How to Clean Your Digital Camera Sensor


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Digital camera sensor cleaning, if you will excuse the pun, is a “sensitive” matter. It requires patience and understanding of the delicate nature of the sensor itself. Some self-cleaning camera models like some of those made my Canon do a good job of “removing dust” or at least keeping dust from ruining your pictures.


  1. Again, being extremely careful is the best policy.
  2. You want to use your cameras mirror-lockup function.
    • Consult your owners manual for "mirror lockup". This function, as the name implies, will lock the mirror up out of the way when you press the shutter release button on your camera and leave it there until the shutter is pressed again.
      • NOTE: You may choose to place your camera on "bulb" setting. This allows the cameras mirror to stay up until you choose to close it. Please consult your cameras manual to learn how to set a bulb exposure.

  1. You need to use a lint free wipe, often referred to as a pec pad and a fast drying cleaning fluid. (For good resources for obtaining these items, please visit here.
    • Pec pads are 99.99 percent lint free pads that are non-abrasive and will not damage or scratch your sensor.
    • The cleaning fluids are generally methanol based, flammable and dangerous so you have to be careful. Some places will not even ship these items in the mail due to regulations about mailing "hazardous materials". There are some alternatives to the methanol based products but not as good. Also, if you are going to be traveling by plane with your cleaning fluid, you may have a problem unless it is in a certified safe/non-toxic packaging. In all cases use these products in a well-ventilated area, do not breath the fumes and do not get them on your skin, clothes or any furniture.
    • At this stage you are also going to want to be in a dust-free environment. As dust free as possible. You do not need to be in a room with a white suit on like the people who work on computer chips but at the other end of the spectrum, do not go outside while it is windy or to your coffee table while the kids are having a pillow fight in the room. Bottom line, the best place is probably somewhere like a dining room table while no one else is there and the house is relatively clean and quiet. There should also be adequate light. You will be able to see the dust on the sensor if you reflect an overhead light off its shiny surface.
      1. You should obtain either a wooden Popsicle stick or a flexible plastic fork knife, spoon, whatever. It does not matter which, because you will be using the handle end. You will also need some masking tape.

      1.      You are going to place the pec pad in your hand and lay the handle into your hand on top of it so that the very end of the handle (or Popsicle stick) rests about in the middle of the pad.

      2.      You then want to fold the left side of the pad over the handle, the top down over so that it rests on the top of the left half you just folded and then bring the right side over to the left and make it tight. (This sounds confusing so there are pictures available at the site listed above.)

      3.      Once you have done this you should tape the pec pad near the base (closer to the top of the utensils "business end". You want the tape to be far away from the camera as scotch tape is abrasive and you do not want it to touch the sensor.

          • You want to end up with a flat end of pec pad with a relatively spongy feeling. It has to be soft because you are going to sweep this across your sensor VERY LIGHTLY. You want it flat because you are going to sweep across the sensor from one side to the next in about 3 to 4 passes, moving over about the width of the pad with each pass, in order to sweep the whole surface. Of course, prior to doing this you should add a couple of drops of the cleaning fluid to the flat tip of the instrument you just made.
          • This should go without saying but NEVER pour the liquid directly into the camera. NEVER push hard on the sensor. Just lightly sweep across it. You are sweeping dust after all and not grinding off nuggets of dirt. VERY, VERY light pressure.
        • Now you are done! Dispose of the pec pad (safely. i.e., no kids or animals can get to it) and make sure the rest of them are sealed in the zip lock bag they probably came in (if not, put them in one that is new so there will be no dust in it). Seal up the fluid bottle and put it all away in a safe place.
        • To test to see if your sensor is free of dust, you can put on a lens (that you are also sure is free of dust) go outside on a bright day, open your camera to its maximum f-stop and shoot a few pictures of the sky. When you go to review them at high resolution on your computer, you should see a nice picture with no dust.

Tips

  • Digital camera sensor cleaning, if you will excuse the pun, is a "sensitive" matter. It requires patience and understanding of the delicate nature of the sensor itself. Some self-cleaning camera models like some of those made my Canon do a good job of "removing dust" or at least keeping dust from ruining your pictures.
  • Unfortunately they do more of a job of "hiding" dust than they do removing it. An expensive investment in a camera like the 5D (Canon EOS) can really hit the pocketbook. It would seem like a shame not to take good care of it like the high precision instrument that it is.
  • Digital camera cleaning of parts, like the lens and body are relatively easy compared to the delicate task of cleaning camera sensors. This is why extreme care should be taken at anytime you remove the lens from your camera body. A damaged sensor would be a costly repair considering some of the middle end models of d-SLR come in at around $2,000 to $3000. Even if you only purchased a "pro-sumer" model like a Canon Rebel XTi or a Nikon D40 for around $800 or $900. It is probably a sizable investment for you so the best advice is just to be careful.
  • It is highly recommended that you avoid the use of canned compressed air, especially if you are inexperienced. There are chemicals involved that could damage the sensor if expelled into the camera. In the past, with film SLRs it was perfectly acceptable to use the compressed air as the internal nature of the camera was not as delicate. While there are propellant free compressed products available, they are best avoided. Since you spent so much money on your camera, you should treat it as you would any expensive investment. While blowing air into the camera housing is quick and easy, it is not always the best solution and of course, can be dangerous. Just avoid compressed air all together.
  • If you must use a product like this due to time constraints, etc. You should go with a CO2 and nitrogen cartridge based systems that are moisture free, but can be very expensive.
  • There are many products on the market that I recommend and that I myself use. One can obtain digital camera cleaning products anywhere that sells cameras or optical equipment. However, one must be prudent since we are dealing with a large investment of money and do not want to risk damaging our camera just to save a few dollars on cleaning supplies. There are camera dealers that I myself have been to that recommend products that I would never use on my camera. It is not their fault. Generally they want to be helpful but are most often working for a large corporation and are hourly employees that, while well-meaning, do not have the experience to dictate how you should handle your $3000 camera.
  • While these will help you out of a situation where you get dust in your sensor and do not have the ability to clean it right then and there, these will work fine. The methods used by the camera are things like vibrating the sensor to "kick" off dust, having a static charge around the sensor to attract dust away and in severe cases, the camera will electronically remove dust from the image itself. This works with a sophisticated algorithm inside the electronic brain of the camera that "detects" dust and uses neighboring pixels to fill in those areas. However, before every major shoot that is important to me and of course, my client, I use the following techniques.
  • So, how should you go about cleaning digital cameras sensors?
  • Again, to see video showing the relatively easy (yet hard to explain without pictures) process of adding the pec pads to the handle, see http://www.slrdigitalphotographysite.com/camera-sensor-cleaning - also includes sources for items related to Camera Sensor Cleaning.
  • If after reading this you are afraid of doing this yourself you can always take your camera to a dealer or customer service center and have them do it. If your camera is new they may do it for free, but they usually charge a fee.

Warnings

  • Be careful with any chemical based cleaning fluids. It is safer just to use the non-flammable ones available but make sure they are for use on camera sensors. If you use the methanol or hydrogen based fluids make sure to read the warning labels and keep away from open flame and use in a well ventilated area.
  • Do not touch the surface of the sensor with the Popsicle stick or whatever you decide to use to wrap the pec pad in. It is a good idea to do a practice run on something like maybe the CCD screen at the back of the camera before working on the sensor. You want to make sure that you are just lightly sweeping the sensor with the flexible part of the pec pad and not touching it with anything rigid. Practicing before hand allows you to get a feel for how much pressure to use.

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