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Keeping your Camera Clean

When it comes to a clean camera, there are three areas of interest; the exterior surfaces, the optics, and the sensor; each of which requires different methods and skill levels.

 

Caution:

Improperly cleaning your lens optics or digital sensor can cause permanent damage to your gear. Do not attempt unless you are confident in your skill level so that you will not cause damage.

 

The first order of business is to obtain a few high quality cleaning tools. Even the higher-grade tools are not that expensive, so avoid the cheap stuff. The photo shows the following equipment:

  • Photographic Solutions "Digital Survival Kit" for cleaning digital sensors.
  • Nikon Lens Pen Pro kit - includes 2 lens pens, a micro-fiber cloth, cleaning solution, and anti-fog cloth.
  • Giottos Rocket Blasters - AA1900 (large) and AA1920 (small).
  • Giottos CL1310 Goat-Hair Brush.

These items are available at Amazon and other retailers. I have provided links for them below. Other items you may wish to obtain are sensor brushes, but I don't use them.

 

Cleaning your Camera Cleaning the exterior surface is quite simple, and can be done with a microfiber cloth, a goat-hair brush, and a rocket blower. Avoid using the same microfiber cloth on the body if you use it to clean the glass on your lens. The Giottos brush I am using is a very nice tool, and I highly recommend obtaining one.

 

Cleaning your lenses: Lens cleaning is a little more difficult, but not really that hard. I prefer using the drt method - using lens pens rather than the wet process - which consists of cleaning fluid and a microfiber cloth. The lens pens just seem to work nice. You can also buy a lens pen for monitor and viewfinder screens, which are essentially the same king of gadget but the tip has sharp corners so you can get into the corners of your viewfinder. They are not expensive at all.

Regardless of which system you use, make sure to read and follow the manufacturer's instructions on using them.

 

Sensor Cleaning: I do not warrant that if you clean your own sensor that you will not damage it. Most manufacturers do NOT recommend sensors be cleaned by anyone but an authorized facility. If you are not comfortable at all with cleaning it, sent it into an authorized repair facility for your camera manufacturer.

When do you need to clean your sensor (or have it cleaned)? Some photographers like to clean them periodically, while others only clean them when necessary. I am of the second opinion. I do not physically touch my sensor unless absolutely necessary.

                    

To see if you have a dirty sensor, take a photo of the clear blue sky as shown above. A dirt spot will turn up as a dark spot, as shown in the closeup to the right. The dirt on the sensor will not likely show up in a normal photo as there is enough scene to mask it. You may only notice the dark spot when you photograph a constant scene like the sky.

When I clean my sensors, I use a cleaning kit by Photographic Solutions. You have to buy a different kit, depending on your sensor size, as the cleaning pads are different widths. I will not go into detail on how this is done, if you decide to clean your sensor, you can view the cleaning instructions at the Photographic Solutions website.


Photographic Solutions Cleaning Kit.
 

Sensor maintenance: If properly maintained, the sensor may not need to be physically touched to be cleaned. There are two techniques for doing this.

Method 1: Many cameras have a dust-off mode where the camera shakes the sensor to knockoff any dust. You can sometimes set your camera up so that this happens every time you turn the camera on or off. If your camera has this function, enable it.

Method 2: With the camera turned off, about once a month, I like to invert it, and blow air into the cavity. I do this with the mirror down so that the air does not touch the sensor. It will just blow out any dust that finds it's way into the sensor cavity of the camera. I do this with a Giottos Rocket blaster as there is a one-way valve on those dust blowers that only lets air in from the rear. That way, you are not sucking up any potential dust that you are blowing around at the tip, only to blast it back from where it came.

While the Giottos Rocket comes in two sizes, I take the smaller size when I pack for travel. It is about half the size of the large one, and it blows nearly as much air.  

Contact Cleaning: While modern electroincs are usually very reliable, you may find occasion to clean your contacts - especially in the battery compartment or lens-to-body contacts. There are some do's and don'ts here as well. Alcohol can be used to clean your contacts, but make sure you get the correct stuff. Avoid buying Isopropyl Alcohol or Rubbing Alcohol at the department store - or even some drug stores as they generally contain more than just Alcohol. Typically these products contain up to 40% water, and may even have Lanolin in them - which is a wax. You don't want to leave watery-wax residue on your camera's electrical contacts.

You need the good stuff. I recommend MG Chemicals 824 Isopropyl Alcohol Cleaner - which is 99.9% Alcohol, and is appropriate for cleaning contacts. In fact this is used by the electronics industry just for that kind of task. You can buy it in both bottle form as well as in individually packaged wipes. Finally, you also need some kind of "dobber" to apply the Alcohol to the contacts. Avoid a pencil eraser as it is an abrasive - rather use high-grade swabs such as MG Chemicals 811. They are low lint and low shredding, which is often better than standard cotton swabs you buy at the market.  

Resources:

Giottos CL1310 Retractable 2-Position Goat Hair Brush
Giottos AA1900 Rocket Air Blaster Large
Giottos AA1920 Rocket Air Blaster Small
Nikon Lens Pen Pro Kit
LensPen DK-1 Camera Lens Cleaner
MG Chemicals 824 99.9% Isopropyl Alcohol Liquid Cleaner, 100 ml
MG Chemicals 824-W 99.9% Isopropyl Alcohol Handy Wipe (Qty: 50)
MG Chemicals 811 Precision Cleaning Double Headed Cotton Swab (Qty:100)

Digital Solutions Digital Survival Kit Selector

Digital Survival Kit - Sensor Swab Type 1
Digital Survival Kit - Sensor Swab Type 2
Digital Survival Kit - Sensor Swab Type 3