Bringing a digital camera on a plane kills pixels?

Below is a very interesting video from Kodak describing the way film and digital cameras capture light. Around the 8:00 min mark you can hear a thought-provoking statement that when you bring your camera on a plane over 20,000 feet, the gamma rays can actually fry some of the pixels on the sensor. This is why all major manufacturers are shipping cameras by sea and this is considered an industry secret because of the fear of lawsuits.

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  • DrSmouse

    Well next time I go flying I’ll just have to tell the captain to stay below 18,000 feet.

  • Camaman

    Or they send them by sea cause its cheaper…
    But hey thats no secret and not very interesting either… 🙂

    • bu

      How much do you think it costs to fly a jeans from China to Europe?

  • tazman

    I think it’s not worth worrying about…the non-radiation-hardened DSLRs on NASA spacecraft don’t seem to have dead-pixel issues and there’s definitely not 100 ft of concrete surrounding the ISS.

    • TaoTeJared

      Good point – They get much more due to the lack of atmosphere.

  • FMJ

    is that only when the camera is turned on?

  • Bonetti

    O no im flying tomorrow with my D2Xs.

  • ennan

    As someone else pointed out they use nikon slr’s in space and the gamma levels are significantly higher. Cosmic rays have more energy than is produced by the large hadron collider and they don’t seem to cause any bother.

    Maybe cheap compacts are affected but I think anyone with a DSLR (especially a high end one) has nothing to fear.

    • actually I have seen Nikon DSLR wrapped in white cover in some of the images from NASA, let me try to find a link

      • Robert

        The white cover is for EVA work, along with specially prepped and lubricated lenses. The Nikons used for inside work are plain-jane D3’s and such that have likely been through the most rigorous QA process ever:)

        • tazman

          I believe it shields UV (heat) and improves handling when used with space walk gloves.

          However, this does not prevent radiation from entering…especially through the lens when a photo is taken.

          • TaoTeJared

            +1 – heat and cold shield.

  • J Shin

    Does this mean that they are vulnerable to X-rays, too? We need to ask for hand-inspect for digital as well as film?

  • andy

    Time to invest in a lead case. I wonder how thick is has to be?

    • fred
      • andy

        Woah! you found a wiki page on gamma radiation! Give yourself a pat on the back! You must have a PhD in nuclear physics!

      • Edgar

        According to that page, the most important factor in shielding is the total mass per unit area. The mass per unit area of the whole atmosphere is about 1 kg/cm², the same as 10 m of water or 1.3 m of iron.

  • AnoNemo

    Joseph Wisniewski explains it nicely why it is not necessarily true what Kodak claims. Here

    • bjrichus

      Just a little latter on, if this post is true (do we have anyone here that can confirm the dose levels?) then the claims about frying pixels are clearly false:

      • porchhound

        First: All commercial aircraft cabins are pressurized if the plane goes over 10,000ft. If the cabin WERE to have a 20,000ft atmospheric pressure everyone would be unconscious or dead very quickly due to hypoxia.
        Second: NEVER send your camera with your checked luggage. Keep it in your carry-on so no one steals it.

  • fikkser

    Brought my pentax k-7 on 3 flights recently and after that I noticed several hot pixels wich I mapped away, but still, never had hot pixels before that. I believe it’s true.

  • Terry

    “I first learned it at Sony, complaining about a Canon camcorder I had…” Wow, it must have been a joy for Sony people to have their SVP of Digital Cinema complaining about his personal camcorder which wasn’t even a Sony.

    “CCD’s and CMOS’s are immune to color.” Does he mean panchromatic? Cause that’s, like, the opposite of “immune to color,” dude.

    “The electrical charge fills up the bit buckets.” If you’re going to repeat jargon like “bit bucket” you overheard from an engineer, it might be good to look it up first.

    “Just because you don’t understand it, because you’re not a good enough mathematician….” Yeah, sure sure.

    What a windbag.

    • Peter

      The Sensor of a Canon camcorder is made by S0ny though.

  • TaoTeJared

    I call BS! The same uninformed fear-mongering idiots claim that nuclear radiation was going to kill people in California from the Japan disaster.

    This is the same Bull that people were saying about film and the need for lead bags for years. All of it is not true. AnoNemo & bjrichus above have good links.

    Think of it this way – there is nothing special about Cmos sensors, they are all electronic. How many electronics are flying every day with nothing happening to them? This is just a case of poor quality control and not wanting to look bad to clients so they blame it on an invisible boggy man.

    • leadbelly

      Yes, every day lots of digital logic goes airborne and withstands gamma ray induced currents. But we’re talking about sensitive analog devices that are designed to detect (and tolerate) much smaller currents, so you’re comparison isn’t valid.

      Also, I’ve tried making C-prints from high speed color negative film that had been through airport X-ray machines prior to processing. Uncorrectable color. Anyway, not sure what the point is you’re making about that.

      And a for the radiation from Japan, consider the average Seattle resident is breathing about 10 hot particles a day, some of which will lodge in the lung and irradiate cells at close range for years. But what this has to do with gamma ray induced currents in CMOS sensors is beyond me.

      • TaoTeJared

        You dearly need to educate yourself better.

