Lasers can damage your Canon HDSLR camera’s CMOS sensor

by planetmitch51 Comments

Lasers used in a light show have damaged a Canon EOS 5D Mark II (reviews) CMOS sensor and I sure didn't know it was possible, but I thought I'd get a warning out since it appears to have damaged this guy's sensor. I would suspect that all CMOS sensors are probably susceptible – including Nikon, Sony, Panasonic etc., but maybe because we're using larger lenses on the HDSLR cameras would tend to focus more of the laser's beam on the sensor (I'm no scientist so I'm just guessing here, but it makes some sense). While it appears to be mostly safe and not common to get damage (you'll see in the video that several lasers hit the camera but only one caused the damage), we thought you should know.

Redrock Micro

How to break your 5D in a second from Agua on Vimeo.

A laser light burnt my sensor. Shot at Madrid'd Gay Pride:

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We thought we'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 (ILDA Members, see this page for details). 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.”

So, there you go… you can read more on their site, but I think the idea is there… be careful out there!

UPDATE: Another sample:

from the comments, here's another sample

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(Photo credit: snap from the video)



  1. I’m the guy holding the camera… This was a Parade in the street. Not a laser show. It was the guy on Google’s bus that pointed its laser to my 5D!

  2. same goes for DLP projectors

    laser caused $60,000 in damage to Barco projectors

  3. Being a current owner of a 5DII and a former owner of a Barco projector, this makes me a little ill. Pablo, it was a good thing you were using LiveView! It might have been more than your camera that got damaged if you had been looking through the viewfinder.

  4. Wow, that’s serious! I’ve been to a couple of laser show with my Nikon but have suffered no problems. I’ll be extra careful from now on.

  5. I’m pretty sure it would be the same results, but I wonder if this would happen if a picture was being taken rather than a video clip? Hmm.. that’s some serious stuff right there.

  6. Does the camera manual say something about this?

    If not, then the Warranty could cover the costs, as it would imply that the use is correct.

    1. This is not a warranty issue — the camera does not have a manufacturing defect. It was damaged because ofthe way it was used, no different than if it were dropped into water.

      More important is the fact that if the laser was strong enough to damage his camera it was strong enough to damage his bare retina. Anyone who looked directly at the laser the same as the camera did, even accidentally, will have a *permanent* retina burn and visible dark spot. The laser was too powerful for the location. It should never have been pointed at the crowd.

  7. @Lester: Just FYI, older NIkons and the D3000 are based on CCD sensors. I’ve tried shooting laser at point and shoot sensors (CCD) and it makes no mark.

    1. It really depends on how powerful of a laser you shoot. I’ve shot a 15mJ laser at a CCD sensor, but the power was diluted to around 0.00006%. A laser pointer probably won’t damage a sensor, but I would imagine a powerful laser used for a laser light show might.

    2. CMOS or CCD makes (relatively) little difference, it depends on the output of the laser. Many display lasers are several watts which if a poorly designed beam display with hotspots will not only destroy retinas but will obliterate CCD, CMOS or pretty much anything else that wouldn’t appreciate you holding a magnifying glass to it pointing it at the sun.

      Once you are using class 3B and class 4 lasers, if the beam has not diverged and/or been scanned RAPIDLY then it will be a hazard to the eye. Camera sensors (whether video or still) are also prone to the damage. Depending on design, it may appear as a stripe or just burned pixels.

      I mention all this only because I would hate someone thinking a CCD was immune, it isn’t – but as with all things some products will take a higher level of abuse before failing.

      Look after your camera – it may be VASTLY more replacable than your eyes – but depending on type of exposure, can be damaged even more easily.

  8. It’s true… I can confirm this, with my own story…
    I shot a few pictures and a few videos, at a laser show, and my Canon 5D Mark II, had some “wounds” after this.
    It developed 3 or 4 small magenta areas (group of 3-6-7 pixels). I had luck and i have repaired my 5D Mark II on warranty, but the service guy told me that it was the sensor board, and he told me that it was caused by very powerful light, and after that i remembered that show and looked at the pictures before and after… The result: 🙂 That show killed those pixels.

