A Possible Dilemma Flying with a Digital Camera

I have not owned my Leica M-E for very long and I have really no complaints with the camera. I get a joy that others may not understand when I have it in my hands, whether framing a photograph or manipulating the controls.  Its been a game changer for me.  But….

…. I discovered an issue with the camera that may or may not be the camera’s problem.  About 4 weeks ago while post processing an image taken in low light I discovered a bad pixel in the top right third of the sensor and what appeared in the JPG  and DNG file as a very thin vertical scratch that ran straight down the image from the bad pixel.

bad pixel

I would probably have never noticed this issue other than the particular image I was working on.  In low ISO 160 – ISO 800 images that I’ve taken to duplicate the issue the bad pixel and “vertical scratch” is almost impossible to see.  To see the problem I have to underexpose at a high ISO and then increase the exposure a few stops.  In Lightroom, the bad pixel is corrected as Lightroom creates the preview from the DNG.

When I learned of the chance to go to the new Miami Leica Store event I delayed speaking to Leica about a repair as I wanted to have the camera with me.  However, after returning I contacted Leica’s repair facility in New Jersey and was promptly asked to send the camera to them.  Its an important reason I’ve “invested” in the Leica system is their reputation including their service.

Since discovering my issue as I know I’m not alone as other Leica M8 and M9 owners have had similar challenges, I’ve done some research and was very surprised to learn that my flying career may have an effect on my problem.  Over at the L•Camera Forum (you may have to register to see the FAQ) I found in the M9 FAQ this Q&A:

Question:  What can I do to prevent dead pixels and red lines on my sensor?

Answer:  Basically nothing, as these are caused by cosmic radiation. Flying may increase sensor damage, especially on the transpolar route.

The only rational precaution is to store your camera in an upright position, especially in an aircraft, to minimize the target area for the cosmic particles.

I had never heard about flying as a possible issue to damaging a digital camera sensor.  And then the FAQ entry prior to the one above links to a YouTube video I’ve linked to below that goes into some detail about sensor technology.  Around 8 minutes into the video pretty much confirmed the FAQ I’ve listed above and now I may have an idea on why my bad pixel occurred.  Scary!

I hope to have my Leica M-E back later this week as they try and complete repairs in 10 business days.  Unfortunately due to my profession as a pilot I will just have to be aware of the possible gamma ray issues flying at altitude.

Your thoughts and comments are welcome as I’d love to hear what you may have to say.

8 thoughts on “A Possible Dilemma Flying with a Digital Camera

  1. That is unfortunate!!! & kudos on picking it up – I think it would’ve gone right past me!! I hope they get it fixed soon!!! … Really interesting information, I never would’ve guessed that flying can influence a camera!


  2. Frustrating for sure, but interesting also as I’ve always assumed digital is bombproof in that respect. I wonder whether you could overlay a filter in PS or LR to remove the pixel once you have identified it (but that’s a workaround rather than a cure)?

    I still use film and recently took 100 rolls of Tri X and portra through 13 x- rays (OK they were hand luggage, not baggage machines) and several international flights. I’m struggling to see any damage to the emulsion.

    But.. and it’s a big but, I do a lot of dust removal anyway once the negative has been scanned, so in reality there probably is damage from cosmic rays and x- rays, but you don’t register it in- amongst the “general film/ grain/ dust/ scanner artefact” baseline.

    Hope you get it fixed- how about keeping the ME in a lead film bag whilst flying – there’s something warmly ironic about that!

    Keep up the good work.


    1. Thanks Brendan. My messenger bag is already overloaded. Could you imagine that much additional weight? LR already corrects the pixel when generated its preview and the very feint vertical scratch is virtually undetected. I was reluctant to send the camera in for repair but was advised by a couple other photographers to go ahead with the repair. Can’t wait to get the camera back.


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