Video: Torture Testing the Front Element of Canon’s ‘Thrifty Fifty’ 50mm f/1.8 II

Photographers commonly place UV filters on the front of their camera lenses in order to protect the glass front element. Aside from preventing dust buildup, the filter also takes the brunt of any impact seen by the front of the lens. If you have to have some glass shatter, you’d rather it be a relatively cheap filter compared to an entire lens, right?

But how easy is it to damage or destroy the front element of a lens? Photographer Richard Choi had the opportunity to find out a few years ago when he found a bricked lens on his hands.

The lens was a Canon 50mm f/1.8 II, a product that (at one point in time) was priced at less than $100.

When his copy of the lens completely stopped working, Choi did some research and found that it would have cost the price of 2 new lenses in order to repair that single old one. Once he had ruled out salvaging it, he decided to use the dead glass to satisfy his curiosity. The question he wanted to find the answer to was, “how fragile is Canon glass?”

After doing some initial stab tests with a plastic pen, Choi brought out the big guns and started whacking the glass with a metal hammer. The 1.5-minute video above shows what happened.


Basically, the violence didn’t do much damage. Even after forceful whacks with the flat and sharp parts of a hammer, the front element’s glass only showed some slight scratches on the coating — not bad for a “thrifty” lens.

Choi was impressed with the durability, but notes that lenses with large surface areas on the front glass are probably more susceptible to cracking/shattering.

  • tonyc0101

    A lens that recessed into the casing is already well protected, generally speaking. However, a filter can still protect your lens from more common airborne “accidents” such as paint overspray and minor scratches due to dust wiping. But whatever eases the owner’s mind, I guess.

  • euro


    Nifty Fifty indeed, although this video should come with a warning for the faint of heart ;)

  • Dizzom

    But if I don’t buy a UV filter, how will the sales people make commissions?!

  • thunander

    I have dropped my canon 24-70/2.8 a couple of times. Every time the UV filter has shattered and i’ve been forced to bend/saw it off. Much happier to let the filter take the fall.

  • Eugene Chok

    yea take the lens into the rain or shooting weddings that involve dowry type games that often involves water guns and silly string…. mind you a kid pushed over one of our tripods and smashed a filter … one of our 24 Ls now has a scratch on it… i dont want to know what would have happened if it was without a filter, the filter on one of my 50 Ls also has lots of scratches and i dont know why… which is better then on the front element

  • FabriceB

    He is doing that with a lens on a soft table and the holding the lens. So all the strength of the hit goes through is hand or in the table. He should have tried that putting the lens on concrete.

  • Wilba

    A hood gives better protection from impact and doesn’t throw broken glass onto the front element of your lens.

  • Theranthrope

    …because cleaning up some broken glass is soooo much worse than dealing with a damaged front element. Good job comparing apples to artichokes.

  • Bob


  • Theranthrope

    Answer: Extended warranty plans (which typically, in tiny, tiny, fine-print, state that they don’t cover accidental damage, like… scratched front elements).

  • sikdave

    Cringe.. That made my blood go cold. Had to put my hand over my eyes, was like a horror show.

  • Renato Murakami

    For a moment there I thought he was going to reach for his keys to put a deep scratch on that lens… closest to horror movie for photographers I’ve ever watched.

  • Caleb Kerr

    I had a filter on my Canon 50mm 1.4 and it slipped out of my bag while pulling it out of the back seat. It fell from not that high onto the pavement and it shattered the filter and chipped the front element. Still confused by how that happened.

  • Stanco55

    A broken shard of pottery once made contact with the front element of my brand new lens about thirty years ago leaving a nice deep scar- have always had a decent MC filter since. Complete no brainer…

  • Norshan Nusi

    Shoot at 1.8, it wont show much, but can see the scratch in the bokeh orbs.

  • Zos Xavius

    except you missed the part where the hood protects the front element. do you people even read? I prefer hoods myself. No extra glass to cause reflections or softness for me!

  • Zos Xavius

    Recently I knocked the elements out of an old 2x Tamron teleconverter to make a nice 25mm extension tube. It took a great deal of hammering on a screwdriver to get them to shatter and when they did, I had some mighty fine glass dust everywhere. The extension tube works great though! Far better than as a crappy TC. :)

  • Chris

    I’ve seen filters get surgically attached to the front thread after being dropped.

    I only use a filter on my cheap 17-40mm f/4 because it’s not weatherproofed without it, and I only use it when I really have to.

  • thunander

    Happens to me every time.

  • Brunzsax

    The background song is from Evangelion?