Dead vs Stuck vs Hot Pixels

Another frequently asked question from our readers is related to dead, hot and stuck pixels they encounter in images or on camera LCD screens. Since there is so much confusion about these different types of pixel defects/malfunctions (people use them interchangeably without understanding the terms), I decided to write a quick article explaining the difference between them to avoid any confusion. Please bear in mind that there is no consensus between photographers when it comes to defining the types of pixel defects. The below information is my way of categorizing defective pixels that you might not agree with.

Dead vs stuck pixel

Dead (black) vs stuck (red) pixel

1) Dead Pixels

A dead pixel is a permanently damaged pixel that does not receive any power, which often results in a black spot on the camera LCD. Since digital camera sensors have color filter arrays, also known as “Bayer filters” in front of them, dead pixels do not normally show up as a black spot, but will rather show up of different color than adjacent pixels, or will be slightly darker than adjacent pixels. A dead pixel is a malfunction that is more or less permanent and does not go away over time. Dead pixels are rare on digital camera LCDs and sensors – manufacturers typically take care of dead pixels during their extensive Quality Assurance (QA) process. Dead pixels might appear on DSLR LCD screens and sensors over time, which is normal.

How to spot dead pixels: dead pixels are easy to spot on the camera LCD. Simply turn on Live View and point your camera at a bright area such as the sky. Dead pixels will always show up in the same spot even if you move the camera. Finding dead pixels on the camera sensor is tougher. Take several pictures with different colors and patterns, then analyze the image at 100% view size. If you see a pixel that shows up in the same spot and changes colors every time, or appears darker than the surrounding pixels, it is most likely a dead pixel.

2) Stuck Pixels

Compared to dead pixels, stuck pixels always receive power, which results in a colored pixel that shows up in the same spot on the camera LCD or on the sensor/images. The colors can be red, green, blue or any combination of these colors. Unlike dead pixels, stuck pixels do not change their color from picture to picture. Stuck pixels are very common, but not permanent like dead pixels – they might disappear overtime.

How to spot stuck pixels: to see if you have stuck pixels, set your camera to Program/Auto or Aperture Priority Mode, then turn on Live View and point the camera around, while carefully looking at the camera LCD. If you notice a pixel that never moves and has the same color no matter where you point your camera to, you might have a stuck pixel on the LCD. To find out if you have a stuck pixel on your camera sensor, take multiple different pictures at a base ISO such as ISO 100 or 200, then analyze the images at 100% on your computer screen. If you have a colored pixel (actually a small cross when viewed closely) that always shows up in the same spot, you have a stuck pixel. It is normal for digital camera sensors and LCDs to have multiple stuck pixels.

3) Hot Pixels

Unlike stuck pixels, hot pixels only show up when the camera sensor gets hot during long exposures or when the ISO is cranked up above 400-800. Hot pixels are very normal and they will show up even on brand new cameras, although manufacturers do their best to map hot pixels out during the QA process. Hot pixels will appear and disappear overtime and if your brand new camera does not have stuck pixels, you can rest assured that you will have them at some point in the future. Every single DSLR camera I have owned and/or used had hot pixels. My Nikon D3s had no visible hot pixels when it was new and now has plenty of hot pixels that are visible in longer exposure/high ISO images. Hot pixels do not occur in LCD screens.

How to spot hot pixels: while keeping the lens cap on, set your camera to Manual mode, turn off Auto ISO and set your ISO to 100 (base ISO). Set camera shutter speed to 5-10 seconds and aperture to a large value like f/16 (to decrease the amount of ambient light that could potentially enter the lens through small holes). Take a picture. Next, set your ISO to 800 and increase the shutter speed to something fast like 1/1000 while keeping the aperture the same. Take another picture. Analyze both images and see if you can spot colored pixels that look like very small crosses when zoomed in. You will probably see more hot pixels in the second photo at higher ISO than on the first one.

4) How to fix dead, stuck and hot pixels

Unfortunately in most cases, you cannot fix dead, stuck or hot pixels yourself. While you might find some online tutorials on how to map out stuck/hot pixels with various software (only works with very old DSLR models), I would not recommend trying those. If you decide to try it out, then do it at your own risk.

