85

I want to experiment taking photos in which 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, exposure, aperture, etc...), can the sensor be damaged by the sun?

  • 4
    Oh hey. This older question gives a case where it happened: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/2089 – mattdm Mar 28 '11 at 2:14
  • 4
    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
  • 3
    "Can the lens act as a magnifying glass" I wonder what you think a magnifying glass is? :P – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 19 '15 at 12:05
  • 1
    Maybe because of this: the-digital-picture.com/Help/Flare.aspx it happened with a 600mm f/4 lens attached. – Michael C Feb 15 '17 at 21:42
36

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).

  • 21
    Do you have references for this? – mattdm Dec 16 '10 at 3:14
  • 3
    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
  • 1
    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
  • 1
    Not sure how "long exposures" would work... when aiming directly at the sun my camera sets 1/4000s at f40... and even then, the actually disk is entirely clipping at maximum RGB values. – Michael Aug 21 '17 at 0:59
  • 1
    My camera(Canon 1300) stopped working after I left it on the beach for 20min in the hot sun (without any cover, I am such a dumb). Canon service center guys told me there is a problem with board and LCD. My suggestion is taking just photos should be fine, but don't expose to the sun for too long. – Chandan Shetty SP Dec 31 '18 at 7:59
36

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 ;)

  • 2
    +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
  • 11
    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
  • 1
    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
  • 1
    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
  • 2
    My mother once permanently damaged a point and shoot taking a picture of a scene that included the sun about an hour and a half before sunset. Other parts of the scene were in heavy shade and very dark. – Michael C Feb 15 '17 at 21:51
14

At very wide angles the danger is much less and taking photos with the sun in the field of view doesn't normally harm the camera or lens. When the sun is very low on the horizon the energy is also reduced as there is much more of Earth's atmosphere to absorb much of that energy between an observer on the ground than when the sun is high in the sky.

More importantly, with wider angles of view it probably doesn't do any harm to the photographer's eyesight. 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." If in doubt, use Live View. You can replace a camera. You can't replace retinas cooked by the sun's infrared light!

With narrower angles of view provided by longer focal length lenses it's an entirely different story. You can damage your camera in mere seconds. You can also permanently damage your eyes. Your retinas have no pain receptors. Even looking at the unmagnified sun for a relatively short time period with your naked eyes can damage them. Human pupils have a minimum opening of only about 2-4mm when fully constricted. Now take a high powered telephoto lens, such as a 200mm f/2.8 - the entrance pupil is over 70mm wide! The amount of sunlight, including infrared light, striking a circle 70mm wide is 320X as much as the amount striking a 4mm circle, and over 1,200X as that striking a 2 mm wide circle! Multiply that energy times 4 for a 400mm f/2.8 or a 560mm f/4 or an 800mm f/5.6. All of that energy is being refracted and focused into a much smaller area and coming out the back of your viewfinder in about a 3mm wide light field which your cornea focuses down to a very small area. You can literally cook your retina in little more than an instant with the infrared light from the sun through such a lens.

For your camera, the worst case scenario would be doing something like using a telephoto lens in Live View. Even though you might take the photo at f/22 to limit the amount of light reaching the sensor, the aperture of your lens is likely wide open until you click the shutter. The energy of the sun is strong enough when focused by your lens to heat the internals of your camera very quickly. If things get hot enough, they will be damaged. Even if the heat doesn't cause damage, the voltages generated in the sensor's electronics may be enough to damage the circuitry.

Thank goodness this camera wasn't in Live View and pointed directly at the sun with the shutter curtains open for the 1 minute it took the sun to do this through a 600mm f/4 lens. It happened during a flare test conducted by Bryan at The-Digital-Picture with the sun just out of the frame but obviously just inside the lens' image circle. If the light that fell on the edge of the light box had been focused on the sensor or shutter curtains (in viewfinder mode) the camera would likely have been rendered unusable.

enter image description here

enter image description here

The warnings almost all camera's manuals have against pointing the lens directly at the sun are there for a reason, and it isn't just so you can't blame the manufacturer when something goes wrong. Especially when the sun is almost directly overhead in a clear sky, the chance of damage is very real. The lower the sun is in the sky, the more clouds there are between the sun and your shooting location, or the more anything else (such as a proper solar filter) is absorbing some of the sun's energy the less likely it is that short periods of pointing your camera at the sun will result in damage. This is why it is fairly safe to take sunrise/sunset photos: due to the sun's angle it is passing through many more miles of the earth's atmosphere than when it is high in the sky.

Be sure to protect your eyesight and do not look directly at the sun through the viewfinder at all when it is at or near full brightness high in the sky!

Epilogue:

Lensrentals.com has posted a blog entry in which what happened to some of their rental equipment that were used without proper solar filtering during the recent total eclipse in the United States is shown in photos of the damaged equipment.

Damage to a shutter curtain:
enter image description here

Damage to a sensor:
enter image description here

Damage to the aperture diaphragm of a 600mm f/4 when the user used a rear positioned drop-in solar filter: enter image description here

8

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.

  • 1
    If the sun is more than 10° – 15° above the horizon, this is potentially dangerous advice. Baader filters are around 17 stops (100,000x reduction), and are safe for direct viewing. You would need to stack 2 ND400 filters to get similar safe reduction. – scottbb Jan 25 '16 at 4:01
  • 1
    ...and the Baader solar film is also guarenteed to block dangerous UV / IR wavelengths by a similar factor; that isn't necessarily true for normal ND filters. If you're observing directly, then go for known safe filters. If you're using an electronic viewfinder, at worst you'll trash the sensor; with an optical viewfinder you could trash your eye - so it's not worth the risk. – JerryTheC Sep 4 '17 at 21:45
6

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.

3

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.

  • Why would the lens heat up? The light is focused through the lens onto the sensor. Besides, the purpose of a lens is to transmit as much light as possible. – Nayuki Apr 21 '16 at 0:45
  • 2
    Visible light, yes. Infrared light, however may be absorbed in the lens, hearing it up. – PearsonArtPhoto Apr 21 '16 at 1:11
1

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

  • 2
    The video is private and can't be viewed. – Hugo Sep 30 '15 at 2:52
1

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.

protected by jrista Apr 2 '13 at 15:56

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.