What To Do When You Break Your Camera

What To Do When You Break Your Camera


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 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.

Some Older Comments

  • Sherry Coe December 12, 2012 05:15 pm

    i have an old minolta srt-101. it is not working. i have had it for about 38 years. i have other cameras i use.
    i would like to give it too someone who repairs old camers who would give it to someone who was less fortunate.


  • Sean Rayford August 5, 2012 06:40 am

    I recently wrote about ways to cope with the death of your camera from a mental health standpoint.
    Click. Click. Clunk. It's Dead... 10 Ways to Cope With the Death of Your Camera

  • alice May 8, 2012 03:33 am

    I literally have just broke my panasonic GF3. doing photography for my d of e has put a total crack down on it. I put it in the case, on the floor. I just came back from a bike ride and i moved my bike which then pushed my sisters and the handlebar directly hit the camera. only had it two weeks so going to check house insurance, if not. i dont know what ill do...

  • Jack G January 22, 2011 01:59 am

    My Canon 50d camera fell off the tripod mount and into Lake Marie last year. Seeing it in 2 feet of water was one of the lowest moments of my photography career! I got it out in about 5 seconds but the damage was done. When I pulled the lens off the camera, the water came pouring out. I left the lens off the camera and put it in a bag with silica gel overnite..next day when I tried to turn it on I got a couple weird sounds and it shut down. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I used my wifes hair dryer...on low heat about 2 feet from the camera and let it run for about an hour....front of camera was left open. After an hour I turned the camera and I couldn't believe it....the camera started and has been running perfect ever since!!! I had to manually clean the sensor but that was all I've done to it. The lens did have to go for cleaning but it still works too.

  • Daniel January 21, 2011 07:11 pm

    My D700 fall from my hands to rocks. Back screen crash and olso card tape.
    I bought a new screen and a new card tape from ebay. First i send ir to the tchnical service. But two month later, they didnt have the pieces i need to repair it. So ... i decided to DIY with the pieces i bought from ebay.
    Really easy to do. The broken screen were easy to take out, and clean the small broken pieces. The new screen is really easy to put. Using Super Glue y repair the card tape. And my D700 work perfectly. I love it. Its is the strongest camera i have had.

  • Sam January 21, 2011 01:45 pm

    Had my x decide it was a good idea to smash my new pentax over the end of my filing cabinet in a fit of booz rage till the telephoto lens sheared off the mount a few years ago...I regrettably threw out the housing and lens last week as we are packing to move....Brought myself a Canon 5d MK ll but miss the other one...didnt know it may be fixed >.<

  • Bradley January 21, 2011 12:23 pm

    When I knocked over the tripod holding my less-than-a-year old Nikon D80, I was crushed and mortified. The lens literally broke in half, and it looked expensive. Fortunately, a friend inquired how I'd paid for the camera, and then suggested that I check the "Gold Card" benefits of my credit card. Sure enough, this particular MasterCard had a product repair/replacement extended warranty for most products purchased with it. While I don't remember the exact terms, it required that the product NOT be covered by any other existing warranties, but unlike a product warranty, it DID include theft and losses caused by my own negligence. The credit card companies hire other companies to administer these warranties, and they did require fairly specific documentation, but they were perfectly nice to deal with and very efficient, and in the end, I received most of the cost of repair back from them, after choosing my own (Nikon-sanctioned) repair facility. I'd never used these benefits before, but the lesson is: check your credit card for coverage!

  • ERic January 21, 2011 07:55 am

    I haven't broken a camera yet (knocks on wood) but I recently had all my camera gear stolen and I know that pit of the stomach feeling.

    I can't agree more with the need for insurance. Photography is an expensive hobby, don't skimp on insurance, it is totally worth it.

  • Steve B January 21, 2011 05:32 am

    Insurance is a must! I recently broke my d700 so badly it had to go back to the factory because it couldnt be repaired in a shop. Still waiting for it to return but major peace of mind knowing I wont have to fork out a potential ton of cash

  • Barbi January 21, 2011 04:37 am

    That was great advice. With my electronics (including camera & Camcorders, I take out the extended warranty (Black Tie) with Best Buy since I buy most of my things there. They will cover it, even if I break it. Well worth it since you never know if or when you'll have a mishap. How many times have you heard someone say "ahhh, it won't happen to me?'

