The Quick and Dirty Guide to Cleaning your Camera

Cleaning your camera may not be the sexiest subject for a tog’s blog, but it is something we all need to do once in a while to ensure maximum picture quality with minimum hassle – by which I mean avoiding having to retouch dark fuzzy blotches from our otherwise fabulous images. We will look at cleaning the whole camera: body, lenses, sensor (for those who can access it), before looking at how to keep your equipment in tiptop condition.

Caveat #1: If you own an SLR, the manual probably recommends that you visit a professional to get the sensor cleaned. Fair advice, but if you are very careful you can save yourself a few quid and still enjoy blemish-fee photos.

Caveat #2: This update features some of the least exciting images you’re ever likely to see outside of www.dryingpaint.com

 

Kit

 A quick shopping list to start with:

  • lens pen
  • soft microfibre cloth
  • camera wipes
  • bellows-style manual air blower (e.g. Giottos Rocket-Air or Matin Silicone Jumbo Blower)
  • lens cleaning fluid
  • OR a complete lens cleaning kit

All are easily available via a range of outlets, and are relatively inexpensive.

 

Dirt Detective

Before cleaning, check if dust is causing dark fuzzy blemishes on your photos. They are usually most visible in areas of an image where there is little colour or contrast – such as a clear blue sky – but you can double check:

  1. Selecting a narrow aperture, take a picture of an evenly lit sheet of white paper. Be sure to fill the frame with the paper.
  2. Examine the photo on your computer, zooming in to identify blemishes.
  3. If you see dust and blemishes (dark fuzzy spots), it may be time to clean the sensor.

image of paper being opened in Photoshop to check for dirty sensor

To make the blotches caused by dirt on the sensor stand out more I have adjusted the RAW settings to increase the tonal range in the image. You can see quite a cluster of telltale blotches on the left hand side. The ‘X’ drawn in the middle of the paper helped the camera autofocus.

 

Body First

Cleaning the camera body first helps keep dust from getting inside your camera if and when you clean the sensor.

Wipe the exterior of the camera body and lens (not the glass, yet) with a soft microfibre cloth or camera wipe. Do not use a household duster, or you will probably end up with more detritus on the camera than you started with.

Be sure to clean around the lens mount, so trapped dirt does not get in when you clean the sensor.

Do not forget to clean the inside of lens caps, where dust can easily collect.

 

Spit & Polish

Clean your lenses next. This might remove all blemishes, and avoid the need for sensor cleaning.

When cleaning the glass at either end of a lens, start with an air blower to remove loose particles. Do not use compressed air.

Place a small amount of lens cleaning fluid on a microfibre cloth and wipe the lens in a circular motion, starting from the centre, to remove more stubborn dirt. Do not put the cleaning fluid directly on the glass or you may damage the lens. Use a dry section of your cloth to wipe off excess fluid.

A lens pen is a great investment for location photographers. They boast soft bristles that shift loose specks, and a small non-abrasive pad for cleaning more stubborn dirt from your glass. I usually breathe on the lens and then apply the pad in the same manner as the aforementioned cloth. It will fit in your pocket, so even if you’re not taking a camera bag, you can still clean your lens on location.

 

The Scary Bit

You may be able to avoid cleaning the sensor altogether if your camera has an auto sensor cleaning function. It usually only takes a second or two, and may do the trick.

You can check by taking another photograph of your piece of paper and comparing it to the first. If you still see dark fuzzy blotches in the same locations as before then you still have some work to do.

boring-image2
It is only the fuzzy blotches that are of interest – the sharper spots are part of the grain of the paper. In Photoshop I created a new blank layer above the image layer and used a thin red brush to highlight the blotches . Clearly the auto sensor cleaning function in the camera did not do the trick this time.

If sensor cleaning is required, ensure you are in a light, dust-free room and roll up your sleeves so fibres from your clothes do not get into the camera.

Ensure the camera battery is fully charged, or connect the camera to a mains adaptor. You are going to be sticking things into the belly of your camera with the mirror locked up, and do not want that mirror to come crashing down mid-operation!

Mount your camera on a tripod if you have one, and angle it face downwards so gravity works in your favour: the dust falls out and no more dust falls in.

Remove the lens from the front of the camera (remembering to place caps over the glass at either end).

Follow the instructions in your camera manual to put the camera in sensor cleaning mode (this raises the mirror up).

Carefully blow air onto the sensor using a bellows-style (squeezable) air blower.

Do not touch the sensor with the air blower.

Do not blow air from your mouth incase you accidentally spit on the sensor.

Avoid compressed air; it can damage the sensor.

There is not usually any need to clean the mirror; it is fragile and does not impact image quality.

When you think you have done enough blowing, remove the blower from the front of the camera body and follow the instructions in your camera manual to take the camera out of sensor cleaning mode (this drops the mirror back down). Then replace the lens you removed earlier.

Check your progress by replacing the lens and photographing the same piece of paper and comparing the results to the image you shot previously. It is fairly obvious if there is stubborn dirt as the blotches will be in the exactly the same place as before, even if you have not lined the shots up 100%.

boring-image3
After a bout with the blower I took another shot and added this image as a new layer above the original image layer and beneath the layer of red brush mark. This enabled me to see where my blowing had been effective, and where it had not quite done enough. If you do not use image editing software, or are not au fait with layers then perform a manual comparison of the images.

 

Sometimes it takes two or three goes with the blower to remove all the dirt. If the sensor is still not clean enough, you have two options:

  1. Wipe your sensor with a sensor cleaning brush (risky)
  2. Take it to a pro (much safer!)

I only recommend option #1 if you are completely confident that you know what you are doing and have the steady hand of a surgeon. If so, a sensor scope or magnifying glass will help you examine the sensor in more detail. Option #2 will be expensive, but not as expensive as replacing a damaged sensor.

 

Don’t Do It Again (For as long as possible)

  •  Keep your camera in a bag when it is not in use, and when it is dangling from your neck, keep the lens cap on!
  • Vacuum your camera bag regularly to keep dust out. If you have been to the beach, vacuum again – that sand gets everywhere.
  • Wipe the area around the lens mount regularly to decrease the chance of dust getting inside your camera.

 

To chat about photography or Photoshop tuition for absolute beginners, call me on 07757 259390 or send me a message via email.

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