Long Exposure Damages Sensors: Myth or Fact?

Long Exposure Damages Sensors

Long exposures make for beautiful shots, but some people claim that too many long exposures could actually harm your camera. So, what’s the truth—do long exposure shots really damage your camera’s sensors?

Long exposure shots won't do any damage to your camera's sensors. However, they can cause the sensor to heat up. This will cause more noise in older cameras, but it isn't too much cause for concern as modern cameras are built with an adequate heat sink.

Ok so, your sensors might not be in any danger from long exposure, but can it damage the camera in any other ways? How can we deal with our cameras getting hot during long exposures? Read on for answers to both of those questions and more about long exposure shots and camera health.

Does Long Exposure Really Damage Sensors?

Your camera's sensors are in no real danger from long-exposure shots. While shooting for longer durations the sensors can become hot and create thermal noise, but it isn't any cause for concern.

Modern cameras are built with a heat sink to counteract any overheating caused by long shots. The largest issue is with the sensors heating up because it can cause more noise than would otherwise be there, producing “hot” pixels in the photo.

If hot pixels are a regular occurrence in your shots, there are ways to deal with it:

  • Short the length of the shot so long as it doesn't interfere with the quality.
  • Get an external cooler to keep your camera at the ideal temperatures.
  • Buy a camera that is more suitable for long exposures.

However, only very cheap modern cameras have to worry much about hot pixels, thankfully.

Is Long Exposure Bad for Cameras?

Long exposure is also known as time-exposure or slow-shutter exposure because the camera uses a slow shutter speed to capture the stationary objects and blur the moving objects.

The technique itself won't damage your camera, but there could be some issues that arise from long-term exposures. It has more to do with the environment and location than anything else.

Things like temperature, weather, and time of day could have an impact on your camera. For instance, extreme cold could very well drain your battery's lifespan.

So, if you're capturing the night sky off mountain McKinley in Alaska in the middle of the winter, you'll need to protect your batteries. If you're out in the Mojave desert, taking a long exposure of the clouds moving through the desert sky, you're probably going to have to contend with overheating.

Long-term exposures themself aren't going to damage your camera. So, long as you're aware of what you're doing and take the proper steps to protect your equipment, you won't have to worry about any harm coming to your camera from just the long exposure.

What to Do About Overheating During Long Exposure

During a long-exposure shot, there is a chance that your camera can get hot. While you won't experience any long-term camera damage from this, it can cause, in extreme cases, excess noise and ruin a shot. There are a few ways to deal with this issue.

Shorten Your Exposure Time

If your camera is overheating to the point that it's causing noise, you can always shorten the exposure time by taking several shorter images or cutting your shot in half. While this may not be an ideal option, it will help with the excess noise and it's the cheapest option.

You don't have to worry too much about ruining your shot. Longer exposure doesn't necessarily mean a better picture. Sometimes it's better to have a short exposure; depending on your shot, it could mean a more detailed photo.

Find Ways to Cool the Camera

The other simple, cheap way to help avoid heat noise in long exposure shots is just to find a way to keep the camera nice and cool! If you want an easy but very expensive solution, there are lenses and other equipment made for deep-night-sky shots which have refrigeration built in.

Supposing you don’t have that sort of money to throw around, then the next best thing is a portable AC cooler of some sort. These come in all shapes and sizes, but the general idea is just to point some cool air right at the camera during the shots. Even a fan is better than nothing! Just make sure not to use anything that could cause water to condense on the lens.

Cameras Better Equipped for Long Exposures

Not every camera is equal; some can handle the heat of long exposure better than others. So, it's always a good idea to know your cameras. If you're thinking that you'll be doing a lot of long-exposure shots, you may want to go with a mirrorless or a DLSR camera.

Mirrorless cameras are high-resolution cameras with a digital viewfinder and are low-noise. So, they reduce any chance of getting hot pixels sprinkled through the shot. DSLR cameras are good for long-exposure shots. However, you will need to tape the viewfinder in order to stop the light from getting it.

Just about any camera will work for long exposures so long as it has bulb mode, but when looking at a new camera, it's a good idea to keep in mind that you want quality. While you don't have to get the most expensive camera out there, it's wise not to get the cheapest.

5 Common Myths About Long Exposures

Long exposures damaging your camera’s sensors aren’t the only myth out there about the technique. Here are 5 more common myths about Long exposure that you should know.

1. Longer Exposure Equals a Better Picture

No, longer exposures don't mean that your shot is going to be better. The length of the expose depends on several factors, not just exposure length. Things like what you’re shooting, the distance, the speed, and several other factors will determine the length of exposure time.

2. You Should Leave the Noise Reduction Off

This really depends on the type and age of your camera. Modern cameras usually have two types of noise reduction modes. The one that is called Long-Exposure Noise Reduction should be left on.

The High ISO noise reduction is the one you want to leave off. This type of noise reduction is specific to files like JPG and doesn't apply to long exposure.

3. It Has to Be Dark

No, it doesn't have to be dark for long-exposure shots to work. You can shoot long exposure shots at any time during the day; morning, noon, evening, or night doesn't matter. For super bright shots, however, you may need a darkening filter on the lens.

4. Long Exposures Produces More or Less Noise

Long exposure doesn't actually increase the noise. On the contrary, the longer the exposure, the less the noise. Up to the point that is, as the camera sensors heat up, they start to produce thermal noise, which is a whole other issue entirely which we’ve discussed above.

Similarly, long exposures don’t reduce noise, either, and noise is largely dependent on other factors.

5. Long Exposure Is Not Going to Damage Your Camera

It's safe to say that this is a myth—long exposure will definitely not ruin your camera. However, there is the caveat that with older cameras or very cheap modern ones, the heat generated by the long exposure shot could be enough to cause “heat” pixels or noise in the image, so it’s best to plan around it or use a higher quality camera.

Additionally, you have to worry about environmental elements as well.

Roy Davis

Roy Davis is the founder of YourPhotoAdvisor. He is a hobbyist photographer that loves the business side of things. He blogs about IT, cybersecurity, business, and more at BestofRoy.com. Follow him on social media at Twitter | Instagram.

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