Do you Clean your Own Sensor? - Digital Photography School

Do you Clean your Own Sensor?

clean_your_camera_sensor_opener.jpg

Every digital camera user will have confronted or will confront one day the issue of sensor dust. Every time you change the lens on your SLR there is a chance that dust will enter your camera. Some of this dust finds its way to the camera’s sensor with the result that you see unwanted and distracting spots on your images.

Built-in dust removal

Most cameras have some sort of dust removal feature built in. For example, my Pentax K7 has one that applies (according to its manual) “ultrasonic vibrations to the filter on the front surface of the CMOS sensor for approximately one second”. Sometimes this is all it takes to remove the dust. Just as often, however, the dust remains stuck fast.

This isn’t unusual because there are different ways dust can get to the sensor area and not all of it is ‘loose’ in the sense that it can be shaken off. Some particles can actually become stuck to the sensor.

Also, just to be clear, when I am talking about dust on the sensor, it isn’t really on the sensor itself but rather on a thin glass plate that is on top of the sensor. It’s just easier to call it sensor dust and to talk about cleaning the sensor than talk about cleaning the glass filter on top of the sensor.

When built-in methods fail

If your camera’s on board dust removal feature fails, the recommended solution is to send your camera to a service center that is authorized by your camera manufacturer and to have them clean it.

Because this is a service, you’ll be charged appropriately for it. You’ll also be without your camera for the length of time it takes to get it cleaned. Inspite of these issues, for most camera owners this is the safest and best solution.

Another option is to utilize the cleaning services provided by your local camera store. However, this is not without its risks – if the service technician isn’t authorized by the camera manufacturer to clean the camera then the cleaning could void your warranty -even if the cleaning doesn’t cause damage to the camera.

However, for a lot of photographers these options are just plain expensive and inconvenient.

For me, the issue is just that – cost and convenience. To get my camera cleaned at the local camera store costs $75 a time and it involves a one week turnaround – the service technician picks up and delivers to the store only on Tuesdays. In addition I have two one-hour round trips to drive to the camera store to drop it off and pick it up and I have to strip everything off the camera including the camera strap before it goes out and then put it all back together when it is done. All of this I was content to do until Mike from my local camera store suggested an alternative – cleaning the sensor myself.

Not for the faint of heart

On Mike’s recommendation, I bought a sensor cleaning kit which included a vacuum, wipes and cleaning solution as well as a magnifying light all packaged in a padded toolkit. The cost of the kit was a little more than one cleaning so on my second cleaning I stood to be ahead on cost.

clean_your_own_camera_kit.jpg

Kiss your warranty goodbye

I’m not recommending self-cleaning to anyone. It is a decision each camera owner needs to make themselves. You need to do as I did and ask yourself if you are prepared to shoulder the cost if you damage your camera and void your warranty? If not, then pay your money and leave it to the professionals.

I accepted I would be up for the cost of a new camera body if I damaged it because that’s about what it would cost to fix the damage I would do if the cleaning went wrong. I also acknowledged that I have probably voided my camera warranty by cleaning the camera myself even if it isn’t damaged by the cleaning. However, for me it made sense to see if I could save some time and effort by doing my own cleaning.

Scouts’ motto: Be prepared

Here is what I suggest you do if you plan to clean your own camera:

1. Read the Manual

However you behave and whatever you do in any other aspect of your life this is the one time you should read the manual for your camera and your cleaning kit before you get started. In fact, read it four or five times until you’re completely familiar with what you’re about to do and the risks.

I also found a good deal of useful information at the Cleaning Digital Cameras website (http://www.cleaningdigitalcameras.com).

In short the better informed you are the more likely you are not to fail. And if it all sounds too risky and beyond your skills, then don’t do it – after all that’s why they have service centers that do it for you!

2. Power it up

If your camera has an AC connector, connect it to the AC so that you won’t run out of power in the middle of the cleaning. This is an extremely dangerous situation as lack of power will cause the camera to shut down and if it shuts down on your cleaning tool then you are almost guaranteed to damage something.

If you don’t have a mains power connector for your camera, make sure to charge a fresh set of batteries and put these in the camera before you begin.

3. Make sure you have a problem

This probably should really be step 1 – you need to make sure you have a problem before you start. If your camera is not dirty then don’t clean it.

Many cameras will have some form of dust alert system that will show you dust on the sensor. For the Pentax K7 there’s a dust alert setting that requires you to set the camera in C or AF.S shooting mode and point at an evenly lit even color subject such as a white wall or an empty word processing document on a computer screen and take a shot. The resulting image shows you if there is dust and where it is.

You will need to read your camera’s manual to see if you have a similar system and how to capture an image of the dust.

Of course, some of us will be in no doubt that our camera needs cleaning because we can see the dust on our photos. My own cleaning efforts were driven by a particularly large gob of dust stuck in the middle of the sensor which showed up on nearly every image I shot and which just wouldn’t move inspite of numerous attempts to vibrate it free.

4. Check your tools

Check your tools before you begin making sure that you have everything that you need arranged on a clean work surface in a clean environment. Because you’ll be removing the lens from the camera you don’t want to risk getting dust into it while you are cleaning it.

5. Prepare the camera

Your camera will have a sensor cleaning feature in it. You use this to raise the mirror so you can access the sensor to clean it. Check your camera’s manual for instructions as to how to access this feature and how to return the camera to its usual setting when you are done. On my camera, simply powering it off resets it – so I have to be very careful not to touch the power button while cleaning it and that’s why freshly charged batteries are critical.

6. Clean the sensor

Clean your camera following the instructions in your camera’s manual and those in your sensor cleaning kit (all the time having regard to the terms of your camera’s warranty).

Take care – this is a delicate piece of equipment and needs to be cleaned with a light and steady hand. A half cleaned sensor in a camera that still works is better than a squeaky clean sensor in a broken camera.

7. Check the results

When you have finished cleaning, check the results to make sure the dust is gone.

Now for the good news

The good news is that many people do clean their sensors successfully.

