A bad decision leads to an expensive camera repair and an embarrassing vacation story

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - I waded across the Youngs River to take this photo of Youngs River Falls. If you look closely, you can see a series of black lines in the photo, especially on the right-hand side. That's what happens when you scratch the camera's sensor.Have you ever had one of those days that you wish you could take a mulligan and make a series of different choices?

We recently went on vacation to the Oregon Coast, and the experience was damaged by one of those days.

While on vacation, my wife, Karlene, likes to relax and take it easy. Me, on the other hand, I want to go do things.

So anyway, in the middle of March, we took a week off and headed to Seaside.

According to the 10-day weather forecast, it was supposed to rain the entire week, but instead, most of the time the weather was really pretty good.

Anyway, there was one day where that wasn't the case. I got up before sunrise and headed off into the coast range to take photographs of a series of waterfalls near the Northern Oregon coast.

I knew it was going to be an interesting day when I headed to the parking garage and started to get rained on.

That wouldn't be a surprise, but the parking garage is exactly that, a garage. However, the sides are open and the wind was howling, driving rain into the covered parking area.

It turned out to be the only day that it rained hard on the entire vacation. Something of a surprise as bad weather often accompanies me on vacations.

It was obvious that it was going to continue to rain at least for much of the day, but I was prepared. I had a rain coat, rain pants, and just in case, my chest waders, a plastic raincoat for my cameras, and just in case the wind died down and it was still raining, an umbrella.

So anyway, I headed out onto the highway well before daylight, following the GPS to Youngs River Falls, which I had scouted two days earlier.

As I approached the parking area for the falls, the GPS said that I had arrived and told me to turn right, so I did, straight into a private logging road with plenty of heavy equipment and no place to turn around.

I backed out of the logging road and took the correct turn about 50 feet further down the road, arriving at my destination still before daylight.

With it still raining hard, I decided to put my chest waders on and prepared to get wet.

As I got out of the car at the waterfall, I noted that the surrounding trees were blocking the wind, so rather than place raingear on my camera, I elected to protect it with my umbrella.

That turned out to be a big mistake.

So anyway, I trudged down the path to the waterfall in near darkness and went to set my tripod up on a rocky outcropping that stuck out into the river, giving me an unobstructed view of the falls.

I set up my tripod, mounted my camera to the tripod, all the while protecting it from the weather with my golf umbrella and got ready to take slow exposures of silky smooth water as it cascaded over the approximately 60-foot-high fall that was first discovered by the Lewis and Clark expedition.

I took a series of photos and was less than pleased with the results, so decided to move my position.

After moving a few feet, I again set up my tripod, and this time, I made my second big mistake. I locked the mirror on my camera up so that I wouldn't get any vibration from the mirror as I took my photos.

I shot another series of photos and decided that the photos could be improved by changing lenses.

Unfortunately, I failed to unlock the camera's mirror.

That ultimately turned into a very costly mistake.

Changing lenses in wet weather can be problematic. Changing lenses while holding an umbrella in wet weather standing on slippery rocks can be even more problematic.

Nonetheless, that's what I decided to do.

I have changed lenses in bad weather countless times and have never had any problems — that is, before that particular day.

I removed the camera from the tripod and unzipped a pocket on my rain jacket to get a different lens out. Then I removed the first lens from my camera, still holding the umbrella, and placed that lens in my pocket, while holding the camera against my body to protect it from the rain.

As I started to zip my pocket back up, I slipped on the rocks, landing on my back in a hole.

Since protecting my camera equipment always comes first, I turned as I fell to make sure that the pocket that held my lens didn't hit the ground, and I clutched my camera to my chest to protect it.

So anyway, there I was, laying on my back in a hole in the rocks, looking somewhat like a turtle on its back as I tried to get up, while still keeping my camera protected with the umbrella.

The camera never hit the ground, and it didn't get any rain on it, so I breathed a big sigh of relief as I struggled to get up.

Once on my feet, I put the new lens back on the camera and took a shot. Checking the screen on the back of my camera, I noted a black blob blocking most of the photo.

Somehow, I had managed to kick up some moss as I fell. The moss managed to land in the worst place imaginable, inside my camera.

Normally, that wouldn't have been a problem as the camera's mirror would have protected the camera from anything falling inside it. However, as you may recall, I locked the mirror up to prevent camera shake.

Somehow, the little clump of moss found its way inside my camera and onto the all-important camera sensor.

So, I retreated to my car, where I removed the moss from the camera. Thinking I had dodged a bullet, I returned to the river to continue shooting.

And the first couple of photos that I took looked fine, at least on the 3-inch LCD screen from the camera.

Thinking that I had dodged a bullet, I continued to shoot, finally wading into the middle of the river, where I shot the "perfect" photo of Youngs River Falls.

