A bit of a lens disaster

Disaster lurks

I’d been trying to take my new Olympus OMD EM-1 everywhere, both to learn to use it before leaving for a month in Europe and to get into the habit of shooting regularly for stock.

So I had it with me when I got caught in the rain outside a neighborhood café.

The rain shouldn’t have been a big deal, since the camera is supposed to be waterproof. Nonetheless, I grabbed it by the strap and jumped up to leave . . . except I didn’t actually have a good hold on the strap and it slid out of my hand sending the camera crashing onto the concrete sidewalk.

That’s the camera and the Zuiko 12-40 Pro lens I bought just two months earlier in preparation for a trip to Europe in a week.

The last time I dropped a camera was 2001 when I fell on a rocky coastline in Sweden, sending my Nikon FM2 bouncing across the boulders with a brand new lens on it. When retrieved, the lens mounting was split, the film door sprung, and the corners of the casing dented. I switched lenses, snapped the camera back closed and sealed it with a duct tape hinge (always carry duct tape), and was good to go for the rest of the trip. I did buy a replacement lens to use during the trip. When I got home, my credit card paid for the original lens, which I eventually repaired and used for years. (I sold the snazzy European lens to my brother.) A local camera shop patched up the camera and I used that Nikon for at least another five years before going digital.

(I loved those old Nikons. They were almost indestructible.)

Carelessness is a hassle – and potentially  expensive

All that is to say I’d been here before.

But digital cameras aren’t as hardy as film cameras. And this looked bad. Really bad –  like I probably broke both the camera and the lens. And I was leaving for Europe in a week.

At home I gingerly removed the lens (oh good, at least the fitting isn’t too distorted), slipped on a different lens, and started testing the camera. Does the camera recognize the lens? Does it focus? Does the light meter work? Do the menus and menu buttons work? Is it recording to the card without error? Is there any sign of a light leak?

Having determined that the camera seemed to be working ok, it was time to take a closer look at the lens.

broken Zuiko 12-20 lens

Not pretty, but no broken glass. Maybe it can be repaired. But it probably can’t in a week.

I had purchased this camera and lens at the local camera store (they matched the best price I could find online), so that was my next stop.

The guys at the camera store were pretty impressed with the amount of damage I’d done. At first they didn’t think it was repairable, but after taking a second look they agreed that it actually might not be too bad.

On the other hand, they suspected that – even if the camera seemed to be working – it was possible (“likely” was the exact word) that I had damaged the alignment of the focal plane. In other words, it might not focus evenly anymore.

Oh crap.

I bought a replacement Zuiko 12-40 Pro lens at full price (remember, I was leaving for Europe in a week), left the broken one to go into Olympus, and headed home to run a series of focusing experiments.

After shooting and closing examining a bunch of boring pictures of garage doors, siding, and cement blocks, I couldn’t find anything wrong with the focus. There’s one bit of luck.

Now it was time to talk to the credit card company.

Based on that previous experience in Sweden, I expected this part to be easy.

Sadly, card purchase protection has changed a lot since 2001.

I broke the lens two days before coverage ended, so I was eligible for reimbursement from American Express. However, the rules and process were ridiculous: A written assessment from the manufacturer; everything submitted via mail or fax (no email); claims made immediately upon the “event” occurring; all documentation due with a month of opening the claim; etc. I explained that I wouldn’t have the written assessment back from Olympus for at least three weeks (probably six) and that I would be traveling and unable to get and submit the assessment during the month anyway. The answer was basically “those are the rules.”

Stressful, but not as expensive as it could have been

At various points during my trip I spent a few stressful hours trying to contact the insurance company and camera store via phone and email to see if there was a way to get all the paperwork back and submitted before the deadline. I finally gave up. It was going to be what it was going to be.

On the plus side, the camera continued to work fine.

Back home, the assessment and repaired lens were waiting for me. The total cost of the repair: $139.

A call to American Express insurance yielded the information that the claim was still open – they were waiting for me to finish submitting my documentation when I got back from Europe! That was good news, but why couldn’t they have told me that before? And honestly, while took the $139, it wasn’t like it would have been a big deal if I hadn’t gotten it.

Now I need to sell one of the lenses, since I don’t need two expensive 12-40 lenses.  I won’t get anything near what I paid for it, but it would be nice to get something back.

So hey, let me know if you are interested in a barely used, factory repaid Zuiko 12-40 pro lens that is certified as good as new. I have one I’d like to sell.