Have you ever found yourself taking photo after photo with the same exact weird little spot in each shot? I actually experienced this recently, but luckily, the cause of the spot was a small splash of dirty water that flung itself onto my camera lens. I only took three or four photos with the water on the lens, but it did mess up those shots. It created a small circular blur in each one. That was a shame because I really liked the setting I was in. Later on, when I was reviewing and editing my photos for the day in Photoshop, I managed to clean those areas up, but that’s time I shouldn’t have had to spend on something like that.
Like I said, I was lucky that the dirty water landed only on my lens. It’s easy to clean the outside of a camera. In more tricky situations, dirt and dust can sometimes find its way into the internals of a camera and during those times, it’s not as easy as using a sleeve to wipe the dirt away. When dust and dirt land on your camera’s sensor, great care needs to be taken to clean it away. If you’re not careful, you can damage something inside the camera, scratch the sensor’s protective layer or make things worse than they were initially.
In today’s post, I’d like to discuss a few methods that I’ve heard about through the years for cleaning camera sensors. Some of these methods are terrible and some are okay. I’ll even give you the preferred one, so if you’re finding that your photographs contain strange artifacts in them and everything else on your camera is clean, you can go about taking things into your own hands to bring your photographs back to the way they should be.
I do want to mention one thing here. While you may be able to clean up the dust in a photo using Adobe Photoshop or another post-processing application, it’s not so easy to clean the dust from a video. My point is, it’s very important to inspect your camera every so often to make sure it’s as clean as can be.
How to Tell if You Have Dust on Your Sensor
While you may already know that you’ve got an issue, it’s better to make sure. To see if there is dust on your sensor, you can physically look at it. On my Canon Rebel T7i and on most other DSRL cameras, there’s an option in the menu area that will allow you to clean the sensor. In my camera, I pressed the Menu button and then navigated to the Sensor Cleaning option and then the Clean Manually option. Doing this flips the mirror up and out of the way and keeps it there. At that point, it’s easy to remove the lens and peek inside at the sensor itself. If you see dust on it, well, there it is. It needs to be cleaned.
Another method for checking to see if you’ve got dust on your sensor is to find a white board that’s got an ample amount of light on it. Then, switch the camera to Live View and then set your lens to Manual focus. Focus in at the closest thing possible and then move the camera in so everything is just beginning to blur. As you pan your camera back and forth, you should see small black spots if there’s dust on the sensor.
The Quick Way to Remove Loose Dust
By default, most DSLR cameras come set to clean the sensor of any loose dust automatically. In my T7i’s menu area, under the Sensor Cleaning option, there are two sub-options. the first option is for Auto Cleaning and the second is to Clean Now. Both of these options gently vibrate the sensor so any loose dust that’s on it falls right off. The auto option does this every time the camera is shut off and the clean now option cleans the sensor while the camera is on and operational. This cleaning technique is fine and it’s rather effective under some circumstances when the air is dry and dry dust simply lands on the sensor. When it’s humid or wet outside though and when wet dust or dirt finds its way onto the sensor, there’s no amount of vibration that’s going to make it fall off. Physical action is necessary.
Put Your Camera into Cleaning Mode
There’s no way to effectively clean your camera’s sensor unless it’s exposed. The proper way to expose it is to follow the instructions I gave above. Go into the camera’s menu area and find the option that will allow you you manually clean the sensor. When you choose this option, the mirror in the camera will flip up and stay up until you shut the camera off. Once the mirror is flipped up (you should hear it do so), go ahead and remove the lens and look straight into the hole. The black rectangle inside if the sensor. That’s what needs the cleaning.
Methods For Cleaning the Sensor
In this section, I’m going to cover a few absolutely terrible methods for cleaning a lens as well as some that aren’t so terrible. I’ll go from worst to best.
Napkin: Please don’t ever attempt to clean your camera’s sensor with a napkin, q-tip or any other soft item that’s built to actually collect dust. The moment you touch one of these things to the sensor, you’ll have transferred whatever dust was on what you stuck in there to the sensor itself. You’ll have made the situation much worse and no matter how much you try, you’ll be unable to clean things up. Napkins are virtually made of dust. They belong no where near the internal workings of a camera.
Compressed Air Blower: I’m sure we’ve all seen compressed air in action. It comes in the can. The problem with compressed air is that it’s very powerful and it’s actually a liquid. If you were to blow that onto the very intricately built sensor, first, you may damage the sensor from the force of the air pressure and second, you’ll be transferring the liquid from the inside of the can onto the surface of the sensor. Then, you’ll likely have to get it professionally cleaned or cleaned by the final method on this list.
Lens Pen: Lens pens are handy for cleaning lens glass, but they don’t belong on a sensor. The brush end of the lens pen can transfer dust that’s been trapped in the bristles to the surface of the sensor and the polishing end of the pen can have objects trapped in it that can cause scratches to the sensor’s film coating. Lens pens have a tendency to float around in camera bags a lot and then also pick up dirt and grime. Tools that are meant to clean sensors have to be perfectly free of dirt.
Hand Air Blower:
I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen one of these things, but they look like bulbs the size of a lemon. They have a tube sticking out of one end and they’re made of rubber. Basically, you squeeze the bulb and air comes out of the tube. For years, photographers have been using these devices to clean the dust from their camera’s sensors. While they work sufficiently in some cases (like loose dry dust), again, they won’t work when dirt is firmly affixed to the sensor. I like the idea of these tools though because they’re fine for cleaning lots of different parts of the camera, other than the sensor. And don’t get me wrong, they may do a fine just of cleaning the sensor as well under some circumstances.
Sensor Cleaning Kit:
The best way to clean your camera’s sensor is to use a sensor cleaning kit. There are many brands out there available, such as VSGO, SANHOOII, Tycka and Altura and most of them cost between $10 and $20. To see what I’m referring to, just visit Amazon.com and search for “camera sensor cleaning kit.” You’ll see many different brands offering primarily the same thing. The essential parts of these kits include a fan brush and some solvent for cleaning. The fan brush looks like a pencil with a flat fan brush at the end. The way you clean the sensor is to apply a few drops of the fluid to the end of the brush and then swipe once across the sensor in one direction and then swipe again in the other direction. You need to be careful though because the sensor is a very delicate part of a camera and it could easily be damaged if you push too hard. But this is what the pros use. Professional camera repair shops use this method as well. This is the real deal for cleaning camera sensors.
Have a Pro Clean Your Sensor
If you’re nervous about opening up your camera and getting into the guts of it, you can always visit a local camera store to have them perform this process for you. You may also send your camera out to have it cleaning. Many services offer three day turnarounds, so you won’t be missing your camera for very long. For around $59.95, you’ll receive the following services:
– Camera exterior cleaning + one lens cleaning.
– Focusing screen cleaning.
– Mirror and mirror box cleaning.
– Sensor cleaning.
– Auto focus check.
– Proper exposure check.
So, as you can see, if you don’t feel comfortable doing this sort of thing to your camera, you can send it out for a small fee. The best part of doing things this way is you know it’s being performed correctly. Plus, you get some included perks, such as other operational checks, which is nice. It’s sort of like a tune-up.
Have you ever had your camera cleaned by an outside vendor? What was your experience? Have you ever cleaned your camera yourself? How did it work out? I’m curious.
Well, I hope I shared some good knowledge with you today regarding keeping your camera and its sensor in the best shape possible. If you have any questions, please let me know in the comment section down below or in the camera forum. Thanks for reading!