If you do it yourself and if you do it right, you will find the cost of sensor cleaning is much less than sending the camera away to be cleaned. It’s also very convenient because you don’t have to be without your camera for a period of time and it feels good to know you can deal with a dust problem yourself.

For me, it will be a task I’ll always approach with some trepidation and mindful that it’s one that needs to be done carefully and not hurriedly or under stress. It does however give me a new sense of freedom particularly when traveling. With my cleaning kit I’ll never be caught on day one of a two-week trip with a nasty gob of dust on the sensor and no way to remove it until I get home.

Over to you

So here’s where we want to hear from you. Do you clean your sensor yourself or do you send your camera away to be cleaned?

What cleaning kit do you use and would you recommend it?

What hints or tips do you have for other readers who are investigating the possibility of cleaning their own camera sensor?

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Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at Projectwoman.com.

  • http://glsmyth.com George L Smyth

    This is why I got an 18-200mm lens for my camera, it stays on and that’s the end of the story.

  • Trelawney

    I use a blower, which works well. Occasionally I perform a wet clean with swabs and that has always worked perfectly, though I was very nervous the first time.

  • anonymus

    well, if you own an olympus camera with a SSWF, byebye dust, cause it’s the only built in dustbuster that is proven to actually work, not marketing gimmick.

  • Marty

    Been doing this for a number of years. I bought into the Arctic Butterfly system from the start, including the viewer – that really shows if you have a problem. Also, judicious use of a Giottos rocket blower will often solve the problem without the need for using the Arctic Butterfly brush or swabs. And the lighted viewer is an absolute must to find out first if you have a problem, and second to check your work as you proceed. As you say, not for the feint of heart, but not difficult if you are careful – and the investment is paid off by the second cleaning.

  • matt

    Watchmakers use ridoco to clean watch crystals and dials because it picks up dust without leaving residue . Works Perfect for me.

  • http://www.fuzzypig.com Fuzzypiggy

    DId clean my own once, made such a muck up I now take it to a very reasonable Canon dealer in central London once every 6-9 months! LOL!

  • Tom

    Despite being as careful as I can, it will inevitably happen, some foreign material will end up on my sensor in a spot that cannot be ignored. I have used pre-packaged sensor swabs with great success. My one failure was when the swab did not fully remove the offending material. A second go did the job.

    I find the best way to check for sensor duct is to shoot a sheet of clean paper out of focus. Then take the file into an image editor and play with the levels to emphasize and darkened area. After cleaning, repeat this process to check how well you did.

  • http://www.lengouldingphotography.co.uk Len Goulding

    Bought the Delkin cleaning kit when I hade the Nikon D40 and used it sucessfully several times.Since upgrading to the D90 I haven’t needed to use it but would have no worries about doing it again. Just take your time make sure everything is right and follow the instructions.

  • javan

    For those film users out there, here is a story from my early days-
    I bought a brand new pentax K1000 when I was in college (my first camera, my first love). I had shot a few rolls and made contact sheets but had not made any enlargements. When I finally got around to learning how to make prints, I pulled an 8×10 and discovered a black hair protruding into the frame! Careful examination with a magnifying glass and flashlight discovered a tiny hair stuck to the edge of the film mask at the film plane. Needless to say, about the only thing I could do was crop the images as the shadow was quite dark and well defined when I would blow up the image.
    So while film cameras don’t have sensors they are still susceptible to hair and dust between the film and lens.
    It’s alot easier to remove dust on a computer than with a spotting brush!

  • David Doughman

    I do a lot of outdoor photography and have been cleaning camera sensors for years. Using a Pecpad, Alcohol, Giotto hand blower and a Loupe LensPen magnifier. Once and a while I encounter some dust that requires several cleanings. Just take it slow & easy.

  • http://roteague.wordpress.com Robert

    @javan …. uh, no. I shoot large format, and I never have trouble with dust or hair, nor have I ever had to clone out spots or hair in Photoshop … and I guarentee large format is a lot more succeptible to these than 35mm; which I also shoot.

  • http://imagesbyterrysb.com Terry Straehley

    I have cleaned my sensor myself for as long as I’ve had a DSLR (over six years). I’ve used a blower, which was actually recommended by Canon, so does not void the warranty. Early on I learned of the Copper Hill method (http://www.copperhillimages.com/index.php?pr=tutorials ) and used that many times on my 20D while I had it. Since I have a 5D and 7D with sensor cleaning on turn on/off, I have used it much less, but would still do that if I had objectionable spots.
    The warnings about making sure that the power stays on during the cleaning are important to heed as the mirror would probably push the cleaning implement into the filter if you lost power. This is less of a problem if you use a blower. However, a fully charged modern battery is more than enough for several passes with the Copper Hill method if necessary.

  • Brett Valentine

    Tried Photographic Solutions Sensor Swab+, but that left streaks and just arranged the dirt in nice straight lines.
    I also ordered the Copperhill Mega kit, and 2 swipes with the Pec Pad cleaned it all up in a flash.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/gipukan Rob Gipman

    We moved to the Netherlands and left Uganda with a lot less dust to face :)

    My canon’s go onto my tripod and I hang them facing down for a few blows of my baby’s unused nose blower first (After setting the camera’s mirror in the up position).

    Both have sensor cleaning and I think it does work nicely! I cleaned them in Uganda about 10 times. Swabs are in my bag and closet but have yet to use them as the blow of air has been all that was needed.

  • http://digital-photography-howto.com Brian

    Only had to clean my sensor once, when a very strange dust circle started appearing on my pictures. Depite some of the warnings above, I used an ear syringe (baby blower?). Squeeze the rubber ball syringe, it blows a bit of air on the sensor. I held the camera upside down while doing that, and the dust disappeared immediately. /shrug

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/mark-cooper/ Coop

    Ive had my 550d (inbuilt cleaner always turned on) about 18 months, I used a Giottos blower to remove a hair ( well eye lash I think) with success. Then about 6 months ago I started to notice dust spots which the blower wouldnt remove and I was argghhhhh noooo. Got sick of cloning them out, so started reading up & watching some youtube videos, got the Sensor Swabs and fluid, and just did it. I was amazed at the before and after wall photos, it left one small spec on it after one clean but I can live with cloning that out rather than waste another swab. It was a bit nerve racking the first time but I wont hesitate to do it again. The only thing I think is difficult is getting the pressure right to drag the swab across the sensor, too much pressure and the swab wont drag, its no biggy thou and it really only takes a few minutes to do.

