If you read my last blog post, you’ll know that I managed to fall over recently. This in itself isn’t unusual for me in the field, it’s a past time that is part and parcel of landscape photography – I’ve lost count of how many times it’s happened. This time was different however, I tripped on a cobbled path while my Nikon D810 and 70-200mm was hanging around my neck and managed to land on top of it face down on the stone…
I managed to smash my knee into the stone, an injury I’m still carrying, and worse still I crunched my D810 and 70-200mm f/4 into the path. I wonder how a little mirrorless Fuji would have faired because the D810 was now wearing some significant deep scratches. After putting my camera to one side while I brushed myself down and assessed my injuries I was steeling myself for the fact that I had seriously damaged my gear and it was no longer going to be functional. I was on a trip to the Lakes and it was first light on Saturday morning, I couldn’t have been more angry with myself.
A particular lesson for others to consider here however; firstly I always carry a spare DSLR for this exact scenario and on this trip it was my Nikon D500. Others may not have the luxury of being in a position to own multiple cameras of this quality but I immediately calmed myself because it meant the weekend wasn’t cancelled before it had begun. The D500 could easily fill in for what was needed if necessary. Secondly, if you just shoot with zooms and break one then you have a massive gap in focal length – again I had primes with me which could fill in to a degree for my 70-200mm including my Zeiss 100mm f/2 and Nikon 58mm f/1.4G.
I picked up the D810 with the 70-200mm attached and looked it over. It was covered in filth, the stone had heavily cut into the metal top plate, the flash cover was trashed too. Before testing the lens, I gingerly dismounted it to look it over carefully to see if there were any cracks, that the mount was still sound etc. The 70-200mm f/4 is half the weight of its solid metal f/2.8 stable mate so I didn’t think it would stand up. Apart from a minor crack in the lens hood (another lesson to have it on as protection?) it looked like the 70-200mm had survived without a scratch. I mounted the 70-200mm back on and tested all of its functions. Still perfect and my D810 was 100% responsive too. A very, very lucky escape.
It was painful looking at the D810 all weekend with its war wounds so as soon as I was back home from the lakes I thought about what I could do to fix it up. I quickly ruled out sending it to Nikon; the damage appeared to be superficial, the camera was working perfectly and I didn’t fancy a massive bill to put right some cosmetic damage. I decided to take a gentle approach at first and use some wire wool to see if I could soften some of the scars on the body. It turned out that this wasn’t so useful – as I expected it did manage to reduce some of the cuts in the plastics on the flash top cover but at the price of the paint. On the body itself it just took the paint off a bit but didn’t affect the scratches.
At this point I decided to use an electric nail file to smooth the edges where the cuts in the body were. Working slowly, this did exactly what I wanted but now exposed a significant area of the shiny metallic silver of the body underneath. It would need a paint job and if I could get hold of one I needed new plastics for the top of the flash cover. Could I do it myself? Hmmmm. I popped the flash and took a look underneath – to my joy there were two small screws which appeared to have no other function than holding the top plastics on. I have a nice set of small precision screw drivers so took the screws out to see if I was right. Yes. I popped the plastics off – all I needed was a replacement.
I scoured eBay to see what I could find. I managed to uncover a seller in China (where else!) who seemed to selling a plethora of original spares to fix Nikon and Canon cameras. The feedback was great so I bought a replacement for under £20 delivered. Awesome. For everyone else’s reference the guy I used is here: http://www.ebay.co.uk/sch/Replacement-Parts-Tools/182074/m.html?_ssn=hzluo2011&_sac=1. It took a little over a week to arrive from China but it did indeed look legit – it had the same markings inside and out as the one I had taken off so it was just a matter of fitting it. A couple of minutes of fiddling and all was well again. One problem solved.
Next the paint job. I used to make a few plastic models when I was a kid so I decided that I’d try and get a colour match and paint in the rather considerable silver areas myself. No clues online from anyone so I went to a hobby shop to look for some enamel paint and fine brushes. For those who don’t know there are basically two types of paint available – acrylic which is water based and enamel which is oil and thinner based. Acrylic would chip off or wear away in a nano second so if you’re going to touch up anything always pick an enamel for metal surfaces. I picked up a small pot of Humbrol Matt 33 Black enamel and some small fine detail model makers brushes. After a really good stir which is necessary when using an enamel paint which has probably sat and separated, remarkably the paint was an exact match to my eye for Nikon’s colours and I set about painting in all of the exposed metal. I left an hour between each thin coat to dry properly and applied three coats in total.
The end result is so good you’d never know unless you looked really hard. I probably should have taken some pictures before I painted it because you’d be quite shocked what I started with…
I hope this is useful for anyone out there contemplating doing a similar repair. For £25 and a bit of effort and patience I repaired 98% of the damage, I’m sure Nikon would have charged me a lot, lot more, possibly £100s to replace the top half of the camera. If nothing else the paint I found is something of a fluke – I thought I was going to end up trying all sorts of shades before I got a good match but I somehow hit the right one first time! Now I just need to stay on my feet a bit more often…