Your lost/destroyed camera/chase equipment stories

Jan 14, 2011
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St. Louis
stormhighway.com
Thought this might be an interesting one.

1996, Huntington, WV: My camera/film cooler with my Pentax K1000 SLR and 28mm lens was stolen from an excursion train while I helped a couple passengers exit down the steps on one of the cars. Value of loss: around $350. I used to carry my gear in a cooler to protect it from heat, and I always had it with me in case an unexpected storm popped up.

1999 South Charleston, WV: Again, camera/film cooler with Minolta SRT201, 28mm lens and 70-000mm lens stolen from my car as I was unloading it for a trade show. Value of loss: about $400.

2002: Eleanor, WV: Drove off with my 28mm K-mount lens on the hood of my truck while shooting lightning. Value of loss: about $100

2013, El Reno, OK: Lost rear window, driver's side rearview mirror, HP laptop and the lens hood of my Panasonic HMC150 during the tornado. Value of loss: $2,000

2015, Wienert, TX: Drove off with my Canon Xsi with Canon 10-22mm lens on the roof of the car. Camera and lens fell off at approximately 50mph and disintegrated on the road. Returned to the location after the storm in an attempt to find it, but the entire area was under 6 inches of water. The camera, lens parts and memory card are likely still there to this day. Value of loss: $1,400. Rear dashcam captured it:


2016, downtown St. Louis: Wind blew over my tripod with my Panasonic HMC150 onto hard concrete, breaking the tabs that hold the battery in place. Camera still worked, but was essentially unusable as the battery would lose contact with the slightest movement, shutting off the camera and corrupting the video file. Approx. depreciated value of camera at the time: $1,200.

2017, New Baden, IL: Jogged across the parking lot at my apartments to shoot lightning with a fast-incoming storm, carrying my tripoded DSLR. Smashed my foot against a concrete parking stop in the dark, completely separating my big toenail and sending me crashing into the grass. Canon 10-22mm lens broken in half. Value of lens: $850. Urgent Care medical bill for my foot: $1,800 (including x-ray and dressing). Took my toenail a year to completely grow back.

jan25-cam.jpg

Estimated total of all losses: $6,200
 
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Aug 9, 2012
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Galesburg, IL
tornadoguys.com
I've been fairly lucky in that I haven't destroyed any gear. We left some gear in a hotel room in Batesville, MS many years ago; had to drive 60 miles back to get it. However it saved us for the day because it put us into prime position to intercept a large tornado later on. Otherwise, I loaned my original Rebel camera to who is now an ex girlfriend and never got that back. So I guess that is my worst war story. Kind of lame, but also kinda funny to me. I could have always went for legal help, but it wasn't worth it to me. Oh and I jammed my lens once by dropping my camera, I got it unstuck though by using a butter knife and prying part of the focal ring back (I don't know how I thought of this, but I did) and it worked. Works like brand new.
 

Warren Faidley

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May 7, 2006
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Mos Isley Space Port
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Great thread. After so many years of shooting storms, I've actually been quite lucky. Three of my best stories: I once left a very expensive (I was dirt poor at the time), medium format lens on an overpass guard rail support while shooting lightning. The next morning I woke up in a panic, somehow realizing I forgot the lens. (Taking inventory while sleeping I guess). I drove like a madman in the dawn light to about 25 miles south of Tucson. Just as I topped the overpass, a car stopped in front of me and someone ran out to grab the lens, now visible in the daylight. I pulled up behind them and told them the story while showing my Police Press ID, so fortunately, they handed it over.

The second event occurred in Northern Kansas while shooting a nighttime tornado between lightning flashes. A couple of people stopped and came over to see what I was doing. As we were watching the tornado, a sudden gust of wind blew the tripod over, along with a band new video camera. Right before the camera slammed to the ground, a teenager reached out and grabbed the tripod. It tuned out he was the local high school's star wide receiver.

When a Discovery crew was filming me during Hurricane Irma, the crew became caught in a rip current from the storm surge and they submerged a $120k+ broadcast quality HD video camera in the water, instantly destroying it. Regardless, they were lucky to have survived.

I think coming from a hard core photojournalism background has saved my equipment (and me) countless times.
 

