Rob Hummel, a film industry vet speaking at this year’s Cine Gear Expo, reveals what seems to be a shocking fact about digital cameras: taking your camera on planes kills pixels! The rationale behind this is that the gamma radiation at altitude is much greater, and this causes a voltage change in sensors that can “fry out” pixels. Calamity! But wait, let’s just check some stuff here.
As forum posters and commenters around the net are pointing out, this whole thing simply doesn’t seem to be true. His anecdote of the Genesis cameras being flown out and having dead pixel rows is full of holes; after all, a million things could have caused a few dead pixels, not least of which a bumpy flight and improper packing. Cameras are flown all over the place every day, and you’d think at this point someone would have noticed all the dead pixels. Though the cameras in space people are mentioning are without a doubt radiation-hardened.
Hummel is probably speaking from a grain of truth: gamma rays probably do excite photo sensors, but the increase at cruising altitude isn’t really that much greater, and a commenter links to a paper showing that either way, it’s nowhere near the levels necessary to damage a sensor. It’s probable that some sensors are more likely to suffer from this problem than others — but any systematic problem would have been detected and corrected by now.