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I’ve noticed that my DSLR’s lens has lots of smudges on it that are starting to impact the quality of my images but I’m too scared to clean it because I’m worried about scratching it. Do you have any suggestions? – Chris
Cleaning your camera’s lenses should be a regular (although not too regular) part of any camera owner’s maintenance. While you do need to be very careful during this process it’s not something to be frightened about. The best time to clean a lens is when it’s dirty – don’t get in the habit of cleaning it off daily or you’ll do more damage than good. However when the time comes to clean it here are a few simple tips:
Before I get into cleaning techniques let me share a tip that all DSLR users should consider. For each lens you own you should consider purchasing a UV or skylight filter. Keep it attached to your lens at all times. In addition to it cutting out UV light they will protect your lens from scratches or even breakage. It also means that when you do your cleaning you’ll just be cleaning the filter instead of the actual lens (unless dust gets right in). Keep in mind that filters come in different levels of quality – if you have a high end lens consider investing in a higher end filter.
Lens hoods can also help protect the end of your lens as do the lens caps for both the front and back end of your lens that come with it – always use them!
In most camera stores you’ll find an alcohol based lens cleaning fluid that is well worth having. It will help you to lift off fingerprints and other smudges without leaving streaks on your lens or filter. Keep in mind that you don’t need too much of this fluid at a time – usually just a drop or two wiped in a gentle circular motion with a cleaning tissue will remove most marks on a lens or filter. Always apply the fluid to a cloth or tissue rather than the lens itself.
Alternatively – many photographers believe that simply breathing on your lens and then wiping with a cloth is a safer method for cleaning it – rather than introducing harsh fluids. My own approach is to start with breath and then use the fluids for difficult marks to remove.
To apply the cleaning fluid grab yourself some lens tissues. They are a very thin paper that will let you wipe your lenses without scratching them. These tissues are one use tissues and should be thrown away after using. Don’t use normal facial tissues – these are too rough and will scratch your lens.
An alternative to cleaning tissues is the more modern microfiber cleaning cloth. These washable cloths grab a hold of dust and oils on your lens. The main thing to be aware of with them is to keep them clean themselves with a regular wash – alternatively just buy yourself a new one as they are very cheap to buy and that’ll negate the risk of wiping something from your wash into your lens.
Before using a cloth always check the lens to make sure you don’t have any larger pieces of grit on it. The last thing you want to do is wipe it into your lens causing a scratch. Remove any larger gritty dust using a blower or brush before wiping.
Most camera stores sell blowers of different varieties. While I’d personally advise being very careful with them on the inside of your camera (you could actually end up blowing dust into it) they can be great for cleaning the outside of your camera – including the lens. Before you use a blower make sure you squeeze if a few times first to get any dust that might be inside it out.
If you have a lot of dust on your camera one good tool to get the big stuff off is a brush. Get one with fine and soft hair (camel hair) to avoid scratching your lens. Similarly you might like to invest in a lens cleaning pen which has a retractable brush on one end an a cleaning pad on the other.
One lost preventative measure before we end. Grab some silica gel sachets to throw into the bottom of your camera bag. The little sachets will draw any moisture in your bag to them to save your lenses and DSLR from being impacted by it. Keep changing over this sachets over time or they’ll attract too much water and become useless.
Much of the above cleaning gear is pretty low cost and will be available from a good camera store (often as a full kit). Don’t go for the very cheapest gear though – when you’re looking after gear that you’ve paid big dollars for it can be worth paying a little extra to ensure quality. Here are some of what Amazon offers:
Update – Lastly – take a lot of care when changing lenses. Cleaning the outside elements of your camera and lens is a lot easier than cleaning the inside where things are much more delicate. When changing lenses turn off your camera first, always point your camera and lens to the ground and attempt to do it inside or out of the wind. Learn to do these things quickly and you’ll have less dust and grime to clean off your camera and lenses.
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