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One day, many moons and suns ago, I showed up to the studio to shoot headshots for an editor at AOL. I brought my 5D Mk II and two lenses along, but forgot to put something very critical into my camera bag. When doing test shots, I saw something horrifying come up in my images—dust. Though I was able to fix the images, I learned the hard way always to keep my camera, lenses and sensor clean. Here are a couple of items to use—and how to use them—to ensure that my mistake never happens to you.
Before you read this article, you may want to check out this video:
Almost any photographer will tell you that one of the best items that you can keep in your camera bag is a Microfiber Cloth. It is small and inexpensive, and—when used properly—does the job of keeping your lenses and screens smear-free.
Directions for use: simply apply light pressure to the smear and wipe it off. Sometimes, it is best used with a cleaning solution, like the Purosol Optical Cleaner.
If the late Billy Mays were to promote a cleaning solution for optics, this would probably be it.
The Purosol Cleaning Solution is environmentally safe, which means that it's great if you have kids around. It will not harm your lenses. The cleaner has an enzyme-based formula which quickly disrupts the molecular bonds that salt, grime, grease, dirt and mineral deposits use to adhere to surfaces.
Use it in combination with your microfiber cloth, and remember—less is more in this case.
The Rocket Air Blower is a favorite of many photographers for getting rid of dust, especially when shooting in environments where dust and debris are common.
Squeezing the blower emits a burst of compressed air which blows away any dust. To clean your sensor, set your camera to manual cleaning mode, in order to expose the sensor. Hold the camera above you with the sensor facing downwards, using light squeezes from the air blower on the sensor to clean it.
Many photographers are scared to touch their camera's sensor, as it is very delicate. However, with the Arctic Butterfly, I've never had a problem (except for trying to get rid of smears, in which case I'd use swabs). The Butterfly is a special brush that one uses to gently sweep the sensor of dust. When you're finished, you activate the button on the brush to make it spin, getting rid of particles that may be stuck on it.
To check for sensor dust:
- Open up a blank white screen on your computer. It could be a document in Wordpad, Google Docs, a new tab in your internet browser, or a totally white screen in Photoshop.
- Clean your monitor thoroughly to absolutely ensure that there is nothing on it like dust, specks, particles, etc. Otherwise this can flaw the integrity of the test. For best results, use a microfiber cloth and Purosol.
- Set your camera to aperture priority and close the aperture down to F/22, and set your ISO to 100.
- Set your focus manually to infinity, and frame your shot to encompass the entire screen of your monitor.
- Take a picture of the screen, and take a look at the results. If you see specks as in the image above, then you have a dirty sensor.
To clean your sensor, scroll over to the sensor cleaning option in your camera’s menu. Then select clean manually. After this, you’ll hear your camera’s mirror flip up. Remove the lens or body cap and flip the camera upside down with it above you. Very gently brush the sensor with one or two strokes at a time. Every now and then, take the Butterfly out of the camera and activate the spinning action to get dust and specks off of it. Repeat this process until you no longer see any specks in your image.
Be aware that if you can see through some of the specks, they are probably liquid, and using the Butterfly can cause smearing on your sensor. In that case, you're better off using a sensor swab and gently swiping your sensor from one direction to the other. Then flip the swab over and repeat the process.
We recommend that you use these swabs with Visible Dust VDust Plus Formula Solution.
The Lenspen, which can accomplish most of what a microfiber cloth can, is housed in a convenient and portable package. The non-liquid cleaning compound contained in the brush is good for eliminating dust, grime and fingerprints from your filter and other parts of your camera. As an added bonus, the tip of the Lenspen is small enough to fit into those hard to reach areas of your viewfinder as well.
What items do you use to keep you camera spick and span? Let us know in the comments below.