The mission: Clean your DSLR or mirrorless camera
Time needed: One hour
Skill level: Intermediate
Kit needed: Lens cloth, blower brush, sensor cleaning kit
Perhaps the greatest advantage of using a DSLR or mirrorless camera is the ability to change lenses to suit the shooting scenario. There is a downside to this flexibility, however; 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 this.
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 a filter in front of its sensor, and can really spoil your images, requiring laborious cloning and healing using software.
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 guide: How to clean your DSLR or mirrorless camera
The best approach is to do the easy cleaning first, and then to tackle the sensor.
1. 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. You may find a small LensPen to work well in hard-to-reach places, such as the lens at the rear of the viewfinder.
As a general rule, start cleaning lenses with the least contact possible before progressing onto a more direct method. This way, there's far less of a risk of you moving anything around that might scratch the lens's elements.
So, use a blower to dislodge any looser particles of dust and dirt first, before using a non-abrasive wipe or a LensPen to get rid of anything more stubborn. A blower will also help to clear the contacts (the gold bits at the back of the lens).
3. 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.
4. 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.
How to check for dust on your sensor
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 or a bright clear surface. Move the camera around as you do this to create blur, as this will help you identify anything actually in front of the sensor rather than something in the scene you're photographing.
Shoot at a narrow aperture, such as f/22, then zoom in and move around the frame looking for any ominous black specks. You can do this on your camera, although it may be easier to look at such an image on your computer.
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.
Essential cleaning products
There are lots of products out there, but here are some that we recommend.
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.
Blowers come in different shapes and sizes. The Giottos Rocket Air Blower 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.
3. 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. This loupe sits over the lens mount, and some have LEDs to highlight dust.
This kit allows 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.
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.
VisibleDust’s Arctic Butterfly is something of a luxury cleaning product, but it works. 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.