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How to Clean a Digital SLR Camera

Updated on August 18, 2012

Cleaning a Digital SLR (D-SLR) camera involves getting rid of dust and dirt particles. It’s inevitable that these unwanted specs will get on to your D-SLR’s sensor and on the glass of your lens. Sometimes dust can affect the quality of your images when they may appear as little black bugs on your image, and sometimes they won’t. It may depend on how dusty your D-SLR's sensor is, the settings you may be using along with the conditions that you may be shooting in.

To clean your D-SLR, you'll need to carefully and properly clean the lens(es), filter(s), the sensor, and to a lesser extent the outside of the D-SLR itself.

Accessories for cleaning lenses + filters

Canon Optical Digital Camera and Lens Cleaning Kit (Brush, Microfiber Cloth, Fluid and Tissue) for EOS
Canon Optical Digital Camera and Lens Cleaning Kit (Brush, Microfiber Cloth, Fluid and Tissue) for EOS

This kit can be used to clean any D-SLR; complete with a soft retractable brush, lens cleaning fluid, microfiber cloth, lens tissues and a sturdy plastic case

 

Cleaning a D-SLR lens

This is an easy task to complete, and may take just a couple minutes. But you need to be careful to take your time to avoid scratching your lens(es) or filter(s).

Things needed: lens cleaning fluid, lens cloth, rocket blower

Steps:

  1. Blow off dust from the lens with the rocket blower.
  2. Put a couple drops of lens cleaning fluid on to the lens cloth and wipe.
  3. Use a dry section of the lens cloth to wipe any remaining lens fluid.

Note: The same steps can be used for cleaning lens filters.

Precautions:

  1. Be careful not to use more than a couple drops of lens fluid, because it may remove the coating from the lens or lens filter.
  2. Avoid dropping lens fluid directly on the lens.

Disclaimer: The method of cleaning stated is recommended by professionals but not necessarily by your camera's manufacturer. You may bear sole liability should you use the methods improperly and damage parts of your D-SLR.

Delkin SensorScope Complete Cleaning System

SensorScope enables you to check your sensor to see if it needs cleaning-there's nothing safer than not cleaning your sensor. The SensorScope looks like a camera lens; however, it allows you to look back into your camera to inspect your sensor. The S
SensorScope enables you to check your sensor to see if it needs cleaning-there's nothing safer than not cleaning your sensor. The SensorScope looks like a camera lens; however, it allows you to look back into your camera to inspect your sensor. The S | Source

Cleaning a D-SLR sensor

Checking the sensor for dust and dirt

The first thing to do is to assess if your sensor needs cleaning. There are two basic ways to do this, one of which is taking a neutral test image and inspecting for dust or dirt specs, and the other is to use a sensor inspection device.

Sensor Inspection devices run from about 50 USD and can cost over 100 USD. Sometimes they are packaged in a bundle with a sensor cleaning kit, or as a complete set like the Delkin Digital SLR SensorScope Cleaning System.

You can spare a lot of time by using a sensor inspection device, as you will directly see the dust specs on your sensor. The obvious advantage with using the test image method is that you won’t need to spend any extra money.

Using the sensor inspection device is simple, and all you need to do is to turn on the lamp, hold it over the lens mount and view the sensor.

The test image method is also simple, but more indirect. Nevertheless, it works.

  1. First, take a picture of a plain white subject, such as a blank paper or better yet a computer screen with a white background, using a small aperture of f/16 or over. Make sure to fill the frame with whatever you choose as your neutral subject.
  2. Inspect the image for dust or dirt specs which may appear as dark spots. You can inspect for these spots by zooming in on the image from your camera, but it’s recommended that you transfer the image to a computer for dust inspection. It may help to increase the contrast of the image by using image editing software to make it easier for you to find dust spots.

Sensor cleaning essentials

PEC-PAD Lint Free Wipes 4"x4" 100per/Pkg
PEC-PAD Lint Free Wipes 4"x4" 100per/Pkg

PEC PADs are extremely strong, lint-free and so soft and pure it is almost impossible to scratch an emulsion with them.

 

Cleaning sensor using the 'Wet Method'

Once you have identified that your D-SLR’s sensor is dusty, then you need to clean it. The Wet Method is highly recommended, as it is both effective and not as risky as other methods. Yet still, you have to carefully follow instructions to avoid damaging your camera.

Things needed: rocket blower, swab(s), sensor cleaning solution

Steps:

  1. Make sure to turn on your camera and set it in ‘lock mode’. It’s important to take out your handy manual for your D-SLR and read the cleaning instructions, as well as finding out how exactly to get your camera into ‘cleaning mode’ or ‘lock mode’. Lock mode means that the shutter will be locked in place while you clean the sensor. If the shutter closes on a tool while you’re cleaning, it can be seriously damaged -- something you’ll definitely want to avoid. While your camera is in cleaning mode, the protruding mirror will also be automatically shifting allowing for access to the sensor.
  2. Use the rocket blower and gently press to force away dust particles from the sensor. Be careful not to touch the tip of the blower on the sensor.
  3. Put a couple drops of sensor cleaning solution on the swab. Use the swab and gently wipe across the sensor in one motion, making sure to cover the entire sensor.
  4. Repeat the previous step this time using the other side of the swab, and wiping in the opposite direction.
  5. Check the sensor for dust again, and if necessary, repeat the cleaning process.

Precautions:

  1. Find out from your camera's manufacturer's website the size swab to use on the sensor of your D-SLR.
  2. Avoid using vacuums and compressed air to clean your sensor.
  3. Make sure that the battery from your camera is fully charged before performing the wet method of cleaning.
  4. Clean the outside of your D-SLR to prevent anymore dust from entering it.

Other sensor cleaning methods

Other methods exist for cleaning sensors, but the Wet Method is the commonly recommended method. Bear in mind that certain camera manufacturers may consider your warranty void once you touch the sensor, with the accepted alternative method involving only using the rocket blower. This means that you will need to find out what your warranty states about cleaning your D-SLR's sensor. In most cases, using a rocket blower may not be enough to dislodge all the dust particles from your sensor, and other methods may need to be used. If you're not comfortable with cleaning your sensor, you can always carry your D-SLR to get to a professional camera outlet, or send it to the manufacturer. In any event, a D-SLR will need to be cleaned and you will have to choose what's the best way for you to get it done.

"A clean camera is a happy camera." ~ Anonymous

Comments

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    • theblackedition profile imageAUTHOR

      Shane Brown-Daniels 

      5 years ago from USA

      Thanks Robin! Make sure to check that manual before :)

    • Robin profile image

      Robin Edmondson 

      5 years ago from San Francisco

      I desperately need to clean my SLR camera, but I have never known exactly how to do it! This is a great guide that I'm going to use for my poor, neglected camera.

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