How To Tell If My Camera Sensor Is Damaged?

The sensor is the most delicate part of your phone. If it gets exposed, to scratches, dust, or the environment generally, it may get damaged.

However, most people simply don’t know how to diagnose issues in their cameras. They leave that to ” the experts”, who happen to be the camera vendors.

How do you tell that your sensor is damaged? The first sign should be lines on your camera screen. This is also the most common sign. In case your sensor is scratched or damaged,  you might see a band of multicolored lines on screen, which may make you think that the camera screen is the damaged part. Besides that, a damaged sensor can be noted by the presence of red spots on the video footage you have. Getting black spots on the video may be a sign that the sensor is dirty. Red spotson the other hand, is a real siren. It shows that your sensor is going down.

I have had three damaged sensors in my life as a video producer. I am not saying that I am a careless video producer.

Sometimes, it is all about the environment you shoot in. Since I am mostly an outdoor person, dust and water have a way of getting into my cameras.

How do I usually tell that my camera sensors need work? If not work, how do I diagnose sensor issues on my cameras?

Signs That Your Sensor Is Damaged

There are so many signs to a damaged sensor. Some of them are just clear to the keen eye of a video producer.

Others require a little skill to notice.

Here are some of the most common signs of a damaged sensor in a camera.

Horizontal lines on your video

I am a huge proponent of taking test shots before going into the actual shooting. This is one of the best ways to see if there’s anything wrong with your camera.

It works like a driving test, or a pilot firing up the plane hours before the actual take-off to see whether everything ticks.

Shooting the sky is my ultimate test method. This works best when the sky is clear blue. If your photo or test-footage shows any smudges on the sky, it means that your sensor or lenses has issues.

In case you see horizontal pixellation lines, it means that you simply have more to worry about.

With cameras, a sensor failure can often be seen from the presence of lines on your test video.

You might find a closely stacked band of blue, red, yellow, green and pink lines on your footage. When you zoom in, you will notice that the lines do not disappear on the video. It almost appears like they are an actual part of the video.

Often, people mistake these lines to be LCD screen failure. They appear the same. In fact, it is so common for camera technicians to misdiagnose sensor damage from screen failure, because they can’t tell whether the line is part of the video, or it’s just from their view of the screen.

The horizontal lines appear when your pixel lines have been destroyed. I know that sounds a bit ‘off’ to say. How can pixel lines be destroyed? But it happens all the times!

A general drop in the video quality

One moment, your videos are crisp, clear, pristine, even lovable.

The next one, you are battling with a collection of smudged, spotted and low-quality videos that look like you shot using a VGA camera. Does that sound familiar? It does, especially if you have used digital cameras for some time.

When your sensor gets damaged or is nearing damage, one of the foremost things you might notice is the appearance of white spots pm your footage.

In case you notice this, the first step you should take is to change the lenses. If the white spot persists, you should switch your view, from that on the camera screen, to a bigger, clearer screen.

Sometimes, the video will appear degraded by age. This often happens when the sensor is almost at its deathbed. You shoot a great scene, and the video quality looks like it came a whole 5 years before the actual shoot happened.

However, getting low-quality videos is not ultimately, a sign that your sensor is dead. On most occasions, it may mean that your lenses are simply dirty.

Alternatively, it can also imply that dust particles have found their way into the inner sanctum of your camera. This mostly happens on the cameras which go through frequent lens switching.

Strong tints or color cast

Your naked eye sees orange, but the camera footage shows that the color of the object you are shooting is maroon. Is it a simple case of pixel confusion? Perhaps not.

On the other hand, your naked eye can see that the environment you are shooting is well lit. However, the shot footage looks tinted and dark. It’s not a case of bad lighting. In case you improve or re-target your lighting, and the issue persists, it may just be your sensors shouting out at you in despair.

Tints and color casts are pretty rare in digital cameras. In fact, most camera manufacturers state that they “have completely eradicated color casting by improving the pixel quality in their cameras.”

However, if you ask anyone who has been in the camera repairs industry for some time, their opinions on the same differ completely from what the manufacturing companies gloat about.

Presence of dead or hot pixels

I know that most people wouldn’t know head or tails on how to differentiate the two.

Dead pixels are the pixels that are simply that; dead. Since they can’t receive any power from your camera, they won’t show on your shots.

In contrast to dead pixels, hot pixels receive power. However, they only appear when the camera ” gets hot” so to say. This implies that you have been shooting for a long while, using the same set of pixels repeatedly.

While the appearance of dead or hot pixels is rare in DSLR and mirrorless cameras, their presence is still a way to diagnose your sensor, especially when you are buying a secondhand camera from someone.

The presence of dead pixels, in particular, should be a warning sign. Dead pixels are seen by spots on your camera. Mostly, they appear as black, or smudged areas on the video feed.

In case you notice this, you should do a pixel test (if you are using cameras that can do it.) 

In case you notice hot pixels (areas on your feed that appear to glow brighter than the rest) on a camera that has been off for some time, it should also be reason enough to check your sensors.

Tips On Avoiding Sensor Damage

How do you keep your sensor safe from damage? Here are a few great tips to use.

  1. Always keep your camera capped, when you remove the lenses. This presents dust or moisture from penetrating past the AA glass to your delicate sensor.
  2. Shooting in a relatively ‘ safe ‘ environments would be a great idea. Use areas that are less dusty, and clearer. While this is an escapist solution, it helps to keep your camera working for a longer time.
  3. Buy your camera from recommended vendors. Second-hand cameras often come with more issues. Moreover, you can hold the vendor accountable if your new camera comes with sensor issues. Besides that, recommended vendors also have repair warranties on your camera.
  4. Clean your sensors and lenses regularly. I know it’s a messy job, but it helps a lot. You can choose between dry wiping using very soft materials, or wet-cleaning which can be done by your repair guys. While cleaning helps to remove smudge spots, and reduces the chances of sensor failure, you should also take care not to destroy the sensor while doing the same cleaning.

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