How Plastic Lenses Protect Your Camera Better When You Drop It

Also, stay away from 'color runs'

  • Dropping your camera is the fastest way to kill it. 
  • Plastic-bodied lenses can be more resilient than metal. 
  • Fit a strap, and learn how to use it properly.
Closeup on a broken camera sitting on the ground with a shattered lens.

Juan Alvarez / EyeEm / Getty Images

Dropping your camera is a surefire way to end its life, but did you know that one of the worst things you can do to your camera and lens is to photograph dry paint?

Zach Sutton, photographer and writer of the Lens Rentals blog, knows a thing or two about breaking and fixing cameras. People often don't realize just how the choices they make can damage their cameras. So, we decided to ask some professional photographers how they break their gear and how they look after it. The result may surprise you.

"In my 10+ years of experience photographing professionally and reviewing lenses for Shotkit, I find that while metal is certainly more resilient to small bumps and knocks than plastic, it doesn't absorb a big hit (like a drop) as well as a plastic lens—instead, it transfers the force of the impact to the glass elements inside the lens, which, typically, cannot be repaired easily," Mark Condon, photographer, and CEO and founder of Shotkit, told Lifewire via email. "Plastic lenses, on the other hand, tend to crack on impact, with less of the force transferred to the glass, making them more easily repairable." 

Metal Myth

We tend to believe that anything made from plastic is junk and that anything made of metal will last forever. But that's not always true. If you drop a metal mixing bowl onto your tiled kitchen floor, it'll end up with a healthy dent. Drop a plastic bowl, and it'll bounce. And nobody wears a metal motorcycle helmet unless they really hate having the use of their brain. 

It's the same with cameras, to an extent.

Closeup on a broken DSLR camera lens.

Firdausiah Mamat / Getty Images

Think about that motorcycle helmet. If it were metal, it would deform on impact and transfer the shock to your melon. Unlike a lens, a helmet is designed to disintegrate, absorbing as much force as possible to save its contents. But the plastic lens can still soak up a lot of shock, protecting the inner workings and the glass lens elements. And if it is a high-end plastic lens, it will return to its original form instead of shattering, like our mixing bowl. 

But it depends on the plastic and the situation.

"The issue is that plastic is often more brittle than metal. Although it will flex a bit, it's also more likely to shatter or fracture. Metal tends to dent, but not to shatter or break," Thomas Smith, a professional press photographer, told Lifewire via email. "I shoot with a Leica R7 camera, and the metal lens hood is horribly dented, yet the lens still works fine. With a plastic lens, the plastic would likely have snapped by now."

Camera Care

Sutton details all kinds of ways to ruin your camera, from water damage to photographing 'color runs,' where spectators throw powdered pigments at participants, and the microscopically-fine dust gets sucked into the lens. But the majority of care advice from our professionals boils down to using a strap and not worrying too much. Cameras are built to be used outside, in fairly hostile conditions, after all. 

Flat lay top view of parts and components of a disassembled vintage film camera.

Delihayat / Getty Images

"First, always keep your gear in a case when you're not using it," Jacob Richard, founder of Camera Prism, told Lifewire via email. "This will protect it from getting scratched or damaged. Second, be careful when carrying your gear around. Don't let it bump into things or get dropped."

Being careful means using a strap and using it properly. You might wear it so the front of the camera faces your hip instead of pointing outwards, for example. This is a little counterintuitive, but it flops around a lot less and protects the delicate lens. Or you can get really serious about strap technique.

"When I work at crowded events where knocks from passers-by are inevitable, I wear a loose fitting jacket over a specific type of camera strap called a '3 point slinger'," says Condon. "The strap with camera attached is worn across my body, then I put the jacket on over the top. This way, any knocks or brushes are borne by the jacket."

And above all, don't worry. Just accept the inevitable, and deal with it

"I advise people not to worry too much about 'babying' their gear," says Smith. "Instead, plan to get your gear serviced periodically, just like you'd plan to service your car. I plan to send my gear back to Leica once per year to make sure that all the inevitable drops don't lead to long-term issues."

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