  • http://www.AlmondButterscotch.com/home Almond Butterscotch

    Photographic Solution’s Eclipse solution and Type 2 Sensor Swabs. Easy peasy.

  • Darryn

    I have just used Sensor Swabs to remove stubborn moisture spots on my sensor which worked well. I used a brand new microfibre cloth on the mirror and focus sensor (very gently) which also worked OK. There are a couple of dust spots on the mirror which I will try and remove with a blower so I don’t spend too much time with a cloth on the mirror or focus sensor.

  • http://www.nomadtravellers.com/ Nomad Travel

    I’ll try my first cleaning very soon…

  • kentoney

    I use Copper Hill products, very good stuff and not crazy expensive. I like the Sensor Lens Pen for that “one spot” that won’t come off with a blower.

  • Helen Bradley

    Nice to hear about products that work well and which don’t break the bank.

  • http://www.heritage.org/ TVEXECUTIVE

    According to Canon if you mess with the sensor you VOID your warranty.

  • http://www.heritage.org/ TVEXECUTIVE

    The worst of Canon is the Canon EOS 1DX it has so much oil splash, dirt and debris

  • judy nowacyk

    I did try to remove a dust spot that wouldn’t go away even after using the dust data many times – and I broke my shutter. I will take your advice and keep the camera face down, and have the next lens handy. Its very frustrating getting those dust spots!!

Some older comments

  • Darryn

    August 5, 2011 03:42 pm

    I have just used Sensor Swabs to remove stubborn moisture spots on my sensor which worked well. I used a brand new microfibre cloth on the mirror and focus sensor (very gently) which also worked OK. There are a couple of dust spots on the mirror which I will try and remove with a blower so I don't spend too much time with a cloth on the mirror or focus sensor.

  • Almond Butterscotch

    July 25, 2011 02:15 pm

    Photographic Solution's Eclipse solution and Type 2 Sensor Swabs. Easy peasy.

  • Coop

    July 25, 2011 06:02 am

    Ive had my 550d (inbuilt cleaner always turned on) about 18 months, I used a Giottos blower to remove a hair ( well eye lash I think) with success. Then about 6 months ago I started to notice dust spots which the blower wouldnt remove and I was argghhhhh noooo. Got sick of cloning them out, so started reading up & watching some youtube videos, got the Sensor Swabs and fluid, and just did it. I was amazed at the before and after wall photos, it left one small spec on it after one clean but I can live with cloning that out rather than waste another swab. It was a bit nerve racking the first time but I wont hesitate to do it again. The only thing I think is difficult is getting the pressure right to drag the swab across the sensor, too much pressure and the swab wont drag, its no biggy thou and it really only takes a few minutes to do.

  • Brian

    July 24, 2011 02:49 pm

    Only had to clean my sensor once, when a very strange dust circle started appearing on my pictures. Depite some of the warnings above, I used an ear syringe (baby blower?). Squeeze the rubber ball syringe, it blows a bit of air on the sensor. I held the camera upside down while doing that, and the dust disappeared immediately. /shrug

  • Rob Gipman

    July 24, 2011 01:03 am

    We moved to the Netherlands and left Uganda with a lot less dust to face :)

    My canon's go onto my tripod and I hang them facing down for a few blows of my baby's unused nose blower first (After setting the camera's mirror in the up position).

    Both have sensor cleaning and I think it does work nicely! I cleaned them in Uganda about 10 times. Swabs are in my bag and closet but have yet to use them as the blow of air has been all that was needed.

  • Brett Valentine

    July 23, 2011 10:58 am

    Tried Photographic Solutions Sensor Swab+, but that left streaks and just arranged the dirt in nice straight lines.
    I also ordered the Copperhill Mega kit, and 2 swipes with the Pec Pad cleaned it all up in a flash.

  • Terry Straehley

    July 23, 2011 05:39 am

    I have cleaned my sensor myself for as long as I've had a DSLR (over six years). I've used a blower, which was actually recommended by Canon, so does not void the warranty. Early on I learned of the Copper Hill method (http://www.copperhillimages.com/index.php?pr=tutorials ) and used that many times on my 20D while I had it. Since I have a 5D and 7D with sensor cleaning on turn on/off, I have used it much less, but would still do that if I had objectionable spots.
    The warnings about making sure that the power stays on during the cleaning are important to heed as the mirror would probably push the cleaning implement into the filter if you lost power. This is less of a problem if you use a blower. However, a fully charged modern battery is more than enough for several passes with the Copper Hill method if necessary.

  • Robert

    July 23, 2011 02:59 am

    @javan .... uh, no. I shoot large format, and I never have trouble with dust or hair, nor have I ever had to clone out spots or hair in Photoshop ... and I guarentee large format is a lot more succeptible to these than 35mm; which I also shoot.

  • David Doughman

    July 23, 2011 02:50 am

    I do a lot of outdoor photography and have been cleaning camera sensors for years. Using a Pecpad, Alcohol, Giotto hand blower and a Loupe LensPen magnifier. Once and a while I encounter some dust that requires several cleanings. Just take it slow & easy.

  • javan

    July 23, 2011 01:48 am

    For those film users out there, here is a story from my early days-
    I bought a brand new pentax K1000 when I was in college (my first camera, my first love). I had shot a few rolls and made contact sheets but had not made any enlargements. When I finally got around to learning how to make prints, I pulled an 8x10 and discovered a black hair protruding into the frame! Careful examination with a magnifying glass and flashlight discovered a tiny hair stuck to the edge of the film mask at the film plane. Needless to say, about the only thing I could do was crop the images as the shadow was quite dark and well defined when I would blow up the image.
    So while film cameras don't have sensors they are still susceptible to hair and dust between the film and lens.
    It's alot easier to remove dust on a computer than with a spotting brush!

