Equipment

Rental Camera Gear Destroyed by the Solar Eclipse of 2017

We recently had quite a spectacle in the United States, with a Solar Eclipse reaching totality throughout a large portion of the United States. Being that this was the first solar eclipse passing through the Continental US since 1979, excitement ran wild on capturing this natural event using the best camera gear available.

But with such excitement, came a treasure trove of warnings. Warnings that this event can easily damage your camera, your lens, and your eyes if you do not have the proper protection. With all of our rentals leading up to this event, we warned everyone to view the event with appropriate eyewear and to attach a solar filter to the end of their lenses to protect the lens elements and camera sensor.

 

But despite our warnings, we still expected gear to come back damaged and destroyed. And as evidence to our past posts of broken gear being disassembled and repaired, we figured you’d all want to see some of the gear that we got back and hear what went wrong. But please keep in mind, this post is for your entertainment, and not to be critical of our fantastic customer base. Things happen, and that’s why we have a repair department. And furthermore, we found this to be far more exciting than we were disappointed. With this being the first solar eclipse for Lensrentals, we didn’t know what to expect and were surprised with how little of our gear came back damaged. So without further ado, here are some of the pieces of equipment that we got back, destroyed by the Solar Eclipse of 2017.

Melted Sensors

The most common problem we’ve encountered with damage done by the eclipse was sensors being destroyed by the heat. We warned everyone in a blog post to buy a solar filter for your lens, and also sent out mass emails and fliers explaining what you need to adequately protect the equipment. But not everyone follows the rules, and as a result, we have quite a few destroyed sensors. To my personal surprise, this damage was far more visually apparent than I even expected, and the photos below really make it visible. 

Camera Damage Solar Eclipse

Burn damage through the shutter system of the camera.

Burning of the shutter system

Solar Eclipse Camera Damage

Under the shutter, you can see the additional damage on the sensor.

solar eclipse damaged camera system

Damage to the sensor is really apparent even through visual inspection.

 

Mirror Damage

The images above are likely created because people were shooting in Live View mode, allowing them to compose the image using the back of their screen, instead of risking damage to their eyes by looking through the viewfinder. However, those who didn’t use live view (and hopefully guess and checked instead of staring through the viewfinder), were more likely to face damage to their camera’s mirror. While this damage was far rarer, we did get one particular camera with a damaged mirror box caused by the sun.

Mirrorbox Photography damage from Eclipse

Damaged mirror on a Nikon D500 resulting from the eclipse.

 

Lens Iris Damage

Another common problem we’ve had sent back is the lens iris being destroyed from the heat and brightness of the solar eclipse. In short, the lens iris is the mechanic piece that changes the amount of light that enters the camera, or in simpler terms, the aperture adjustment. Apertures are usually made from 8-12 pieces of black plastic or metal and are susceptible to heat damage. In one particular case below, a customer used a drop in solar filter to protect the camera from being damaged by the eclipse. He was right, the camera was protected….but the lens iris was not protected, and was destroyed.

Camera Lens broken from eclipse

Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 with Iris Damage from the Eclipse.

Solar Eclipse Damaged Lens

From the outside, this 600mm looks fine. But quick inspection shows the aperture system is destroyed thanks to the eclipse.

Solar Eclipse Iris Damage

Another angle of the damaged iris of the Canon 600mm f/4L IS II USM

Solar Eclipse Damage to Camera

A partially disassembled image of the Canon 600mm from above.

ND System Damage

Filed under the unexpected, we also received a built in ND filter system damaged in one of our cinema camera systems. Most cinema cameras are equipped with a built in ND system that slides over the sensor, allowing them to adjust f-stop and shutter speeds to work better with their frame rate and shooting style. However, a common misconception is that an ND filter could properly protect the camera from the heat and light when shooting the solar eclipse. It doesn’t, and as a result, the damage is similar to that shown above with the sensors.

Damaged ND Filter from Eclipse

Canon C300 Mark II with a Damaged Built in ND Filter

 

Overall, we were really impressed with how few pieces of gear we got back damaged. And of the things returned, we were equally impressed with our customer-base, and their guilt and owning up to the damage. Unfortunately, these types of damage are considered neglect, as warnings were given out to customers before the solar eclipse. Our LensCap insurance plan, which can be added to rentals for a small nominal fee, does not protect from neglect but is an excellent tool for those who are worried about their rental and want to protect themselves from any accidental damage. This is just a few of the pieces of gear we’ve gotten back that have shown damage from the eclipse, and will hopefully serve as a warning to those who are already prepping for the next eclipse in 2024.

 

Author: Zach Sutton

I’m Zach and I’m the editor and a frequent writer here at Lensrentals.com. I’m also an editorial and portrait photographer in Los Angeles, CA, and offer educational workshops on photography and lighting all over North America.

Posted in Equipment
  • Richard Sanderson

    There are links to two of my pictured above, Tim, including the NASA jets.

  • Richard Sanderson

    Thank you!

  • Richard Sanderson

    Obviously, I could be wrong. What I saw/recorded were two swiftly-moving aircraft during totality, one ahead of the other and both moving in the same direction and at the same velocity, with one passing just above the corona and the other just below it. That evening on “Nova,” they discussed the two jets and included a map of their flight path which took them almost directly over where I was stationed. I read that the jets few along the path from Kansas City to Nashville, which was about 40 miles east of my location.

