I know you're not supposed to look at it, but can I take a picture of it?
March 24, 2010 6:37 PM   Subscribe

Would taking a picture of the sun damage a digital camera's CCD?

I have a point and shoot digital camera. I was going to take a picture of the sun today, it had a 22 deg. halo around it, until I became concerned that taking a picture of the sun would damage the CCD.
posted by 517 to Media & Arts (13 answers total)
I don't think so.
posted by delmoi at 7:33 PM on March 24, 2010

Conjecture: A lot of people have point-and-shoot digital cameras, and some of those people will take photos of the sun. Do we hear about people's cameras going bad because people take photos of the sun? No. It would also be a massive design failure if the camera was designed such that one photograph of the sun would damage the CCD; there are probably various ND filters and such in there to prevent that.

I would heavily bet that taking a picture of a sun won't damage the CCD.
posted by suedehead at 7:34 PM on March 24, 2010

There are some webcams that are fixed to take pictures in a certain direction all day, every day, all year long. These webcams sometimes have the sun baking the sensor for hours. I have heard that after a long time, the sensor can start to show signs of wear due to this treatment, but it's always been described to me as "after a long time". This is all based on conversations I've had with people who do computer vision with webcam data here at CMU, so I'm afraid I'm not going to bother tracing down a citation.
posted by tss at 7:55 PM on March 24, 2010

You might not want to take very long to line up your shot. After all, the sun is being focused on a very small (approx. 1cm x 1cm) area. The lens could cause simple heat damage to the sensor.

On the other hand, with a DSLR, you absolutely do not want to point it at the sun. While you compose your shot, It'll be focusing the sun on your eye.
posted by Netzapper at 7:57 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are anecdotes of this happening, but they're all about timelapses or always-on security CCDs. I doubt you'll have a problem.
posted by tmcw at 7:57 PM on March 24, 2010

It can. If you're exposing for the dimmer halo, you're allowing the sun to massively overexpose the chip. There is a damage threshold. I don't know what it is. But the short answer is: yes, you can damage your detector.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:27 PM on March 24, 2010

Only now have I figured out how I should have composed the picture. I should have stuck one of my fingers into the shot to block out the sun and created an awesome ET picture. I'll just have to wait until the next halo.

I'm going to conclude that the answer is probably not, but maybe. Thanks everyone.
posted by 517 at 8:43 PM on March 24, 2010

It should be fine.

When you "look directly" at anything with your eyes, you are steering your eyes so that the image of the subject you wish to focus on falls on the fovea , i.e. the part of the retina that has the highest concentration of daylight photoreceptors (the "cones"). These receptors are susceptible to damage from even brief doses of intense light i.e. the sun or lasers. The rest of your retina, i.e. the part that generates your peripheral vision is a bit more hardy, though of course not invulnerable to extended exposure to direct sun.

A digital camera CCD, however, is of even pixel density and the same material over its entire surface. Therefore if sunlight could damage the CCD, this damage would occur if the sun shone on ANY part of the CCD, i.e. if the sun was anywhere within the camera's field of view. The camera wouldn't have to be pointed "directly" at the sun. Moreover, point-and-shoot cameras have their CCD constantly exposed so that the LCD can provide the "Liveview", unlike DSLRs whose CCDs are only exposed when you shoot.

Therefore, as suedehead correctly assumes, it would be very silly to design a point-and-shoot camera whose CCD could be damaged by direct sunlight. Remember that mass-market consumer devices have to withstand the rigours that every idiot puts them through -- it is in the interest of manufacturers to build these cameras to tolerate almost anything you throw at them, especially given what spoiled consumers expect of warranties, return policies, etc. these days.
posted by randomstriker at 8:44 PM on March 24, 2010

I just read the manual for my 7D and it said not to point the camera at the sun for extended periods as the heat would damage the sensor. So I'd say you're fine as long as you don't linger.
posted by chairface at 9:40 PM on March 24, 2010

Your idea of blocking the sun is a good one and recommended on this page which is a good resource on halos in general, with a couple of additional photography links.
posted by TedW at 4:30 AM on March 25, 2010

History: old school video cameras were extremely sensitive to light overload causing permanent image burn marks. CCD technology helped overcome this problem.
posted by ovvl at 4:32 AM on March 25, 2010

You're probably fine, as others have pointed out.

Next time you want to take a picture of the sun, used a neutral density filter. Basically it just makes things darker, which can be useful in a number of situations. Canon's G line of cameras (G9, G11 etc.) have one built in.
posted by MesoFilter at 7:51 AM on March 25, 2010

I have taken pictures of the sun with digital cameras with no ill effects.

My guess is that long-term exposure would have an effect more on the color filter array (CFA) over the sensor than on the sensor itself.
posted by kindall at 8:08 AM on March 25, 2010

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