So, what do you do with dead/stuck/hot pixels if you have them? If you only have one or two dead pixels on your LCD, don’t worry about them – dead pixels are a normal fact of life. Think of it this way – a typical 3 inch LCD from Nikon contains 920,000 pixels. A single dead pixel means 0.0001% failure rate with 99.9999% of good pixels. Unless you have more than 2-3 dead pixels and they are close to each other, I would not worry about them. Plus, those dead pixels on the camera LCD will never show up in your images anyway! The same goes for stuck pixels on the camera LCD – don’t worry about them unless you have too many.

Now when it comes to the camera sensor, the situation is a little different, because dead/stuck/hot pixels will show up in your images. The probability of having defective pixels on a digital camera sensor is even higher – if you have 920,000 pixels on the camera LCD, you probably have 12+ million pixels on the camera sensor. Dead and stuck pixels are the most annoying ones, because they show up in every single picture. I personally do not care about those, because Lightroom and Photoshop Camera RAW automatically map those out when I import RAW images. If you only shoot JPEG, then it will take a little more time to map those pixels in post-processing, since you have to touch every image. There are some programs out there that will look for pixel patterns and fix JPEG images in batches, so you can more or less automate the process as well. If you see stuck pixels at low ISOs like ISO 100 and 200 and you exclusively shoot in JPEG, then you can send your camera for service to get those pixels remapped. As for hot pixels that show up only at high ISOs and longer exposures – those are very normal to have. Don’t send your camera to manufacturer to remap those, since they will come back in different spots later for sure. Again, if you shoot in RAW, Lightroom/Camera RAW will take care of those.

If you have just bought your camera and you have too many dead/stuck/hot pixels (by too many I define more than 3 on the LCD and more than 5 on the sensor at low ISOs), then send your camera back to the seller you bought the camera from. Depending on the seller, they might issue a full refund or exchange it, or they might charge you a restocking fee. I always buy from B&H and Adorama – they take back products if I am not happy without any questions, as long as I do it within 30 days from the date of purchase.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Sam
    August 20, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    Thanks for the great info…again, Nasim.

  2. 2
    ) Yen
    August 23, 2011 at 3:03 am

    Nasim, typo error on heading 4. It reads 4) Hot to fix dead, stuck and hot pixels, it should be How not Hot. :)

    Anyway, great write up!

    • August 23, 2011 at 10:16 am

      Yen, thank you for letting me know about the typo – I fixed it :)

  3. 5
    ) Vicki
    August 27, 2011 at 11:23 am

    I absolutely love your site and all the information that you post. L_O_V_E I_T!!!! Would like to be able to print your reviews, etc. and place in a notebook is this possible?

    Thanks Again,
    vj

  4. August 31, 2011 at 12:31 am

    Very good article! Out of interest, almost all Olympus DSLRs (and their Pen series cams) have a “Pixel Mapping” feature built-in which can help reduce or eliminate hot pixels. Works quite well too; they recommend running it once a year if my memory serves me well.

  5. 7
    ) Neil
    August 31, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    Hi,
    I agree that LCD pixel issues can be ignored, and
    Dead or stuck pixels in the CMOS or CCD sensor is annoying.

    However, with hot pixels (this is a problem with all DSLR cameras when doing a long exposure and thus usually at night or in darkened locations), a few tips are to take lots of shorter shots and join them together in post (photoshop actually has a feature for this), and also take a blank shot (one that is using the same settings you used for the photos and just afterwards BUT with the lens cap on. This way you should get a similar photo of just the hot pixels which can then be subtracted from the real photos in post (this is what some cameras do themselves).

  6. 8
    ) Beka Irani
    December 15, 2011 at 9:51 am

    Hi Nasim aka.
    I got stuck pixel last week and I thought I have to send my 2 month old dslr back to B&H.
    Then I read your this article and I learn allot like always from you other articles thank you Nasim aka for you hard work :) yet I couldn’t find any solution how to fix it without sending to manufacturer plus you said.
    “Unfortunately in most cases, you cannot fix dead, stuck or hot pixels yourself. While you might find some online tutorials on how to map out stuck/hot pixels with various software (only works with very old DSLR models), I would not recommend trying those. If you decide to try it out, then do it at your own risk”.
    Then I realize that you mostly focusing on Nikon cameras (sorry I’m Canon fan) so I Google it and I found solution for my Canon T3i and now it’s perfect as before :)) there is a link on YouTube, how to fix a hot or dead pixel.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJBuGhMnvFo

  7. 9
    ) Dan Lehman
    February 15, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    One nit –writing “stuck” vice “hot”, I think:

    > ***Hot*** pixels will appear and disappear overtime
    > and if your brand new camera does not have ***stuck*** pixels,
    > you can rest assured that you will have them at some point in the future.

