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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dropping the Big Lens - The Pain, The Agony

I have had many near disasters in my photography career.  From semis threatening to run me off the road (thank you Alaska Highway Milepost 724 for having a tiny bit of shoulder that didn't exist elsewhere) to camera lenses somehow dying mid-trip (2,413 Yukon landscape pictures tossed because of a malfunctioning lens that suddenly developed a soft spot 2/3rds of the way up and to the right) to back brakes going the way of the dinosaur on the Dempster:

Mechanic: "Your back brakes aren't actually there."

Me (glazed over, punched-in-the-head look): "What do you mean?"

Mechanic: "I mean the pads aren't actually there, they've fallen out or something."

But few things can compare to dropping my prized work possessions, my Canon 500mm f4 lens attached to my 1D Mk IV body; a total bill of $13,000 if I were to have to replace them. 

Yet that is exactly what happened on February 16th, 2011 during my Jasper wildlife workshop.  They dropped, and they broke.  Perhaps shattered would be an even better word, as pieces of metal and 'things' went flying all over the place.  That it happened in a conference room downstairs in the Sawridge Inn on a Friday night while I was giving a little talk to the participants on how to use a Wimberley tripod head with a big lens on it (first, you screw it on properly, then, you lift it up high in the air so everyone can see it, then you watch in slow motion as the lens and camera, obviously not properly screwed on, do a penguin-ish belly flop off the tripod six long feet down onto a hard carpeted floor) was simply an extra kick to the head.  This is how NOT to do it was apparently the lesson my big lens and camera had in mind.

The funny thing is, I barely even flinched, which is more than I can say for the workshop participants.  Hendrik Boesch, a good friend of mine from Calgary, almost cried.  He felt the pain, I realized the irony and felt the agony later that night in the hotel room as I thought to myself, "Seriously, you're telling me that I traipse all over one of the most rugged countries on earth for 16 years carrying this beast of a lens through rain, snow, and sleet and yet I break it in a hotel conference room while giving a talk?!"

But here's where the story gets good.  Back in June 2010, Canon Canada launched a new and improved CPS (Canon Professional Services) department to handle disasters like mine.  I signed up right away and paid the hefty fee ($300+), hoping it would give me piece of mind if the occasion to need it should arise.  So on Sunday night when I arrived home from Jasper I left a long and detailed voice mail on the Canon CPS toll-free line, lamenting my bad luck and careless handling and asking them what they might be able to do.  I needed repairs (I desperately hoped I only needed repairs and not an entirely new lens and body!) and I needed replacements as fast as possible.

To my surprise, Monday morning rolled around and I didn't hear a thing from them.  So by 10 a.m. MST I decided it was time to call in again to see what was going on.  They apologized immediately for not "having time to call me back yet" because "we've been busy making sure a new 500 and 1D IV for you gets out with the courier this morning and we figured we'd worry about your potential repairs once we had a lens and body in your hands again."

I was flabbergasted.  Within four business hours on Monday morning they had fired off a new 500 and 1D IV for my use via next day courier and indeed, by Tuesday at 10 a.m. I had the replacements.  In an instant, that $300 fee became worth every penny.  But it gets better: I sent in my lens and body that Monday afternoon and had them both back in my hands, fully repaired and functional (for a mere $700!!), by the next Monday afternoon.

Now that's what I call service.  So much so that I felt I had to write about it and tell those of you that shoot with Canon gear to get onto this program sooner than later, as it's well worth the money.

So on that happy note, I present you with today's Photo of the Day, which is actually a shot from two springs ago (I'm starting to get the itch already!) of a beautiful big male grizzly that I ran into on the Kootenay Parkway in early May.

A gorgeous male grizzly in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia

This image is part of the editing frenzy I've been going through lately...on Monday I blogged that I had finally finished editing 2008, well, today I'm almost through all of 2009 -- just four folders of images left to go!

