Cleaning Photographic Sensors and Protecting Lenses

I have been talking to photographers that have new DSLRs (digital single lens reflex) cameras from Christmas, and some that have even upgraded to newer models.

Those that are now out and about doing photography and tromping around in the already dry and dusty backwoods and fields nearby are wondering what they can do about the small black specks that are showing up in their pictures.  Those tiny specks mean there is dust on the camera sensor and it needs to be removed. My quick statement is don’t get upset, you don’t have to send the camera to the manufacturer’s repair centre. Dust is no big deal.

There has been lots of confusion, fear, and misinformation about removing specks of dust from DSLR cameras. I even had a fellow tell me that removing the dust would void a camera’s warrantee. Well, yes, that is so if he did anything to damage his camera’s sensor, but in most cases cleaning the sensor is pretty easy, takes only a few minutes, and since one rarely needs to come in contact with the sensor there isn’t much chance of damage.

Even those cameras equipped with vibrating sensors that are intended to remove dust from the visible shooting area could still have dust accumulate in the chamber behind the lens mount and it takes almost no effort every now and then to just blow them out with a large blower.

Many photographers (and I was among that group) thought it was OK to go on using old blower brushes, that have been languishing in the bottom of our camera bag for the past several years, which are designed to get dust off a film camera’s reflex mirror. However, what we discovered is that we were blowing years worth of old dried up bits and particles from a deteriorating blower onto our sensors. My advice is to discard them. Modern blowers like the Gittos Rocket Blower are inexpensive, work great, and are a good addition to everyone’s camera gear.

As I just wrote, it is easy. I give my camera a quick once over before every important photography event.  My personal method is to remove the lens, and turn the shutter dial to the lowest speed until the word “bulb” appears. Then hold the shutter release so the shutter will open showing the sensor. I hold the camera mount side down and using my large rocket blower, blow into the opening in every direction. Then replace the lens that I have also gone over, blowing off dirt and dust with the blower. Next, go outside aim at the blue sky and make an exposure. (I put the lens on manual so it doesn’t hunt for something to focus on.)  Then I check that exposure on my computer, and if there is still dust visible, I do everything again.  Please note that many cameras have a cleaning feature that will lock the shutter open. Check the camera’s manual to use that. I guess I am just lazy; selecting “bulb” is quick and easy.

There are special brushes and procedures for cleaning sensors that have particles that are stuck. I have two brushes from However, during the years I have been using digital cameras I have rarely needed to use them. For those that do worry about continually doing photography in dusty locations and want the latest cleaning technology check out VisibleDust’s website.

There also are photographers looking for accessories like protective filters and lens hoods.  Protective filters have come a long way. At one-time photographers attached UV (ultra violet), or skylight (or haze filters) onto our lenses to not only prevent scratches on the front glass, but to change the way the light affected the film. There were several levels of UV and skylight filters depending on how much one wanted to reduce the blue light of early spring or high mountain locations. Today’s digital cameras and post-production programs easily correct the colour balance of different lighting conditions, so photographers really don’t have as much requirement for the colour correcting filters that were a must when using film.  I think those old filters aren’t used so much as filters as they are for protection of expensive lenses from damage.

Depending on where one receives advice they may be told not to put them on lenses because they aren’t up to the “quality of our lens glass”.  I recall the quote that has been around for as long as I have been making pictures, “Don’t put a ten dollar filter on a thousand dollar lens”.  That sounds like good advice, however, it usually comes from those who have a lot more money to spend on new lenses than I do.  However, I keep protective UV, skylight (or haze), or clear “filters” on all my lenses as I have seen too many photographers walk into my shop with scratched lenses that they cannot afford to replace.

As I write about these things, I urge readers to consider providing additional protection (other than a padded case) for lenses. For that, another useful apparatus to protect lenses is a lens hood.  The lens hood not only takes the front impact of a dropped lens, it blocks the glare from the sun and other reflective objects.  I recommend using a lens hood because of that light-blocking feature.  Light coming from the side, above or below can either cause a flare, or actually reduce contrast in pictures. Some lenses come with lens hoods, and that’s great because it means they are fitted so they don’t vignette (darken) the corners of wide-angle lenses.  Most lens manufacturers have lens hoods that are optionally available for an additional cost, but also there are non-specific, inexpensive, rubber hoods that fit the front of the lens filter threads. The rubber type folds back out of the way when it is packed away in a tight fitting camera bag.

I recommend that readers purchase lens hoods, filters, and blowers. The protection from dust, scratches or even broken lenses is worth the investment.

2 responses to “Cleaning Photographic Sensors and Protecting Lenses

  1. Greetings from Idaho! I’m bored to death at work so I
    decided to check out your website on my iphone during lunch break.
    I enjoy the knowledge you present here and can’t wait
    to take a look when I get home. I’m shocked at how fast your
    blog loaded on my phone .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G ..
    Anyways, excellent site!


    • My site is just WordPress, but the fast download is great. I am glad you enjoyed my thoughts on photography and they took you away form instead of added to your boredom. Thanks for your kind words.


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