Clean Your Own Camera Sensor

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Sensor dust.  The scourge of  DSLR photographers everywhere…

The hot, dry summer months, along with increased camera use during vacation adds up to lots of dirty sensors. Considering that most photographers have likely never cleaned their sensors,  it’s a sure bet that most digital cameras in use today have a significant amount of debris on their sensors.

“Not me. I take great care of my camera…”

Not your camera, you say? Trust me, if you have never cleaned your sensor, it’s filthy – you just don’t know it.  And don’t say to me, “But I never take the lens off…”  either…  Camera systems are not hermetically sealed. All brands and models are prone to contamination when used regularly.  Ironically, the bigger the sensor, the more likely it will attract dust.

Since most photographers shoot  between  f/4 and f/11, they don’t realize that their sensors (actually, the anti-aliasing filter protecting the sensor) are dirty.  At that range the depth of focus is relatively shallow so any dust on the sensor may not be visible. Once you start shooting at f/16 and smaller, it’s quite likely you will start noticing dust spots. Especially in areas that have consistent tonal values, ie:  the sky.

Should you send your DSLR in for cleaning,
or should you attempt cleaning it yourself?

Frankly, it’s not that scary or difficult and you can easily clean your own sensor with the right materials.  The first step is to determine if you  actually NEED to clean the sensor at all. Although there’s certainly some dust on it, you should only attempt a cleaning if there’s visible dust on your images.

First, check your DSLR sensor for dust…

Don’t be fooled by the dust you observe in your viewfinder.  That’s actually on the ground glass prism and does not show up on your images. You need to create a test image to accurately determine if there’s is dust on the sensor.  Here’s a step-by-step process I use:

1) Attach your longest lens and rack it out to it’s maximum focal length.

2) Set your lens to manual focus. Now focus the lens to its closest distance.

3) Set your camera to Aperture Priority (Av) at it’s smallest aperture (ex: f/22, f/32) at ISO 200.

4) Take a photograph of a neutral colored / non textured subject. I usually photograph a patch of clear blue sky, or a piece of paper.

IMPORTANT:
The image should NOT be in focus and a long shutter speed is OK.

5) Review the image on your camera’s LCD monitor.  Zoom in to 100% magnification and inspect it.  If you’re at home, it’s easier to review the test image on your computer.

6) If you see some blurry dark spots, those are dust specks on the sensor.

clean spots

Time to Lean? Time to Clean!
Dry Method or Wet Method?

There are many different methods for cleaning sensors and much debate on which method is best.  Generally speaking, they’re categorized as either  “Dry” or “Wet”.  The “Dry” method uses a blower (not compressed air!) and/or and special brush. The “Wet” method uses a special methyl alcohol solution and swab. The most challenging jobs will require both.

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Cleaning Your Own Sensor

1) Determine if you really need to clean the sensor by reviewing a test image shot at the lens’ minimum aperture (f/22 – f/32)

2) Activate the Manual Sensor Cleaning mode on your DSLR .  Make sure the battery is fully charged before starting.

3) Use the “dry method”  first by using a hand-held blower such as Giottos Rocket Air Blaster to dislodge any loose dust particles. It’s best to face the camera in a downward position while blowing off the sensor.

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 4) If needed, continue by using one of the many specially designed sensor-cleaning brushes. These are use micro fiber bristles that are specially treated for cleaning sensors. Do not use a small paintbrush. Those are too harsh and will scratch the sensor.

For stubborn dust specks still remaining, you’ll need to switch to the ‘wet” method using a swab wetted with sensor cleaning solution.  I prefer using Sensor Swabs (Type 2 for cropped sensors / Type 3 for full-frame sensors) and Eclipse Solution.

5) Apply a very small drop of the Eclipse solution to the SensorSwap and, working quickly, swipe across the sensor in a firm and smooth motion.  The motion is similar to running a squeegee across a window.  I work from left to right, then pivot the swab, and then work back right to left.

6) Discard the swab. Do not use it again. Don’t even think about it.  If the sensor requires another pass, use a fresh swab.  Repeat as needed.

Cleaning your sensor can seem like a daunting task, but with the right tools, the instructions above, and some basic common sense, you can save a lot of time and money by doing it yourself.

Fiat lux (mundi)…

-Jeff Greene

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10 Essential Items For Your Camera Bag

When hiking and camping in the wilderness every experienced outdoorsman packs their “10 Essentials“, the basic necessities required to survive in case of an emergency.  For photographers I would like to recommend the following 10 Camera Bag Essentials. In addition to my camera, lenses, and flash, these are items that I keep in my bag at all times so that I can “Be Prepared” for any situation.

1. Extra Batteries

IMG_0002 (800x602)I always carry an extra camera battery, AAs for the flash, and “button” batteries for my intervolumeter.

2. Extra Memory Cards

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Got a few smaller 2GB cards that you don’t use much anymore? Keep them in your bag for the rare occasion you might forget your memory card case.

3. Headlamp

IMG_0005 (800x525)I prefer a headlamp since it allows me to work with both hands in the dark. I also prefer the type that offers a “red lamp” option. It offers enough illumination to work in the dark while still preserving my night vision.

4. Multi-tool

IMG_0019 (658x800)I own a bunch of these, but my black anodized Leatherman is my favorite. Crucial for field repairs and adjustments.

5. Remote Release

IMG_0035 (800x426)It makes no sense to mount your camera on a tripod only to trigger the shutter by hand because you forgot your remote release. Keep it in your bag. (Hint: If you don’t have a release, use your 2-second timer to trigger the camera. This works great for landscapes, but not so much for action.)

6. Polarizing Filter

IMG_0040 (800x533)A circular polarizing filter is absolutely essential for every outdoor and landscape photographer. It enhances photos by reducing unwanted glare and reflections allowing the underlying colors to appear. It separates the amateurs from the pros and you can not replicate it’s effect in Photoshop.

7. Business Cards

IMG_0051If you’re a pro, semi-pro, or even just an avid enthusiast, carry some business cards with your contact info. You never know when a potential buyer might inquire about viewing your work. Be sure to include your phone number, email, and website.

8. Microfiber Cloth

IMG_0053 (800x502)I keep several microfiber cloths in my bag and one in my pocket at all times. They’re great for cleaning my eyeglasses, lenses, and smartphone screen.

9. Wide Rubber Bands 

IMG_0059 (800x510)I always carry several #84 rubber bands in my bag since they are 1/2″ wide and very handy for a myriad of uses. Here are few examples:
Mounting attachments to a flash | Bundling cords and cables | Removing stubborn filters from lenses| Securing a Smartphone to a tripod | …and snapping inconsiderate photographers who walk into my frame…

10. Office Supplies

IMG_0061 (762x800)I use a small notepad, pen, pencil, and a Sharpie to record contact info, location notes, and reminders. Yes, I know, smartphones can do all that; unless the battery runs out.
I carry a pencil in case the pen runs out…

Bonus Item:  Gaffers Tape

In the photo above you’ll notice that the pencil is wrapped with a length of Gaffer’s tape. I also have several short strips taped to the inside of my camera bag flap. Gaffer’s tape or “Gaff” is invaluable since it is very strong, can patch up just about anything, and most importantly, it leaves little, if any residue. DO NOT USE duct tape for photography. Trust me, spend the extra money for real gaff.

These are the items I consider essential for every photographer’s camera bag. Later, I will provide another list of 10 not-so-essential-but pretty-darn-useful items for your bag.

Stay tuned.