  9. The wattage and color as well as the color of the object the Laser beam hits will effect how much energy is absorbed.
    as an example you can send a laser through a balloon to pop a 2nd different color balloon that’s inside the first one.

  10. It takes someone stupid enough to setup lasers that are powerful enough to damage a camera’s sensor, especially at what looks to be a public show. Most light shows, atleast the ones that I’ve been to, have been careful not to setup lasers powerful enough to damage a camera’s sensor, or they don’t EVER point the lasers to people’s eye level. That’s just plain stupid. if someone had strong enough glasses on their face and the leaser went in level with their eyes – well, thats a lawsuit waiting to happen in my opinion.

    Sorry man, that sucks.

    1. Completely agreed.

      It’s unbelievable that people managing lasers don’t take the required safety measures (power setting and laser pointing directions)… not only to avoid damaging cameras, but also to avoid damaging PEOPLE!!


  11. What about super long exposure at night during full moon (and the moon is in the picture)? or accidentally shooting with 30s manual exposure under bright sunlight (shoot some night seen and forget to set the mode back etc…)?

  12. Google owes you a new 5DmkII

    I’m not a lawyer, that’s just my gut feeling

  13. Wow! that’s scary. I’ve been to a show where there was laser lights, I was using Nikon D60 at that time and nothing happened. Good thing I use Nikon hehehe

  14. You should be thinking about writing to Google and asking them to pay for the willful damage caused to your camera by the operator of the laser on their bus. Get a lawyer to help you. Point out that the operator of the laser had to take deliberate action to point the laser at your camera, causing damage to the sensor. In other words, the person operating the laser who appears to represent Google (he’s on their bus) damaged your private property.

  15. I can upload a video with the same damage being done by lasers to my 5d2 when i get home.

    My line just went all the way across the screen.

    I played stupid at the shop just said that some funky line had appeared and was on everything they fixed it under warranty.

    Ill put the video on the tube when I get home from work.


  16. Well this is really a very serious problem for 5D Models and all other CMOS based camera’s of canon.

    Does any Nikon user face same kind of problem?

    1. Probably Nikon cameras (and by other manufacturers) could be damaged as well, depending on the power of the laser beam.

      But it’s unlikely to find someone willing to test it… (indeed it would be a VERY interesting and helpful test if it’s well conducted).

      Aside this technical incident, it’s the much worse fact: the IRRESPONSIBILITY of people operating the laser equipment…that could even damage people’s eyes!!

      That MUST BE supervised and controlled by authorities.

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  18. Pingback: » Lasers can damage your Canon HDSLR camera’s CMOS sensor - planetMitch (planet5d) / / Photo News Today:

  19. A friend of mine had this several years ago with this nikon too on a party. His seller told him it was because of the lasers. All his next pictures were full of green spots from lasers burning in…
    So be carefull

  20. I guess the only way to be really safe is to not shoot in the direction of the lasers source. Crazy.

    1. The problem is that such strong lasers could easily reflect on something (especially mirrors, metals or even windows) and reach your camera and your eye, no matter if you are aiming it to another direction.

      It’s completely unconscious from the organizers…

      Just read the link posted above by Thor:


      We have 1st hand experience with lasers and their power, and do know what they can do.

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  22. Eso os pasa por llevaros esas pedazo de cámaras a ese tipo de sitios…

  23. I gotta say, of more concern to me is the fact that if it could damage a sensor, it could damage a retina. My understanding is that lasers need to be kept out of contact with the eye, even label scanners at the supermarket.