Mark Blue

Owner
Staff member
Feb 19, 2007
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Colorado
I’ve been very fortunate but my wife much less so. She has lost two HTC One smartphones. One in 2015 in a small town in Texas southwest of Lubbock. A man found it and called me based on a text I had sent to her phone. I thought we had a deal worked out for him to send it back in exchange for $100 but he never did, so I bought her a newer HTC. Last year she left her HTC on the roof or hood (not sure) again and it fell off as we merged back onto I-76. I was able to track it by its last ping so my wife drove out and found it but it was seriously smashed up. I was able to get the SIM card out of it but it didn’t work in her new Samsung, so after getting another from the Verizon store she was back in business.
 
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Sep 7, 2013
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Strasburg, CO
I haven't lost any gear luckily.

But I foolishly set up a tripod to shoot lightning with the center leg pointing into the wind instead of away. In the split second I turned away, a gust came through and tipped that sucker over backwards onto the gravel road, carrying my Nikon D5200 with a Rokinon ultra wide. After cleaning everything up, the only real damage, luckily, was a focus shift on the lens and the camera somehow survived, even though it hit the ground first. Keep in mind, I'm 6"4 and usually have the camera at eye level, so it took a hard hit.

I still use this setup, although I may need to replace the lens soon.
 
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Warren Faidley

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May 7, 2006
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Mos Isley Space Port
www.stormchaser.com
I haven't lost any gear luckily.

But I foolishly set up a tripod to shoot lightning with the center leg pointing into the wind instead of away. In the split second I turned away, a gust came through and tipped that sucker over backwards onto the gravel road, carrying my Nikon D5200 with a Rokinon ultra wide. After cleaning everything up, the only real damage, luckily, was a focus shift on the lens and the camera somehow survived, even though it hit the ground first. Keep in mind, I'm 6"4 and usually have the camera at eye level, so it took a hard hit.

I still use this setup, although I may need to replace the lens soon.
One way to prevent this is to attach a weight to the tripod via a small rope and Carabiner for rapid set up and break down. I often use a gallon jug of water. If I'm in a super hurry, I just leave the jug.
 
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Bill Hark

EF5
Jan 13, 2004
1,309
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Richmond Virginia
www.harkphoto.com
No totally destroyed equipment, but I've damaged my Sony HVR-Z1U on two occasions.

1) During the first Bowdle, SD tornado of May 22, 2010, I turned my head for a brief moment and the wind blew the camcorder and tripod over onto the pavement. The tripod mount on the camera snapped off. The camera still functioned, but I had to pay a couple hundred dollars to have it fixed after the chase trip. I was using a very heavy Manfrotto tripod.

2) In May 2017, I was using the same camcorder in Colorado and the inflow to a mesocyclone blew it over severely damaging the eyepiece. I haven't bothered to fix it since the camera still works, and I usually use the fold out screen.

3) In May 2015, during a down time, I saw a bunch of cowboys rounding up cattle near Claude, Texas. I went running over to take pictures and promptly tripped. I landed on my camera, new Nikon 28-300 lens facing down. It was covered in mud and the front element was scratched. Luckily, I had a UV filter that I replaced, and the camera and lens continued to function.

socProtectyourlensConwayTX2015DSC_0930.jpg
 
Sep 7, 2013
684
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Strasburg, CO
One way to prevent this is to attach a weight to the tripod via a small rope and Carabiner for rapid set up and break down. I often use a gallon jug of water. If I'm in a super hurry, I just leave the jug.
I have a weight sling but always forget about it in the moment. I've had success orienting the tripod to the wind, but not this time. This was the only time in however many years I've been out that my gear hit the ground. Water jug is a good idea since I almost always have one in the car during the season, be it chasing or camping.
 

MClarkson

EF5
Sep 2, 2004
892
28
11
Blacksburg, VA
Don't climb up a waterfall and goof off with your camera in your pocket... especially if that pocket is not a deep pocket.

just saying...

lol oops. At least that was my old point and shoot...


Also the eyewall of hurricane Jeanne ate one of our video cameras. Expecting such an issue was possible, we brought spares... totally worth trading an old tape recorder for a major eyewall!
 
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John Farley

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Apr 1, 2004
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www.johnefarley.com
I have been fortunate not to have any such mishaps chasing. But I have had a couple on ski trips. 40+ years ago, on my first western ski trip, 3 of us drove from Michigan to Jackson Hole, WY. On the way back, one person in the group (not me) developed a flatulence problem and the windows had to be occasionally opened to make the ride bearable. I had never driven a car with automatic windows before, and when the aforementioned problem occurred while I was driving, I hit the wrong button and lowered the rear window instead of the front one. Nobody realized it at the time, but my camera had been piled on top of other stuff on that side in the back seat, and out it went somewhere on I-80 in Nebraska. I did not mind losing the camera as it was not of much value, but I very much minded losing some of the pictures that were on the film in the camera.

