It’s spring: time to clean your camera sensor

Spring cleaning. It’s a good thing, or so my wife told me! One area that can be neglected in our cameras is the sensor. Dust mites and smudges cause extra time in post-production and can ruin a print when they creep in unnoticed. Take the time to clean the camera sensor to make sure this doesn’t happen to you.

Fear of cleaning the sensor

It can be a little scary to get into the sensor area and touch this magical surface. This is only normal. You sure don’t want to mess with the camera sensor! If you are careful, you can get there and save a lot of time and money.

If you don’t think this is right for you, take your camera to a camera shop or send it in for a repair depot and have the sensor cleaned professionally. The price for this service ranges from $35 to $100 depending on the camera and service center. If you can’t leave the camera, there may also be shipping costs involved.

Do I need to clean the camera sensor?

How do you know you need to clean the sensor? Sometimes it’s very obvious when you find yourself constantly having to clean up your photos in post-production. Follow the camera’s guide to keep the shutter out of the way. If you are not connected to power, make sure that your battery is fully charged.

Look inside at the sensor. Highlight and, if possible, add a magnifying glass. Even if you don’t always see predominant areas, there may be deterioration in your files. Give it a try. Make a picture of a plain white piece of paper that is evenly lit. Or photograph a clear blue sky. Once you download your image, open it in your processing software.

I use Adobe Camera RAW (ACR). In the ACR, click on the Healing window. At the bottom there is a checkbox for visualizing spots. This will give you a good indication if you are unwell or need more attention. There is a matching checkbox available in Adobe Lightroom if that’s your manipulation software of choice. You can create a similar look if you open the image in Photoshop, add a Curves Layer and Manipulate the Curves.

Click the First Aid icon for the Healing tab of the ACR. The Visualize sensor dust spots check box appears.

gotta clean, now what?

If you intend to clean the sensor yourself, there are plenty of products on the market. You likely already have a pressure inflator. I recommend the Giottos Rocket Air Blaster.

This will help remove loose dust. Don’t use canned air because the force can be too strong and there can be some splashes of liquid fuel which can really mess things up. After using the pressure bellows while holding the viewfinder down, take another test shot. BTW, it’s a good idea to always keep the open side of the camera facing down to let gravity help you not get dusty in the first place.

Visualize spots after an airburst from Giotto and using an Eyelead dust rod. The circular spots that appear on the sensor turned out to be invisible. See photo below.
No visible noise anywhere after cleaning. Yay!

My go-to cleaning tool

I’ve worked with many ways to clean a camera sensor over the years. I am a huge fan of the Eyelead sensor cleaning system from Germany. This has given me the best results with the least amount of hassle. Suspended Dust Bar removes dust with a touch of the sensor. Dust off the handle with sticky sticky paper. 10 sheets of this contact paper are included with the kit. You can order additional packs of 20 cleaning sheets for about $19. Repeat as necessary until all the dust is in the eye and test again with white paper or a clear blue sky. Note: Never touch the end of the tape to dust as the oils from your fingers may render it useless.

Eyelead makes a different dust bar for some Sony cameras.

Eyelid camera sensor cleaning system
Eyelid camera sensor cleaning tool. Notice the sticky notes tucked in the middle of the aluminum carrying case.

Is there still dust?

If you have some stubborn stains or oil on the sensor, you will need cleaning fluid and swabs. Wipes are a single pass option. Make sure you only put a drop or two on the swab and never on the sensor. After one swipe, throw that swab away. Repeat as necessary. If this doesn’t clear the sensor, it’s definitely time to send the camera to an official sensor cleaning technician.

Final thoughts

Once you are done cleaning the sensor, you will see that it is not as scary as you thought. Just make sure you have a clean space to work and take your time.

If you have had success with this or another method, let me know in the comments below.

Yours in Creative Photography, Bob

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