    1. Author

      Manny, I watched the video you posted (and it is long so folks don’t watch unless you really want to see a nice wedding video)… there isn’t any permanent damage at the end of this video that I can see like there is in the laser videos. What you see at the end is the result of people using flash cameras while the 5D2 is recording. Since the video features use scanning (it doesn’t use the mirror and shutter like stills), then when flash goes off in the real world and the camera is scanning from top to bottom of the sensor, then you’ll see portions of the image that show the flash and portions that don’t. Tho unpleasant to watch at times, this is normal behavior for the live view method of recording video (also called mirrorless or even EVIL). There isn’t any permanent damage to the sensor here.

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  27. I know how to operate show lasers. The laser in the Videos are on a to high power setting for the scan rate they are operating at. The beams that go into the crowd are intended go over the crowd and into a safe direction where nobody could get harmed. The problem is that this kind of beams can’t be used in a safe way in a city environment with windows all over the place. Such strong beams are only allow to go into the crow after the 7th reflection. Crowd or People scanning beams must be on a much lower intensity and on a high scan rate so that the exposure to a single point is only for a fraction of a second. Show lasers are very dangerous if not handled in a safe way. An average show laser has an output power of around 1W to 15W, your average laser pointer has around 5mW (0,005W) they are already dangerous for the naked eye. Lasers staring at 20mW leave permanent eye damage, before you can close you eye because the human wink reflex is not fast enough anymore. Laser at around 150mW are powerful enough to cut cut thin plastic or ignite a match. Red and green lasers damage the eye instantaneous, blue lasers have an even dangerous effect. They start an biochemical reaction in the eye witch alter the reception of the color green, up to a level where you can’t see green at all. The ugly thing is that the reaction takes on for hours up to a whole 24 hours and more. So you get the exposure in the night and the next day you suddenly can’t see green anymore
    I’ve taken 100rds of pictures of laser shows, also with very long exposure times (up to 15 sec), and it never damaged my Canon. In the video you can see the laser beam in the air but there is no fog, this effect starts a around 35mw of power. Get yourself a layer and sue them. Even fill a complaint at the police for endangerment of all the people around there. The problem is with minor eye damage that you don’t even know it. Because the human brain cancels out small blind spots. Every human has two blind spots, one in each eye, where the optic nerve is connected to the eye

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  29. Wow…this thread is a real EYE OPENER!!!

    Seriously, I’m terrified of lasers after reading the comments posted here.

    I’ve shot a LOT of shows on my 5D.

  30. I thought that it’s only me with same problem…
    Laser show on metal concert damage my compact Canon SX110 and in the center of the picture there are few visible green points (bigger is about 3-4 pixels).
    Watch out not only for SLR!

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    1. Author

      Based on all the input I don’t believe it is just a 5D2 problem… I believe it has to be true for any CMOS based sensor. Maybe you’ve just been lucky.

    2. I work in a laser lab at Johns Hopkins University, and I can say that Frank doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It’s not a specific brand or sensor problem, it’s a simple energy density/flux issue. The materials used in every CCD or CMOS sensor are essentially the same, Silicon. Large lenses focus a significant amount of light onto a fairly small sensor, making a laser that might be safe normally, dangerous once it is focused. None of Frank’s pictures actually show the laser pointing at the camera, and since a laser is a coherent, contained light source, you can only get damage when a laser is pointing at you, or reflected so that is pointing at you.

      Simply put, if you’re at a party or show where lasers are shining onto the crowd, you should leave. Only if the power is very low will this ever be safe, but I’m guessing the roadie or DJ operating these lasers doesn’t comprehend the dangers involved, so you can never be sure. If it can damage a sensor, it can probably damage your eye. The people that had their camera’s destroyed in these videos could/should sue to get their camera replaced, and then some.

  32. Got a 5D Mark II from the Canon Loyalty Program. In the live view, I noticed the exact same problem. I must have one of the two cameras in the videos. :(. All pictures and video clip taken show a line of dead pixels after transferring to my laptop.

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  34. waaaooo, really useful post. blew my mind away. We have to more cautious at the party or even with the laser pointer.

    thank you

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