The other incident happened on a more recent trip when a group of us were taking video of each other going off a small jump. I stupidly had my pocked unzipped, and when I went off the jump, my camera went flying out of my pocket. Luckily I realized it and was able to climb back up and retrieve it, and with the soft landing in the snow, there was no damage. Funniest part of this story is that the person filming me caught the camera flying out of my pocket, so I have video of the launch!
 
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Mar 8, 2016
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Bloomington, IL
Lucky enough to have not lost any gear yet, but I did almost lose my camcorder to a tripod that wasn't properly weighted getting blown over by inflow on 6/12/17. That one taught me real good to use weights now haha!
 
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I haven't lost anything too big, but a few years ago I owned a GoPro ripoff that I'd use for underwater video. The big open grass field on our property floods extremely quickly during torrential rain, so during a flash flood warning, I decided it'd be a good idea to put it into the water near the drainage tile, film it getting sucked under the road, and run to retrieve it on the other side. Needless to say, I wasn't quick enough, and I watched as the pretty rapid stream carried it off about 30 feet in front of me as I was unable to catch up. It's probably in the Gulf of Mexico by now.
 
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Todd Lemery

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Jun 2, 2014
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Menominee, MI
I had my window half rolled down and went to take a quick picture with one hand of some structure while I was moving and when my wrist hit the window, I literally threw my phone out the window. The glass was broken, but I was still able to use it until I got to a store for a new one.
 
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I've had cameras take a tumble from a tripod blowing over but haven't had any damage from it thankfully. My best story was from the nighttime event near Pampa, Texas on Nov. 16th, 2015. I was moving north towards Pampa and spotted the large tornado to the west that would eventually just miss town. I got my tripod out and took a few shots, and I was in such a hurry to post a photo that I took the camera off the tripod behind the truck, and got in the vehicle with my camera and took off. It was about 5 minutes later when I was well down the road to stop for another round of shots when I realized I left my tripod behind, which was a real problem trying to shoot stills in the dark. I decided to move ahead and stay with the tornado because this was too good to leave behind. After it passed by Pampa I let it go, and decided to go back south to see if I could find it. It was anywhere between I-40 and Pampa, and that was a large area to have to search so I used Google Maps and my photo timestamps to narrow it down to where I might have been. After about 30 minutes of driving on the shoulder retracing my steps I finally found it sitting right where I left it. It was kind of a pain to spend so much time searching for it, but I didn't want to spend the extra money to replace it. I'll always remember every minute of that night.
 

James Gustina

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Mar 9, 2010
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www.thunderingskies.blogspot.com
I've yet to lose or damage anything major that wasn't a car while chasing (knock on wood), but did manage to gum up an older tripod. May 25, 2012 on the first storm of the day before it crossed the warm front near Russell. I didn't have my tripod weighted down at all and thankfully my crappy mid-range camera wasn't screwed on yet because inflow sent the tripod airborne into a drainage ditch. It lost a few screws that made it never quite as sturdy again and I essentially avoided using it after 2016.

Sent from my VS996 using Stormtrack mobile app
 
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John Farley

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Apr 1, 2004
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Actually now I do remember one chasing-related incident - a couple years ago, I somehow lost the connector cable between my lightning trigger and camera without realizing it at the time. When I ordered a replacement cable, I ordered two so if it happens again I have a spare. Worst part of this mishap was I could not use the lightning trigger for a week or two at the height of the Southwestern monsoon.
 
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Jul 1, 2014
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I had spent the night in Pampa, TX with a high risk day ahead. The first tornado warning surprised me at 6:30 am. It was not far out of town so I took off after it. I continued to chase through Wichita Falls, then to Cleburne, TX and then to Oklahoma City. It wasn't until around 10:00 pm when I started to think of getting a hotel that I remembered that I had left everything back in the Pampa hotel room. UGH! To make matters worse, the day was a huge dud with no tornadoes.
 
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Aug 22, 2015
134
31
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Hastings, Nebraska
I was executed a core punch and my side window got smashed out by hail and afterwards I was moving quickly to get ahead of a large tornado when my gripper mount became detached and allowed my camcorder to bounce out the window and dangle by its hdmi cord
 

Dave C

EF2
Jun 5, 2013
122
176
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Denver
www.davidcrowlphotography.com
These stories are amusing, if sad.

