Can I damage my camera by pointing it at the sun? :: Digital Photo Secrets
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Can I damage my camera by pointing it at the sun?

by David Peterson 29 comments

Ever thought about pointing your camera up at the sun? Your immediate reaction is probably a lot like mine. NO WAY! Well not so fast. It depends on the kind of camera you’re using. If you’ve got a digital SLR, you’ll be totally fine. If you’re using a point-and-shoot model, you might get into trouble. Keep reading because you’re about to find out why.


Allow me to draw the analogy between what this kid is doing with a magnifying glass and what you might be doing with your camera. A magnifying glass is no different from a lens. It focuses light so you can see a little closer. If you hold a magnifying glass in just the right way, it focuses the sun’s light so much that it actually creates a laser powerful enough to make things burn.

The sun puts out ridiculous amounts energy. Even when it’s not focused, it can still burn us if we’re outside for a long enough period of time. There’s no doubt in my mind that we need to exercise some kind of caution with cameras and the sun. The real question is how much.

The difference between digital SLRs and Billy’s magnifying glass

Some of you might be thinking if you point your digital SLR at the sun, it must be focusing the light onto a single point and burning out your image sensor. It's not quite like that - there’s a lot more going on than you might have originally thought.

For one, most digital SLRs have a mirror in the viewfinder, and it actually covers up the sensitive equipment most of the time. It also redirects the sun’s light away from the sensor and through the viewfinder. So when you’re looking at the sun through your camera, you’re only damaging your eyes. It’s not until you actually take the picture that you’re exposing your camera’s image sensor to the sun’s harmful rays.

So point one - Never look through the viewfinder of your camera when it's pointed directly at the sun. You'll do damage to your eyes.

The exposure time is important too (something I learned from pointing my magnifying glass at things as a kid - it takes forever for things to burn). Your camera’s shutter needs to be open long enough for the sun to do its damage, and that’s typically not the case with digital SLRs (although it is with point-and-shoot models as you’ll soon see).

How much sun exposure time does a single picture amount to, and is it enough to cause any damage to your camera? It depends on the shutter speed you pick. If you’re using automatic mode, your camera will probably pick a very fast shutter speed, so we’re talking hundredths of a second. That’s not nearly enough time to do damage to much of anything.


It’s okay to take pictures of the sun because your
image sensor isn’t exposed to the light for very long.
Photo By Flickr User comedy_nose

Be careful if you’re using a point-and-shoot model!

Unlike digital SLRs, most point-and-shoot cameras keep the shutter open the entire time you’re using them and there’s no mirror to redirect the sun’s light. The image sensor and the screen on the back are linked together. It sees what the sensor sees. So if you’re pointing your point-and-shoot at the sun for any period of time, you’re probably damaging it.

There’s a simple rule of thumb for all of this. If something is so bright that it hurts your eyes to look at it, that thing will probably damage your camera too. Protect your eyes! Avoid looking at the sun in the middle of the day (sunset and sunrise are okay but still be careful). Practice common sense, and you’ll have your camera and your eyes to enjoy it for years to come.

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Comments

  1. Brenda Burdick says:

    I have been taking pictures today with the manual mode on my point & shoot camera. I can only adjust the aperature to 8" & the shutter speed to about 5". The pictures come out all washed out with just a white pic & it takes quite a while before it is done processing them. It only does this in manual mode. It is a Fujifilm Finepix S6800 point & shoot camera. What could be causing this. I have not hit it against anything.

    • David Peterson says:

      Hi Brenda,

      If your shutter speed is 5 seconds, that's probably way too long. There is too much light getting into the camera which is why you're seeing an all-white image.

      Try reducing the shutter to a fraction of a second, like 1/200 (if a sunny day) or 1/30 (if indoors).

      Alternatively, you can cheat and get your camera to tell you the best settings to use in Manual Mode. Take a shot on auto, then look at the EXIF data for shutter, ISO and aperture. Then use those settings for your manual shot. I explain more about that here: http://www.digital-photo-secrets.com/tip/4079/exif-improve-your-shot/

      I hope that helps.

      David.

      • Brenda Burdick says:

        Hi. Thanks for your help. I guess my camera just locked up, because I took the batteries out of it for 24 hours & put them back in. I can now get a higher number on the aperture & the same on the shutter speed. Now the picture doesn't come out all white. I had read that some place about removing the batteries. My last camera did the same thing & I just sent it in to get it worked on. If I would have know then that taking the batteries out & putting them back in would fix the problem I would have done it before.

  2. Sharon chisholm says:

    My point and shoot canon now has pale grey areas on photos in several places. I cant see any lens dirt and have cleaned the lens to no avail. What does sun camera damage look like on photos? I shoot sun frequently as sunsets sunrises reflections in water. Thank you

    • David Peterson says:

      I assume sun damage will 'burn out' the sensors so some parts of the image will be black. But I've yet to see it myself, and would only be caused by leaving the camera pointing at the sun for hours with the shutter open. And that will only happen if you use Manual Mode, as the camera's automatic modes won't allow you to keep the shutter open that long.

