Decades-Old Lenses May Be Radioactive, Especially if They’re Made by Kodak


Late last year, we shared a video in which a photographer tested the radioactivity of an old Pentax 50mm f/1.4 lens that is really popular with film photographers. But that is far from the only lens you have to worry about when it comes to radioactivity.

Camerapedia lists 54 lenses that have been reported as radioactive and that, if you use them often enough, you may want to take note of.

Radioactivity in old camera lenses is due mostly to the widespread use of thorium glass elements in the 1940s, ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Thorium oxide is highly refractive and low dispersion; this translated into cheaper high-quality glass by allowing manufacturers to make lenses of lesser curvature.

A Pentax camera with a radioactive Super Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens attached

A Pentax camera with a radioactive Super Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens attached

Kodak in particular was quite prolific in using thorium glass elements. Their name shows up on the list a total of 11 times, and some of the cameras these lenses were attached to were quite popular. Case in point is the Kodak Instamatic 814, which was produced between 1968 and 1970.

The Ektar 38mm f/2.8 lens the 814 came with was lauded to deliver “exceptional sharpness and flatness right out to the corners,” it had a “sharp eye for pictures”:


According to Camerapedia, typical radiation from these glass elements approaches about 10 milliroentgen per hour (mR/hr) at the lens surface, decreasing to almost undetectable levels by the time you’re as few as 3 feet away. By comparison, a chest X-Ray exposes you to about that same amount, and dental x-rays can expose you to as much as 40 mr/Hr in one sitting.

This means that unless you have a sensitive area (for example, your eyeball) very close to the thorium element itself, it probably doesn’t pose much of a threat; and even if you were right by the lens for, say, an hour per day, you’d probably still be ok in the long run.

A radioactive Canon FD 55mm f/1.2 lens

A radioactive Canon FD 55mm f/1.2 lens

The real threat comes from thorium eye pieces, which are much more rare but would be very close to a very sensitive area. However, since thorium experiences mainly alpha decay, you wouldn’t need much to shield yourself. Even a pair of contacts or glasses would completely block the radiation that might harm you or cause problems in the long run.

To see the full list of radioactive lenses and the cameras they came in, head over to Camerapedia. But don’t worry too much. Even if you spot one of your lenses on the list, you probably won’t need to invest in a Geiger counter.

Radioactive lenses [Camerapedia via Reddit]

Image credit: MC Rokkor-PG f/1.2 by sanmai, Old SV by mysteryonion, Kodak Instamatic 814 Camera – 1969 by Nesster, Canon FD 55mm f/1.2 S.S.C. Aspherical Lens (radioactive) by s58y.

  • eraserhead12

    LOL I just received an old Vivitar 28mm, and it pressed against my eye like an hour ago.. should have checked Petapixel first

  • C.K. Lee

    It’s a tumour.

  • J. Dennis Thomas

    Holy crap! I have at least a dozen old Pentax Super-Taks! No wonder my camera bag glows at night!

  • Alrizki Marino

    OMG, I have 55mm 1.2 FD lens! I should’ve known!!

  • JamesR

    It might be worth noting that not all Geiger counters pick up Alpha radiation (this hampered Operation Crossroads cleanup and safety). An ‘end window’ type GM probe is needed for Alpha detection.

  • Syuaip

    my lens is a WMD!

  • DamianM

    There is radiation in everything.

    Fear mongers.

  • Bj√∂rn Lubetzki

    that some lenses are radioactive is nothing new!! really nothing new, they are used for decades now and no man is died because he used his camera too often. the radioactivity used is measurable but isn’t dangerous. if it where, all the lenses would have been removed years ago!!

  • Duke Shin

    My having my Industar-61 LD is worth 3 small tumors.

  • joe

    Its not a Tuma!

  • Joe Dufour

    It is a tuma! Get to da choppa!

  • dikaiosune01

    and the 7 inch f/2.8 Aero Ektar, yellow dot optional.

  • Raffwal

    Guys, those radioactive lenses are a real danger to your health and well being! I suggest you send them all to me for safety reasons! PM for shipping address. I’m a radiologist so I’m immune to their effect.

  • Wander Bester


  • Zos Xavius


  • Gabol67

    holly shih tzu!!!

  • Jasper Verolme

    for those who have been in the army.. they have probably been exposed to the same radiation from optic’s in weapons and vehicles.. (at least we did the same test with Geiger counters and I remember the peaked high as well.) I’m stil here so probably no biggy.

  • Joey Duncan

    Had you read ANY.OTHER.PHOTO.SITE this made the rounds about a year ago, PETAPIXEL is late.

  • Joey Duncan

    Agreed, if you have a stone wall, the radioactivity is measurable.

  • Classified

    I’m more concerned about the antique rusty radium dial clock which pegged my Bull Electrical counter at six feet away to the point that it did the beep of doom (overrange) .. ! Even ten smoke alarm sources don’t even get close to what this puts out.

  • Mabel

    I don’t have any of the cameras I had as a kid. God only knows what happened to them. They’re either in the trash or out frying someone else’s eyeballs.

  • bitrat

    OK – the bottom line – if any of the elements were radioactive enough to cause damage they’d fog the film!
    A larger thorium hazard in those days was coleman lantern mantles, which contained thoria….when they crumbled they turned into dust which could be inhaled if it was swept up carelessly. Thorium oxide in the lungs not a good thing.

  • Carl Downey

    I wonder about other optics, particularly microscopes.

  • Russell Mozingo

    I work at the Texas A&M Nuclear Science Center, and radium watches set off the radiation monitor we use to check people out….the levels are high enough to set off GMs, but pretty low dose wise, so it is nothing to worry about.

  • David Gvozdenovic

    Normal film is not sensitive to any kind of radiation besides visible light and small part of IR and UV spectrum so there wouldn’t be any fogging. That or the film specs sheet lied. But then again, some types of nucleus decay radiation are not EM waves but particles (electrons in case of Alpha decay) so I might be wrong ;)

  • pakla

    I think that is wrong.

    The guy who filmed the exodus of Pripyat (Chernobyl), got small “explosions” on his film due to the radiation.

    He also photographed the liquidators cleaning the remaining rooftop over the exploded reactor and that film show serious fogging, from below.

    Though, the levels were A TAD higher ^^
    (And also a deadly mix of Alfa, beta and gamma-rays)

  • C.K. Lee

    That. Was. Awesome.

  • lololalallll

    They don’t make them like they used to. :(