Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Camera Gear Insurance: Don't leave home without it

In 2004 when traveling with my two small children to San Francisco bag with my point and shoot camera and camcorder disappeared at the SeaTac airport security line. I had intentionally placed my shoes in the last bin and positioned my camera bag in the middle to avoid forgetting the bag, but in the hustle to catch a plane I didn't notice that one of our 11 security bins was missing. The net result is that I lost about $1000 worth of gear and found the airport Lost and Found system to be along the same lines of something you'd expect to find in a corrupt foreign city. As a result, I learned a lesson that insuring my gear might be a smart thing, so when I was heading to China last year with all of my DSLR gear I decided to break down and get insurance. My local State Farm agent informed me that only a small portion would be covered by my home owners policy, so a supplemental Personal Articles Policy would be needed for each item over $500 (including providing them with a bill of sale). Determined not to get burned again - especially in a foreign city - I insured all of my gear.

During my 2nd visit to China much later in the year while attending the Chinese Formula 1 Grand Prix in 2007 I had a zipper malfunction and the contents of my bag spilled out on the concrete. This led to some damage and subsequently a State Farm claim.

After careful inspection of my equipment, the most significant damage was my EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens and the filter on my EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens.

I contacted my State Farm agent Jim Larson, and he said “just fix it, and we’ll write you a check to make everything right”. I was very happy to hear this so I chose to use Canon Repair Center in Irvine, CA to repair my lens.

I shipped a letter about my mishap and my lens to Canon's Repair Center via Turtle Express, I mean UPS, and they got it on October 26th, 2007 (UPS tracking confirmed the delay was UPS' fault). I quickly got notice from Canon saying that it would cost $263.58 to fix my lens, which included overnight return shipping via FedEx (woohoo). As promised, I had my lens by Friday and I was very pleased with how smooth the process was thus far. The hood was not a serviceable part, so I had to purchase a replacement from B&H ($49.90) and just keep the receipt.

Unfortunately when I got my lens back I noticed that the cracked AF switch hadn’t been repaired (it worked, but had a hairline crack), despite that being included in my letter and mentioning that on the phone to Canon. I was also disappointed that Canon did nothing about my bag (original one returned to me with no apologies). Later, I also noticed that my lens had a lot of dust in, something it didn’t have prior to being sent to Canon.

I contacted Canon and spoke to a supervisor who apologized for the problems and asked that I send the lens back at their expense (shipping label provided). They fixed the AF switch, cleaned and calibrated the lens, and only charged parts ($68.06 + tax & shipping = $90.46 a discount of an additional $158 in labor charges). My lens came back in better than new condition, and the supervisor informed me that several dozen components had been replaced on the first repair so the second repair was just a proper cleaning that should have been done in the first place, plus the AF switch replacement). My lens looks brand new and functions better than new, so I’m super happy about it now.

When returning the lens the 2nd time I took off the tripod collar in a hurry and loosened the bolt. Unfortunately this caused the nut on the inside of the tripod ring to fall loose because it had been damaged in the accident, so my tripod collar was useless. I then spent the next several months trying to get the tripod collar replaced via the Internet with no luck. I also tried to fix it myself, but couldn’t do it. Ultimately I figured this was related to the fall the lens sustained and State Farm agreed, so I just ordered a replacement from Canon for $116 + $6 shipping.

Once I had all of my receipts (including shipping expenses to send the lens in), I submitted my claim to State Farm and I received a check for $619 in a week with no questions asked. The Hoya Filter was not insured so I didn’t submit a claim for it, but I was able to bend the edge of the ring back in place to accept a lens cap again and it was fine. My 70-200 did not have a filter on it, and the glass sustained zero damage. The lens cap came off during the fall as the end of the lens took the biggest hit and the filter mount ring was bent and had to be replaced. However, the glass never got so much as a micro scratch (and I LOOKED VERY CLOSELY).

I HIGHLY recommend the insurance I have, but it is only possible via an addendum to your home owners or renters policy. You must insure each part individually and provide exact cost receipts, but they will pay for replacement cost. I can’t find anything that shows exactly how much I pay for my annual personal articles policy (because I have other items that are insured) but I know it was less than I pay for shipping on my average B&H order.

Now I update my policy as soon as I order something, and if I return it, then I have it dropped from the policy after I get a notice from B&H that they’ve received it safely. I’ve added all of my new gear to my policy and so far I have not received a premium increase as a result of this accident. I am told that typically I would, but that generally it is minimal. If I had repeated claims, they may require a deductible or simply drop the policy all together, but it would have no impact on my homeowners policy.

I replaced my backpack with a ThinkTankPhoto bag and have been back to the Canadian Grand Prix this season without incident. I also recommend my State Farm agent Jim Larson if you are looking to switch or want to make sure your insurance premiums are worth something. Cheap insurance is a big waste if they never pay out when you need them, so I use Jim for all of my insurance needs.

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Anonymous said...

how much did it cost you to insure the equipment?

ronmartblog.com said...

Around 1% of value of the equipment. You have to provide sales receipts and serial numbers when you do this so that's where they get the figure from.

rg said...

Hi Ron:
Great article. I have the personal article policy from State Farm as well insuring about 30K of camera/lens/bags...

Recently the agent told me that they got a inquiry from State Farm to the effect that was I using the equipment professionally.

I said no because I am not a pro and have only made a few hundred $$s. Have you had a similar inquiry and do you have a "commercial policy"?


ronmartblog.com said...

Nope, never.

Brent said...

My Dad also insured most of his stuff as an add-on with State Farm - just 2 D70 bodies and a 17-200mm zoom, nothing terribly pricy. After three claims (a body, a lens, and a flash) over 5 years, they've canceled his policy after one rate increase. And before that, they asked him to certify that he did not make money using his equipment (definitely not pro-level stuff either!).

Funny that there's such different treatment even within the same company - I'm not sure how one would keep a policy in effect, if you ever actually had to use it. Keep us up to date if you make claims and if they cancel it on you, it would be very interesting to know!

ronmartblog.com said...

Brent - yeah, I've heard of horror stories like that before from insurance companies in general. I've had good luck with my agent, but there are times when corporate jumps in and does stupid stuff like you mentioned.

Sorry to hear that. My parents had a homeonwers policy for 40 years and never made a claim. They had their roof repaired with the policy and were promptly dropped after that (in late 80's in New Orleans).

Raise a complaint with the insurance commissioner. Consumers have more rights than they realize.

rg said...

An insurance agent told me once that allegiance to a company used to mean something but not any longer. Your agent can plead your case in a few instances.

Its a sad state of affairs.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article. So I have a question, what if you don't have home owners or renters insurance? Can you have an account that just covers the equipment?

ronmartblog.com said...

what if you don't have home owners or renters insurance? Can you have an account that just covers the equipment?

No, I don't think so. Unless you are living at home with Mom & Dad and they are paying all of your bills, you should at least have renters insurance though. It's not that much money.