      Without seeing the pale gray dots, I can't tell you what caused them. Sorry.

      David.

  3. Faisal says:

    I have a samsung galaxy s6 and that had a 16 megapixel camera. Would it get any sort of damage done to it, if I point it at the sun and take pictures ?

  4. Geert says:

    To the author of the article:

    Please include the fact that Live View mode on yout dslr DOES expose the sensor to the sun for longer times.

    gr.

  5. Chris says:

    Hi there, I took some photos of the eclipse the other day and after taking my GH4 out today I noticed a little black dot on all of my videos and only a few photos had it on. All the other photos where fine for some reason. I was just wondering if you could give me some ideas of what it could be... Dust, damage, burn etc...

    Thanks again.

  6. Lisa says:

    Well, I think I damaged my Sony Cybershot last week,

    taking pictures of the snowy landscape in Central Park.

    I don't recall ever aiming the camera directly at the sun,

    but now I'm trying to take portrait shots of items for ebay,

    and I'm getting an annoying dark spot on all the photos,

    especially noticeable in lower light photos, seen here:

    http://s25.postimg.org/qrx6pvqy7/sun_spot.jpg

    Could this be something else? Grease on the lens?

    If I did burn a sun spot in the lens, is there anything I can do to remedy this?

    I read that exposing the lens to bright light for a period of time might work for SLR cameras,

    but this is a point and shoot camera.

    Please HELP!

    Thanks in advance, Lisa

    • David Peterson says:

      Hi Lisa,.

      That doesn't look like damage from the sun. More likely it's a piece of dirt on the lens. I'd try clearing your lens. If your camera has a removable lens, also clean the inside lens too.

      Good luck!

      David.

  7. Darren says:

    I took a number of pictures yesterday of the solar eclipse with my Canon point and shoot camera. Camera seems fine now. Although I don't quite see how pointing the camera at the sun can actually affect the camera as much as it can your eyes.

    With your eyes - if your in a field and it's a sunny day, when you look across the field towards the sun you still see the sun but you're not looking directly at it so it doesn't damage your eyes, you know it's there 'cos your squinting to block out the suns rays.

    But when you go on the field with a camera and you take a picture of that field with the sun in the background, your camera has the sun somewhere in the picture. It's not focused on it but it's still pointed at it, but that does no damage to the camera. So how does pointing a camera directly at the sun differ to having a camera taking a picture in the field with the sun in the background? Surely both should do exactly the same damage as in both cases the sun is still going through the lens and the power of the sun is more than enough to burn anywhere in the camera regardless of whether it's directly pointing or not - but it doesn't so what exactly is the difference between these two situations and why is there a risk you may damage the camera in one situation and not the other?

    • David Peterson says:

      Hi Darren,

      I think it would depend on how long you are pointing the camera at the sun, and at the position of the sun in the sky.

      When we are photographing a sunset, the sun is in the shot, but because it's so low in the sky there is a lot of atmosphere for the light to get through first. That's why the light is dimmer (and 'golden') and also why it's easier for our eyes to look at it then.

      Secondly, usually when taking photos with the sun in it, our cameras aren't pointed towards the sun and in the same position for a long period of time. Thus it's not usually an issue.

      However, during s Solar Eclipse, the sun can be high in the sky and our camera will be pointing at it for at least an hour. That could cause your camera's electronics to fry if you don't have a strong sun filter attached.

      David.

  8. simon youd says:

    I have just taken 50+ images of the solar eclipse today 20-03-2015 in England. I have used a Nikon D7000 with a 55-300mm lense f4 - 5.6 @ 300mm focal length Iso 100, shutter speed 1/8000th at f29. I used three neutral density filters stacked giving me the equivalent of 6 stops. It has worked a treat even revealing sun spots. A 10stopper is more preferable but I dialled -2 ev as well. This helped with focusing and clarity. So it can be done with a little bit of research before you go ahead.

  9. thomas smith says:

    hi dave,
    i am a retired camera tech. i have replaced shutter curtains on leica type cameras where the sun has burned a hole through the shutter curtain, also replaced focusing screens on dslr and slr cameras.
    the shutter blades are very thin metal today compared to the old copal square shutter i think it would be possible to damage the blades.if you are photographing the sun have everything planned beforehand and do it very quickly. regards tom

  10. Fahmi says:

    I have took 10 pictures with my camera, all of them are directly pointing to the sun
    And when i check image properties, most of them have exposure 1/10000s

    My question:
    May it harm my Exmor RS sensor?

    Thanks for your answer

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