How to Clean Your Camera

So you've noticed some dust spots on your pictures and you've come to the conclusion that it's time to give your camera a much needed cleaning. We'll you've come to the right place! Welcome to my comprehensive guide to cleaning your camera and lenses. Now before I start explaining the different ways of cleaning your camera, let me first start off by saying that every method of cleaning your camera comes with at least some risk of causing permanent damage to your camera, so we need to be extremely careful when cleaning our cameras, and we shouldn't clean them when it isn't necessary. Once we've deemed it necessary to clean though, we should start with the least invasive methods of cleaning and only work our way towards the most invasive and risky methods when we absolutely need to.

If you're reading this, you've probably already determined that your camera and or sensor is dirty. To see just how bad the damage is though, we're going to take a long exposure of a white wall while moving the camera to get an idea of just how bad it is. Let's set our cameras to a high f-stop, like F/16, and low ISO. We'll take a picture of a white wall, moving the camera around slowly to create motion blur of everything except the dust on the sensor. It is important to take this shot at a high f-stop because the dust won't appear at lower ones. So your picture should come out looking like the one below:

before cleaning

So now that we've identified a dusty sensor, let's go through the various ways of cleaning it, starting with the least risky.

Auto Clean - Risk Level: Low

Most cameras are equipped with a built in camera sensor cleaning operation that works by gently vibrating the sensor to move dust particles. This is very low risk, but isn't very effective at cleaning a very dirty sensor.

Blower - Risk Level:Low

An air blower is probably the best risk factored method of cleaning your camera. Never use compressed air to clean your camera, and make sure that the blower that you do use is equipped with a dust filter that will prevent it from spitting back out the dust that is sucked in. I reccomed the giottos rocket air blower. For cleaning your lens, turn your lens upside down so that the dust that is blown off the lens fall to the floor. To clean your camera sensor, use your camera's "Lock Mirror for Cleaning" functionality to open up the mirror and exposure the camera's sensor. With the sensor exposed and the camera on a tripod facing down blow the air off the sensor and out of the camera.

Lens Pen - Risk Level:Low

Do not use a lens pen on your camera's sensor or mirror! The lens pen is a good tool for cleaning your camera lenses (and only your lenses). Since it does involve physical touch to the glass, it is slightly higher risk than the air blower.

Lens Wipes - Risk Level:Moderate

Again, lens wipes are for lenses, not for the internals of the camera. The risk with lens wipes is slightly higher than the lens pen or blower since 1) you are a applying a chemical to the glass of your camera which likely has some long term detrimental affects to both the glass itself and the plastics of the camera. 2)When rubbing the camera you risk the presence of a grain of sand or small particle being rubbed against the glass surface and causing scratches. Always apply the blower or lens pen before cleaning the glass with a lens wipe or microfiber cloth.

Lens Cleaner + Microfiber Towers - Risk Level:Moderate

This is effectively the exact same as cleaning with lens wipes, just make sure that your microfiber towels are clean before using them on your glass.

Sensor Cleaning Kit - Risk Level:High

Full Frame Sensor Cleaning Kit
APS-C Frame (CCD/CMOS) Sensor Cleaning Kit

This is the highest risk yet often the most effective method of cleaning your camera. Depending on how often you shoot, and how well you treat your camera, hopefully you don't need to do this often. You'll need to purchase a lens cleaning kit with swabs matching the height of your camera's sensor. This will allow you to clean the entire sensor in just one pass of the swab across the sensor. Be sure to follow the instructions included in your sensor cleaning kit. Use the camera's "lock mirror for cleaning" functionality to expose the sensor. With the camera and sensor facing upright, make one pass with a dry swab across the mirror, and dispose of this swab. If the sensor still contains dust, apply one or two drops of the sensor cleaning solution to a new swab, and make a single pass across the sensor.

Time to take another test shot. Once again, with high aperture, low ISO, let's take a picture of a light colored wall moving the camera in a circular motion. Hopefully it comes out looking much better than before:

after cleaning

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