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I read this scary warning in a camera manual:

  • Do not point the lens attached to the camera toward the sun. This may cause the camera to malfunction or even ignite due to the magnifying effect of sunlight focusing through the lens.

Has this ever really happened or is it just an old wives tale?

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    It sure is possible. Did you ever hear of focussing the sun through a lens to start a fire? What do you think is in front of your camera? – Aganju Aug 20 '17 at 0:58
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    Possible duplicate of Can the sun damage the camera sensor? Under what conditions? – mattdm Aug 20 '17 at 3:02
  • See the answers to the question marked as a duplicate — there is an example of just this. – mattdm Aug 20 '17 at 3:02
  • Possible duplicate of Point and Shoot sensor – Michael C Aug 20 '17 at 5:36
  • There are examples of parts of a camera melting, but is it actually igniting? – vclaw Aug 20 '17 at 23:07
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Have you ever used a magnifying glass to focus the sun on paper and watch it char, smoke, and maybe start a fire? How is the heat generated? Sunlight contains infrared light. Another name for infrared is “heat rays”. A magnifying lens acts like a funnel in that it gathers light. These captured light rays are redirected by the shape of the lens. They travel outward from the lens as a cone of light. Thus we can adjust the distance, lens to paper and obtain, at the vertex of the cone, a bright spot of light. This is actually a tiny image of the sun. When this bright image of the sun plays on surfaces like paper, a great deal of heat is generated. In early times, before matches, it was common to use a magnifying glass to start a fire. Campers and soldiers often use this trick as an emergency way to start a fire.

Now the camera lens is a close cousin of the magnifying glass. When you image the sun, the tiny image of the sun it produces can damage the camera’s imaging chip. Also, before the picture is taken, a shutter similar to a window curtain, is blocking the light from reaching the image sensor. So all the while you are pointing and composing the camera at the son, this curtain is receiving the full heat of this concentrated image of the sun. It is highly possible that damage will occur. It is unlikely, but possible that the interior of the camera will burst into flames.

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