A Bad Few Days for Lenses

I’ve just put on line at My London Diary the pictures that I took on May 22 at the EDL/Patriot March through Westminster. It wasn’t an event I felt particularly happy about covering, with several groups on the political right involved that I’ve photographed before. But though I may not agree with their politics and certainly not with the way that they express them, I think they have a right to honest coverage. And in the longer term I think photographing and writing about them clearly and as accurately as I can is better at exposing them than the kind of diatribe that I sometimes see elsewhere.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

They complain about the coverage they get from the media generally, but although occasionally I think they have a point, generally they get the coverage they do because of how they behave both generally and in particular how they behave towards the press.

If you want accurate reporting, then it helps to have a clear press release rather than none at all, and it isn’t enough to keep repeating you are not racist, you need to stop supporters chanting racist slogans or insulting people.

© 2010, Peter Marshall

Although things started off in a fairly friendly manner, towards the end of the event many of the demonstrators were threatening press photographers, pushing them away, grabbing their cameras and holding hands over lenses.  It doesn’t make a positive impression!

© 2010, Peter Marshall
I wanted a higher viewpoint so…
However I have only myself to blame for an incident as the march started. While photographers were crowding around photographing the guys at the front of the march I decided I needed to lift a camera above my head for a ‘Hail Mary‘ to get a higher viewpoint.  I had two cameras around my neck and as I lifted one, somehow the second, which I thought I was holding by its strap, crashed to the ground.

It was a D300, with a Nikon 18-200mm and an SB800 flash, making quite a heavy package and it landed on the tarmac road lens first, smashing the filter, with the batteries from the flash spilling out. Other photographers helped me to scrabble to pick up the pieces as the marchers moved forward, and one helped to remove most of the broken filter with a small knife.

Stupidly I cut my thumb rather deeply on the broken glass and spent the next twenty minutes or so dripping blood as I continued to photograph with the other camera having dumped the broken bits into my camera bag.

I put another lens – the 10.5mm fisheye on the D300 and was very relieved to find that it at least was still apparently working. Looking at it later there didn’t seem to be any obvious damage, though I perhaps still need to check the autofocus more carefully.

There was some minor damage to the SB800, breaking the hinges of the flash diffuser, but otherwise that too seems to be in working order – and I’ve been using it since with few problems. Perhaps when I have a moment I’ll take it in for repair, but it hardly seems worth the bother.

The 18-200mm was a different story. The filter thread had been damaged making it impossible to remove the remains of the broken filter, and although the lens looked physically sound, once I tried to zoom it became clear that there were some very serious problems. On closer inspection I’d broken quite a lot of the mechanism inside the lens and there were some bits of broken glass – lens elements – in the middle of the lens.  It was fairly clearly beyond economic repair.

The Nikon 18-200 isn’t the cheapest of lenses, but I’d had it since it came out a few years back and it had already needed several repairs. The photographer who was standing next to me when I dropped it told me he was on his fourth of them! It really is an amateur lens, both in terms of performance and also lack of robustness,  and one we only put up with because it is just so versatile with the huge zoom ratio. You can go out with it anywhere as your only lens and, so long as it isn’t raining and there is a reasonable amount of light it will be the only lens you will need.

So I wasn’t too upset over it. It was a lens I expected to have to replace in the near future, and one that I’d had considerable use from. And at least at home if not with me I had a replacement for it, making use of the Sigma 24-70 f2.8 and 50-200 f5.6 lenses to cover more or less the same range.

The following Monday I went out for a walk with a few of the family to Richmond Park, taking just this combination. Not quite as convenient as the 18-200, but better quality. Towards the end of the walk, disaster struck again, and the 24-70 refused to zoom past around 28mm. It was an almost new lens, hardly used since I’d received it as a replacement from Sigma for an earlier one that I’d had problems with.

The following day I packed it up and sent it back to Sigma for servicing. A few days later I got a phone call from them asking why I’d sent it as it seemed to be working properly. Whatever had caused the jam had been cured by the shaking as it went through the post!    I told them in greater detail than in my letter and they went away to work on it, getting the lens back to me a few days ago.

But when I sent off the 24-80 I didn’t have a lens to cover between 35mm and 75mm which is a pretty important range, so I needed to find a replacement quickly. After a little research I ordered a Nikon 18-105mm rather than a new 18-200mm. Although it doesn’t have quite the range, most of what I take is at the lower end, and it is after all a 27-157mm equivalent, so a respectable telephoto.

But the Nikkor AF-S DX 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED VR (to give it its full mouthful) has several other points in its favour. It is a smaller, lighter lens and a better optical performer in almost every respect than the 18-200, and seems  considerably more robust – though still not a pro lens. And at less than half the price of its bigger brother it was irresistible.  By noon the following day I had it on my camera and was back in business. When I know I’m going to need something longer I’ll take the Sigma 50-200mm as well.

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