Happy shooting (and editing).



  1. It's funny you post about this topic because I was just talking to friends about how it seems scary to walk around with such expensive equipment, and we discussed camera insurance. I'm sorry that happened, but obviously it has a pretty happy ending! Thank you for sharing. When I move on to fancier equipment, I'll definitely look into that.

  2. I was hoping you would switch to the yellow side so that you could lend me some of your lenses on future tours :)

  3. That's a great photo.

  4. Made me sick at my stomach just thinking about the camera and lens in it's slow drop to the floor! I almost dropped my 100/400mm lens and saw my life pass before my eyes! Fortunately, I caught it. My equipment doesn't compare to yours, but it's the best I can afford and it would kill me to lose it. I just sent my Canon T1i in for repair and after only 10 months it is unfixable and I will be given a new one on Monday.

  5. I don't wish this on anyone but these stories are always told better by someone else. However, this story continues a trend of good reviews of CPS. I've had a number of friends comment about how good it is as well as how good Nikons equivalent service is. Similar situations from both were replacement gear is immediately sent out.

  6. Hey John, glad to hear you got your gear fixed!! I would have gone into cardiac arrest if that happened to me. You handled it much better than I would have!!! Although I have never used the CPS services I have contacted Canon's tech support hotline on 3 occasions. On all three I spoke to an agent who spoke perfect english, was here in the US, knew the product in question inside out and solved my problem quickly and efficiently. I was totally satisfied on each occasion. On a seperate note, that shot of that big boy is outstanding. That is a beautifully coated bear. Well done!

  7. On a similar note ....

    On a photo trek back in 2006, I was removing my backpack from the back seat of my rental vehicle at Deetjen's Big Sur Inn, in Big Sur, California. The dome light wasn't working, so it was (almost pitch black). I grabbed the backpack, swung it up on my shoulders as I always do, and the contents of the bag hit the pavement -- my 5D, my 70-200, 24-70 and my 16-35. As you can imagine, I used a few choice words (which you weren't able to do in front of a class)! I felt sick. Fortunately nothing broke except for one UV filter. So I could still shoot for the remainder of my trek. The cover over the prism had a dent in it. Upon return home, I sent everything to Canon for repair. At that time, CPS membership was free (upon a review of a portfolio, etc.). The body was returned looking like new. And they looked over the lenses. All was well and my insurance company footed the bill.

    Seldom am I moved by wildlife photography, but the shot of your grizzly bear is the only the second shot of animals that stirs my soul (the other shot is by Art Wolf of camargue horses running across the Rhone River. Very nice work!


  8. OMG! I can't believe you broke that! I was crying just looking at the title. Nice service from Canon, signing up now...


  9. Geez! My heart stopped!! So glad there was a happy ending to the story:). Amazing photo as always. Always enjoy your blogs John.


  10. Wow, great service from Canon. I sent a Nikon camera in a couple of years ago to get a weird thing fixed: the information being written to the card would stall and the camera freeze up. We couldn't figure it out. So off it goes to Nikon for repair and in the meantime I used another camera - and it did the same thing!! So back to The Camera Store where one of the helpful staff figured out the culprit was actually a cheap camera release with a sensitive lock button. When I pressed the release to take a picture, the lock button would move a hair now and then and interrupt the signal to the camera.

    So nothing wrong with the camera.... But Nikon reported back weeks later that the lens mount was damaged and something was wrong with the mirror! Weird. The Camera Store was really nice about it, but Nikon's service wasn't very impressive.

  11. Excellent John, both the image and the CPS story. Gives me faith that CPS will be there if I ever drop my big lens and camera. Your story certainly justifies the annual fee.

  12. I am new to your blog, and must say that I absolutely love it. Your photography is beyond amazing, and I look forward to learning all I can from you through your galleries and ALL your posts. Cheers!

    Yvonne Metcalfe, Barrie, On

  13. Thanks for the comments everyone!