How to clean your camera

Clean your DSLR’s sensor

Time needed: One hour

Skill level: Intermediate 

Kit needed: Lens cloth • Blower brush • Sensor cleaning kit

Perhaps the greatest advantage of using a DSLR is the ability to change lenses to suit the shooting scenario. There is a downside to this flexibility, however, and the fact is that, even when taking the utmost care when switching lenses and transporting kit, dust and dirt will find a way to leave its mark on your images. Fortunately, there are a vast quantity of purpose-designed cleaning products to tackle some common issues.

A lens cloth is great for keeping the front element of your lens clean of water marks, finger smudges and dirt, but have you ever noticed small dots appearing in the same place on your images? This is caused by dust entering your camera and settling on its sensor, and can really spoil your shots, requiring laborious cloning and healing in Photoshop to clean up your images. 

The solution is to clean your sensor instead. While the idea of getting too close to the sensor can be a little scary, using the correct equipment and taking care will soon get you back to blemish-free shooting. If you’re in doubt, you can send your camera to a professional cleaner, but you’ll learn a lot, and save money, by tackling this task yourself.

Regular maintenance will keep your camera performing at its best. So let’s take a look at a good way to approach cleaning your camera gear, and also highlight some of the more useful camera cleaning products out there. 

STEP BY STEP: How to clean your DSLR

The best approach is to do the easy cleaning first before tackling the sensor

01 CAMERA BODY

Dirt around the buttons may eventually affect their operation, so give your camera body a good clean with a microfibre lens cloth. Take off the rubber eye cup and give the viewfinder and LCD a clean too.

02 LENSES

Clean the front and rear elements of the lens. Nonabrasive wipes are perfect for these surfaces, and a bit of breath will help with any stubborn marks. An air blower will clear dust from the contacts.

HIT THE SPOT

There’s an easy way of checking if you have sensor spots. If you haven’t found any obvious signs in your recent images, wait for a sunny day and take a photo of a bright blue sky.  Shoot at a narrow aperture, such as f/22, then zoom in and move around the frame looking for any ominous black specks.  Although these spots may appear small, they can have a big impact on your images. Note that the position of the spots will be reversed – so if one appears at the top-left of the image, the speck of dust will actually be at the bottom-right of the sensor.

03 INSIDE THE CAMERA

The camera’s sensor cleaning function does some of the work, but loose dust particles inside the camera body can be dislodged using an air blower. Point the camera down to encourage the dust to fall out.

04 SENSOR SPOTS

Get the right-sized cleaning kit for your sensor size, and steady your hand! The kit will have instructions on using the brush and swabs, but just do one pass with each swab and check if the spots have gone.

CLEAN ME!: Essential cleaning products

There are lots of products out there, but here are some that we recommend…

01 MICROFIBRE LENS CLOTH

Lens cloths are cheap, but often end up scrunched up in the bottom of our camera bags. These cloths are like a magnet to dirt and dust, and don’t work well when dirty or wet. Keep them in a watertight container for maximum effectiveness.

02 AIR BLOWER

Blowers come in different shapes and sizes. The Giottos Rocket-Air will blast off dust clinging to your camera and lenses, and smaller blowers are available for more accurate cleaning. They’re cheap, and you’ll find yourself using them all the time.

03 SENSOR LOUPE

Knowing you have a clean sensor can boost your photographic confidence, and a sensor loupe is a great tool for a magnified view of your camera’s insides. The loupe sits over the lens mount, and some have LEDs to highlight dust.

04 SENSOR SWAB KIT

These allow you to manually wipe spots off the sensor. After any dry particles have been blown off, lock up the mirror via the camera’s menu, apply some sensor cleaning fluid to a swab, insert it into the body and carefully wipe across the sensor.

05 NONABRASIVE WIPES

If you keep losing your lens cloth, this pack of 100 wipes from PEC PAD is perfect for all your surface cleaning requirements. You can use them to clean your lenses, camera body, even your computer monitor, then throw the wipe away.

06 ARCTIC BUTTERFLY

VisibleDust’s Arctic Butterfly is something of a luxury cleaning product. The bristles of the sensor brush are initially charged and then lift dust off the sensor using static electricity – the same reason that dust is attracted to it in the first place.