  • Geren W. Mortensen, Jr. January 21, 2011 01:40 am

    I'll just second the advice to not give up on a dunked memory card. I've inadvertently run them through the laundry (washer and dryer with no ill-effects.

  • Patrick Gensel January 20, 2011 06:34 am

    Having a beer to cry into helped me greatly when I lost my camera at Jtree, fortunately that had a happy ending and my camera was returned to me.

  • Richard Hall January 20, 2011 01:28 am

    I have just had an SD card go through the washing machine in the pocket of my trousers. Works fine, still had the images on it from what I had taken before washing.

  • Phil January 19, 2011 05:33 pm

    If you drop your camera in water and it's not one of those water proof ones, DON'T turn it on. Just let it dry out for about a day. If you're in a hurry to check it out, put it in an air tight container with lots of dessicant to absorb the moisture. A cheap way is getting a ziploc bag and going over to your nearest sneaker store and asking for those little dessicant packs they put in with the shoes. Uncooked rice also does a fine job of moisture absorption but you run the risk of getting some inside your equipment.

    There are some people who tried drying their equipment out in the sun or with hairdryers but I don't advocate exposure to high temperatures since it might do more damage.

  • Kiran January 19, 2011 09:46 am

    I wouldn't wish this on anyone!

  • Jerry Novak January 19, 2011 05:14 am

    In reference to major bokeh's post, I was a cop for 30 years and I heard people tell me all the time about being in a "nice neighborhood." The nice neighborhoods have the best stuff and thieves know that. Besides the professional thieves, you never know when the teenager down the street and his friends decide to start supplementing their allowance or are just bored and want to get the thrill of committing a crime or two. Lock your stuff.

  • Jerry Novak January 19, 2011 05:08 am

    Canned Air. If you have any kind of electronic device get water in it try getting a can of canned air and spraying the crap out of it. The longer you leave it wet the more chance the water will get into something else and cause corrosion or short out the electronics. If things aren't already damaged it will help keep them from getting that way.

  • Barbara Sweeney January 19, 2011 04:41 am

    Thank you for the info with some humor added:) It is not a funny subject, and some of us never think about it til it happens, so to all responses, thanks.

  • Major Bokeh January 19, 2011 04:38 am

    Insure it all is the best advice. Not just for damage, but theft too.

    I have three Canon bodies, 9 lenses, three speedlites and loads of other accessories. But for the cost of about two lattes a month it's all covered in a personal lines policy.

    Before I had it there were several times when I forgot to close the garage door and left my gear in my trunk overnight in an unlocked car. Scary, even in a nice neighborhood like mine. Now I not only check the garage door, and bring in the gear, but I sleep better knowing it's insured no matter what may happen.

  • Lon January 19, 2011 04:22 am

    A separate insurance policy for your camera equipment is a good idea. My home insurer allows me to add specific items to my homeowner policy for a very reasonable cost, except it is still subject to the same deductible as any other claim, which is about the same price as a prosumer body + upgraded kit lens (in other words, atleast as expensive as a replacement even more so when it means losing my claims free 15% discount). I could get a cheaper deductible if I payed a much higher premium, but a separate policy is probably more cost effective, particularly if you ever have to use it.

  • SteveP January 19, 2011 02:15 am

    I'd be careful with claiming a camera on homeowners insurance. Be sure they won't drop you for "too many claims" or other nonsense.

  • Rhett McCarthy January 19, 2011 01:24 am

    I Hope this never happens to me!!

  • Maik-T. Šebenik January 19, 2011 01:20 am

    Interesting article that covers a really specific topic. I also once "killed" my bridge cam - but well, that was a good reason to buy a DSLR. ;-)
    Good to know to remove the battery ASAP + that the memory card can handle a little water. I didn't know that.

  • Mike January 19, 2011 01:16 am

    Take "international warranties" with a grain of salt. I've never had any luck getting those honoured, nor any response from the manufacturer as to why subsidiary in country X is suddenly exempt.

    Most recently I've had a Panasonic GF1 start reporting that its firmware won't accept the Panasonic-manufactured-and-supplied batteries. Because I was out of the country, Panasonic Australia refused to honour the warranty, and Panasonic in Europe won't accept cameras purchased outside the EU (despite the international warranty). Result: I have an expensive new paperweight.

  • Neil January 19, 2011 12:56 am

    Hi Everyone,

    for $40 a year i have my camera and lens insured under my homeowners insurance. I just had to send them all my recipes for all my gear and im covered. Totally worth the money.