I lost a lens cap on a chase. $8 gone, just like that. We will rebuild.

All of my real mishaps have been on other photo trips, maybe I am more careful when chasing or something. Arguably the worst was a tripod, not extended, tipping over in a hefty winter wind and a Tokina 11-16mm breaking on pavement from the 18" fall.

Second worst, a too-fast lens swap mishap in the middle of a field of sunflowers in fading light resulted in the loss of the autofocus mirror on my Canon 6D. Since then, I just shoot it manual all the time or focus in live view. Since it's my backup camera now, not an issue to fix.

Once I started using Canon L glass, it seems like very little damages the lenses, even when a zipper failed on the stairs of a London subway dumping the bag contents. Fortunately the station was not busy and no one was behind me to take the gear, so I was able to recover all with only a scratch on a camera body.

I have lost tons and tons of small accessories that add up over time, but after enough mishaps my gear bags and practices improved to prevent damage and loss. I'm sure something else will happen, and my biggest fear by far is theft.
 
Mar 2, 2004
2,336
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Wichita, KS
www.facebook.com
Left an older Nikon DSRL on the hood of my car during the 2009 Plainview TX tornadoes. It sat on the windshield wiper for a bit, fully in view on my dash cam, til I hit a bump and bounced it off. Lost the lens and camera body. Fortunately, after hearing horror stories about chasers having insurance issues, I had taken out a business policy listing all my big gear, thus they covered the damage. Claim was about $1400.

Laptop on my desk at home took a spill when an over-zealous cat dash onto the desk, landed on the laptop, and slid it off the desk and crashing onto the ground. The screen was damaged and I had to replace the hard drive, but I was able to do all that for a little less than $300. I still have the laptop, although I no longer use it for chasing.

Laptop and dash camera this past May when I was t-boned by a woman who ran a stop sign shortly after the Arkansas City tornado. I was able to get those items paid for a replaced by their insurance company. They also forked out for mounts and installs that I lost in the crash.
 
Jun 16, 2015
476
1,133
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34
Oklahoma City, OK
quincyvagell.com
No major losses, but a few mishaps come to mind.

I mount one or two Sony Action Cams on the roof of my car during most active chases. Once I had one rip off at a high rate of speed (combined with a strong, perpendicular crosswind) in western Kansas. 6/27/14. I turned around and drove by the area twice, but couldn’t see the camera anywhere. I finally got out on foot and literally ran along the road before I found it. The camera was still recording, but the plastic case was broken and the metal mount was scuffed up. It was salvageable though.


It happened again in the spring of 2015, but that time I wasn’t recording and the case only suffered a small chip. I still use it to this day and I haven’t lost a camera from the roof since.

In 2015 I had a tripod flip over in strong winds in eastern Colorado. My camcorder suffered a dent very close to the lens, but it still works just fine.

I drove into a hail storm (was golf ball size and quickly getting larger) in 2017 and pulled over. In a panic I floored it in reverse on the shoulder since I was on a divided highway and couldn’t turn around. Next thing I know, I was scraping up against a gaurdrail. Surprisingly the damage was relatively minor after I touched up the scratches.
 

Drew Terril

Staff member
Only one that really comes to mind for me (and it was a $2400 uh oh) was just being stupid when trying to hurry back onto the pavement on a chase in 2015. Snapped the left side axle shaft on my rear axle, and in a way that actually broke the axle tube itself, where the backing plate bolted into the axle tube assembly. So instead of needing a $200 axle shaft, I needed an entirely new axle assembly, but was able to use the ring and pinion and differential from the old one, which probably saved me from an additional grand or so. It was more of a freak thing than anything, but I still take more care when going from the dirt/mud back onto the pavement.

I haven't broken any cameras/camcorders yet, thankfully.
 
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Jan 10, 2014
106
272
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Sheridan, WY
www.kevin-palmer.com
I've had plenty of mishaps with photography gear, but none that I can think of while chasing.

One time my camera got dunked in a creek, but it survived and the lens was still somewhat functional after drying it out.

A couple winters ago I was shooting in very deep snow. I was pushing my tripod down trying to find a solid layer to rest it on. But this caused the legs to spread out and crack the center of the tripod.

After buying another tripod, last fall I went on a backpacking trip in the mountains of Montana. I set up my camera next to a lake. When I went to sleep I took my camera into the tent (good idea), but left the tripod in place (bad idea). The next morning it had completely vanished. The wind picked up overnight, and I thought the tripod had to be at the edge of the water, but it was nowhere to be found.
 
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