Wednesday, February 29, 2012

NEX Overheating: More Surprises Revealed

Since my last post (Nex-5N Thermal  Shutdown Issue) I've been doing a series of tests on the effects of various heat sinking arrangements to see if I could achieve a goal of 1 hour recording time without any notification of thermal overheating (NOTE: the camera has an intentional, 30 minute, maximum continuous record time for apparently unrelated reasons).

All my efforts thus far have failed.  And I've tried many things, including removing the top of the camera (4 impossibly small screws) to see if it would help rid the camera of excess heat.

Finally, I became convinced that the problem was that heat accumulated in the top of the camera, and due to the LCD hinge arrangement, warm air could not escape quickly enough.  I determined to test this by inverting the camera.

But I had conflicting results.  I tried it at night and seemed to have initial success, but the battery depleted before I could finish the test.  I recharged the battery overnight and in the morning re-ran the test.  Immediate failure.  Perplexed, I added the heat sink back in.  What follows are the very surprising results.

TEST CONDITIONS  ("D" = Different from first round of tests)

The temperature probe is placed in the threaded coupling for the flash at the top of the camera. (D)

The label is OFF (see earlier posting above)

A heat sink of 1/8" tapered aluminium bonded with 3M 8810 thermal PSA tape is present in all cases (D)

The LCD is open approximately 15 deg. and not articulated (D)



  1. "30 minutes" indicates the camera successfully recorded for 30 minutes, stored the data and returned to idle status with no issues.
  2. There might be a modest effect of increased ventilation of having the camera inverted, but this is not the main issue.   Remember, the surface temperature sensor is, for these tests, located on the top of the camera.  Logically, one would expect that to be the hottest in the upright position and coolest in the upside down position.  It may be that there is almost no effect on the cooling of the camera electronics.
  3. The rate of temperature gain at the exterior diminishes with back-to-back recording.
  4. The initial recording displays the high temperature warning for some period of time and then shuts down.
  5. The warning light is NOT displayed during the second and third recordings which complete successfully even at substantially higher temperatures.
  6. Shutdown occurs almost immediately after the 3rd recording.  The warning my or may not have appeared.
  7. After a 5 minute cool-down the camera may be able to record for an additional extended period.  (Test aborted in the upside right case only because results were already clear).
  8. In this (and in all other tests I've done without exception), the camera asymptotically approaches some stasis temperature, but never flat lines.  That is, (according to my tests and under the test conditions) even after extended operation, and with significant addition of heat sinking material, the camera is still generating more and higher heat than these measures are able to shed.
NOTE: The delay in restart after the second recording is purely a failure of attention  on my part.  The  same delay was added to the second test.


Well, where to begin.

How to explain the successive decrease in the rate of measured temperature gain and the successful recording of two segments after the initial failure?  Some ideas already mentioned by others:

  • Does the battery generate more heat on initial discharge than when somewhat depleted?
  • Conversely, does the battery itself act as a sink when depleted?
  • Do the thermal materials perform better once heated?
And some of my own:
  • Does the thermal algorithm look at rate of change as well as maximum temperature?
  • Is cooling enhanced at higher temperatures by modest convection effect?
  • Does the LCD, slightly opened (and importantly, not tilted (articulated) , maximize its function as a heat sink and/or enhance any venturi effect?

Certainly it seems clear that the camera's initial shutdown is premature in light of its successful operation at higher temperatures.  The lack of a warning light at high temperature shutdowns with low slopes supports the idea that the warning light may only be coupled to rate of change.

If this is true, then it seems this could be fixed in software.  Given the rapid rate of cooling after shutdown or even in idle state, sensing the rate of change seems unnecessary.

It seems very strange that the camera doesn't appear to reach a maximum temperature much earlier.  Totally speculation on my part, but it seems similar to behavior of an open feedback loop or a process spinning out of control.  


I've ordered the AC charger to test the effect of removing the battery and some conventional heat sinks to test the original suggestion of richg101  to add DRAM heat sinks in this post.

I've even order a very tiny cooling fan.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Sony NEX-5N Thermal Shutdown Issue

I own an NEX-5N and as others have reported, I have experienced auto shut-off and thermal shut-off.  I had read of others using heat sinks to cool the unit, and I thought I might make a custom one for this purpose.  On advice of friend, I bought a surface temperature reader (About $90 from Vernier).

From it I got some interesting profiles.  But to read the chart you need to know what "Label ON"  and "Label OFF" mean.  Pictured below is the NEX-5N with the LCD open to reveal the back with a label that I've already begun to pry up with an X=acto knife.

And surprise, there is a carefully designed heat sink already in place.

And now the data.  Click on the chart below to see a larger view.


First, I only tested one camera; mine.  Your mileage may vary.

The steep drops are characteristic of thermal shutdown which turns the camera off.
The slightly shallower drop is characteristic of timer shutdown which returns the camera to idle.

The jittery lines are characteristic of having the LCD open.  For these tests, LCD open means the LCD as far vertically over the camera as possible with the screen remaining parallel to the back plane of the camera.

Clearly the combination of removing the label and opening up the LCD greatly reduces the thermal load.  (How much open the LCD has to be I will investigate next.)

However, this is not sufficient to keep the camera from turning off.  I believe the reason for this is the 30 minute Power Saver feature which has a variety of settings up to 30 minutes, but no "never" setting.

As the lowest line on the chart shows (Idle, Label Off, LCD Closed) the off time can be extended in idle mode by accessing the MENU (as I did at about the 13 minute mark).

I have tried to find a way to do this in video recording mode, but without success.  MENU is not an available function and adjusting the ISO or the Exposure Compensation did not reset the Power Saver timer.

Of note, even in the last case, the thermal warning indicator did come on at around the 25 minute mark.


Obviously Sony knew this was an issue.  Otherwise why would they have built in thermocouples, warning indicators, automated shutdown sequences and punch 150 plus holes in the back of the camera?  

The combination of the label and the full closure of the LCD (of lack of closed venting) is an issue.  

If my analysis is correct, Sony should add a "never" setting to the Power Saver mode.