Repairing My 11-Year Old DSLR Lens

This is my 11-year old Canon Digital Rebel XTi. While I never got into “artistic” photography with it like I originally planned, we’ve been on a great many adventures together.

The last time I used it was just a quick hike in the mountains near my house last fall. Afterward, I had a few good shots that I was excited to share so, as soon as I got home, I sat down at our dining table and plugged it into my laptop.

Along came my curious 2-year old wanting to see what I was doing. I happily showed him the pictures and he was excited. Then suddenly he noticed the USB cable and he had to have it. Before I knew what was happening, he had the cable in his hands and yanked. The camera dutifully slid across the smooth surface of the dining table and plummeted, lens-first into the floor.

I picked up the camera and immediately saw the damage. It’s kind of hard to see in the photo above but the focusing ring is crooked. It was completely seized as well.

In the end, I put it up on a shelf until I could save up some cash for a new lens.

Fast forward a few months to a couple of days ago. My older son and I were sitting at home watching Peter McKinnon on YouTube so, naturally we were talking about cameras and he asked me why I didn’t use my “big camera” anymore, so I told him.

“Can’t you fix it?” he asked.

My job is to fix computers, not lenses, I started to tell him. Then I thought, what the hell, I was planning on replacing it anyway. Why not try to fix it? What’s the worst that could happen? It was already broken and unusable.

About ten minutes later, after skimming a couple of articles about taking apart lenses, I was removing the first screws. There’s six here, four around the edge then two holding the electrical contacts in place.

Ooh, brains.

With the black plastic ring and PCB out of the way it’s onto the autofocus motor. The screws at each end free the unit as a whole. Removing the other screws gives access to the internal gears so that they can be replaced if they get stripped out or something.

Hmm, got that out… now what?

What’s under here?

I didn’t get a good shot but there were 5 screws under the rubber grip.

Out come the guts! I was able to remove the inner glass and get down to see where the damage was.

What had happened is that the plastic guides, which slide along these grooves below the electrical contacts, had popped out of alignment. A minute or so of carefully prying with my pocket screwdriver and applying some firm pressure in the right places got it to pop back into place and start sliding freely again.

At this point the battery in my other camera died so there’s no more photos of the work. Putting it back together was basically the reverse. I took time to clean all the lenses and about 20 minutes later it was back together.

The autofocus doesn’t work anymore so I may take it back apart to troubleshoot that at some point but I’m fine with manual focus. Other than that it works perfectly!

Moral of the story: don’t be afraid to fix things that are broken. Seriously, I had no idea what I was doing and got this lens working again, saving myself a few hundred dollars with only about 30 minutes of work. If I hadn’t been able to fix it, oh well, I was going to replace it anyway and it still would have been an excellent opportunity to learn about how lenses work.

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