For some reasons when I look at my first pictures from my camera (DSLR), they look stunning. I know it could be just psychological. Another friend told me that her camera was really good when she bought it fours years ago (10 MP), but now it is just ok. I see her P&S very blurry in indoors (almost like phone quality pictures).

A quick search yielded this yahoo answer, which actually does not seem bad to me. That answer can be summarized as: not really, but some things make image quality worse. Listed factors include:

  • Dust accumulation on the sensor (blamed for "resolution loss, pixels of false colors, noise, spots")
  • Worn-out moving parts leaving the sensor out of alignment ("focus images, blurry and distorted images")
  • Improper maintenance leading to "blown-out receptors on the sensor" (which lead to "blank spots on the image, false-color pixels and resolution loss")
  • Dust in the lens ("noisy, blurry and distorted images")
  • Scratched or destroyed lens coating ("distortion or false colors due to ultraviolet and infrared radiation reaching the sensor")

Is there any truth to it? What should I be careful for proper maintenance?

  • 1
    See also Do sensors wear out?
    – mattdm
    Nov 30 '11 at 13:47
  • Could it be relative? Are you comparing the photos taken with your older camera to those taken by a current model?
    – JJLL
    Sep 27 '15 at 18:45

13 Answers 13


Practically speaking, digital cameras do not lose quality over time.

Some factors can come into play such as:

  • Equipment can wear causing it to be out of spec
  • Environmental factors such as dirt, sand, dust, moisture can degrade quality
  • Heat or excessive use(causing heat) can cause all electronic devices to experience wear
  • Other regular use issues from dropping, lack of cleaning, etc

But overall, these things should hardly turn a great looking 10MP point and shoot camera into a 640X480 resolution cell phone.

Maintenance, is an entirely new question if you would like to ask or search for that.

  • 3
    I'd add degrading electronics, leading eventually to dead pixels in the sensor, to that list. It's not just heat and excessive use doing that, it can happen even if the device is idle and in storage, though the process will take much longer in that case.
    – jwenting
    Nov 30 '11 at 6:53
  • Could it be relative? Perhaps you are comparing photos taken your older camera to those taken with more
    – JJLL
    Sep 27 '15 at 18:43

The answer you found on Yahoo is mostly wrong. The basic statement (same as dpollitt's answer here) is correct — theoretically, image quality shouldn't degrade but a number of factors might make it worse. And the list of things that might go wrong is sound enough. But the mapping of symptoms to problems is very inaccurate.

Point by point:

One would be dust accumulation on the sensor which leads to resolution loss, pixels of false colors, noise, spots.

This can definitely lead to distinctive dust spots. However, for there to be overall resolution loss, there'd have to be an even coating of dust, which seems unlikely. False colors and noise are unrelated.

Worn-out moving parts can lead to the sensor moving off its original position, which can lead to out of focus images, blurry and distorted images.

Mostly true, although the relevant parts should be pretty sturdy unless you smash the camera. But distorted isn't very likely. A loss of alignment could lead to uneven focus, where half the frame is in focus but the rest isn't, as with a tilt/shift lens (except without any control).

Improper maintenance can lead to blown-out receptors on the sensor, which can lead to blank spots on the image, false-color pixels and resolution loss.

This is just wrong. Stuck ("false-color") pixels are common, and can increase as a camera ages, but they're not generally due to improper maintenance — unless you're taking long-exposure pictures of the sun, and that case the damage is likely to be distinctive. "Resolution loss" isn't an issue here: if you have a 10 megapixel camera with an insanely-high 1000 dead pixels, that's only 0.01% of the resolution!

If you camera is a compact camera (lens not interchangeable) then dust might have accumulated inside the built-in lens, which can lead to noisy, blurry and distorted images.

This is more likely to lead to the lens getting jammed than to the problems described. In general, dust in the lens is undetectable, although if it's on the rear element you might see some light shadowing under certain conditions. If it's a huge amount of dust, you'll have a small loss of resolution and contrast. (Not "noisy, blurry and distorted images".)

