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What To Do When You Break Your Camera

Image: Photo Copyright Josh Kellogg

Photo Copyright Josh Kellogg

I hope you’re not reading this post because you just broke your camera. If so, read swiftly. If not, chances are you or someone you know has broken their camera at one point in life. I started early by leaving my camera on the top of my car at the age of 19 and turned a sharp corner out of a parking lot. “Thump, Thump, Thump,” went my Minolta 7xi as it bounced across the roof and made a leap for the pavement, rolling through two lanes. Amazingly, even though the autofocus was broken and the camera house cracked, it still worked. Mostly.

The pit of the stomach feeling when I first realized what that was that I saw out of the the corner of my eye has come up a few times since, unfortunately. I’m not a klutz by nature, I’ve just handled cameras a lot and been around others who have. It happens.

But what to do when it happens?

Don’t Panic

As with any unfortunate event, the key is to not panic. Falling to pieces and getting overly emotional about the event will not help keep your mind clear and make the most of the situation. Panicking leads to other mistakes, which can be costly in their own right. Keep your cool! A bit of profanity is permissible.

Grab The Pieces, All Of Them

Once you are finished with your (minor) freak out, because you didn’t listen to my first bit of advice, start picking up the pieces. Unless you are in a calm setting, such as at home in the kitchen, you are probably out in public and need to make sure all the bits are grabbed before they get scattered. Enlist help if need be. You never know which little piece will be helpful in getting things back together. Even if it looks unimportant, grab it.

Take Out The Battery

If your battery hasn’t flown free from your camera and skittered half a mile away (I swear most camera batteries are built with self preservation instincts and fly free from a breaking camera at the first sign of trouble) now is a good time to take it out. If your camera is partially functioning, more damage can be done from parts trying to move when they don’t quite line up. I’l admit I haven’t always followed this advice. Which is why I now suggest this advice. Accept your fate and deal with it. Power off your camera completely to avoid additional damage.

Grab Your Flash Card

I have actually sent back a camera for repair with the card still in it. This, again, comes from the first point. I got all freaked out about the damage and didn’t grab my card, even a few days later. The irony is I often hear people tell me, “If I dropped my camera in the lake, that’s that!” When in reality it often is not “that”. Your card is a solid state device and, barring electric jolt, will retain the images recorded to it. Corrosives will cause damage, but a quick dunk in a pool of water, while a bad thing for your camera and the electricity it carries, is not necessarily fatal to your images. Grab that card out and dry it off, completely. Heck, you may even have one interesting last image as your camera met its fate.

Do No Harm

Guilty, yet again. I have tried to fix my semi-broken cameras before. That typically made them completely broken cameras. And made the repair bill higher. Unless you are a pro at this type of fixing, your expensive DSLR is not a good item on which to start learning about camera repair. Leave it to the pros.

Check Your Warranty

Before you send in your camera for repair, they’ll want to know about your warranty. This starts with recording the information some place logical and easy to retrieve. Maybe in online email. Maybe on your cell phone (if you are on a trip). Maybe a tattoo. Whatever works for you, when you buy a camera, record this information for easy retrieval. I once failed to send in a computer for repair because I thought it was past the warranty and the reciept was burried in years of boxed paper. So I put it off for a month. When I found the receipt I learned I was now out of the warranty period, but I wasn’t when the incident occurred. Having an easy way to find this information will make life easier when it is already stressful.

Also check to see what your warranty covers. Most won’t cover negligence (accidents) and other incidents. Know before you have something go wrong.

Check Your Insurance

If the warranty won’t cover an accident, it is possible a homeowners or renters insurance policy will. Again, make sure the information is easy to find and understand the limits before using it.

Know Your Repair Options

Not everything needs to head back to the manufacturer’s factory. Local camera shops often offer repair and the service and price varies greatly. Most large brands will offer a free estimate before proceeding with a repair, much like a car mechanic should. In one incident I found the repair to be more than a replacement. In another (yes, I have dropped more than one camera) the repair cost was much less than I anticipated and I was pleasantly surprised. Ask around and get as many free estimates as you can if you have the luxury of time.

Know You Can Rent While Repairs Happen

Often it is calming to know a rental option is available, either online or around the street corner. Being without a prized lens or body when a shoot is planned for the near future will cause a spike in blood pressure. Relax. While it will cost additional funds, there are options to make sure you can keep shooting until your gear comes back to you.

Check eBay For Replacements

While you are waiting for your free estimate for repair (notice how I keep holding on to hope that your camera was not completely obliterated?) check eBay and other secondhand resources for replacements. Sometimes we fall in love with our gear and keep it for years beyond its production date. If it’s not available new, it may be available on the secondary market.

Sell It, Don’t Trash It

If the camera or lens is a total loss, don’t just throw it in the trash to clog another landfill. Look again to eBay and other sites where broken equipment can be listed (with proper notation). One man’s trash is another’s treasure. Repair shops can scavenge usable parts off of the body and get them on other cameras which met a similar fate. Plus it is a chance to turn a complete loss into enough money to buy a beer to cry into.

Move On

Sometimes broken stuff doesn’t come back to life.  Sometimes it stays broken.  The positive spin on this?  It’s time to start shopping for a newer, better, faster, cooler camera!

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Peter West Carey
Peter West Carey

leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics – A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

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