Greetings! The last time we talked I mentioned some tools and techniques on how to keep your camera clean on the outside. Today I would like to tell you how to do the one thing that so many photographers dread, clean the sensor.
If you have a camera with a removable lens, you will at some point get dust on the sensor and will have to clean it off (unless you like retouching every image). You can take it to a professional who will charge you as much as 75.00 to clean it or you can clean it yourself. I’m here to tell you it can be done by us mere mortals. All it takes is a little self confidence, a light touch and a few cleaning tools.
Determine if the Sensor Needs Cleaning
First you have to determine if the sensor needs cleaning. An easy way to check is to take a picture of a nice blue sky and check the image for fuzzy spots. Any dust will show up against a light solid color and they will be in the same location in every shot you take. If you do have something on the sensor then it’s time for it to be cleaned, they won’t go away on their own.
There are many kits made that will help you do the job and they will consist of a cleaning liquid, usually an alcohol base, and swabs that are used to “sweegee” the sensor. Some kits are more elaborate and may include a lighted magnifier and even a USB powered vacuum. Another tool out there is called a Sensor Pen, it is pen sized tool that has a brush on one end and a triangle shaped felt pad on the other.
Never Use Compressed Air on the Inside of the Camera
You should never use any compressed air on the inside of the camera. The canned air is especially dangerous because of the propellant used. It is in liquid state in the can and becomes a gas as it is expelled. If you tilt the can just a bit it will expel the liquid instead and that if very difficult to clean off sensitive parts.
To access the sensor you will have to set the camera into the cleaning mode. This will expose the sensor and allow you to get to work. Most cameras have an option in the menu that will do the trick. When the cleaning mode is started the mirror will lock up and the shutter curtain will open exposing the sensor. The sensor will stay exposed until you are done and turn the camera off. Make sure your battery is charged to give you the time you need.
Read All Instructions First
Please be sure to read the instructions that come with the cleaning kit and follow them closely as not to damage your sensor. Basically you will be pulling the swab from one side to the other in one motion, being sure not to put very much pressure on it as you move it. Be sure to use a swab that is the same size as the sensor since there are different sized sensors in the cameras. Your owner’s manual will tell you the size of your sensor, usually in millimeters. Buy the kit that has swabs the same size. Some kits come with 3 different size swabs in them allowing you to use the proper one. A swab should not be over saturated with cleaning solution and should only be used once. Let me repeat that part, a swab should only be used once. You don’t want the particles on the swab from the first stroke to be dragged across the sensor again. As long as you use the right size swab, the entire sensor should be cleaned in one pass, edge to edge, corner to corner.
If you use the sensor pen, this device will let you do a spot-ectomy. In other words just clean the area that has the dust on it.
Combination of 2 Methods
I find that using a combination of the 2 methods useful. The swab to get the broad surface clean and the pen to get into the corners and edges. Maybe that’s overkill, but it works for me.
Clean the sensor once, and take another photo to check your work. If needed, repeat the cleaning process again with a new swab and the proper amount of fluid.
Remember, right sized swab, not too much cleaning fluid and just the right amount of pressure in one swipe. Easy, right?
Just like anything in photography, find a technique that works for you and stick with it. If any of this seems out of your comfort zone then take your camera to a service center and have a professional do it for you. That way you can rest at ease and know it will be clean when you get it back.
Until next time,