Road Train !!!!!!!!!!

by Russell McMahon

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I want to experiment taking photos where the sun appears. I'm afraid of what might happen if I take one with a narrower angle (where sun would be bigger). Can the lens act as a magnifying glass and burn the CCD or CMOS sensor?

Under which circumstances (zoom, exposition, aperture, etc...), can the sensor be damaged by the sun?

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Oh hey. This older question gives a case where it happened: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/2089 –  mattdm Mar 28 '11 at 2:14
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I took couple pictures of the sun during solar eclipse with my Canon 5D Mark 3, using a Bower 650 - 1300mm lens without any nd filter in LiveMode. My camera works fine and I don't see any damage at my sensor. But I doubt if I caused any "hidden" damage to my sensor. Do you know if there is any good way of testing my camera? I am looking for a nice calm relief :) –  user10041 Jun 4 '12 at 8:19
    
I knew the risks involved, but figured that a quick few shots at the sun would be ok in live view with a 400 mm lens at f32. After 4 shots the screen turned gray and camera rebooted. Seems fine now though. –  user10069 Jun 5 '12 at 22:26
    
No sensor damage, but the only case of camera damage I've seen online (with pictures of the damage) from exposure to the sun is: the-digital-picture.com/Help/Flare.aspx –  drewbenn Jun 5 '12 at 23:13
    
I seem to have stuffed my fuji finepix by taking one snap of the the sun. it will now (as of immediately after the dreaded oh it will be ok 'sun' shot) not take photos in bright sunlight. they turn out completely black. if taking photos in the shade or not bright sunlight it seems to work fine. but I am really sorry I thought it just to be a myth - NOT!!!! –  user19047 Mar 30 '13 at 9:30

7 Answers 7

up vote 22 down vote accepted

Taking direct photos of the sun can destroy your camera, not to mention your eyes. It's exactly as you are afraid, the lens will act as a magnifier and multiply the suns intensity right on your cameras internals. What this effects can vary. Long exposures against the sun can cause permanent damage to your camera's sensor, but besides that, your camera's shutter curtains, and af sensors are also at risk when shooting right at the sun.

Now, taking photos of sunset and sunrises is okay, as is taking photos in direct sunlight (though this does require some finesse to get a good exposure), but pointing your lens right at the sun is not recommended (especially for long exposures).

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Do you have references for this? –  mattdm Dec 16 '10 at 3:14
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Most, if not all, SLR shutter curtains are metal these days, which would get real hot, but I seriously doubt they'd burn or warp since the mirror would be down on a SLR. Mirror lockup would increase the time light could hit the shutter but still I don't think it's long enough to hurt it. Old Leica's had cloth curtains which were the origin of the story. –  Greg Mar 17 '11 at 4:15
    
the problem isn't so much the metal shutter curtains as the mostly plastic parts they attach to. Metal gets hot, plastic gets hot, plastic warps or melts. But as you say, the shutter isn't exposed to the intense heat long enough for that to happen. The sensor however can be. –  jwenting Mar 17 '11 at 11:24

I would say it really depends on if you have a SLR, DSLR or P&S (Point-and-Shoot) - and maybe even possibly it more (or less) depends if the sensor is CCD or CMOS.

My own experiences says it doesn't occur with P&S cameras - ever. I have 4 cheap P&S (Canon PowerShot) cameras which I have used exclusively over the years for shooting time-lapse series (500 - 100k images per shoot) and all cameras have a minimum of 500k exposures according to Exif data. 2 of 4 have taken between 2 and 3 million images. Many of those sequences were shot during an entire day with complete and direct view into the sun (intentionally). Most of those were shot using a wide-angle or a 180-degree Raynox fish-eye adapter, though I would think that would compound the problem having more lens elements to refract the light?

Oddly enough, all 4 cameras have never exhibited any loss of quality or showed any signs of damage from the sun. However, one with the most exposures has a big purple splotch that sometimes appears in images off to one side, although it seems to be more connected to the LCD screen as when I wiggle the screen it usually goes away (for awhile) - I attribute it to falling off a rock onto other rocks and once falling 2m into the bathtub (which incidentally cracked the fish-eye, so now it rattles when you tip it any direction but amazingly still works fine ;).

I also have a Sony DSC-R1 (a high-end CMOS-based P&S camera) and have accumulated easily over 200k on that one, of which many times I spent very long periods of time shooting directly into the sun in an attempt at making Photoshop-like solar flares ;) Again here I was never able to find any noticeable deterioration or difference between the first images.