  • Richard Sanderson

    Hi Allison. Sorry, I’ve been busy lately and haven’t checked this discussion. Here’s a link to my NASA jets picture from the “Sky & Telescope” web site. I was stationed in Clarksville, TN. I read that the jets flew north from Houston to Kansas City and then proceeded east along the path of totality all the way to Nashville. I’m assuming they started accelerating along the path and the umbra caught up with them somewhere along their route. Where I was, the sun was still totally eclipsed when they raced overhead, one above and the other below the sun a few seconds later. My email is in the S&T link. Perhaps the photographer you know who was aboard one of the jets could drop me a line.

    http://www.skyandtelescope.com/online-gallery/twin-nasa-wb-57f-jets-zooming-past-totally-eclipsed-sun-at-50000-feet/

  • Richard Sanderson

    Aldo, I used a 200mm Canon lens at f/6.3 and manually focused, with the camera in live view mode and set at ISO100. I probably should have opted for 300mm, but the 200 made life a bit easier because I avoided having to re-center the sun from before totality until well after totality was over. Focusing precisely to infinity is always challenging, but by draping a towel over my head and digitally magnifying the image on the viewing screen, and then using a loupe, my focus turned out very good. My images of totality pretty much fill up the whole screen in my PowerPoint shows and look very sharp. They turned out better than many I’ve seen that were taken using longer lenses.

  • Robert Garfinkle

    I had a decent shoot. but I also had a bit of experience behind me.

    1. read up on what others do. and keep reading. know the successful outcomes and study the failures too. “read. read read.” – just because some make it look easy or have had successes doesn’t warrant risk to equipment or your eyes.

    2. Buy insurance for your camera and equipment. If the rental company offers insurance, and it sounds expensive, not as expensive as owning their equipment that no longer works. buy it. As far as insuring your equipment, for example, my camera and lenses cost 160.00 / year – that’s nothing. state farm provides insurance which has a zero deductible, direct loss policy, and will offer you full value for damaged / stolen equipment. this is a policy for personal equipment, does not cover photo business.

    3. Take @ralphhightower:disqus’s advice (below), practice, practice, practice. Between now and the next eclipse you will have more than enough time to become comfortable shooting solar events and minimize risk. Again, there is soooo much information, great information in fact, on solar shooting and eclipse photography

    4. Don’t bite off more than you can chew!! For example. Whilst I had a couple years experience shooting the solar disk using filters etc, it did not buy me any experience with solar eclipses. Solar eclipses bear quite a few features (i.e. partial phases, coronal events, bailey’s beads, diamond ring, and prominences), that’s a lot to go after. So, I made a decision to only focus on a few features to capture. The reason I say this is, you don’t have to have this whole script in your head to capture everything; which will save you having to fiddle and diddle around in a frantic frenzy during the event, prone to making more mistakes…

    You want your head as clear as possible, to help aide in successful imagery as well as the most important thing of all – to spend time enjoying the eclipse with your own eyes. It was very easy to make a few adjustments / corrections, use a cable release to take the photos and have the ability to look at the eclipse at the same time…

    5. When the sun starts to shine again, and you know you can’t take any more effective images, put the filter back on… call it an event.

    6. DON’T BE DISAPOINTED! Take what you can get, when you can get it, and if all you got was one shot, well, take it. accept it. any shots of an eclipse you can walk away with, was a success.

    I screwed up too. I had a filter on, but had my ISO too high during the first 20 minutes of the eclipse. all my partials up to that point were no good. I set my settings correctly, and just continued shooting… there will be other times. Don’t let a few bad apple shots distract the rest of your event…

    —— happy hunting.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d456f08e4c8dfb8f5ad7f228ca070d0117a8bd170d07cfabbb44a74e6b4deda9.jpg

  • Joseph Palmeri

    Yes. Check it out on google.

  • Camaman

    So wait insurance does not cover this?

    Neglect…

    Any damage on gear can be classified as neglect…

  • Charlie Don’t Surf

    I hope you are familiar with photographer Chris McCaw’s “Sunburn” series. He uses a view camera to deliberately burn holes in his paper negatives with the sun. I saw a photo somewhere of McCaw at work and smoke was coming out of his view camera.

    https://www.chrismccaw.com/sunburn/

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/6191f3789ed89163c1f75be5e39f182f64d0e1261fcb7232029444472613b603.jpg

  • martynW

    Wasn’t quite as bad as this sun-related camera failure:

    https://youtu.be/UtBMAMO11e8

  • wtfToast

    From SALT???

  • wtfToast

    wtf are you talking about??

  • TimAdmin

    Care to share them?

  • Morton Ulakovits

    Tell Roger to get ready for the next big one in 7 years – Need to buy a roll of solar film and send a piece with every lens (for a small fee). Those pictures are amazing. ..Morton..

  • Brett Duane

    Not only can the lens aperture be damaged, but so can the glass lenses. Camera lenses are very good at passing as much light as possible, but they still absorb some of the energy. And there is sooo much energy! After a short time, the glue used to bond lenses together to form doublets and triplets experainces so much mechanical and thermal stress that the glue gives up.

  • That 600 is already repaired and back in service.

  • That’s exactly it.

  • Jay Dee

    Many a grasshopper gave their lives in this sort of budding scientist/sadist experiment of childhood.

  • Paul B Pudlow

    Not true but nice try

  • Lee

    I still don’t understand why the sun was more dangerous to eyes and cameras during the eclipse. Presumably it was just that people wanted to look/shoot at it much longer than they normally would?

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