  • Len Goulding

    July 23, 2011 12:55 am

    Bought the Delkin cleaning kit when I hade the Nikon D40 and used it sucessfully several times.Since upgrading to the D90 I haven't needed to use it but would have no worries about doing it again. Just take your time make sure everything is right and follow the instructions.

  • Tom

    July 22, 2011 11:49 pm

    Despite being as careful as I can, it will inevitably happen, some foreign material will end up on my sensor in a spot that cannot be ignored. I have used pre-packaged sensor swabs with great success. My one failure was when the swab did not fully remove the offending material. A second go did the job.

    I find the best way to check for sensor duct is to shoot a sheet of clean paper out of focus. Then take the file into an image editor and play with the levels to emphasize and darkened area. After cleaning, repeat this process to check how well you did.

  • Fuzzypiggy

    July 22, 2011 11:01 pm

    DId clean my own once, made such a muck up I now take it to a very reasonable Canon dealer in central London once every 6-9 months! LOL!

  • matt

    July 22, 2011 10:51 pm

    Watchmakers use ridoco to clean watch crystals and dials because it picks up dust without leaving residue . Works Perfect for me.

  • Marty

    July 22, 2011 10:43 pm

    Been doing this for a number of years. I bought into the Arctic Butterfly system from the start, including the viewer - that really shows if you have a problem. Also, judicious use of a Giottos rocket blower will often solve the problem without the need for using the Arctic Butterfly brush or swabs. And the lighted viewer is an absolute must to find out first if you have a problem, and second to check your work as you proceed. As you say, not for the feint of heart, but not difficult if you are careful - and the investment is paid off by the second cleaning.

  • anonymus

    July 22, 2011 10:40 pm

    well, if you own an olympus camera with a SSWF, byebye dust, cause it's the only built in dustbuster that is proven to actually work, not marketing gimmick.

  • Trelawney

    July 22, 2011 09:53 pm

    I use a blower, which works well. Occasionally I perform a wet clean with swabs and that has always worked perfectly, though I was very nervous the first time.

  • George L Smyth

    July 22, 2011 09:46 pm

    This is why I got an 18-200mm lens for my camera, it stays on and that's the end of the story.

  • Carl

    July 22, 2011 09:38 pm

    After trying over and over to clean the sensor myself, and a half dozen trips to my local camera store for unsuccessful cleaning, I sent my 5D (original) to Canon's service center and it came back with more dust specks that when I sent it. I complained and sent it back to them, and again they returned it with even MORE dust specks! The third time I sent it to Canon they replaced the glass filter over the sensor and AGAIN returned it with dust.

    I gave up and now just live with "Mr. Dusty" as I call him.

  • bycostello

    July 22, 2011 06:58 pm

    tried once... didn't get teh muck off... and pretty cheap to get a pro to do it...

  • Matt

    July 22, 2011 06:34 pm

    No, I own an Olympus camera. Never had to clean it, never had dust spots that survived more than a couple of power cycles.

  • Princess Kessie

    July 22, 2011 05:21 pm

    I wish I COULD clean my sensor - but my Panasonic compact cannot be cleaned - and that's straight from Panasonic. So until I can afford to take the leap into DSLR territory, and hopefully to one with a self-cleaning mechanism, I'm stuck with more than a dozen dust spots and hair-shaped spots which cannot be removed except in post-processing - and that's wearing VERY thin, I can tell you...

  • Jason

    July 22, 2011 04:56 pm

    Just clean it....really it's not scary. You should of course read all the steps and be familiar with your camera, it's parts inside the mirror box, what size sensor you have and use reputable solutions and swabs. For probably 80-90% of your dust problems a simple blower will work, but not the baby nasal sucker as I saw in one of the comments. The problem with those is that the nozzle that they take in air is the same one that they blow back out of, essentially sucking up the dust you displaced by blowing and then blowing it back on your sensor with force. The specialty blowers like the Giotos Rocket brand all take in air via a valve in the bottom of the bulb, eliminating the chance of sucking up and re-depositing the debris. Some of this debris can be very sharp as a lot of it in newer cameras, or when a new lens is used is small metal shavings from the mount itself.

    Now, your also not really touching the sensor, as far as I know almost all consumer and pro grade slr's have what is called an IR cut filter over them to reduce the amount of infrared light that reaches the sensor. I have read recently that some new medium format cameras are not using IR cut filters.

    For the dust that won't blow off with a blower try a sensor brush such as the arctic butterfly. The thing that makes them great is the static charge that's built up in the brush before you use it. This in effect draws the particles off your sensor using a much lighter touch than if you were not using a charged brush.

    Identify the dust, or spots. Sometimes the lubricants inside the mirror box are the culprits and not dust itself. As an owner of a Canon 1D mark III, I know all about lubricant spots. This camera is infamous for it's autofocus and grease splatter problems. Nonetheless I have been self cleaning it's sensor of goo for 3 years and have yet to have a problem.

    For those grease splatters I use delkin devises swabs, in the correct size. They make 3 sizes of swabs for full frame, 1.3 crop and canon's 1.6 sensors. Make sure you identify your size, you don't want one to small that you have to make a second pass to cover your sensor, and NEVER re-use a swab. The swabs come packaged in their own baggy, don't open it until your ready, I've seen people open it up, place it on the table they just blew their sensor onto, then fiddle about locking the mirror and finding the solution. Open it when your ready, solution in hand, a drop or two is all you need, make a pass over the sensor and take a look with a loupe. If it's not clean break out another swab and go again. When used in warm conditions because the lubricants flow easier I have had to make up to 3 passes before removing grease stains from my sensor. You don't want to press on the swab either, that's how scratches happen, just glide it over allowing gravity to do the work.