        P1 – Hearing aids are much more sensitive and lower current than a camera – how many of those do you hear failing? Cameras are far much less sensitive than millions of products out there, including cell phone cameras and circuitry on airplanes. Think of it this way, Gama rays are always hitting us, 20,000ft or ground, makes little difference. It takes 3″ of lead to block 90% of Gama rays – and there is certainly not 3″ of lead circling the globe.

        P2- So out of 1,000 variables, heat, moisture, handling, lighting… it was the x-ray machine that messed everything up. Sorry, you get more gamma rays from a microwave, dentist x-ray or even flying than an x-ray machine. I have flown multiple 4-12 hour flights, probably had 1,000 rolls of film with me and not once did I have an issue that I couldn’t directly account for a stray light or handling. Too much Gama turns it black (total exposure), not odd colors. Throw a roll in the microwave for 10 seconds and see what happens. Same difference.

        P3 – Debunked. Numbers came from a blogger who didn’t know how to read his new toy and then it went viral. Canadian government which posts actual readings real-time, showed less than 1/100 of one particle just across the border. Even if this was remotely true, all of Europe would be dead from the Chernobyl accident.

        Careful when you drink the cool-aid – sometimes it is only yellow snow.

        • DrSmouse

          I’ve processed C-41 film that had gone through an X-Ray machine at the airport. A distinctive band shows up in the film. Kodak has a good page showing the effects:

          Not a myth, not a conspiracy to make you buy a $10 bag. It does happen and I’ve seen a few rolls ruined by it.

  • Bonzo

    frying pixels on altitude is regarding CCD sensors only, judging by the description of collecting electrons in rows

  • Jon S

    This is not a secret, but it’s mainly an issue for CCDs.

    CMOS sensors are inherently much more tolerant to radiation doses. This is because the major failure mechanism is charge build up in the oxide layers (dielectrics), particularly those between the gate electrodes and the silicon. In CCDs the dielectrics are two orders of magnitude thicker than in CCDs, so there’s a much higher probability of a cosmic ray being absorbed. In CMOS sensors, the cosmic rays are more likely to pass straight through.

    At my last company we had some CMOS sensors flown on the space shuttle for the equivalent of around 20,000 hours of commercial airline flight (>2 years of continuous flying) in terms of cosmic ray exposure. After that long an exposure there was an increase in defective pixels, but the number was quite small.

    I frequently fly and often take my DSLR.

  • Krischan

    The sensor and camera should be fine most of the time (hey now, cosmic radiation hits us down here sometimes too) … but bit flips in the flash storage might be noticeable with enough hours.

  • CJT

    Most exported items are transported on ships. Therefore, this rationale, in and of itself, proves nothing.

    His claim by itself proves nothing. He claims that problems concerning filming Superman 2 are due to the cameras being transported by air, but provides no documentation that it was due to this and not possibly to some other cause. Furthermore, he does not state that this has been duplicated in testing. Unless it can be duplicated, it is not scientific. Furthermore, the testing would need to be such that only gamma rays would affect the pixels.

    Just because Robert Hummel is well known withing the photography community, does not automatically make him knowledgeable about this. Show us the proof. Without proof, this is just an unsubstantiated allegation.

  • Richard P

    Methinks vested interests in Kodak are trying to bolster film sales to Hollywood by tendering old fashioned FUD: fear, uncertainty and doubt.

  • Scales USA

    I just got a camera from Canon, and they did not ship it to me by sea, but by Fedex overnight air.

    It is known that stray gamma rays can damage electronics, but the odds of it happening are extremely low. They can also damage people’s genes, again, a very low probability.

    However, there is evidence that this can impare the process of reasoning and thinking for frequent fliers like our elected officials, who are always traveling on out tax dollars. Has anyone else observed this?

  • Rob

    The slant seems to be that film is a superior technology, but MF film lost out to digital by 2003, and LF was equaled 3 years later
    Now, 5 years high end digital backs have more than doubled resolution, and the battle has been lost. New sensors in motion picture devices are better than ever too.

    • Matt

      Gee, well that explains why the film industry still works on academy 35mm standard. No one gives a flying fuck about resolution except gearfags and pixelpeepers, it’s about the looks of the medium.

      • Rob

        Nice attitude – but a winning argument takes more than tossing around disparaging comments – they say more about you than what they say about the people you’re slandering.

        Some of the people you’d call gearfags and pixelpeeper know a lot more about movie making than you my friend. The future is digital – where you can get any look you want. Here’s an article about one tool that’s being used ( ). In the near future, it’ll be 4k and 8k cameras.

    • Pikemann Urge

      but MF film lost out to digital by 2003

      Luminous Landscape’s testing and conclusions leave a lot to be desired. Seeing is not believing where that site is concerned. I mean, when you have an author who claims something that’s the opposite of what the picture shows, you have a problem.

      I don’t know much about electronic engineering or physics but maybe the back-illuminated sensors will fix some of the issues raised in the talk.

      • Jon S

        BSI is mainly used on CMOS sensors these days (it can and has been used on CCDs too, but there is less need for it as CCDs have a higher fill factor) and CMOS is much more radiation tolerant.

