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How To Clean Your Camera's Sensor

Sand and dust in your digital camera can ruin those once-in a lifetime shots. Here's how to eliminate them from SLR or Micro 4/3rds cameras.
  • 1. Spots on your digital photos, usually visible in skies, mean dust has settled on your camera's CMOS or CCD sensor, the light-sensitive chip surface that replaces film in modern digital cameras.
  • 2.  Start by blowing as much grit as possible off the rear lens element using a squeeze bulb or canned air.  Then use a lens brush, or soft camel hair art paintbrush, to remove more stubborn particles.
  • 3. Once you've removed scratchy grit and dust, moisten a microfiber lens cloth with special lens cleaner solution, usually ultra-pure alcohol.
  • 4. Wipe the moistened microfiber gently around the lens elements. Examine lens elements in full sunlight and repeat until they're smudge-free.
  • 5. Then blow out the camera's interior with a squeeze bulb or canned air. Hold the can vertically so liquid won't squirt out. For SLRs, concentrate on the mirror and focusing screen atop the compartment.  Shake any loose particles out of the compartment.
  • 6. For SLRs, set the camera's shutter speed on "bulb" (meaning you have to hold down the shutter button) or mirror lock-up settings (check your camera's manual). Lock the mirror up. Closing the mirror on fingers or swabs can damage it.
  • 7. Use a blower bulb or canned air to blow grit off the exposed sensor. Carefully hold the can vertically to avoid spraying liquid propellant.
  • 8. Pre-moisten the sensor swab pad with two to four drops of sensor cleaning solution.
  • 9. Gently wipe the paddle the long way across the CCD or CMOS sensor, making a single, full-length swipe. Turn the paddle over, re-wet if necessary, and repeat the process. Do not use each swab more than two passes, changing side with each.
  • 10. Close the mirror and replace the lens.  To prevent or minimize repeats, see backpacker.com/cameracare for more on keeping your cameras clean.
  • 11. For more info watch the instructional video at <a href="http://www.photosol.com/store/pc/video/sensorswab.html" target="_blank">photosol.com</a>. If you're not up for the task, send your camera in to the manufacturer for professional cleaning.
1. Spots on your digital photos, usually visible in skies, mean dust has settled on your camera's CMOS or CCD sensor, the light-sensitive chip surface that replaces film in modern digital cameras.
Image 1 of 11

1. Spots on your digital photos, usually visible in skies, mean dust has settled on your camera's CMOS or CCD sensor, the light-sensitive chip surface that replaces film in modern digital cameras.

READERS COMMENTS

Page 1

I cringed when I saw canned air in 3 of 11 of those pictures! Helpful tip from a guy that works in the camera store and has lots of practice here: use the plastic bulb hand air blowers ONLY and forget the canned air; swabs are still a decent idea. Blower bulbs are plenty powerful to knock dust off the sensor (I've used them for this purpose many times) and canned air is risky, at best. Canned air can exit the can at a cold temperature (bad for electronics) and liquid propellant can escape even when the can is vertical (water is extra bad for electronics). Every camera bag should have a blower bulb and lens brush, period. Yes, they're that important. I'm taking mine on the AT with me for 6 months.

Also, recent Nikon cameras (2008 and later) have an ultrasonic sensor cleaner built in to the camera that actually works! Just hunt through the menu for "Clean Image Sensor." Try it a few times for persistent dust spots. I assume Canon uses something similar.

Bonus tip: dust on the SENSOR shows up in pictures only. Dust on your MIRROR shows up in the viewfinder only (not in pictures). The mirror is peskier to clean because it has a special reflective coating that can be scratched; blower brush only on the mirror. I am confident cleaning a sensor with other tools, but less so messing with the mirror. Persistent dust on the mirror is a nuisance and is less critical than dust on the sensor; my advice would be to tune it out until you can send it to a camera shop or factory for proper cleaning.
— PhotogHiker

I have used a product called Sensor Film to clean my sensor. It is a water based product that you coat the sensor with and it will remove the most stubborn dirt. http://sensor-film.com/
— TL

WOW! What a set of misguided and potentially dangerous set of instructions.
1. Canned air is a No-No! It will most likely blow debris and propellant onto the surfaces you are trying to clean. Shooting canned air into the camera with the mirror up can damage sensor and void warrenty. Step 5. says to: "Shake any loose particles out of the compartment". Shaking the camera (or any electronic for that matter) is NEVER advisable.
2. On lens the order should be blower if needed>Lens Brush>Lens Fluid with CLEAN Lens cloth or PEC pads.
3. Ironic this ariticle was sponsored by CANON which is counter to their own published advise on this subject. Try doing a little more research next time. Camera equipment is expensive and you owe it to your readers.
— Will L.

Yeah I do NOT suggest using canned air on the internals of your camera. I did it when I didn't know better and it didn't hurt anything, but there is a risk that you ruin the camera.

I gave up on trying to clean my own sensor long ago. No matter how meticulous I was, I always ended up blowing more dust onto it. I send my cameras into Nikon for a sensor clean. It costs a good chunk but they disassemble the camera and properly clean the sensor. The sensor comes back with zero debris, and I usually don't have to send it back for many months.
— J


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