Friday, May 31, 2013

The Risk of Buying Expensive Used AF Lenses

Let's face it. Most of us amateur photo enthusiasts are not rich. It's our hobby that we maintain with what's left of the disposable income. That, of course, does not stop us from dreaming to own some nice gear.  Unfortunately, there is always this little problem of money, or the lack of it. So, the only way we can afford some of them is to buy used. My Canon 200mm f1.8L was the MOST expensive lens I have bought, ever, and I don't want to even remember how much I paid.

Buying used of anything comes with its associated risks. We don't know what the previous owner(s) did to them. They could have abused them, or took very good care of them.  We simply don't know. Fortunately, this part of the risk is relatively low, as we can usually test it before buying. The most risky aspect is the actual repair of very old auto focus lenses.

Once a lens is discontinued by the manufacturer, they might make a run of the most commonly used parts for the discontinued lens, that would enough for repairs for about 10 years. If the parts are used up, you are SOL. So, those 200mm f1.8L, first generation 300mm f2.8L, 400mm f2.8L, etc, are usually not even repairable any more, because parts are no longer available. Sometimes, I think manufacturers do this because they want us to buy their latest replacement lens, which cost 2x to 3x more expensive than the old one.

In the case of my 200mm f1.8L, the lens can still take pictures, but at the fixed distance, whatever it was when it stopped working. The sad thing about this particular lens, is that once AF is lost, you can not manual focus either. Just imagine for a moment, your $4000 lens, still one of the best out there, looks pretty, but now useless, because you can't even focus it manually. Many of Canon's USM lenses are like this; it would not work once AF is shot.

So, what do you do with an expensive, but non-functional lens? Hang it on the wall like a 3-D art object? Pray to the lens god everyday, and hope it would start working again? Or sell it for next to nothing?  There is something that can be done about lenses like this one.

I once read about a Chinese Si Foo (master) who does lens conversion, and he made a sea water damaged EF 85mm f1.2L into a manual focus lens. You can read about it here. It's definitely not an attempt for the faint of heart, or the casual DIY type. Extensive surgery is required. I think the same thing can be done for the EF 200mm f1.8L, but no one knows until some brave soul tries it.

So, tomorrow I will go pick up the 200mm f1.8L, put it in the case, and wait for some miracle to happen.

William. This is one of my favourite pictures from the 200mm f1.8L. Taken with Canon T2i, ISO 6400 @ f1.8


  1. good luck with the lens conversion!

    1. Well, no one I know of knows how to do the conversion!

  2. I wish you luck. I just converted the FDn 85mm f/1.2L to EF...for this very reason.

    1. Manual Focus Lenses are definitely better investment.

  3. thanks for helping me feel better about FD on my m4/3 :-)

  4. So I'm guessing you took it to one of the Canon Service Centers, and they said they no longer had parts for it, so they couldn't fix it. Is that right?
    I ask because I live about 10 minutes from the Canon Western Region service facility here in Irvine, CA, and I could probably stop in there some day soon and ask them about it if you'd like.
    Take Care,