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Beware! Lasers Can Kill Your Camera’s Sensor

This is a guest post by , a photographer from St. Louis, MO. He’s also the publisher of Planet5D which offers information about DSLR Video.

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A warning to all photographers and filmmakers concert lasers can damage your very expensive camera sensor permanently! And, there’s some worry about your eyes as well, but I’ll leave that for another discussion.

While it’s less likely to happen for traditional photographers (because of the short time the sensor is exposed during a single photo), anyone using live view or recording video had better be aware of this. As you can see from the samples below, very expensive cameras from the Canon EOS 5D Mark II to the RED have been damaged.

Check a screen grab from the damaged RED camera at the top of this post. The horizontal and vertical lines are where the burn happened.

CMOS Sensor — Photo by Filya1 | Creative Commons
CMOS Sensor Photo by Filya1 | Creative Commons

All CMOS sensors are susceptible including sensors used by Canon, Nikon, Sony, Panasonic, etc. While it appears to be mostly safe and not common to get damage (you’ll see in the video that several lasers appear to hit the camera but only one caused the damage), we thought you should be aware of this potentially dangerous problem.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II damage

Here’s an older sample of a Canon EOS 5D Mark II sensor being damaged:

Here’s the video’s description: UPDATE: Canon sent me my 5d with a new sensor under warranty :-) A laser light burnt my sensor. Shot at Madrid’d Gay Pride Parade in the street

Is This For Real?

I thought I’d check up on this a bit and found this page on the International Display Laser Association’s site which says:

Lasers emit concentrated beams of light, which can heat up sensitive surfaces (like the eye’s retina) and cause damage. Camera sensors are susceptible to damage, similar to the human eye.

For large scale shows, such as on a televised concert, laser show producers work with clients to avoid TV camera locations and video projectors. However, it is not possible for laser show producers to be responsible for all cameras and camcorders which might be at a show. Therefore, if you attend a show as an audience member, you should take reasonable precautions not to let a laser beam directly enter your camera lens.

Lasers Destroy RED EPIC sensor

And here’s the RED Epic sample:

Here’s the video’s description: We were shooting a music festival with the epic recently, this is footage from when the lasers burnt the sensors while shooting at 100fps

Consider Yourself Warned

If you shoot at concerts or live events… lasers are proving quite popular. All it takes is one hit to the sensor and you can have permanent damage. You’ve been warned now let’s be careful out there!

Disclaimer: While there is no guarantee this will happen to your camera, there are several documented cases and warnings. Use your best judgement

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If you’d like to catch Mitch on the road, check out his DSLR Dynamics Video Visuals Tour. It’s a one-day workshop for DSLR video and brings tips, tricks, and insider knowledge to 30 major cities in the United States and Canada this fall. This is a great chance to learn about DSLR video. The workshop covers both shooting and editing techniques.

Those registering before September 30, 2013 will receive a discount of 15% off the events by entering the code photofocus15. Put the code into the box on the registration page: http://dslrdynamics.com/datessign-up/.

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