Can A Digital Camera Wear Out?
Just like any piece of technology, it’s probably not going to last forever. In the modern era of photography and the rise of the digital camera, almost everything in the camera is electronic. From the LCD screen to the internal components, there are many parts that need to operate properly in order to use the camera. So is it possible for a digital camera to wear out over time?
In general, a digital camera will not wear out over time. The only major component that can eventually wear out is the camera shutter. With that said, unless you’re taking hundreds of photos every day for years, most hobbyists and casual shooters can expect their digital camera to last around 5 years of regular use.
Now that you have a broad sense of your digital camera’s lifespan; let’s get into the nitty-gritty of what wears out a camera and how to extend the lifespan.
How Long Will A Digital Camera Last?
If you go directly off of the manufacturer’s recommended shutter count, you’ll likely get a lot of years out of your camera. It’s important to keep in mind that these shutter counts are rough estimations and vary between cameras.
To give you a solid idea of lifespan, let’s assume you get 200,000 shutter actuation out of your camera. This means that you can take 200,000 photos before your shutter wears out. If you take 200,000 and divide it by 365 (1 year), that equals out to 547. This means you would “technically” (according to manufacturer specs) wear out your camera in a year if you took 547 every day for a whole year.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never met a hobbyist who takes anywhere near that number of photos a day.
Most people like to take their cameras to special events, on hikes, on vacations, or to capture family moments. The reality is, you probably won’t use your camera every single day for a year, but if you do, it’s unlikely you’ll be racking up hundreds of photos a day.
That’s why I like to give an estimate of 5 years for the lifespan of a digital camera. Ultimately it all depends on how often you use it and how well you take care of it. In many cases, a camera can last you well over 5 years.
The shutter count for your camera will depend on its specific model. In most cases, higher-end camera bodies tend to have a higher shutter count expectancy than entry-level DSLR and mirrorless cameras. To give you an idea of what shutter count your camera is rated for, below is a list of popular camera bodies used by photographers:
Canon Shutter Count
- Canon 1DX – 500,000
- Canon 5D MK ii/iii/iv – 150,000
- Canon 7D – 200,000
- Canon 6D – 100,000
- Canon 60D – 100,000
- Canon Rebel Series – 100,000
Nikon Shutter Count
- Nikon D5 – 400,000
- Nikon D500 – 200,000
- Nikon D850 – 200,000
- Nikon D3500 – 100,000
- Nikon D7500 – 150,000
- Nikon D5600 – 100,000
Sony Shutter Count
- Sony has not released an estimated shutter count for their camera systems. However, it’s rumored that their top-end cameras like the Sony a9 or the Sony A7R iii have a 500,000 shutter count expectancy.
How To Check Shutter Count Online
Unlike a car that you can easily check the mileage on the odometer, there’s no such thing on a digital camera. Although that might seem annoying to some, I can understand why camera manufacturers don’t add an easily accessible shutter counter on the camera. At the end of the day, shutter count is an estimate and not a rule. Your camera could function normally well past its expected shutter life.
Plus, I don’t know about you, but I can only imagine my building anxiety as the shutter count ticks higher and higher. Most photographers don’t, or rarely, check the shutter count of their cameras. If everything is in working order and you don’t have any problems, there’s nothing to worry about.
With that said, there is a handy app online that will tell you the shutter count on your camera by reading the EXIF data of your photos(s). Just visit MyShutterCount.com and upload your most recently captured photo. From here, it will instantly give you a reading of your shutter count.
What Happens When You Exceed Your Cameras Recommended Shutter Count
The truth is, your camera won’t abruptly stop working the second you cross the shutter count threshold. Your camera may surpass it’s shutter count and still be in perfect working order. It’s also possible (unlikely, but possible) that your camera bites the dust before it ever reaches a high shutter count.
Since shutter count will vary, it’s best not to dwell on it. Don’t limit yourself from taking a picture just because you’re worried about your camera’s longevity. At the end of the day, they’re built to take photos, and the shutter is designed for extensive use. Put your camera to work and take all the photos you want.
Any deterioration in the camera shutter will likely be noticeable before it completely stops working. You might start to see that it doesn’t work at certain shutter speeds or malfunctions in burst mode. These are some indications that your camera shutter might be on its last legs.
Luckily you can send your camera in and get the shutter replaced if you want. For a few hundred dollars, you can get a perfectly new shutter and further extend your camera’s lifespan. Whenever that time comes around (if it ever does), be sure to consider upgrading cameras since there will be better technology more worth your money than a shutter.
In most cases, photographers will decide to upgrade or replace their camera bodies long before they actually burn out their shutters.
The Camera Sensor
The most important part of your camera is the sensor. Here is where all of the light entering your lens is recorded and becomes the photo you see on the back of your camera. The sensor itself is an electronic device that has an incredibly long lifespan. It’s unlikely that your camera sensor will suddenly stop working just from age. It’s more likely that your camera’s mechanical components will go long before the camera sensor does.
In short, the sensor is very rarely the reason that a digital camera wears out.
LCD Screen And Dead Pixels
One common issue that can occur over time is dead pixels on the LCD screen of your camera. A dead pixel is exactly what it sounds like, a single pixel that doesn’t work. That means it can’t display any color or exposure values and ends up completely black. Like with any monitor, individual pixels can wear out over time. The result is a small black dot that’s permanently a part of your LCD screen.
Luckily, dead pixels on your LCD screen aren’t going to show up in your actual photos. Try to think of it as an error in displaying your photo, not an error in the photo itself.
A dead pixel will more noticeable in bright sections of your images since the black spot stands out against a light background. If you notice a dead pixel on your LCD screen, you’ll just have to take note of it and remember it’s nothing on your lens. It’s simply a problem with the LCD screen you’re looking at.