        As a mentioned in an earlier comment, at my last company we had some of our CMOS sensors go in to space for what was the equivalent of tens of thousands of hours of continuous radiation dose at airline cruising levels. Even after all that radiation, there was only a fairly small increase in the number of defective pixels compared to those that were there when the sensors were new.

        BSI doesn’t help with the major cause of cosmic ray damage, which is charge generation in the oxides which affects the operation of the gates. With BSI, those oxides still exist, they’re just on the underside on the sensor.

        One other thing, all commercial sensors (esp. CMOS) have defective pixels, so every camera uses defect correction algorithms to replace the missing pixel data with values interpolated from the neighboring pixels. While there’s some loss in local resolution, it’s invisible in the final image (esp. when a good, edge-aware interpolation algorithm is used) unless the number of defects become quite large.

        Most video cameras use dynamic detection, where an individual pixel that stands out from its neighbors (i.e., where the edge is sharper than would be optically possible) is corrected. This means that the camera will be tolerant to new defects.

        I’m not sure if DSLRs do that, or just use a static map (or both, which is the most robust). I do know that on my 5D Mark II you can perform a hot pixel calibration step (in the dark), so at least in that case there’s a static defect map.

  • Camaman

    I guess thats why Nikon is in space. Immune to gamma radiation.
    Canon, no such luck… Won’t survive the apocalypse next year.
    Everything will be documented with Nikon. :-P:-P

  • Jay

    Wow, there is so much mis information in this guys talk, I hardly know where to begin.
    Sadly, much of what he was saying is rooted in some rational truths, but his lack of understanding and subsequent poor explanations are so off base, that they are offensive.

    Yes, image sensors (CMOS and NMOS (CCD)) are susceptible to cosmic and other forms of radiation. Over time, with exposure, their defect maps will change, and require updating.

    For very high end cameras with static defect maps most manufactures are quite sensitive to how they ship the cameras. For example, it is a bad idea to ship them “over the pole” between Japan and the U.S. on the standard air cargo routes due to the relatively high exposure they would receive on the trip.

    Regarding digital cameras in space, yes they do develop many, many more defects over time, due to the high radiation exposure. They can be re-mapped, but eventually the sensors and/or the cameras need to be replaced. This is clearly understood by both NASA and the camera manufactures working with them.

    And yes.. Photographic films are actually MORE sensitive to these same types of radiation.
    (Not to mention the more common forms of radiation…. heat, light, X ray, neutron, Etc.)

    This guy should feel quite embarrassed by his performance..

  • bumcheeks

    flying in planes *will* fry your pixels? i dislike it when misinformation like that is disseminated like it’s fact.

  • Adam

    You realize that Nikon DSLRs fave logged years on the ISS and every Shuttle flight. If this was true, they should be black. Gamma rays have NO permanent effect on any silicon chip. EEC Ram is meant to “live error correct” the change in i/o state that gamma rays have on the “curent persistent state.” Turn off the ram and it all resets. Same with a CCD, CMOS, ect.
    This is just a Pro film BS POS statement. He said nothing about Xrays fogging film… Humm, that really happens, and have you ever lost a CF of SD card after the airport xray? NO!
    That Xray Machine is a billion times more powerful than any trace gamma ray from the sun or space.
    Yes making a CCD or CMOS is very hard, and yes, some cameras (just like LCD tvs or Plasma tvs) have dead pixels. Yes, manufacturers have software to filter this out, (See the D7000 hot pixel issue solved with a firmware upgrade) but it will not take out the whole sensor.
    The truth is that the Genesis camera was a POS, and had many problems with it’s sony sensor. I rented two and each one was defective. We had to file an insurance claim for three days of shooting, and switched to the very beta RED with no problems, and they were shipped by air overnight.
    Kodak has just lost all my faith that they know anything about digital over the past 40 years.

  • Adam

    Sorry, just read the whole thread, and didn’t mean to steap on any toes or take credit. I got pissed at the video and wanted to get a correction out as fast as I could. Statement stands and everyone is correct in calling out the BS.

  • David

    OMG. I have a Leica S2-P and a Lecia M9 which both have Kodak sensors.

    Does this mean I have to sell them and go back to film. OMG. I wasted $60K of my hard earned cash.

    • Adam

      You are kidding right?

  • Jay

    Here is a pretty paper with lots of charts..

    Honestly this is nothing to worry about on “modern” cameras.
    On a long flight over the pole, like NY to Tokyo, a camera/sensor might lose a handful of pixels out of how many million…
    Unless you have a really old camera using frame transfer, you would never notice.

    Regarding the cameras on the ISS and the shuttle, NASA rotates the cameras as the defects become too great.

  • rob

    Gutted, am abroad right now, all manner of things have gone wrong with my a200, found around 100 dead pixels, the sensors moved out of place, it shakes like frigg when I turn it on, fuck my life 🙁

  • Steffen Ross

    I scanned my D90 with more than enough x-rays dosage for many hundred flights and it is still working without any problems. Have look:

    This guy has only half baked knowledge about digital imaging.
    He should retire or at least get his f****** laser pointer repaired. Amateur…

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