Also the lens coating might be scratched or gone altogether which makes your images more susceptible to distortion or false colors due to ultraviolet and infrared radiation reaching the sensor. Ultraviolet radiation is known to produce wash-out colors.

It's possible that the lens coating could be damaged, but it's very unlikely that it's gone. And it's true that unfiltered UV can be problematic, but digital cameras almost universally have a built-in UV filter right over the sensor — this is not the function of the lens coating.

A missing lens coating would make your lens more susceptible to flare and to veiling glare, which could reduce overall contrast. A partially-damaged lens coating would probably be a visible scratch, and that basically falls under the same category as dust in the lens.

So: a digital camera is a precision device, and there are parts that can go out of alignment. Extreme factors (or abuse) can make this happen. Generally, you shouldn't need to do an regular maintenance, or send the camera in, although if you have a nice camera you keep for several years a checkup now and again won't hurt — especially if you suspect a problem.

But the main reason it seems worse, I think, is the same one that makes my once-fast desktop computer now unbearably slow — expectations have changed.

  • 10
    Loved expectations have changed that sums it up.
    – photo101
    Nov 30 '11 at 3:22
  • 1
    Tilt-shift photography (especially hands-on experience with a view camera) should give you a good idea what uneven focus due to misalignment might look like.
    – Cascabel
    Nov 30 '11 at 5:32
  • @Jefromi — yep.
    – mattdm
    Nov 30 '11 at 18:34
  • 1
    If anyone has the "level" required to vote down an incorrect answer down on Yahoo's site, the referred-to answer seems like a good use of your vote.
    – mattdm
    Dec 7 '11 at 3:15
  • Are you perhaps confusing UV and IR? Sensors are very sensitive to infrared and need a built-in filter, but aren't terribly sensitive to ultraviolet. Glass cuts quite a bit of ultraviolet too. Dec 21 '17 at 20:46

There's another source of potential image quality 'loss' - changing the settings of the camera. We all do it as we go along and we also all generally forget to set it back to 'factory'. If you think your camera is off try resetting it.

That said I did once have my Nikon D100 go out of focus along one side. Strenuous use or a bump had misaligned the sensor by a minute fraction. Took it to Nikon UK and they fixed it up on the spot and for free.

  • Very true! Well said (did you camera had setting problems?)
    – photo101
    Nov 30 '11 at 16:03
  • well said, I just realized a few days ago that my backfocus issues were caused by my adventures inside the debug menu years ago... :) Dec 1 '11 at 3:05

As an aside rather than an answer with much practical importance...

The solid state detectors in the focal plane can be damaged by ionizing radiation. So--in principle--a pixel here or there could have it's efficiency reduced by cosmic rays.

That said, in particle physics we see this effect in cameras and other detectors that are exposed to "kill you in hours" levels of radiation day after day for months. The odds of a camera you don't leave in the experimental hall being affected are miniscule.

See also Cosmic Rays: what is the probability they will affect a program? or seach the web with terms like "radiation damage" and "gain monitoring".


A factor not yet mentioned is changing expectations.

When you buy a new camera you get the newest thing on the market: higher resolution sensor, better low light performance, better autofocus system, faster processor, and longer battery life than your previous camera. Over years of use your camera will experience wear and tear that might have a small impact on image quality, but it's usually nothing that a good clean and check won't remedy.

But technology keeps marching on and camera manufacturers keep improving their products, and after a while the fantastic new camera that you bought starts to feel dated compared to newer models with higher resolution sensors, better low light performance, better autofocus systems, faster processors, and better battery life than what you have.

Cameras don't lose quality, but photographers eventually expect more.

  • FWIW, I actually did mention that in my answer.
    – mattdm
    Jan 21 '16 at 2:41
  • @mattdm So you did -- sorry, I must've read past your last paragraph.
    – Caleb
    Jan 21 '16 at 6:20

Yes, this happens and this can not be avoided - it's physics. The issue occurs in the color filters which split the light before it goes to the photo-sensors. You can look up "Bayer filter" in Wikipedia for an explanation. These filters are extra thin - their thickness is comparable with the wavelength of light (red, green or blue) which they filter .