  8. 10
    ) maria
    February 19, 2012 at 11:35 pm

    what about dead pixel spot on a computer screen?

  9. 11
    ) Guilherme
    May 7, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Im my phone, I think there’s a lightning dot, because it only appears when the screen in any color diferent of black (and grayscales), is that a hot pixel?

    (sorry, for the bad english, I’m a little rusty! =/)

    Thanks in advance!

  10. 12
    ) Big Al
    June 7, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Hi. Superb info here.
    I just came back from a Mexican vacation and took my Ricoh GX200.
    I got back and checked my RAW files and something weird showed up. Instead of the pics all being taken with auto WB, some of them were blueish and more tungsten.
    But the reason I found this great page is that on the blueish ones there is a weird pixel like straight line down the entire length of the image. Any ideas?
    The line is always in the same place.
    Cheers,
    Al

  11. July 3, 2012 at 11:21 am

    Hi,

    Great article. I suppose I’m stuck with a dead pixel but not sure. There is a well defined solid black area in all my photos at the same spot. It’s not round though, so i suspect either multiple sensor’s have gone bad or there’s dust in the lens. I am planning to send my camera for servicing. It would be great to have your opinion regarding this. Here is one of the images:
    https://picasaweb.google.com/114927344028274428179/20120623GoldenGateBridgeAndMuirWoods?authkey=Gv1sRgCIum6dCuj5nV1gE#5758365417132911650
    (The spot can be seen in the 3,3 quadrant of the image 3×3 box)

    Thanks,
    Arun

  12. 14
    ) Scott Chalmers
    September 1, 2012 at 12:58 am

    Hi
    I just read this article and I have a( I am guessing a stuck pixel a red cross when zoomed in) MY stuck pixel only shows up in JPEG and not in RAW and info would be greatly appreciated

  13. 15
    ) kathryn
    September 23, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    I have a question. Maybe you can answer it? I just bought a canon mark ll off ebay and the guy said it’s like new. Any ways.. I just started to notice red squares in the pictures when I review them on my LCD screen? you know how their is the image sensor when you look into the eye piece. it looks almost as if they get stuck. They are in different spots each time. Now when I turn it to live view.. not red sqares/dots?? I hooked it up to the TV also and the red dots were showing up their also.. have not tried on the computer since I do not have a converter for the CF card. PLease email me at my3adorablekids@yahoo.com

  14. 16
    ) kathryn
    September 23, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    Actualy in one picture the Whole spot metering chart shows up in red?

  15. 17
    ) Feodor
    December 31, 2012 at 5:04 am

    I had a very unpleasant experience with Canon products recently. I bought a Canon G12 and I noticed that there were multiple damaged pixels on the sensor. I just took a picture with the lens cap on at ISO 100 on AV and then zoomed to 100% corp and there were quite a few white dots. Just to confirm, I copied the JPEG image to my Lightroom, and there they were again.
    I returned the camera and they gave me another one. After testing in the same way, I found even more damaged pixels. I returned the Canon G12 and took my money back. Went to a different store and bought a Sony NEX.
    I am wondering, though – does Canon have a quality assurance process for every camera, or do they test only a few percent of the cameras? (The store was claiming that they do not sell refurbrished cameras, so I guess the fault is with Canon).
    Do you know what the testing process is like? And how often does it happen to have mediocre products in the stores?

    • 18
      ) Sean
      July 6, 2013 at 4:03 pm

      For Sony NEX users, it might be possible to fix the stuck pixel problem by setting the camera clock forward one month and then turning off the camera. The camera will release the shutter and remap the pixels. Worked on a nex 6.

      • 19
        ) Sean
        July 6, 2013 at 4:07 pm

        For camera lcd pixel problems, has anyone tried using the camera to film a video image like this?

  16. 20
    ) Seb
    August 10, 2013 at 9:40 am

    Thanks for this informative post. I have a hot pixel on my new Nikon d5200. You say that Lightroom can automatically detect these faults and hide them but I’ve not seen any such option?

    • 21
      ) macaz75
      October 9, 2013 at 5:57 pm

      It’s automatic… specifically for RAW/NEF files…. their is no option :)

      • 22
        ) Seb
        October 10, 2013 at 2:59 am

        I managed to fix the issue by heating the sensor up (long exposure, then high iso) and then using the clean sensor tool :)

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