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A Guide to Repairing Camera Lens Scratches

That feeling when you take the lens cap off to reveal a scratch. How did that get there? When did that happen? Is it going to affect my photos? These are just some of the questions that will no doubt run through your head should you find yourself in this situation.

Cameras and their lenses are expensive pieces of equipment so the last thing you want to think about is having to replace your favorite lens just because there’s a bit of a scratch on it.

camera-lens-scratches-1 It would be much easier if you could just repair it right? But is that even possible?

Luckily, you have several options open to you. From sending it to the manufacturer for repair, buying a lens repair kit or opting for a DIY method, you definitely have choices when it comes to getting that lens back into action.

Obviously, the right option will vary depending on your circumstances, the kind of damage the lens has sustained and the make and model of the lens. In some cases your scratched lens may not even need repairing!

The most important thing to do if you find yourself with a scratched lens is not to panic! It doesn’t mean that your lens is no good anymore and you have to go out and buy another one. Instead take a little time to investigate exactly what’s going on.

It may turn out that its not a scratch at all but actually just some dirt or an eye lash. However, in the event that it is a scratch that does need repairing I’ll take you through your different repair options below.

Do camera lens scratches matter?

Camera lens scratches are a big deal to photographers because they have the potential to affect the image capture process. Depending on where on the lens the scratch is located, how big it is and how deep it is will depend on what kind of effect it will have.

For example, a small, surface level scratch found on towards the outside of the lens will likely have very little effect on images and so it probably wouldn’t be worth bothering with repairing it. Well, unless it got larger over time like when a chipped windscreen on a car turns into a crack.

Larger scratches, on the other hand, have the potential to cause blurring and distortion of an image and may even affect the camera’s ability to focus properly. These kinds of camera lens scratches are also more likely to be deeper too which can alter the way that the light scatters. While not an issue most of the time it can increase the chances of picking up lens flares, altering contrast and even collecting dust and dirt within them.

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In general, it’s probably not as bad as you think. For example, as a glasses wearer my glasses are often dirty, have smudges on them and I even have a tiny chip in the top left corner. However, mostly I don’t notice any of it and it’s the same when it comes to your camera lens.

Scratches usually only make a tiny part of your image blurry and when using small apertures most of the image isn’t in focus anyway so the scratch would blend in with the rest of the image. It’s only actually when you get to higher apertures, where more of the image is in focus that you might start to see the imperfections.

However, much like when correcting for sensor dust  problems caused by scratched lenses can be corrected for using editing software. It’s therefore important to do a bit of testing to figure out if the situation is as bad as you first thought before rushing off to repair it or even buy a new lens.

Can camera lens scratches be repaired?

Depending on how bad your camera lens is scratched will depend on whether it can be repaired or not. However, if your lens is too badly scratched to be repaired that doesn’t necessarily mean that your only option is to buy a new lens.

You can, instead opt to replace the front element of the lens. Although its worth noting that this can be expensive and is not always covered under your manufacturer’s warranty so it’s worth checking if it is and how much it will set you back first.

Most of the time replacing the front element is not needed and you can simply just put up with the scratch. However, for those that find themselves in need of a repair but replacing the front element is either not worth it or too expensive there are a few different options you can use to try and repair the scratch.

Use a Camera Lens Repair Kit

If sending your camera off to a repair shop is not an option, then getting your own repair kit may be the next best option. These kits usually contain a bunch of different tools allowing you to get in and repair different aspects of your camera lens.

They can be a great option for those experienced photographers who know their way around a camera. However, it is worth pointing out that pulling apart your camera lens yourself may void any warranties or guarantees so it’s worth checking first.

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Rubbing Alcohol Method

One of several DIY methods for repairing scratched cameras lenses, it is important that the rubbing alcohol is diluted before using (1 part alcohol to 20 parts water). Otherwise it will actually cause more damage to the lens. Once diluted, dip a clean microfiber cloth into the rubbing alcohol before gently rubbing it over the scratched area of the lens. The scratch should start to slowly disappear and once gone you can take another microfiber cloth and clean the rest of the lens up ready for taking photos with.

Repair the Camera Lens Scratch with Vaseline

Another DIY method is to use Vaseline. While this has been shown to work quite well on scratched plastic screens such as laptops the jury is still out on whether this is the best option for your scratched glass camera lens.

You first need to clean the lens as you would normally using a lens cleaning solution and a microfiber cloth. Once dry you can then apply a small amount of Vaseline to the scratch with a clean finger. Next take a new, clean microfiber cloth and wipe off the excess.

This method essentially makes the scratch disappear and so will need to be done semi-regular as the Vaseline rubs off over time. It’s also worth noting that the oily-ness of the Vaseline may affect the photos you are taking. The upside though is if it doesn’t work for you it is completely reversible.

Use Toothpaste

Toothpaste is a fairly popular scratched lens DIY choice probably because its known to be slightly abrasive and everyone has some in their home. As with the other methods you need to apply the toothpaste to the scratch (using a cotton bud can work really well) and gently rub it in. You then remove the toothpaste using a clean microfiber cloth.

It’s worth noting that there is the possibility that as the toothpaste works it could also remove the lens coating as well.

Glass Windscreen Polish

Lots of cars often get chips and scratches caused by small stones and other things hitting the windscreen. This has meant that a wide variety of car windscreen polishing products are on the market and as both the car windscreen and your camera lens is made from glass it isn’t too far-fetched to imagine it working well.

There are a few stories circulating on photography forums about people using this technique and it is working well. One particular account tells how they used it to restore and old camera lens that was already stripped of its lens coating and found that it brought it back to its former glory and even gave it a new lens coating!

Other DIY Methods

The internet is an interesting place full of weird and wonderful things and as such there are a couple other DIY methods for repairing scratches out there. How viable these are I do not know, however in the interest of providing you with as must information as possible I just wanted to quickly touch on them.

The first is using a new, clean pencil eraser to well, eraser the scratch. I imagine that this will work best with smaller scratches. The second and probably weirdest it a banana and baking soda combination. Basically, you’re supposed to add some baking soda to a piece of banana and then use to wipe away the scratches. Obviously, you would need to clean the lens afterward.

Here’s DialedTechs top tips:

 

Prevention Is the Easiest Way to Repair Your Scratched Camera Lens

Yes, it’s a little cheesy, but protecting your camera and looking after it is the easiest way overcome this whole saga. Not having a scratch to repair is definitely the easiest way but I am aware that accidents do happen after all. No one is perfect.

Using UV filters is a popular way to do this. They protect your lens but don’t affect the image in the same way a color filter would. You can also make sure that your camera is secure using the strap and stored away with the lens cap on in a suitable bag or case.

I hope this article was helpful in helping you deal with existing lens scratches and preventing new ones.

Learn more camera-care tips whether you’re a beginner or an expert here.

Nicholas Mitchell

Nicholas is a staff writer at Photodoto. His interests include photography, collecting cameras old and new, video editing, and all things 3d. If a new gadget comes out on the market, he's sure to be the first to try it. He enjoys experimenting with low light photography, very long exposures and high speed filming.
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