A zoom lens that doesn’t zoom

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014 at 09:31am

For many years (longer than I have had the Canon 7D body) I have had four lenses for my camera:

  • a “nifty fifty” EF 50mm f/1.8 that I have rarely used, when I got a new camera backpack earlier in the year this lens didn’t make the cut
  • an EF 70-200mm f/4 that I have mainly used at airshows
  • an EF 28mm f/1.8 that I use for low/ambient light indoor shots
  • and a heavily abused EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 that I use most of the time

There are lenses better than the 17-85mm but the both cost a lot more and do not give me the same range on a crop body such as the 7D. I would love to have a lens like the 24-70L or 24-105L, but I cannot justify the cost and to get the same practical use out of it I would also need to upgrade to a full frame body.

So far I have stuck with the 17-85 (it has been my everyday lens on the 400D, the 40D and currently the 7D) but it has not been without its issues. The biggest being a fault with the aperture control cable part of the way through a road trip from Melbourne to Perth and back. For the remainder of that trip I stuck with my 28mm lens (buying a polariser the first chance I got) and then took the 17-85 to Canon for repair once I got home.

Yesterday I found that the 17-85 had developed what I found to be another common fault, it was stuck at 17mm and would no longer zoom. I still spent the afternoon travelling around Portland, but I had to shoot everything at 17mm. I couldn’t even change to my 28mm as it was back in my room. The 50mm and 70-200mm were also not an option as I didn’t even bring them along on this trip.

Once back in my room I did some Google searches which is how I found it was a common issue that is usually caused by a single screw working loose inside the lens. Unfortunately you need to disassemble a fair amount of the lens to get to that screw. I briefly considered tracking down the required tools, but then I decided against taking the lens to bits here in my room in the Portland State Uni student accommodation.

As the remainder of my days in Portland will be taken up by OSCON I don’t need the lens working right now, but I am then spending six nights in San Francisco, a place where 17mm and 28mm are not the only focal lengths I have to work with.

One thought was to find a local lens repairer who could repair the lens before I flew out. I looked up a couple, but what their sites said about turn around was in the order of weeks. The option was there to call them first thing Monday morning.

I also started considering if it was time for a new lens. The 17-85 was introduced ten years ago, since then other lenses have been introduced that improve on its design. The obvious replacement being the 15-85mm which is both slightly wider and also slightly faster. The reviews of that lens say it is quite good, but priced a bit high. There are also non-Canon lenses that could be an option, but I need to take my time with the research as I don’t want to waste my money.

Then I thought about renting or borrowing a lens. Would it be possible to rent a lens in San Francisco to get me through to the end of my trip? The answer is yes and that is what I am doing. Through LensRentals.com I will be renting a 15-85mm lens (and polariser) that I will pick up from the FedEx store near where I am staying. Then before I head to the airport I will drop it back at a FedEx store with the provided return label. As well as giving me something to use for those six days, it will also give me information to feed into any future decision to buy that lens as a replacement for the 17-85.

But there is an issue which means I will mean I will probably still use the 17-85 for certain shots, the adapter ring for my LEE filters (ND grad and big stopper) is 67mm which is right for the 17-85, but the 15-85 is 72mm so it will not fit. I might be able to find a 72mm adapter ring, but that might not be a wise purchase as I might not need it in the future depending on what I do long term. I might still make some calls, but I might just have to live with the big stopper shots being at 17mm.

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