Laser Projectors Burned My Camera's Sensor, Creating Dead Pixels

Laser Projectors Burned My Camera's Sensor, Creating Dead Pixels

Most events uses lasers and fog to create some light effects, and they can really create some interesting photos or videos. Unfortunately, they can also permanently damage your camera.

When I was starting with photography, I was asked to make some videos and photos of an event. The camera which was doing the filming was pointing at the stage, and my other camera was with me to take some photos. It was my first experience with photographing low-lit locations and with fog and lasers too. The good part is that I've learned quite a lot about how to shoot in such scenarios since, but  the camera that was filming was on a tripod, and it was stationary for the whole time, with a wide angle lens to record the entire stage. Thankfully, the low magnification helped minimize the damage.

So, after the event, I've packed back everything and went back home, and to my sad surprise, there was something very strange on the footage, from the middle towards the end. There were some odd, pinkish spots that didn't look like dust spots, but in fact were the dead pixels on that part of the sensor. The laser projector was pointing towards the crowd (literally towards the crowd watching, the light beam moving around, but every now and then, it could reach people's eyes and my camera too). And these dead pixels shows on every photo that I shoot with this camera now, just like you can see on this image, where I've photographed a piece of paper and left it completely out of focus, so the only thing in the photo is the dead pixels.

It's annoying, but I still can use this particular camera, I just have to retouch the dots, but it could've been worse. I saw some people that had worse cases of dead pixels that made it not impossible but impractical to retouch every single photo due to the amount of damage to their sensors, which resulted in having to replace them. I the camera is used only for video, I don't think it's possible to remove them (depending on the amount of damage).

If you want to avoid this kind of problem, before setting your camera on a tripod to be stationary for the entire time (like me), be sure to check where the projectors are and where they are pointing.

Lead image courtesy of kpr2 via Pixabay, used under Creative Commons.

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14 Comments

Rob Davis's picture

This has been a known issue for a while. I remember video going around from a guy who trash his 5D mk ii sensor at a rave. +1 for film.

Simon Patterson's picture

Yeah, I remember reading Mykal Hall's experience of needing to replace his Olympus a few years ago after one of these lasers killed his sensor, too. It's good to see a reminder article such as this one sometimes, for those who haven't heard of the issue before.

Alexandre Watanabe's picture

The sad part of this story, is that a couple of days after my sensor was damaged by the lasers, I saw something about it (which would've helped me to prevent it from happen, a video or something like that talking about it). Lesson learned (the hard way)!

Photographing laser beams that are above or in front of you is ok, like the picture that leads off the article. But if a beam can go directly from the laser projector into the lens (or reflect off a mirror and directly enter the lens), the beam energy will be magnified by the lens onto the sensor. That’s when damage can occur.

Sensors in general are more sensitive to excess light than the retina. Plus your eye only admits light going through the pupil which is 4-5 mm diameter at a light show, while a camera lens can gather most or all of the beam. (At longer distances, a light show beam can be wider than 4-5 mm so not all the light would go through the pupil.)

For this reason, the International Laser Display Association says laser show producers must make eye-safe shows but cannot be expected to be responsible for all the camera/lens/sensor combinations out there. More info is at http://www.ilda.com/camera-sensor-damage.htm

I should also mention that in the US and some other countries it is illegal to beam laser light directly into audience areas unless the laser show company has a government-approved audience-scanning “variance” and uses special equipment & procedures. Unfortunately this is not enforced effectively in the US so there are many illegal audience-scanning shows, with beam powers over the Maximum Permissible Exposure limit of 2.5 mW/cm2.

Perhaps the photographer was at an illegal show with higher-than-MPE levels. There’s really no way for a photographer or the public to know except by asking the laser producer if the show is being done under an audience-scanning variance — and even then he or she might lie or might not know the regulations.

Spy Black's picture

"Laser Projectors Burned My Camera's Sensor..."

...immediately reminded me of this...

Jay Jay's picture

A lot of clubs use LED's now (you can ask the lighting folk to be sure), but whenever i see what looks like a laser light in operation, i always aim my camera slightly down while shooting when i'm in directly line of sight with the projector, or just point the camera lens slightly away from the laser as i see it start to come towards me, which helps minimize damage. You never want to shoot up when these things are in operation, period.

Remember this one? https://fstoppers.com/news/lasers-take-down-20000-camera-less-one-second...

It seems really irresponsible of concert venues to be shining these lasers in the crowd. If it can damage camera sensors, imagine what it's going to peoples' vision, especially those who go to a lot of concerts.

If a laser beam can damage camera sensors, that does NOT prove that it could also damage a human eye.

The sensor material can be much more sensitive to light than a human retina. In addition, standard cameras have lenses much larger than the human eye so they can gather much more light. (The lenses on smartphones are closer to the size of the human lens.) Because of these factors, camera sensors can be damaged by safe light levels that do not cause any adverse change to human eyes.

Richard Johnson's picture

Sounds like laser lights caused this and not a laser projector. Laser projectors do not shoot out laser light. I have photographed and filmed laser projectors with zero issues even shooting directly into the lens. The title is a little misleading.

Richard Johnson's picture

This is a laser projector

Since the start of laser light shows in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the term "laser projector" has been used to describe devices that shoot out a laser beam, to make shapes and mid-air beam effects in a connect-the-dots vector manner.

In the past decade or so, laser-illuminated video projectors have become common. These make a wide beam of laser light that illuminates a LCD or DLP source to create a raster video image. These are known as LIPs for "laser-illuminated projectors".

It is a conventional laser light show projector that can cause damage to sensors, the retina, or skin depending on the irradiance (power over area). So yes, cameras should not capture any beams that go directly from the laser projector into the lens, or that bounce off mirrors and then go directly into the lens.

hamza saleh's picture

isn't there any kind of filters to prevent that from happening?

If the laser show uses a single color such as green AND if you have a filter that blocks that particular wavelength of green light then the filter will reduce or block the laser light from entering the lens. This would be exactly the same as if you used one of the two lenses in laser safety glasses that reduced or blocked that wavelength of laser light.

However, at many laser shows there are "full-color" laser projectors that mix a red beam, a green beam and a blue beam to give millions of colors. So now you need a filter that cuts that particular red wavelength AND that green wavelength AND that blue wavelength. Even if you knew which wavelengths were being used by a given projector, such a specialized filter would be expensive.

You could also use a neutral density filter to cut down all light entering the lens, but of course this also makes the image darker.

And at some point you don't know the power of the laser beam so your filter might not reduce the irradiance enough to prevent damage.

So the short answer is that it is not practical to use filters. The solution is to not let laser beams coming from the laser light show projector directly enter the lens. Photograph the beams in mid-air all you want, but prevent a direct "hit" into the lens.