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Can the sun really damage your camera?

Aaron B , Aug 12, 2006; 08:50 a.m.

Okay, so I've read several times in different magazines that you should be careful when pointing your digital camera at the sun. But, what is the problem? First of all, what exactly does "be careful" mean? Does it mean that you shouldn't expose for too long? You shouldn't use a long lens and expose for too long? Does it mean that you should avoid it on days of the week with the letter 'n'?

Frankly, I'm skeptical. I know quite a bit about electronics, and it just doesn't seem to me that there would be any problem (though I don't know too much about CMOS sensors or the metering systems that cameras use). Why have I never read about anybody damaging their camera by pointing it at the sun?

Responses


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Martin Howard , Aug 12, 2006; 08:55 a.m.

the lens on the camera concentrates the light from the sun to a small point thus increasing its intensity - an SLR (film or digital) could be damaged if mirror lock up was used - the light is then shining on the shutter curtains causing them to heat and possibly be damaged.

not sure what the risks would be for a P & S. - possiblty damage to the sensor through overheating.

Shawn Gibson , Aug 12, 2006; 08:57 a.m.

The issue isn't, in the way I've always considered it, to be worried about pointing it at the sun, but rather that aiming the lens at the sun with no cap can make the lens act like a magnifying glass, and over TIME, can do the same kind of damage to your shutter.

Take all the pics with the sun you want, just don't leave your camera at rest with the cap off and the front element pointing at the sun...that's what I was always told.

Shawn

Edward Ingold , Aug 12, 2006; 09:27 a.m.

A camera sitting in direct sunlight is likely to reach temperatures in excess of 40 deg C (too hot to touch), which is not good for plastic, film or lubricants. Some Nikon lenses (e.g., AIS 55/2.8 Micro-Nikkor and AIS 50/1.4) tend to bleed lubricant onto the aperture blades.

The lens can, of course, act like a burning glass on a focal plane shutter. This is an item of concern with Leicas, which have a rubberized fabric shutter. P&S digital cameras might suffer damage to the sensor, since the shutter is wide open except just prior to exposure. It is of no consequence with a single lens reflex or DSLR, since there is a mirror between the lens and shutter. The shutters of P&S film cameras are inside the lens, consequently not at the focal point.

Aaron B , Aug 12, 2006; 11:13 a.m.

Ah, yes. I hadn't considered the magnifying glass phenomenon and heat. Thanks for the thoughts.

Charles Becker , Aug 12, 2006; 03:10 p.m.

there were originally 2 reasons not to point a film camera towards the sun and one of them has already been mentioned-possible damage to the shutter curtain; the other reason has not yet been mentioned and it still very much applies-can't think of what it is? The very real possibility of damage to your eye! be careful out there! cb :-)

JC Uknz , Aug 12, 2006; 03:45 p.m.

I think a possible reason for the caution about pointing the camera at the sun comes from early video sensors which would quickly get a burn on them which was difficult to get rid of. I don't make a habit of it but have taken sunsets etc from time to time with no harm to the camera. I also took an eclipse using a Wratten 87 which my camera of those days just coped with [1/4000 f/8] in A mode again without any harm to the camera.

I think it is a situation where you look after your gear in a normal manner and don't expose it to unneccessary risk.

David Gard , Aug 12, 2006; 09:22 p.m.

A word of warning. Last year, my newspaper issued Canon 1D mirror was covered with some kind of greasy scum. "What the hell is this?" I said. I wiped it off and then realized that it was residue from melting plastic. I had left the camera, 16-35 lens pointing up, no lens cap, on the back seat of my car and the sun had melted a 1/2 inch "path" into the plastic just above the mirror. The camera functioned perfectly, and a couple of months later, I took the camera in for its annual CLA. It told them that the melted plastic did not need to be repaired because it did not change the function of the camera. CPS said that they were required to bring the camera up to factory specs and, $650 later, they had fixed the problem by, I assume, replacing the mirror box. My newspaper paid for the repair, but I would have been sick if I had been made to pay. I got off lucky.

Hector Javkin , Aug 13, 2006; 05:38 a.m.

Although sensors, film and (particularly) cloth shutters can, under some circumstances, be damaged by the sun, it's something to be careful about, but not as fearful as some have suggested.

A camera sitting in direct sunlight is likely to reach temperatures in excess of 40 deg C (too hot to touch)

Forty degrees C is a high-grade fever, but not too hot to touch. It's the temperature predicted in Phoenix for Wednesday, so everything outside in the shade will be at 40C after a while. Stuff in the sun will be hotter.

David's experience, with plastic in his camera damaged by the sun, occurred when the camera was left in a car, where temperatures can get considerably (10C or over 20F) higher than the outside in a very short time.

That said, it is very sad to find pinholes in the shutter of a lovely old Leica rangefinder.

Lee Hamiel , Aug 14, 2006; 03:52 p.m.

I will sometimes cover my camera with a darkcloth from my LF setup - I am in Sarasota, Florida & if I am setup on a tripod outside the sun/heat can get pretty intense.

I use a Harrison darkcloth that is black on the inside & silver on the outside - plus it's waterproof so if I get caught in a rain I am also covered.

I am using a D200 & if anything it doesn't hurt to cool off the camera in between shots.

Per the last poster - Leica uses a cloth shutter & some claim that leaving the lenscap off & then leaving it in the sun will burn holes in the shutter cloth similar to a magnifying lens onto a piece of paper - I have never had this happen but I do believe it's most probable.

With that said - take a new digital camera & leave the lens cap off while the body/lens is in the sun - the intense heat that is generated could possibly affect/melt the metering sensor or more as another poster mentioned.

Could always carry a silver rain cover for women's hair & tie it on:) The camera that is ...

Lastly - maybe someday with the innovations of nanotech applications we could have lens coatings & also body coatings that are designed to either repel heat gathering properties or even convert/balance the ambient temperatures into a constant ideal working temp - I always have to defrost my equipment before shooting outside due to the shift between cooler indoor air & the outside temp & it sometimes takes a while to balance out.


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