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

Can I damage my camera by pointing it at the sun?

by David Peterson 42 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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  1. says:

    Keep in mind, though, that to the best of my knowledge NO manufacturer of cameras or lenses has ever said anything to the effect of, "It's okay to look at the sun through our camera's viewfinder.

  2. Brian Birch says:

    My Lumix Panasonic FZ 1000 will not take a picture of the sun. It removes it from the photo. It also does this when I am attempting to take a picture of a sunset. Do you think it is broken ?

    • David Peterson says:

      Hi Brian,

      I'm not sure what you mean by 'it removes it from the photo'. I've never heard of a camera removing something from a photo. It could be that because the sun is so bright, the camera's sensor is getting overloaded so shows all white in that part of the image. You can try increasing the shutter speed of your camera, or waiting until the sun is on the horizon. More on sunsets:

      I hope that helps.


  3. John Nixon says:

    What about taking a photo of the sun with an iPhone camera?

    • David Peterson says:

      Most cameras (and phone cameras) have a UV coating over the sensor which means they're not damaged by pointing at the sun.


  4. Lee says:

    Excellent artilce!

    My question is more about my own eyes than the camera to be honest. If taking a shot of something with the full vright sun in the background, such as shining through trees, if I look through my view finder to line the shot up, but look at the 'edge' or peripheral of the shot and not at the actual sun, is it still damaging to ones eyes?
    I would guess if it was it would feel uncomftable, similar to looking at direct sunlight without a camera?


    • David Peterson says:

      Hi Lee,

      I'm not a doctor, so can't say for sure... but my guess would be YES it could still damage your eyes.

      However, if you are photographing at sunset, you should be fine looking through the viewfinder as the sun's rays are less bright.

      The much better alternative would be to use 'live mode' on your camera and compose the photo using the screen on the back rather than the viewfinder.


  5. Jess says:

    Hi there, I have damaged my camera this way, I now have a horizontal line appearing on my photos. Does anyone know how I can fix this? or if i need to take it in?

    • David Peterson says:

      Hi Jess,

      Probably something for the camera repair shop to look at. There's not much a user can fix inside a camera thesedays.


      • Jess says:

        Thanks David. Yes for anyone else reading I ended up taking it into Canon, they replaced the sensor it cost around $700CAD.

  6. Aravind Sivasekar says:

    Hello. I shoot on a D800 and if say I'm taking a picture of the sunrise with a nd grad and say that my shutter is open for around 30 seconds or so, will that affect my sensor ?

    • David Peterson says:

      With a graduated ND filter, you're not going to darken the light enough for a 30 second exposure to work - the image will be all white. 2 seconds will be more than enough. And at that short exposure, you won't have any problems with the sensor.


  7. 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:

      I hope that helps.


      • 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.

  8. 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.


  9. 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 ?

  10. 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.


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