Pleased with the photos I took, I returned to my car and drove on to Fishhawk Falls, a seldom visited fall in Fishhawk Creek in Clatsop County.

I spent maybe two hours wading in the creek, taking what I thought were great photos of a beautiful waterfall.

Before returning to Seaside, I drove to Jewell Meadows to photograph the elk herd.

All in all, a pretty good morning of photography, or so I thought.

I returned to the resort that Karlene and I were staying at more or less in time for lunch. After drying off, I ate lunch and then set out to download my photos from my camera's memory cards to a portable hard drive.

While I was downloading photos, I decided to look at some of the photos that I had shot, and immediately saw a bunch of small dark lines across my photos.

Unfortunately, it turns out that I managed to scratch the surface of the sensor, not once, but multiple times.

Not bad scratches. In fact, they are so small that you can't see them with the naked eye.

They are so small that if you shoot with the lens wide open, they don't show. However, once you stop the camera down to f8 and above, the scratches become more and more noticeable.

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Sunset on the Seaside Promenade the final night of our vacation. Seaside is a great jumping off place to explore the Northern Oregon Coast.Basically, all the photos I took on my primary camera that morning are useless. The lines are in every photo I took, that is after I fell. They are so noticeable that the photos are unsalvageable. So noticeable that I was unable to shoot with my primary camera for the rest of our vacation.

It turns out that it isn't very smart to try to hold an umbrella, a camera, and two lenses, while standing in the rain on slippery rocks.

Not only is it hard on your body when you fall, it's also expensive.

The final Saturday of our vacation, I was invited to attend a track meet at my alma mater, George Fox University.

The meet was named after the head track coach while I was attending college, the Rich Allen Classic, and members of previous teams were invited to attend.

So anyway, I left Seaside early in the morning and headed to Portland to take my camera to a repair shop that I have previously used.

They said that it would be about a week to replace the sensor, and that it would probably cost only $200 to $300.

I dropped the camera off, thinking that could be worse, and headed to Newberg for the track meet.

Fortunately, I have a second camera body, which I took to Newberg just in case.

Once there, I met up with several members of teams that I had competed on, some who I had not seen since college.

We spent some time talking about the glory days and about growing old.

It was pretty interesting seeing photos of ourselves up on the big screen at the stadium. I didn't realize that there even were any photos. After all 40 years ago was well before digital photography, and I don't recall seeing a camera at our meets, at least most of the time.

Most of us have seen expanded waistlines and receeding hairlines since those photos were taken, still, they bring back good memories.

They placed us near the starting line, which meant that we were 100 meters or more from the finish line, and probably 150 meters or more from the big screen that they posted results on.

Never was old age more apparent than a group of middle-aged men attempting to read results on a scoreboard.

Just one member of the team could still read results off of the screen. Well that's not quite true, I could read results if I used my big camera lens.

So anyway, two of us spent much of the time telling everyone else what times people ran.

Midway through the meet, they stopped everything and called all of us that were on the team in 1978 to the center of the track near the grandstands so that they could recognize us 40 years after the school's first district track and field championship. Unfortunately, not one of us heard the announcement.

After a few moments, they sent someone to get us, and we ambled down the track and held our hands up in acknowledgement as they introduced us one by one.

After the meet, we were fed pizza, something that is banned on my current diet, and were invited to mingle with members of the current team.

All in all, it was kind of a fun day.

Anyway, I returned to Seaside that evening and took one last set of photos of the sunset with my backup camera.

Sunday morning, we packed up and headed back to Prineville. That Monday, I was back at work, frantically writing stories about all the sports events that had happened while I was gone.

Everything was back to normal, that is, except for with my camera. Monday, I received an email from the camera repair shop.

Thinking it was to tell me that my camera was already repaired, I excitedly opened the email only to find out that not only was my camera not repaired, there isn't even a repair date.

You see, Nikon is so concerned about the proprietary nature of the sensor on my camera that they won't allow even authorized repair shops to use the sensors.

The email was merely asking me for permission to ship the camera on to Nikon.

Who knows when it will be repaired, or what it will cost. The repair shop said that it would be an estimated two to four weeks. It's been three weeks now, and still no news.

I can still feel the effects of my fall, but it isn't really physical. It's more hurt pride. After all, the camera repair shop said that I'm the first person they have ever heard of who damaged a sensor in a fall. Most people who scratch their sensors do it when they try to clean it them themselves because they are too cheap to pay a professional.

I know all about that, because I have done that with a previous camera, but this is new. I guess the moral of the story is don't try to change lenses in the rain, at least not with the mirror locked up, while wearing chest waders and holding an umbrella.

Well, live and learn. I guess it's a good thing that I invested in a backup camera.

Lon Austin is the sports editor for the Central Oregonian. He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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