Then again, maybe it was all just luck that nothing got burned ;)

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+1, this is the kind of answer I like, based on solid facts and not generalised opinions. I would still be reluctant to point my camera at the sun but I can't argue with your extensive experience. –  labnut Mar 17 '11 at 10:14
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If you shoot time-lapse, most likely your LCD is off and the shutter is open for only very brief moments of time. If you are using a P&S in the usual way, with the LCD on, then the shutter is open all the time while you are composing the picture, adjusting the settings, etc. It might make a huge difference whether the sun is burning the sensor for 1ms vs. half a minute. –  Jukka Suomela Mar 17 '11 at 12:30
    
How did you do a time-lapse with a P&S camera? Has it got a special function or you hacked it? And how were you able to mount a fisheye? –  clabacchio Jun 4 '12 at 9:04
    
Generally controlled via laptop using various software such as PSRemote and GBTimelapse, though sometimes using the CHDK firmware or for fast action sequences just a custom made clamp to just hold down the shutter button until the memory ran out. For most Powershot cameras, you can get a lens tube adapter for about 20USD/EUR which has 52mm front threading. Using a couple step-up rings I was able to fit a Raynox fish-eye. –  glenneroo Jun 5 '12 at 11:39
    
I was considering downvoting, as I'm sure that @JukkaSuomela is right and thus would this answer be very misleading (I also owned a PowerShot long ago, and if memory servers me right, it closed the shutter after shooting). But your answer is very constructive and based on long experience. Could you please extend your answer indicating if the shutter was open for long intervals of time? (And if it was open for small intervals, please also add a big note "to not sponsor camera repair shops") :-) –  Alberto Aug 31 '12 at 16:44

Yes, the sun can damage your sensor, as detailed in the previous answer. If it is that strong, compared to your sensor's sensitivity, you won't get a useful exposure in any case.

If you do want to photograph the sun, you can use an ND400 filter. This is the one I use: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/155266-REG/Hoya_A77ND400_77_mm_Neutral_Density.html

It will reduce the strength of the sun by a factor of 400, making the sun dark enough to not over-expose it and much less likely to damage your sensor, at least for exposures not too long where the sun is not over-exposed.

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I'm having trouble following. What does the sentence, "Yes, the sun can damage your sensor, as detailed in the previous sensors." mean? What other sensors? –  Kirk Woll Jun 7 '12 at 0:47

Remember that with a SLR the mirror is down until immediately before the shutter opens. The mirror would reflect most of the light to the eyepiece and not to the sensor or shutter.

Some of the light would be directed through the mirror to the focus mirror, which is usually behind the main mirror and gets its light through a section of the main mirror that is partially reflective. So, potentially that sensor could get some light hitting it.

Actually hurting the sensor isn't likely though. The light would have to get past the mirror and shutter, or, you'd have to take an extremely long exposure that held the mirror up and shutter open. In that case, odds are really good the photo would over exposed well beyond recovering.

And, in any case where damage did occur, it would be pretty obvious to Nikon or Canon's repair shop what had happened because they've seen it all, resulting in a voided warranty.

There was a known problem with cloth shutter-curtain Leica's having holes burned in them.

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If you take a very quick picture of the Sun, it won't kill your camera, but don't point it in the general direction of the Sun at all for very long. Remember that exposure won't last for very long at all. Your CCD probably won't be damaged, but the lens might heat up enough to cause some damage.

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I been trying sunrise timelapses with my Canon S95, and on one where I intentionally tried to end in overexposure, with camera running at ISO 80, 1/160 sec, F8.0. Towards the end, the camera defocused itself, whilst running on manual infinity focus. I think the CCD might have over heated, as it is the only logical reason why. Have seen no signs of any damage since, thankfully. You can see the result here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xr5LjRzIUWs

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I am not sure if this has been mentioned before, but last Fall, when I was shooting into the Sun with my T2i, the camera simply shut down during one of the shots (I was lazy and using one of the auto modes). It took about a minute, and it was back up taking pictures.

I trained my film camera at the sun, composing the same shot, and as always, had no issues. I have frequently shot with my film camera - at bright, mid-day sun sometimes, to get lens flares and such and I have had no issues.

Even in full manual mode, the DSLR is unable to expose the Sun without trying to mangle the Sun, except at dawn or dusk under manual mode (some of that might be my lack of knowledge owing to a recent, partial transition to digital). Just yesterday, it was tough to expose the Sun as a disk even when it was behind clouds. For all such uses, I would recommend going on with Film, especially as someone alluded, for peace of mind.

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