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3.10 - Lens & Sensor Cleaning

Cleaning Lenses

Use a microfiber lens cleaning cloth.

You can be fastidious, but you need not be.

A little dust will not affect your photographs.

However, fingerprints should be removed promptly.

If there's more than dust on your lens, blow the debris off using a blower (described below), before using a cloth.

Don't use compressed air, such Dust-Off.

The propellant may spray from the can, damaging your lens.

Dust Visible in the Viewfinder

If you see dust when looking through your viewfinder, the dust is on the focusing screen inside your camera.

The focusing screen is located above the mirror.

The dust won't affect your photographs.

Remove the lens, and use a blower (described below) to remove the dust.

Don't touch the mirror with a brush, as the silvering may be on the surface of the mirror, not below a layer of glass.

Again, don't use compressed air, as the propellant may spray from the can, damaging the mirror.

Sand

Sand and lenses don't go well together.

Take an old camera to the beach, or else be very careful.

Consider using a soft-plastic underwater camera housing.

Cleaning Sensors

If you notice that the same defect appears, in the same location, in every photograph, then there's dust on the sensor of your camera.

Because photons are being converted to electrons, the sensor surface becomes charged, which attracts dust.

Check for Dust Even If . . .

Even if your camera has a sensor cleaning cycle, check for dust.

The cleaning cycle may not dislodge every dust particle.

How to Check for Dust

To check if there's dust on the sensor, photograph the sky or a plain white wall, at the following settings.

1) Set your lens to manual focus and defocus the lens.

2) Use the A or Av exposure mode, and set the aperture to f/22.

You'll get a photograph like this:

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Enlarge the photograph, and scroll back-and-forth, and up-and-down, looking for defects on the photograph.

If the dust isn't chunk-style, it will look like this faint smudge in the center:

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You can increase the contrast with Photoshop Elements, or other software, to make the dust easier to see:

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Cleaning the Sensor

To clean the sensor, follow the directions of your camera manufacturer.

Cautions

1) Follow the manufacturer's directions carefully to avoid damaging the sensor.

2) Use a blower, such as an ear syringe.

They're available at drug stores and supermarkets, often in the baby department.

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If you prefer, you can buy a photography blower, such as the Giotto Rocket Air Blower.

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3) Do not use a blower with a brush, as the bristles may damage the sensor.

4) Do not use compressed air, such as Dust Off, as the propellant may damage the sensor.

Typical Cleaning Procedure

1) Make sure the camera battery is charged.

You're going to lock the mirror in its up position with shutter open.

You don't want the mirror to suddenly, due to loss of power, drop back into its normal position while you're cleaning the sensor.

2) Remove the lens.

3) Go to the menu of your camera and find Lock Up Mirror or Cleaning Function.

4) While holding the camera lens-side down (so the dust can fall out), blow air onto the interior of the camera.

Be sure not to jab anything inside the camera.

5) Exit the Lock Up Mirror or Cleaning function.

Re-check the camera for dust as described above.

If a blower can't remove the dust, follow the camera manufacturer's recommendations.

The recommendation may include use of the products below.

Manufacturers of Cleaning Products

Copperhill

Digital Camera Cleaning Techniques and Products

Micro Tools Digital Camera Cleaning Supplies

Photographic Solutions

Visible Dust

Tutorials

Before using the advice in the tutorials below, do the following.

1) Read the recommendations of your camera manufacturer.

2) Evaluate the credentials of the tutorial author.

3) Check the date of the tutorial, as cleaning advice and technology is evolving.

Cleaning the CMOS Sensor of the Canon EOS 10D (and other digital SLRs) Bob Atkins

Cleaning your Sensor Thom Hogan

The Pixel Sweeper Petteri Sulonen

Understanding Digital SLR Sensor Cleaning Luminous Landscape

Sensor Cleaning: Where Is That Dust Hiding, and What Do I Do About It? Bob Johnson