Broken Lenses. What to do about them?

Lenses don't fail often; but they do. As of yesterday I have two on the critical list and one on the "too far out of range to AF-Tune correctly" List.

One is an older 55mm f2.8 ais Nikon micro lens. It has an affliction that seems to strike a number of these older lenses; oil or lubricant has seeped from somewhere onto the aperture blades and made them "sticky." As a result the camera doesn't stop down and then over the aperture open back up again. For the most part it's stuck in the wide open position.

I took it in to be repaired but apparently there is a part that breaks 50% of the time and that part is no longer made. The cost of the repair would be about the same as the cost to replace with another used copy. I gave up and decided to buy a nice, older 55mm f3.5. It seems to be a good performer. It was under $100. Less than the projected repair...

The second lens is a Nikon 20mm f2.8 AF that I bought used, hoping it would be all I ever needed for my wide angle stuff on the full frame Nikons. It developed a weird, de-focused, whirligig pattern on the corners and edges; nothing sharp until the center third of the frame. I think I understand the problem. One of the lens elements (or groups) seems to be loose and rattling around. I'm taking it in to see what the repair techs can do but I don't have high hopes.

Finally, there is a Tamron 28-75mm zoom lens for the Nikon that I want to love very much. If I focus it in live view it's sharp, sharp, sharp. If I let my camera take care of business and use the regular auto focus then it back focuses like crazy. I'm on old veteran of AF fine tuning so I set up my target last night and got to work. No dice. Even a minus 20 correction (the max correction on a D800) is nowhere close to budging the focusing plane into compliance. I'm taking that one out to the repair experts to see if there is a way to re-calibrate it into a useful appliance. Again, I'm almost certain that the cost to manually disassemble and fine tune the lens will exceed its used value.

All of which begs the question, "Once the value of a lens has been sucked dry by accident, aging or other decay, what should one do with it?" It seems sacrilege to send it to the landfill and yet who wants to crowd their space with more stuff that doesn't have a function?

This is not a rhetorical musing. I'm very interested. What would you do with non-functional, non-repairable lenses? Thoughts? They are not big enough to turn into interesting lamps.....


  1. Take them apart for fun :D I can't think of much else and I can't stand hoarding... so I guess once you are done dismantling the lens, drop it off at your local recycling centre.

    Alternatively, there is also the idea of making some art, or a blog post out of the process or pieces.

  2. I am recovering from surgery for a detached retina, and have been wishing for a way to take pictures from inside my eye. One effect I get looks similar to Newton rings. So, in a few weeks I'm going to try modifying an old lens or two. But, this is just for fun, and maybe "art." Your business is verisimilitude, so I think this idea won't fly for you.

  3. Re-purpose them as laser collimator assembly for your own drone-born energy beam weapon for defense against hordes of YouTubers and yet more West coast invaders.

  4. The first thing coming to my mind was this episode of Mythbusters:

  5. Maybe you can adapt the "broken 20mm" to your micro 4/3 system but maybe drop it a couple of times first to really knock a few more things loose.

    A friend of my who claims to have met French photographer Guy Bourdin swears that Bourain's favorite lens had a wobbly element that made for lots of happy accidents.


  6. My 55mm f2.8 Micro-Nikkor has gone thru 4 cycles of cleaning and relube for the sticky aperture problem. It’s a matter of time when it happens again. I also have a 55mm f3.5 AI Micro-Nikkor that is just as sharp, but more robust mechanically. It has never let me down.

    I also have at least one lens that is kaput (as a German friend liked to say). Don’t Have a clue what to do either.

  7. I second the idea of taking them apart. Buy a set of very small screwdrivers and dig in. How do you think they got started at Lens Rentals! This could be a whole new aspect to the business that you can blog about.

    I have a Fuji X100 (original version) that stopped closing the aperture down, and when I took it to Fuji (who happen to be near my house) they gave me a repair cost equal to the second hand cost. So it may well be bound for the 'screwdriver' treatment. Selling on eBay 'as is' seems like too much trouble.
    Peter Wright

  8. I like ODL's suggestion of making art -- but then as a kid I made miniature sculpture using the brass inner parts of my grandmother's old alarm clocks. Granny was a hoarder -- she had a whole shelf of defunct Big Ben wind-up alarm clocks back in her pantry.

    My solution for broken photo stuff, when I have time, is put it on ebay as 'parts or repair', priced at just enough to cover my time and shipping cost, and with an honest description of the problem. Maybe someone can put it to use, or at least learn something by taking it apart.

  9. In NJ at least Staples will recycle old cameras. They would probably take a lens also.
    It's hard to throw something like that away, but at least keep them out of the landfill.

  10. Those were the days...

    A Swedish nature and wildlife photographer, I think it was Nils Linnman, had (this was long ago..) set up his Hasselblad 500c with a long H'blad lens on a tripod with a trip wire in the hope of catching a bear he had tracked.
    When he came back a day later the wire had hooked somehow and toppled the tripod.
    The long lens had hit something hard and was only half as long...

    So, almost despairing - being far out in the wilderness, Nils found a sturdy piece of wood, cut a sharp edge on it and started to hit an edge on the middle of the lens until it was its old length.
    And, to his surprise, the lens was sharp again!

    ...and they won't come back.

  11. I once dropped a Canon EF-S 10-22 mm lens while going through TSA inspection. It exploded into a number of pieces which I collected and went on my way.

    The service department said that I probably wouldn't want it repaired for the $290 they quoted. $290 was less than $600 for a new one so it was repaired. Could I have bought a used one for less? I don't know. I was happy with the result. It was as good as new and had a (short) warranty. Used it a lot. No regrets.

  12. You put it on eBay for 99 cents and mark it "FOR PARTS".
    You might be surprised what it can go for.
    Have done this with a few photo related items that no longer work as intended and are too expensive to repair. Got a decent price on one as it is still popular but parts are non-existent and the other went for more than a new one - same reason but seldom seen on the used market for some reason.
    As long as folks know they are parts bins - why not?

  13. Not the 20, but the other two problems would surely not affect their use on an adaptor in front of a Panasonic?

  14. I had an Olympus 43 50-200/2.8-4.0 come apart in my hand in late 2016. No drops, no falls, no obvious cause. Olympus said “parts no longer available”, so I left it at their repair center. How they disposed of it I’ll never know. Perhaps they had a part for the next one that came in ...

  15. I think you could still salvage your Tamron. Most lenses are shimmed just behind the lens mount: unscrew the mount, and add a shim or two, and you could force that sucker back into an AF-finetunable range.

    As for the others, should they be deemed 'unrepairable', I agree with a previous poster who suggest you sell them 'for parts'.

  16. I used to shoot the Tamron 28-75 on Pentax back in the day. Ending up with two copies for some forgotten reason but in each case the first itereation I bought was oof/soft wide open. Both times though the replacement was amazingly sharp and worked as it should at any aperture. Probably the sharpest lens I've ever used... Worth the hassle.

  17. I send it back to the manufacturer to be recycled.


  18. Bracelets :) https://instagram.com/p/qp9MoHDBLy/

  19. That happened to my 55mm f2.8 Micro-Nikkor too. It was on a shelf in my office and had been working perfectly. Then I tried to use it after months - maybe a year - and the aperture was stuck. I sold it to a fellow on the 'Bay with full disclosure. Amazingly, this was the only item the USPS ever lost, and eventually they sent me a check for more than the sale and postage.


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