    I feel for those of you with horror stories, but it's not a difficult process. Diligent use of a blower and changing lenses as little as possible, can really go far to keep your sensor swabbing to a minimum. Built in sensor vibrators are also great. I'm not known for being easy on my cameras and my 7D built in cleaning system has kept itself dust free for 8 months.

    There is a lot of other great advise in the above comments..so read, get a good kit if you really feel you need to use the wet method, and destroy a swab or two on the table getting a feel for it if it's your first time before you reach into the depths of your camera....

    Last thing, before you swab the sensor, use a small drop of solution on a q tip and just do a general swab on the lens mount and just inside the lip, you'll be amazed how much goo builds up in there if you change your lenses regularly, that can fall onto your sensor (tiny metal shavings).

  • Tobi

    July 22, 2011 03:07 pm

    Hi,

    I received a product called "Sensor Film".
    With that product it is so easy to clean your sensor.

    That was a topic I didn't want to care about but now it is no problem anymore.

    http://sensor-film.com/

    There is also a video how to use. It is just soo easy.

    Tobi

  • Amarie

    July 22, 2011 12:45 pm

    I use a rocket blower to blow out any dust and that's about as far as I've ever needed to go. Or am willing to go. :-)

  • Steve

    July 22, 2011 12:37 pm

    Another reason to love my Olympus cameras! I've owned 4 different models and have never had to worry about cleaning the sensor due to their superior sensor cleaning technology that truly works!

  • Jim

    July 22, 2011 11:39 am

    Everytime I change Lenses which is quite often, I raise the mirror, turn the camera so the 'Hole" is pointing down and I blow it out with my large blower bulb. Then I remount my lens while it camera is facing down. I also use the in camera sensor cleaner both when I turn on and turn off. Batteries are cheap compared to buying a new sensor, or sending my D7000 back to Nikon. for Cleaning.

  • Mark

    July 22, 2011 11:18 am

    Direct power hookup or fully charged battery, good lighting, no ceiling fans or open windows, patience, and a steady hand. I use the Copperhill method also but only when I see particles on the images. Check before traveling or important shots to be sure my sensor is clean. I've never had a problem. But you do need to understand the risks.

  • scottc

    July 22, 2011 10:47 am

    Built in dust removal systems are junk, and there's nothing difficult about cleaning a sensor.
    The $75 tech doesn't give a rat's ass about how clean your sensor is, his main priority is not to damage it. Waste of money.

    Ref step #3: if you bought a new camera and have never cleaned your sensor, you've had a problem since you bought the camera. If you cleaned your sensor 2 weeks ago and changed lenses once and taken 100 photos since, you have a problem. There is always junk floating around and sticking to the sensor, regular cleaning is the only solution.

    Clear, Blue, and F/22: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/4725172956/

  • Brian Hoffman

    July 22, 2011 10:43 am

    I use a Nikon D700 and most often that wonderful 14 by 24 zoom lens. I am way too big a klutz to clean my own sensor on that camera. Besides, I have an excellent camera store (Kenmore Camera in Kenmore, Washington-suburb of Seattle) just down the street. Paying them $70 to do the work is a no-brainer.

  • Vladimir Krzalic

    July 22, 2011 10:31 am

    Actually, I am leaning all sorts of cameras in my area, ranging from APS sensors, FFs to Big mama Hasselblad sensors. Let me share the experience collected in the process, as I've cleaned some 20+ cameras so far and tried few combinations until i've found one that is both safe and reasonably fast.

    1. If you have some sort of sensor shaking mechanism, do try it a few times, checking in between as dust may become loose and fall of before you start cleaning.

    2. Make sure that you have steady arm and calm nerves. You're gonna need both. Take your time.... no one is breathing on your neck. Think before you act.

    3. Don't and once again, please please don't use any grey market baby blowers, microfiber cloth, ear-buds etc. You just can't know that has been used in the process of making it and what you may actually propell onto a AA filter (the glass part in front of the sensor). Seldomly they use alumina (in the top five hardness material), so yes, you can scratch your filter or damage the coating if present.

    4. Know what you are doing and read the whole manual. Check videos and learn the process before you start. After few times it gets easier and it's always better to view first someone else's techique before you fiddle with your own camera. :)

    5. firstly, blow few times in the camera compartment and mirror, to get rid of the dust that may fall on to a sensor and create more mess than you previously had.

    6. Blow few times with Giotto or some other filtered pump to remove large particles that may damage the sensor if swabbed and pressure applied.

    7. After that, try to use brush or other non intrusive type of cleaning as most of the time, particles don't stick to the glass so hard that could't be picked with some static-charged brush. At least a vast majority of them.

    8. Make a test shot and check for dust. If it is still there, then, and only then try to use some sort of swab and liquid. From my experience, Sensor Swab is good, Visible Dust MF also. I use purified methanol (same as Eclipse), as i can find it very high-grade and less than 1ppm of impurities.

    9. Make a test shot an if you see some high-contrast specks, brush again and don't use wet process more than you really have to. It minimizes possible risk or damaging the AA filter and still can leave some dust that could be picked in no time with a charged sensor brush.

    Yeah.. it is not a brain surgery, but it is a delicate business done in very cramped close quarters. the glass is hard material, but the sand stuck on your AA filter is hard too and could scratch it in no time, so try to be patient and gentle. I've seen some stubborn dust and pollen stuck very hard, so one could easily loose nerves and try to rub it a bit, in order to end the cleaning, thus damaging the filter. It is better to leave a speck or two, if you can't clean it, than to scratch the glass and create unnecessary 300 bucks of repairs.

    Good luck and take care!

  • Johnp

    July 22, 2011 10:04 am

    I never change lenses on my cameras but, as what happened to Luse.13, I still have spots developing on both cameras so dust gets in even without changing lenses. Bought a cleaning kit but havent got around to using it yet.

  • Rob

    July 22, 2011 09:20 am

    I have the Kit pictured above and it works great. Dont skimp on the kit and get a lower one.