With that said, it’s important to compare your photo on your camera versus on your computer. If the dead pixel is, in fact, on the LCD, there shouldn’t be any black spot visible on your computer.
So if you notice one or two dead pixels, is it time to toss your camera? Absolutely not. These are just a part of screens and a minor inconvenience at the most. As long as you’re still able to see your entire photo, a small black spec isn’t going to be the end of the world.
If you’re that worried about one pixel malfunctioning, just remember that there can be up to 1,000,000 pixels on your cameras LCD. With one pixel malfunctioning, you still have 999,999 functioning pixels to work with. That’s a heck of a lot of pixels.
I mean, if you had $1,000,000 and you lost $1, would you worry about it? Probably not. There’s no reason to worry over a dead pixel if it shows up on your screen.
Mirrorless Vs. DSLR
Although I don’t have any definitive proof that a DSLR will last longer than a mirrorless or vice versa, it is believed that mirrorless cameras have a longer lifespan. This simply comes down to shutter count. Since mirrorless cameras can use an electronic shutter, those shutter actuation doesn’t actually count towards the total shutter count. This makes it harder to say exactly how long a mirrorless camera will last compared to a DSLR.
With that said, both mirrorless and DSLR cameras have mechanical parts that can malfunction and cause problems over time. Things like the shutter button or settings dials can stop working, which would be equally as problematic as a faulty shutter.
In terms of shutter actuation, a mirrorless camera will have a longer lifespan than a DSLR simply because mirrorless can use an electronic shutter. On the flip side, both cameras have similar mechanical features that can wear out and cause problems. Although both types of cameras will likely last for a similar amount of time, it’s not possible to give a conclusive answer as to which is best.
What Factors Can Wear Out Your Camera?
There are a lot of reasons why a digital camera will wear out beyond the internal components. External factors and how you store your camera can also impact your camera’s lifespan.
One of the main issues you might face is moisture damage. Whether you get caught in a heavy rainstorm, your camera is stored in a wet bag, or you accidentally drop your camera into water, it’s likely to cause damage. Like any other electronic device, water is a surefire way to damage or even destroy certain components.
Most cameras are weather-sealed, making it safe to shoot in the rain with, but this is only good up to a point. I’ve taken photos in rainstorms that were so heavy you might as well just bored a water bottle on the camera. With too much moisture, it can start to damage displays and seep into other parts of the camera body.
Whenever you can, it’s a good idea to keep your camera as dry as possible. If you get caught in the rain, just make sure to thoroughly dry your camera and let it air dry before storing it. By ensuring your camera gear is dry before you put it away, it’s more likely that everything will stay in working order for longer.
– Physical Damage
I’ll be the first to say that my cameras have seen their fair share of bumps and tumbles. Whether it be from setting up in the dark from a precarious spot or having it unexpectedly swing while slung around your neck, it’s not hard to bump around your camera. Although your camera isn’t going to break after getting a small bump, physical damage is one of the leading reasons that cameras bite the dust earlier than necessary.
Although accidents can and will happen, always make sure to keep your camera as safe as possible. Whenever you set up a tripod or set your camera down, consider if or how it could get damaged. More often than not, there’s a safer way to set up a shot or stow your gear.
– Dust And Sand
Dust and sand are tough to get rid of and work their way into every crevice of your camera gear. Whether you’re shooting in the sand dunes or on a beach, sand will somehow find it’s way into your stuff. The problem is that these small and dense particles get into small cracks where they get rubbed around. Over time this dust and sand can cause scratching and damage to mechanical components of your camera.
To help avoid this and keep everything running in top condition, be sure to blow any sand away with an air puffer or try using the brush on a lens pen.
To learn more about how to protect your camera from dust and scratches, check out this post.
Will Your Camera Quality Degrade Over Time?
The biggest worry you might have is whether your camera’s actual image quality will degrade over time. Luckily, that’s not the case. As I mentioned earlier, camera sensors are the most important part of recording light and creating the images you see. They’re also one of the most long-lasting parts of your camera! A sensor will consistently output the same image quality decades down the line, assuming the rest of your camera functions, of course!
Since the only real pieces of a camera that wear out are the mechanical parts like the shutter, buttons, and dials, none of these will affect your photo’s actual resolution. Your sensor will still capture the same quality images, as long as the other parts of your camera are in working order.
Should You Repair An Old Camera Or Buy A New One?
Now you’re likely reading this for one of two reasons. The first reason is that you already own or are about to purchase a camera and are curious how long you can expect it to last. The second is that you’re using an old camera, and it’s not functioning properly, so you’re wondering if a digital camera can wear out. Whichever stage you’re at in your camera’s lifespan, the question comes down to one thing. Should you repair your old camera or buy a new one?
Most issues that arise with a camera’s age can be repaired by sending it to the manufacturer. For a few hundred dollars, you could get part of your camera replaced and have it work like new again. This is a valid option if you really love your camera and don’t have the money to spend on a completely new camera body.
However, at some point, you need to consider when it’s time to upgrade. By the time your digital camera wears out, the technology for an equivalent camera will be leaps and bounds ahead of the one you currently own. If your camera is on its last legs, it could be worth looking at newer options and basking in the glory of new camera technology. Although it may be a bit more money than getting your old camera repaired, you will gain a lot more from buying a newer camera.
At the end of it all, don’t worry too much about shutter count and how much you’re using your camera. Your camera is meant to capture photos, so get out there and shoot! And on the flip side, you’ll likely want to sell and upgrade your camera long before you actually max out its lifespan. So there’s nothing to worry about!
– Brendan 🙂