). The Canon 35mm f2 IS lens is a great lens, but it doesn’t really suit my style and I kind of bought it on a whim without seriously thinking about it. If I did ever damage the 35mm f2 IS I would get a quote for the repair and if it was more than what a new lens would cost I would bin the lens and not bother getting a replacement. If the lens was affordable to repair I would get it repaired though. You may be wondering why if the 35mm f2 IS lens doesn’t suit my style of photography I bother keeping it? I did try and sell this lens a while back and I couldn’t get what I wanted for it. I got low offers from idiots - I mean people offering me less than £100 for a lens costing three times as much that was a month old. I did get a trade in quote for the lens but the offer was stupidly low (although more than £100) and there is no way I was going to let the local camera shop make a stonking great profit from me, and when I saw another used 35mm f2 IS on the shelf for a fraction under new I knew that mine would be priced the same. The camera shop already made a profit selling me the lens so I would be damned if they were going to make any more money out of me in not only the trade in for the 35mm f2 IS but also on what I was going to buy from them with the trade in proceeds – gotta love store credit! The word “shafted” springs to mind…… I still have the 35mm f2 IS lens and there are times when I dust it off and use it (and get some great photos too) but these times are few and far between.
Damaging cheap lenses, whist annoying, isn’t too much of an issue in the big scheme of things. It is when you start looking at the top end, expensive pro lenses, like my Canon L series lenses. If I damaged any of my L series lenses I would be mortified. It took me months of hard work, saving, making sacrifices, and going without to build up my collection of L series lenses, so damaging one of these would be very frustrating. If I damaged any of my L series lenses the first thing I would do is go and see if a repair was possible before going out and buying a replacement.
The bloke at the camera club admitted he would simply suck up the cost and buy a replacement in the first instance. To him image is everything and a damaged and repaired lens is likely to show battle scars and war wounds (scratches, dents, dinks, chipped paint etc.), which he says would lose him work because it wouldn’t look professional. I should point out that this bloke isn’t a professional photographer, he has a separate career (to put food on the table, pay the bills, and fund his photography habit) and simply does a bit of paid photography work as and when he can get it. This bloke doesn’t need paid gigs to survive, so if someone thinks his scratched lens is a bit unprofessional it really doesn’t matter too much. For this bloke to simply go and replace a damaged top end lens seems a bit over the top to me, given his circumstances of course.
A scratched, dinked or dented lens wouldn’t bother me too much. As long as all the internal functions worked properly (auto focus, image stabilization etc.) and the image quality was as it should be that’s all that matters. It is nice to have a brand new looking shiny lens but when things get a bit battered they have character, they have stories to tell and the fact they look “used” should be comforting to a paying client the photographer knows what they are doing and how to correctly use the their equipment. There are other advantages in having lenses looking very second hand. For example the lenses are less desirable for thieves because they will be more difficult to sell on. There is less likelihood of being mugged for your photography equipment in those slightly dodgy countries 9muggings do happen). Other people seem less bothered about you taking photos as you are seen as a hobbyist/tourist/casual photographer, which gives you more scope for those street photography and candid stranger portraits.
It’s a good job I don’t mind things looking used, because if I damaged one of my L series lenses there is no way I could go and get a replacement straight away as I don’t have the funds available. Okay, there is always buying a lens on credit but then I have other financial commitments and do I really want to take on any more debt? Hmmmmmm - Not really. Besides, photography is a hobby for me and I get paid shoots as and when I can. I don’t rely on photography to earn a living (although I would like to get to that position one day) so I don’t foresee any time when I must have a specific lens right now.
The decision to repair or replace a lens will depend on a person’s individual circumstances and whether they want their lenses to have a new and polished look or whether they don’t mind using a lens that looks like it has had a bit of a hard life. At the end of the day it is like everything else in life – you pays your money you take your choice.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.