Thoughts on Sensor Cleaning:
By Edward Crim
In the last year I have cleaned the sensors of over 150 cameras.
- 9 Sony cameras
- 53 Nikon cameras
- 88 Canon Cameras
- 2 Leica cameras
- 1 Fujifilm
- 1 Pentax
In the 5 years prior to that I cleaned many more. Here’s what I have learned:
- The only way to really tell what dirt is on the sensor is to take a photograph of it. I do this by photographing a white card with a 100 mm lens set to f22. I use a flash for evenness and consistency of light and adjust the levels of the image to reveal the dirt. Many spots that this technique reveals cannot be seen with a loupe.
The sensor of a Nikon D7200 looked like this:
Here are some more examples:
Canon 1D Mk III
Brushes can help remove dust.
- I have been using the Visible Dust brushes for about 8 years to remove dust from the sensor. These special items come in a kit with a spinner that puts a slight charge on them, allowing them to pick up dust particles from the sensor. They usually work well, but can cause smears if there is any oil on the sensor. Some of the Nikon cameras have a tendency to spray bits of shutter oil onto the sensor. The D600 was notorious for this, but other Nikons have this tendency, particularly when they’re new.
- If you use brushes on an oily surface, it will just cause smearing and contaminate the brushes, rendering them unfit for further use. It is possible to wash them with a special detergent and restore them to their efficacious state. Yes, I’ve done that.
- If the brushes touch anything other than the sensor (such as the sides of the mirror box), they may get too dirty to be cleaned. Then you have to buy new brushes. I’ve had to do this also.
Wet cleaning with sensor swabs is more effective than brushes.
- Sensor cleaning swabs are more effective than brushes as they work against sticky, oily stuff that the client has somehow managed to get stuck to his or her sensor.
- Not all sensor swabs are created equal. Any that are not fabricated in a clean room are not worth using. Some swabs are prone to putting hairline scratches onto the sensor glass.
- I use only sensor swabs from Visible Dust, a Canadian company that is serious about sensor cleaning. Their swabs have never caused me any issues.
- For Nikon cameras I use the Visible Dust Orange sensor swabs. There is a coating on the sensor glass in Nikons that requires this particular swab so as to avoid causing streaks when cleaning the glass.
- All other camera sensors clean well with the Visible Dust Green cleaning swabs. Both are available in 16mm for crop sensor cameras and 24mm for full frame cameras.
- I use the Eclipse cleaning fluid with both types of cleaning swabs, but the manufacturer cautions against using it on the Sony a7 models. For those I use the Visible Dust Sensor Clean fluid.
- Some sensors were apparently not designed to be cleaned. I managed to ruin a Konica Minolta 5D by accidentally peeling the coating off the sensor glass using the same tools that have never harmed a Nikon, Sony, Fujifilm, Olympus, Pentax or Leica camera. We wound up giving the owner a lot of stuff at our cost to make up for that fiasco! Of course the camera was ten years old when this happened.
Not everything that shows up in the diagnostic photo is on the sensor.
- Although most of the smears, spots and dust that the before photo reveals are indeed on the camera’s sensor, some things are not. Photographers who have pets sleeping on their camera bags frequently have hairs inside the mirror box that cast a shadow onto the sensor. Dust on the rear element of the lens looks like large faint spots. Fingerprints on the rear element of the lens can cause part of the image to have flair or lowered contrast.
Cleanliness is next to Godliness
It’s quite a distant second, in fact, but cleanliness is very important in the photography business. Here are some tips to keeping your camera clean:
Be careful changing your lenses. Try to avoid dusty places and wind blowing towards your open camera. Shield your camera when changing lenses and change them as quickly as possible.
Wipe the outside of your camera with an antistatic cloth frequently. Dirt on the outside of your camera can easily get inside.
Turn your camera off before changing lenses.
When you clean the sensor always use the sensor clean option that opens the shutter. Do not put your camera on Bulb to clean the shutter as the sensor will attract more dust because it has a charge applied to it when on.
Most important of all, if your sensor is dirty have it cleaned.
Here’s the before and after when the cleaning is done by an experienced technician.
Nikon D7200 before
Nikon D7200 after
JUST FOR LAUGHS!!!
DO NOT DO THIS, never do any of what you see in this video, but do enjoy it because it is funny.