  • TJ

    July 22, 2011 08:42 am

    The thing that is, in my opinion, the best and easiest to use is a Lenspen Sensorclear. Many shops will use one of these before trying anything else. The good ones won't charge you for it either (it takes about 2 minutes of their time). They are only about 10 bucks if you buy one and they work like a charm (check Amazon and read reviews). I've probably cleaned my 40D in the neighborhood of 30 times and never had a problem (I wore out one shutter mechanism before needing any other cleaning product). If you are like me and find yourself needing to change lenses frequently then having something that is fast, effective, and cheap is the way to go. And an easy way to see if you have spots is by taking a pic of the blue sky with your smallest aperture.

  • Ernest

    July 22, 2011 07:34 am

    Pish posh. Cleaning a camera sensor isn't brain surgery, nor does it void a warranty. You have to be a total incompetent to harm your sensor, which is BEHIND the aa filter, which is actually what you are cleaning anyway.

  • Gretchen

    July 22, 2011 06:03 am

    Yes, I have since the first time I had a digital camera. As long as you have the right tools and are extremely careful, there is no reason to pay outrageous prices to have someone else do it for you

  • rotty022

    July 22, 2011 05:17 am

    i've cleaned my own sensor. its not that difficult. it was scary at first, but after i did it the first time, i felt comfortable subsequent times.

  • luse.13

    July 22, 2011 05:16 am

    I have got my camera pentax k100d for 3 years now still with the original lense and never took it off, though during the last few months 4 clearly visible spots have appeared so i had no idea where and how.. now that i know where trying to find out how to get rid of them so its just the right time for your article :))
    having it cleaned here is 35dollars in three hours but its still more than i could afford and then wait for the spots to appear again.

  • timgray

    July 22, 2011 05:09 am

    "Purchase and use quality lenses. Some inexpensive lenses have little to no sealing rings and dust gets inside your imaging chamber as you zoom and focus, even if you never change lenses."

    Many "expensive" ones do as well. I have a nice Canon IS lens that is utter garbage for sealing. in fact the lens barrel will move about 1/8th an inch when extended. and yes I went to the camera shop and checked 4 other lenses, they ALL do the same thing. Yet my "junk" sigma is better made than the canon lens.

  • timgray

    July 22, 2011 05:04 am

    Wow why all the fearmongering on sensor cleaning? It is not hard, it is not dangerous, and the warranty void claim is bogus because unless you did it horribly wrong or used a cheap kit that destroyed the sensor coating they cant tell that you cleaned it yourself. I in fact got my sensor replaced in my Fuji S2 for free years ago after it went black. I had cleaned it at least 20 times in about 120,000 shutter actuation before that recall happened. (shooting on the beach = dirty camera FYI) I have been cleaning my own sensors since the Fuji S1 was released back in the day. just buy the right kit and follow the right procedure and you will be ok. I do not waste time with the super kits that have the sensor scopes and other gizmos. I simply buy the sensor swabs and solution for my camera when I buy a new set of pec-pads for my regular camera cleaning.

  • S van Rij

    July 22, 2011 04:27 am

    Often you can see what 'kind' of speckle causes the problem. Camera @f/22, shutter open for enough time to reach about +1 stop (often a few seconds indoors) and than point the camera to a white ceiling or white wall, wave it around a bit while taking the shot, an out of focus shot, and there it is: a crisp image of the speckle when enlarged. A blurry black/grey round spot is often sticky and needs the wet method, after trying a brush. A clear dust particle (a curved line, like wool) is most of the times removed by the hand blower.

  • Shobhit

    July 22, 2011 04:12 am

    I'd be curious to know about removing dust particle or a strand from carpet fur seen while looking into the camera view finder. I have one visible in my cam view finder and it irritates me.

  • GoGayleGo

    July 22, 2011 04:11 am

    I have a Canon Rebel XSi. In my ~28 months of ownership, I've had two occasions to clean the sensor: a piece of hair and a piece of dust. In both cases, I was able to get the offending item removed via Rocket Blower. I didn't have the guts to buy/try the swabs, but if I had to I just might do it...

  • Judy Guffey

    July 22, 2011 04:06 am

    A puff of air....yes. I've done it twice on a Nikon d70s. Always very careful!...and according to the camera's manual. Never had a problem doing it.

  • Brian

    July 22, 2011 04:01 am

    I've only ever had to touch my sensor maybe 3 times to clean it, usually a puff of air will do it. Sensor swabs work perfectly, and they're not expensive. They are one-time use so they are never contaminated. I used one on a moving train in the Andes Mountains and it worked great. Sometimes quick and risky is the only option, and If I'm going to throw money at Canon, it's going to be for more glass, not routine maintenance.

  • Cindy

    July 22, 2011 03:58 am

    After repeatedly cloning out over 3 dozen dust spots I decided it was time to clean my sensor. Since I didn't want to be without my camera for a number of days I did lots of research and purchased a few items from Copperhill - both dry and wet tools. I also purchased a low-cost sensor light but couldn't actually see beyond all the funky colors that were reflecting so that was useless to me last night when I attempted by first cleaning. I lost track of how many times I used the dry method (at least 5 and maybe more) - each time placing the lens back on the camera and taking a shot of a white paper to see how many dust particles I removed. FINALLY after about 5-7 attempts I got all but maybe two spots removed. Not sure how courageous I'd be if I had to go to the wet cleaning but using the dry wasn't too bad. Just took patience.

  • Pierre Ketteridge

    July 22, 2011 03:41 am

    I clean my camera (EOS 20D) sensor myself, because of the prohibitive camera shop/authorised distributor charges, whenever needed (usually every six months or so. It usually works first time, but sometimes just moves the dust around the sensor, or possibly the process introduces new dust, in which case several attempts are required. It *IS* nerve-wracking; open-heart CMOS surgery is not over-stating it.

