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US: Video shows tattoo removal laser damaging $2200 consumer camera

[Note: Although this does not involve laser pointers, or the types of lasers that consumers would buy or use themselves, the story received a lot of press and it does highlight a different type of laser; the pulsed laser. The text below includes commentary by LaserPointerSafety.com.]

In March 2019, a YouTube video showed laser tattoo removal damaging a high-end digital camera sensor just by taking a video of the laser pulses on the skin.

The laser beam did NOT directly enter the Sony A7SII lens. And yet with every tattoo removal pulse of the green laser, the camera sensor was obviously damaged. According to the person posting the video, "The repair cost was about as much as a new camera [about $2200] so try to avoid this."

If a laser is powerful enough, just looking at the dot of the laser on a wall can be a "diffuse reflectance hazard." In this case, the reflected laser light was powerful enough to damage the sensor.

This is not a flaw in the laser or the camera. As described elsewhere, camera sensors are generally more sensitive than the eye.

Also as noted, different cameras may have different sensitivities depending on many factors. For example, this page includes four YouTube videos showing laser tattoo removal, without any apparent damage to the video sensor.

Laser pointers and handheld lasers are almost always emit continuous wave light. CW lasers can damage the retina by heating it up, while pulsed lasers create an "acoustic shockwave" which instantly causes a popcorn-like explosion in the retina.

According to this page, a typical tattoo removal laser has a maximum pulse energy of about 1-2 Joules and a pulse width of about 5-10 nanoseconds. It is not known how powerful the laser was in the video.

Everyone in the room should have been wearing laser safety glasses or goggles that reduce the laser light to safe levels. If the camera had been shooting through the safety glasses' lens, the damage likely would not have occurred.

From various sources including Reddit, Digital Photography Review, Petapixel, and SlashGear