Why do you need a camera sensor cleaner? You’d be forgiven for thinking that modern interchangeable lens cameras can keep dust at bay using their integrated sensor cleaning systems. However, shoot in dusty environments or change lenses frequently and it’s only a matter of time before your sensor will need to be cleaned manually.
You’ll know when to break out a camera sensor cleaner, as images of clear blue skies or plain backdrops will begin to feature unwelcome dark spots (which are especially obvious at narrow apertures). Don’t despair, though; with a steady hand and the right kit you can restore your sensor to its former glory.
• Tutorial: Cleaning a camera sensor
DSLRs are slightly trickier to clean than mirrorless cameras, as you’ll need to first lock the mirror up to access the sensor – and don’t forget to fully charge your camera’s battery beforehand. Then it’s just a matter of using a hurricane blower, brush or a sticky pad to remove loose dust, while more stubborn dirt can be dislodged using swabs and cleaning solution.
Of course it helps to have a decent view of what you’re doing, and though a good old head torch and magnifying glass will do the job, a cleaning kit with a dedicated LED magnification loupe will reveal even the smallest speck or stain. So, here's our list of the best camera sensor cleaner kits on the market right now…
There isn’t much to this kit; just 4 swabs, a tiny 1.15ml phial of cleaning liquid, and the SwabLight itself. This is a tiny torch that slots on to the top end of a swab and shines downward, so wherever you clean, the light always follows. Plus, the SwabLight’s grippy casing is much easier to hold than a spindly swab handle. A proper magnifying loupe would give a better view, and though VisibleDust has its Quasar Plus Sensor Loupe, this isn't cheap.
You can spec the kit with one of three formulations of cleaning solution, designed to shift water- or oil-based stains, or a combination of both. We went for the multi-purpose fluid (called VDust Plus) applied to super-soft Orange Vswabs that are available to suit full-frame or APS-C sensors. The result: a flawless clean with no streaks, no stains and no dust left behind.
It’s a pity that there are only enough swabs and fluid for four cleans, though, and a dozen extra swabs will set you back around $35 / £35, which seems like a lot for such basic items.
Often the most dirt that ever reaches your sensor is limited to a few specks of dust, making a full-on wet clean a bit of overkill. For just a quick sensor touch-up, the SpeckGrabber is ideal.
This is simply a plastic stick with a small 2mm² soft pad on the end. It works rather like the Dust-Aid Platinum but, instead of pressing the pad against a large portion of the sensor, you dab precisely on each particle you want to remove. Two cleaning wipes are included, so you can ensure that the grabber is spotless before use, though Kinetronics maintains that it can also be cleaned with soap and water.
We weren't expecting much for a device so basic and cheap, but the SpeckGrabber actually works. Particles stick effectively to the cleaning tip, and this doesn’t leave any residue on the sensor.
The SpeckGrabber provides much better dust removal than a similarly priced blower, just don't expect it to deal with more stubborn grime and stains. It does, however, make for a perfect pairing with a swab-based wet cleaning tool like the VisibleDust SwabLight Kit.
LensPen proudly asserts that its cleaning equipment is used by NASA on the International Space Station – a bold claim, but we weren’t able to pop up there to check for ourselves.
This kit includes a range of gadgets for performing a dry sensor clean. Identifying any dust is a cinch, thanks to the SensorKlear Loupe with its LED illumination. The loupe’s focus is adjustable to cover different sensor sizes, and it rests securely on the lens mount of your camera. There’s also a very useful opening on the side so you can clean with the loupe in place.
But while you get a great view, cleaning performance is hardly out of this world. The included hurricane blower will dislodge loose particles, however simply blasting air in this fashion can result in dust from the surrounding chamber actually being blown onto the sensor.
A better tactic is to use the included SensorKlear II cleaning pen. Its hinged tip ensures a good contact with the sensor, though it doesn’t attract debris quite as effectively as the similar Dust-Aid Platinum or SpeckGrabber tools on test.
The Dust-Aid Platinum will easily slip into a kit bag and comes with its own compact travel case. It’s a simple device consisting of a wand with a silicone pad on the end, measuring roughly 10 x 15mm, plus 6 adhesive cleaning strips.
Simply press the pad onto one of the cleaning strips to remove any contaminants, then dab onto your sensor to pick up loose dirt and debris. Dust-Aid claims that the Platinum can be used on all sensors, including coated sensors, and on cameras with a self-cleaning sensor mechanism. No residue is left on the sensor, but you can get a sticky outline if you rock or twist the pad while it’s in contact with the sensor – and this can only be removed with a wet clean.
The Platinum is better at removing stubborn contaminants than a basic blower tool, but more stubborn marks and smears will remain, necessitating a wet clean to achieve perfect results. You’ll also need a separate loupe to really see what you’re doing, as otherwise the cleaning procedure is more of a ‘press and hope’ affair.
Delkin’s kit is equipped to remove loose particles and more stubborn contaminants. The SensorBulb blower puffs dust away, albeit in the same uncontrolled manner as any blower, meaning that dust can just be blown around and onto the sensor, not necessarily off it.
Should this happen, you can always switch to the included cleaning swabs and solution. You get 15 double-ended wands and a decent supply of streak-free fluid, but the results are mixed. The wands have a tendency to simply move some particles across the sensor, rather than picking them up.
A LED loupe is included in the kit, and it shines brightly into the camera chamber. However, we found the sensor surface to be slightly out of focus when compared to the LensPen loupe – and, annoyingly, there’s no focus adjustment. Delkin’s loupe also lacks a cutout on the side, so you can’t clean with the loupe in place and it means one hand is always needed to hold the loupe.
A lens cleaning cloth and handy travel bag rounds off this cleaning kit.
The Arctic Butterfly 724 Super Bright is essentially an electric brush designed to attract dust away from your sensor via the wonders of static charge.
The brush’s ultra-fine bristles are attached to a rotating shaft, driven by a pair of AAA batteries in the handle. Ten seconds of spinning prior to cleaning causes a centrifugal force that both ejects dust from the brush, and, with the help of the fibers’ nano-coating, recharges the bristles’ static attraction. Then, with the brush stationary again, all you have to do is lightly drag the brush across your sensor to pick up any loose particles.
A pair of effective LEDs light your way, and this is especially important as you don’t want the bristles to contact any areas of your camera directly surrounding the sensor (due to the risk of debris or mirror lubricant being dragged onto the sensor).
As for cleaning performance, loose dust is picked up pretty well. The brush doesn’t hold onto particles as reliably as the SpeckGrabber, however, and this cleaner can’t tackle oily marks. It all makes the high price very hard to justify.
5 things to look for in a camera sensor cleaner
1. Wet or dry?
Carefully using specially designed swabs and solution will remove most gunk from your sensor, while a simple air blower puffs dust away for a quick clean.
2. The perfect view
A kit with a loupe and light will really help you see what and where needs cleaning. Some designs also enable you to clean while the loupe rests on the lens mount.
3. Plan ahead
A basic blower will never run out of puff but, if you plump for a wet cleaning kit, the included swabs and solution will only go so far. Make sure that replacements are readily available and don’t cost a fortune.
4. Fit for purpose
Camera sensors are delicate devices, so only use swabs and solution specifically designed for cleaning imaging sensors – not just optical glass.
5. Less is more
Hurricane blowers may be safe for a sensor, but don’t be tempted to up the ante with a compressed air canister. Their high pressure and freezing propellant can cause serious damage!