    I don't have a bought kit, just the tools of the trade I put together myself: A bottle of Isopropanol, decanted into a small non-CFC-based plastic spray bottle sourced from Superdrug, a bag of PEC-PAD lint-free non-abrasive wipes, and an applicator. I started of cutting a plastic picnic knife to size (width of the sensor) until I discovered that one of my son's clay-carving spatulas was the perfect size. I tape or use elastic bands to secure a folded PEC-PAD to the spatula, gently spray with Isopropanol and give it a few seconds to evaporate, then firmly yet gently wipe across the CMOS sensor, left to right, re-angle the spatula without lifting it from the sensor and wipe right-left. Reset the mirrors, re-attach lenses and run a test shot sequence against sky,bright wall or blank white computer screen to check. If anything persists, do it all again, with a new PEC-PAD, until I am happy the sensor is clean.

    i can't stress enough about making sure your battery is fully charged and you don't lose power. If that mirror array snaps back into place while you're cleaning you risk ruining everything.

    You need nerve, and possibly Dutch courage, to attempt this. But once you're confident with it, you'll save a packet, and understand the inner workings of your camera that much better, too!

  • Jim Witt

    July 22, 2011 03:02 am

    This seems really nerve racking. I would rather just leave this sort of thing to the professionals. If you are able to do this by yourself without ruining anything then your in a great place because you will save lots of money and time.

  • S van Rij

    July 22, 2011 03:00 am

    I use sensor swabs, but only if the sensor specks can't be removed by 1) a simple rubber hand blower (no compressed air) and if needed after this 2) a dedicated real clean brush for camera cleaning. Tip for the brush: If you blow wind through the brush hairs with the small blower, with some force, a few times, the brush hairs become electrostatic charged, the same effect as an expensive rotating one on batteries. (I make sure my fingers don't touch the metal which hold the brushairs together). Never touch the brush hairs with your fingers. I've cleaned my 20D often (15+ times) and my 5DmkII less often because of the build in system. No problems at all. To avoid a major problem like Ed, start with blower, check - speckles? Use the brush, check - still speckles? Use the wet method with a new swipe and the proper amound of cleaning fluid.

  • Pete Zerria

    July 22, 2011 02:58 am

    I perform equipment service and maintenance for a living. Much of my work is in the television and film industry. When we service cameras for sensor dust we work in a temperature and humidity controlled shop and place the unit in a laminar flow hood with a HEPA filter on the make-up air. This takes all dust from the work area and provides a very clean environment.

    When it comes to sensor dust prevention is worth your camera's weight in gold. Might I suggest:

    - Power your camera off before you change your lens. Most sensors are CHARGED Couple Devices (CCD), Charged being the operative word. Electrostatic charges on and around some sensors actually attract dust to the sensor when your lens is off your camera.

    - Always use a body cap when your camera does not have a lens attached.

    - Gravity is your friend -- Change lenses with lens mount ring facing down, towards the ground.

    - Do not change your lenses in breezy and/or dusty conditions.

    - If at all possible change your lenses inside, in an air conditioned space, away from excess heat and humidity, carpeting, upholstery and/or any other lint or dust laden materials.

    - Change lenses quickly. Don't remove your lens before you are ready to replace it immediately. The less the camera imaging chamber is open the lower your chance of attracting dust.

    - Purchase and use quality lenses. Some inexpensive lenses have little to no sealing rings and dust gets inside your imaging chamber as you zoom and focus, even if you never change lenses.

    - Never, ever blow your breath into a camera imaging chamber or at the sensor.

    - Never, ever cause the area in your camera's imaging chamber to be above or below "atmosphere." In other words don't use a blower device or a vacuum of any type to clean your sensor.

    Pete Zerria

  • Allan

    July 22, 2011 02:47 am

    I one "clean" my sensor and I blow it (my method was of my own invention) I use to work in a photographic laboratory and a I saw a tech from canon clean a sensor ones, I was really disappointment with the "professional" way because he don't use any of the security steps and handle the camera very poorly, so I try to do it my self and I damage the "sensor" the good thing is that you don't clean the sensor, you really clean a plastic protector, so is so much safer to damage this one, also is so much cheaper to have it fix. So if you purchase a good cleaning kit and go with the steps you are going to be ok (and your camera is going to be treated to you likening)

  • Yvette

    July 22, 2011 02:41 am

    OK, here's a horror story you probably won't believe.
    I had some spots on my sensor and I decided to take it to the local shop, there is just one in town and the next one is about 1 hour away (single drive). The local store doesn't have the greatest credentials but I thought how difficult can it be...... I went to the store, took a couple of photos there and showed on the camera where the spots were. They were going to clean it and I could pick it up the next day. When I arrived there was a scratch on the sensor which wasn't there before...... Luckily I had prove that the scratch wasn't there before so they had to resolve it. They told me they were gonna send the camera to Canon (yes, I'm a Canon girl) to have the sensor replaced. After 6 weeks the camera was finally back (I did get a loaner for the mean time) and still had spots on it. It was a different sensor but one with spots....Then I got this story from the guy that the shop where he send it (not Canon...) told him that the scratch couldn't have been from him cleaning the sensor..... So after arguing forth and back I grabbed my camera and left the shop. So I had to get this one cleaned somewhere else.
    Then a couple of weeks ago we were visiting Wichita and I thought ok lets get it done here. The largest shop there didn't have the equipment for it at that moment, they were getting it in after I left again. So I went to this repair guy. He was working from home and tried to clean the sensor. In the end he couldn't get it cleaned, he told me there is dust between the sensor and the piece of glass in front of it. So that's it.... if I want to get that cleaned I have to send it to Canon and it will be gone for another couple of weeks.
    You can understand I'm done with it. I'll just photoshop the spots out.
    And a big thanks to the so called professionals in town.

  • John

    July 22, 2011 02:39 am

    I just returned the Sensor Scope & cleaning kit mentioned above because 1) the vacuum was so weak I didn't think it did anything and 2) the swabs are an assortment of different sizes, only 1/3 of which will work with your camera. I suggest using the rocket blower and research other wet cleaning solutions. Then take some pictures and judge for yourself if your sensor is clean. There's no need to buy an expensive kit with a scope to see dirt that you can see on your image in the sky at a low f-stop. And if you can't see it on your images, even the makers of the kit say not to clean it.

