Today’s Question: I’ve always wondered what that heat buildup in a digital camera due to long exposures does to its technology. Does it damage the sensor or other heat-sensitive parts?
Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, there is a risk of excessive heat damaging a digital camera, just as heat can damage many sensitive electronics. Fortunately, most cameras include features that will cause them to automatically shut down if the heat gets excessive.
More Detail: A long exposure will indeed create a degree of heat buildup in a camera, and that heat will increase more with a longer exposure duration. Other situations can lead to significant heat buildup, such as recording a significant amount of video in a relatively short period of time.
When heat builds up in a digital camera, one of the initial side effects will be increased noise in the photos you capture. And, just like many other delicate electronics, digital cameras are subject to damage from extreme conditions, including heat.
Environmental conditions can obviously play a role as well. On a hot and humid day heat is going to build up more quickly, and dissipate more slowly, for a digital camera. Conversely, photographing in relatively cold environments can help prevent heat buildup for the camera.
While many digital cameras include circuitry that will cause the camera to automatically power off if the temperature gets too hot, it is still worth taking precautions. When photographic in very hot conditions, make a point of doing what you can to keep the camera cool, such as turning it off when you aren’t actively using it and putting it somewhere (such as a camera bag or vehicle) where the camera can be shielded from the heat.
If you’re capturing long exposures of a significant duration, try to take a break between exposures to give the camera a chance to cool. It is also a good idea to take a break when capturing video over an extended period of time so the camera can have a chance to cool. And if your camera indicates that heat buildup is becoming an issue, take the warning seriously and give your camera a chance to cool down.