Brownian motion slowly degrades the filters. And anything that can increase the movement of molecules (like high heat, radiation, etc.) will speed up the degrading. There is no way to repair it, only to apply light and saturation post-processing to the images.

  • 2
    For me it is not Brownian motion which degradate the materials. It is aging, its integrity of the materials, its oxigene and other reagents in the air Jan 19 '16 at 13:57

This thread appeared when I searched whether sensors lose their sensitivity . . so FWIW my lovely 10 year old high-end compact camera (CCD sensor) still shoots correctly exposed pictures but then quotes abnormal f stop/shutter speed combinations for the fixed ISO in the EXIF info. I've checked back on my earlier pictures and then the quoted exposure disparities were less clear. So in my experience something has changed over time!


Look in your settings menu and see if there is a selection to shake/vibrate the mirror, which will knock loose any accumulated dust from the mirror and sensor. Mine does it every time I turn it on.


I have a heap of older cameras some are 3.3 or 5 MP they great, we get see better IQ and then expect better IQ from our older cameras, it just our expectations changing. Once in a while I shoot with an old Coolpix 995 and it just as good as when it was new, but you cant expect it to be anywhere near today's cameras. The drop off over the years compared to you PC screen aging......or the LCD of the camera is nothing by comparison.


Ionization, radiation, transistor wear, color filter aging and so on... In normal use you will never see anything weird except dead pixel count slowly rising that are not mapped out. The worst ones are those that are a little bit lighter/darker than the others. Hard to map them out if they are not exactly stuck. Since I am on the phone this link may be an interesting readhttp://www2.ensc.sfu.ca/~glennc/apspapers.html

Basically all electronic devices degrade. Take your cheap memory card for example. Or Solid state drives and so on. Everything fails. Just depends on the time. I'll try to find the PDF materials regarding Cmos sensors used in medicine where they had problems. In the end the sensor is analog device and quite many things can mess up the analog signal on nano scale circuit.

  • The link is just a list of abstracts to academic papers and links to the full texts. Is one of that papers particularly interesting or germane? What is the "gist" of the paper(s) that helps answer this question?
    – scottbb
    Jan 21 '16 at 5:53

I did also notice a difference in picture quality of my 6 year old Leica consumer grade camera. Everything was crystal clear in the beginning. Now it is worse than iPhone camera. Nothing seems out of alignment or worn out enough. Nonetheless, degradation over time is true.

  • 1
    The plural of "anecdote" is not "data".
    – Philip Kendall
    Dec 25 '16 at 17:04

yes image quality degrades over time. if you don't want to upgrade to a new camera, get the old one rebuilt with a new sensor, filter, mirror/lens repeated cleaning eventually puts many small scratches on everything don't ever take a picture of the sun, period. keep it out of the viewfinder, that will add to the life of the DSLR sensor. that's a dirty little secret that none of the big league camera mfrs. admit to. if you overexposed a film camera, you only burn the film. if you overexpose a DSLR, you at burning up the expensive sensor, which basically costs almost as much as a whole new camera. it's the wafer semiconductor material inside the camera that costs the most to mfr.- that's why the cheaper cameras have smaller sensors. these semiconductors are very expensive to make in big wafer fabs, where people wear clean suits to avoid contaminating the wafers, and still they get a lot of scrap wafers from just one tiny piece of dust. so there you have it.

  • Would be good to back this up with some source that explains how direct sunlight destroys the sensor.
    – null
    Oct 13 '16 at 12:17
  • Actually I'd be more interested in a source for the bit about overexposure burning the sensor. @null That's not the same thing that caught your eye, is it?
    – Roflo
    Oct 13 '16 at 14:31
  • @Roflo I think we're talking about the same thing.
    – null
    Oct 13 '16 at 15:15

Sensor signal to noise ratio gets worse over time and you will lose a little dynamic range, but you probably will never notice it on pictures.

  • 4
    Why? What might cause this effect?
    – mattdm
    Jan 19 '16 at 13:15
  • 2
    Can you eventually document your answer? Are there any researches or studies that you can quote?
    – Dragos
    Jan 19 '16 at 14:00

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