  • Gary

    July 22, 2011 02:25 am

    I used an Arctic Butterfly sensor brush and Rocket Blower to static charge the bristles. A couple of neat swipes over the sensor left it clean as a whistle. The bad news is that it struggled to remove pollen which had polluted a friend's sensor, so it's really limited to dry debris like dust and hair.

    I took a shot of a uniformly coloured backlit computer screen (a blue desktop might help) at F/22 and was able to see any the dirt on the sensor. I took before and after shots to check I'd lifted everything.

  • af

    July 22, 2011 02:19 am

    I clean my sensor with an electrostatic brush that cost under $100US (actually, a lot less, since I borrowed it from a friend who upgraded to a self-cleaning sensor). It's trivial, takes less than a minute, works well. There's a good online tutorial, but it all makes it out to be more complicated than it really is.

  • Carsten-S

    July 22, 2011 02:09 am

    Yes, I clean the sensor on my own and my wifes cameras. And if asked by a good friend, I'll consider it...
    Never had problems doing this, but stay calm and take your time, when you decide to go for it.

  • Jamie Dennis

    July 22, 2011 02:02 am

    I bought a few parts off of ebay for a lot less then my local camera shops fee and wait time... WORKS REALLY WELL!!!

    My camera is the Sony A700, and my lens loupe has a stand that sits on top of the lens mount area and has multiple zoom levels so I can zoom in REALLY close...

    By far one of the easier aspects of DSLRéSLR photography if you can get past the initial fear of damaging your sensor.

    Best to wait a few moments before re-attaching any lens as well as most of the cleaning solutions Ive used for camera sensors usually stay damp on the sensor for a few seconds so wait before releasing the sensor lock...

  • scott detweiler

    July 22, 2011 01:57 am

    I clean mine all the time with a kit I got off of amazon. It is so easy to do and just follow the directions. It is really a no brainer imho. check out my site to see what I can do with a clean nikon D300 and see if you can see any problems I created for myself :-)

    -www.lightshootedit.com

  • John

    July 22, 2011 01:45 am

    I have cleaned my sensor after getting advice online by others. I use the copperhill method.

    I only do this if there is detectable dust. I start w blower then go to brush if problem is not fixed. I have used wet method one time on my D7000 and have had no problems. I needed to use wet method because I think I had ring like water marks as a condensation artifact. I have cleaned 2 different camera's about 5x in total w no problem and cleaned a friends canon w no problems. If you take the time to read the instructions carefully you should be fine. Cleaning only takes a couple of minutes and is easier and cheaper then sending out. I have also heard of stories where people get their camera's back and the dust is still there. I think you should do all you can to avoid dust in the first place (change lenses w camera facing down in a non windy area, avoid condensation etc) If you use your equipment dust will be inevitable and you should consider learning this relatively simple procedure.

  • armis

    July 22, 2011 01:44 am

    I've always cleaned it myself, especially since my old 20D doesn't have a sensor cleaning function. I bought a pack of swabs in Hong Kong for like $10 and I have dry air blowers that I borrow from work. Large specks are usually easy to blow away; after that a couple swipes with the swab and I'm done. Never had an issue. I have to do it quite often because I tend to change lenses all the time, anywhere (not like I have much of a choice when traveling).

  • Amber Michelle

    July 22, 2011 01:38 am

    I always try to change my lenses with the camera body facing downward. That way, gravity acts as my shield. Unless the dust defies gravity, I don't have to worry about it entering my camera. (Unless it is windy, and then I just don't change it.)

    I am definitely a DIY in everything! I would definitely try cleaning my own sensor once I have the cost prevention to cover up if I make a mistake. :)

  • Anonymous

    July 22, 2011 01:38 am

    All I do is use my giottos rocket air blower which works half the time. However I think I may purchase a kit

  • plrang

    July 22, 2011 01:37 am

    $75 and a WEEK ?? wow, I thought $20 in two days was a problem ;) Authorised service

  • Ed

    July 22, 2011 01:33 am

    I have the horror story of cleaning my own sensor! My first attempt at this was on my back-up camera, I used the swabs and followed the instructions to the letter without having any issues.

    So I decided to go for the main camera (which did not have any auto cleaning) cleaning and the piece of dust on my sensor was so large that the swab didn't pick it up it just DRAGGED the dust along the top of the glass/sensor leaving a nice big trail in the process!!!!

    So I had to send the camera to Canon for sensor replacement..to the tune of $300.00!!! Ouch!! Needless to say I have since sold the camera and upgraded to the 5dMkII that has an auto sensor cleaning function.

    My only suggestion for those that are considering doing this is to follow the instructions of the cleaning product to the letter! Read them multiple times and fully understand what you are going to do.

  • Spica

    July 22, 2011 01:31 am

    Never had to perform a "full" cleaning of any of my sensors in six years. Before buying the full kit, maybe you could just go to a local store and buy a simple baby nose blower (something around 5$ at most). In case of dust that will not move with the built-in clean mechanism, just use it to blow the dust away (never blow the sensor with your mouth ! moisture from your breath might make things worse). You probably won't need the full cleaning adter that, because dust that sticks to the captor to the point of resisting even this is quite rare...

  • Robert

    July 22, 2011 01:20 am

    I'm glad I shoot film .... don't have to deal with sensor cleaning. :)

  • Madison Raine

    July 22, 2011 12:38 am

    My camera says it has it built it. I'm super careful about getting it dirty. It's always in it's case unless I'm taking a photo.

  • Tashique Alam

    July 22, 2011 12:29 am

    i actually cleaned my sensor once with the blower that i used for my lenses. it worked like a charm with no problems so far :D although i believe prevention is better than cure, and its better to take precautions prevent dust from getting in in the first place e.g. not changing lenses in dusty places or when wind is blowing etc.

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