How much does a nick on the front element matter?

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by james_grindeland, May 13, 2010.

  1. Some great Nikon lenses go for a lot of money used, and most of them are in great shape. But what if I were to find one that had a little nick on the front element, or a couple of little nicks. How much should that matter optically, and how much less should I expect to pay for it? For instance, suppose the lens were the 70-200mm f/2.8, or the 24-70mm f/2.8, or the 28-70mm f/2.8, or the 17-55mm f/2.8. These lenses, in nice condition, tend to sell in the $1,000-2,000 range. But with a nick or two on the glass, how much would they sell for? I've never been able to find such a lens for sale, and I've checked ebay numerous times; so I don't have a clue. Again, two questions: how much does it matter optically, and how much cheaper should it be? Any feedback would be much appreciated! Thanks!
  2. You can zero out a nick with flat black paint from a hobby store. Just apply it carefully with the tip of a toothpick. If you make a mistake, just remove it with nail polish remover, acetone, or the like. I recently bought a well used Nikon 180mm f2.8 AIS ED lens for $130 on the auction site, and it has a small nick on the front element that was not disclosed in the auction description. I am keeping the lens, so far the performance has been stellar. I have not shot with it into any point-source lighting situations, which is where this kind of damage will show up. Used to be able to order a new front element for these lenses, but those days are over now.
  3. Wide angle lenses are more prone to showing such defects, especially at smaller apertures. A couple of little nicks on a telephoto lens are likely to not show up at all. Any optical defect will diminish the resale value of a lens. The greater the defect, the greater the devaluation. I would not buy a wide angle lens with nicks on the glass.
  4. I think the rule-of-thumb here is that any physical damage to the front element is increasingly visible as more light strikes that element - especially at an angle. So, while in some shots it would be completely invisible, the same nick could show up in other shots.
  5. In general it's definitely less of an issue than you would tend to think.
    I had a lens with a decent sized nick on the front element and tested it by pointing it towards light sources expecting it to flare but couldn't get it to. Resale value is definitely the biggest issue, but what this means is that you can potentially get bargains buying such a lens. Of course best to test it first though.
    I seem to remember a lens engineer telling me that issues with the back element are more problematic?
  6. For me a nick in the front element devalues the lense. It also makes it harder to resell. I purchased a 20mm Nikkor listed as mint and it had a imperfection on the rear element. When looking very close I could see some blur in the print. Since it was listed as mint I returned it. Light hitting the front element should make the scratch much more visible on the print, filters can also impact quality when pointed to a light source. I don't have any glass with these problems so I don't know how much effect it has. There is a test of a broken front element on and it is amazing how good the image is.
  7. (1) If one is a collector or Leica :) user; it matters a lot
    (2) to user; it matters less.
    A nick causes flare; larger ones can be blackened out with a fine sharpie; Koh-i-noor Technical pen.
    ****To a worry wart; it matters a alot. They believe it matters if a BB is glued to a dump truck or freight train; ie the gass mileage can drop and be measured.
    A lens hood helps with a lens with nicks; so does blackening in the nick.
    In buying a used Leica lens one really wants a lens with a nick or two. It drops the sale price in half. It is like buying a mower or shovel at Home Depot at 1/2 the cost there is a nick. To a Leica user or worry wart a tiny nick matters; so does the BB glued to a Freight train; or a penny added to Bank of America's bank balance.
    Many nicks on a lens drop contrast; light is scattered by the nick. If it is blackened in the scattering is way reduced; and your F2 lens becomes a F2.002 lens in speed. Rear element scratches are rarer but are closer to the film plane and can be worse; but they are not exposed to as much stray light like ones in the front,
    Many folks worry about this matter; some actual images should be done if one is concerned
    Buying shovels; mowers; lenses at 1/2 off here is down a lot. The 1/2 percent drop in the shovel or lenses performance to me is acceptable since I bought it at 50 off. THis topic arises on many times. The paranoid; excessive compulsive lens nick disorder is a GOOD* thing; it creates monster values on the used market. It really is a mental thing with many users; ie insane; these folks magnify a molehill into Mount Everest; the oil you spilled lubing you door lock to the BP disaster.
    The mental disorder is they have *no sense of scale*; and if in doubt they worry instead of testing the device. They would rather ask 1000 folks their opinions; than shoot a roll of film for a quick test.
    The issue is a grey scale one; not a black and white one.
    It is a BIG one selling higher end lenses and cameras for the buyer will use a penlight; magnifier and go crazy with any minor flaw. Many of theses folks do not even shoot images; they are collectors; fondlers; the folks like Jack on something about mary who open up a new soap bar for each usage.
    A super wide angle lens of short focal length can have a defect show up in the image; if the lens is stopped down alot.
    What matters is real life test data; not excessive compulsive worry wart guessing.
    Here I *LOVE* to buy lenses and tools with non functional defects; it creates a Warren Buffet buying event; ie perfect super value buy of an asset of great value.
    At a real brick and mortar store one can shoot a roll of film with the used lens in the store; or outside with them at your side and gets some dumb 1 hour prints and see if the defects matter or not; and thus quash the worries.
    With an Ebay buy there is more risk; folks illuminate their lenses differently; with soft lighting the nicks may not be seen; with glancing lighting they might look real bad. If the seller has no views or hides the lens the item might be bad or they are just poor ebayers with bad images.
    In an indoor shoot with controlled lighting it is what Kodak calls a low flare condition; an outdoor shot under direct sunllight can be a high flare condition.

    ***How a lens nick effects and drops the contrast is lay simple thinking is like your cars windshield. A dirty; scratched; bug covered windshield is noticed a lot more driving into the sun; then when the sun is behind one. Thus whether a nick "matters" depends on what one is shooting. If one commutes every day into the sun; a scratched windshield bothers one more than if the commutes the other way.
    Instead of worrying; a real test is what matters.
  8. My first Leica had a collapsible 50/2.8 with considerable cleaning marks on the front element. It had slight flare and lower contrast than my first new Summicron, but not much, and frankly, most of the time where I live, the problem is not a lack of contrast, but too much. I'm sorry I sold it to a friend, who still loves it.
  9. Blacking out a minor nick or two on the front element has worked just fine for me. A nick on the rear element poses more problems. Blacking it out may help but rear element defects generally tend to show up on the image.
  10. Not much effect, in my opinion.
    When I bought my first Nikkormat, back in 1968 I think, the salesman demonstrated why I shouldn't worry if there was a slight imperfection in the glass. He stuck a piece of paper about one-half the size of my little fingernail on the front of the lens and then had me look through the viewfinder. Couldn't see it at all. Of course something that size would make a difference, but not a small nick or bubble.
  11. Nicks, small scratches, etc will make no difference. Same goes for bubbles in the glass or dust in between elements. Fungus, haze and element separation are a different story, and need to be avoided. Same with marks on the rear element of a wide-angle.
  12. Margaret Bourke-White (who shot the very first cover for Life magazine, and their first photo essay too) recounts in her autobiography Portrait of Myself that while at Cornell she used a TLR with what she describes as a serious divot carved out of the shooting lens. Didn't seem to cause her any problems.
    Henry Posner
    B&H Photo-Video
  13. Check out this page on Kurt Munger's website for a rather graphic test of the amount of front damage needed to significantly deteriorate the image a lens produces (warning: not for the optically fainthearted)
  14. I was really scared discovering a *large* - about 4 cm - scratch on the front element of the Tamron 200-400. Didn't show in print, nada, zilch! . But of course, it's no point re-selling the lens at a large loss due to that thing; it will go in the back-pack of one of my kids.
  15. Awesome responses! Thanks.

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