It happens to every photographer. You notice some blurry spots on an image you’re processing in post-production at some point or another. They can only mean one thing: dreaded sensor dust.
Sensor dust is an issue that ranges from a minor annoyance to seriously problematic. The bad news is that no matter how careful you are, dust will eventually find its way into your sensor. And when it does, you’ll have to address the problem.
Don’t have a professional near you? Don’t want to pay for someone else to do it? The good news is that taking your camera to a professional is not strictly necessary. We’re going to show you how to get a clean camera sensor from the comfort of your home—so that you can get back to taking the clean, crisp images you expect from your camera.
But before we talk about how to tackle this issue, let’s learn more about our adversary and why it shows up. Understanding what causes this problem will help us address it later.
What is Sensor Dust and Why We Don’t Want it!
When we talk about this, we’re referring to the dirt and contaminants that enter your camera. You can’t usually see them with the naked eye, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. These impurities are excellent at making unwanted appearances in your photos, where they show up as blurry spots.
Why Does My Sensor Have Dust?
Most sensor dust occurs due to changing lenses outdoors, especially if you swap your lenses out often. Even if you take lots of preventative measures, such as always changing lenses inside, holding the lens mount face down while changing, sooner or later, dust will show up. There’s not a whole lot you can do to keep this issue at bay forever.
But what if you shoot primarily indoors? Well, don’t think that shooting in enclosed locations makes you immune to this problem. There is dust and lint inside, too. Plus, if you use lower-end budget zoom lenses, you pull dirt into the lens that gets into the camera every time you zoom in or out.
Why Sensor Dust Is Potentially a Problem
As you may have guessed, the problem with sensor dust is that it creates unsightly spots on your photos, especially if you are shooting with small apertures. Sure, it’s something you can fix in post-production, but editing photos is already a lengthy process. Why create more work for yourself?
How to Know if You Need to Clean Your Camera Sensor
Before attempting to clean your sensor, it’s vital to know whether it’s actually dirty. When using large apertures, for example, you may have a hard time seeing the sensor dust. There’s always the possibility that your camera sensor has dust, even though it can be difficult to tell.
Doing a test is the easiest way to address the issue before you find yourself having to edit tons of images with blurry spots. Here’s how.
Examine Your Images
The most straightforward test is one you only need your eyes for. Look at multiple images you’ve taken recently and see if they have spots in the same places. If so, you need to clean the sensor.
Take a Sensor Check Image
If you can’t see anything with the naked eye, a different test involves taking a picture of a white or light-colored wall. Use the smallest aperture you have ( f/16 or f 22 is okay), and then pull up the image in Photoshop. Go to Images Menu and press Auto Tone, which will highlight any sensor dust in your camera.
The test revealed an issue? It’s time to learn how to clean camera sensor.
Automatic Sensor Cleaning
The first thing is to try the sensor cleaning camera feature to see if this makes a difference. Some cameras automatically clean the sensor, but the auto-clean mode may be helpful if yours doesn’t. If this step doesn’t yield results in your camera’s sensor, continue reading to learn how to fix the problem.
A word to the wise: make sure the battery is fully charged before trying auto clean mode. If your camera runs out of battery during this process, the sensor can suffer damage.
Before Camera Sensor Cleaning: Steps to Take
Like a surgeon prepares for surgery ahead of time, so should you organize all the details of your plan. Here is what you need to take care of first:
- Prepare. Ensure you understand all the steps involved in cleaning your camera’s sensor and clarify any doubts ahead of time.
- Charge. If the battery is at less than fifty percent, charge it all the way.
- Clean. Take a damp cloth and clean the camera body, lens, and lens mount.
- Choose a location. Ensure that your work area is clean and that the air is still.
- Gather. Gather all necessary tools and have them readily accessible.
What You’ll Need for in a Camera Sensor Cleaning Kit
Here are the tools you’ll need to use to get your sensor clean. You may not use all of them, but they should all be available:
- Cleaning swabs designed for the specific sensor size of your camera
- Camera sensor cleaning solution
- Excellent lighting—a headlight is recommended to be able to see inside the camera
- A sensor loupe (essentially a magnifier that has LEDs and makes it easy to inspect the sensor)
- A hand/bulb air blower
How to Clean Your Sensor
Once you’ve taken the necessary preparatory steps, including gathering all required equipment and checking the battery, it’s time to start.
The first step is to set your camera to “manual cleaning” mode. If you’re unsure of how to do this, check your camera manual.
Next, you’ll want to position your camera on its back. Lay it on a flat surface and take off any attached lenses. This position will make it easy to access while cleaning your sensor.
The third step is to clean using one of the two following methods:
Dry cleaning method. Use the air blower to blow air into the camera and on the sensor, which should dislodge the dust particles. When dry cleaning your camera sensors, it’s critical not to touch the sensor with the blower’s tip or use compressed air.
Wet cleaning method. Wet cleaning the sensor is usually the second option for camera sensors when dry cleaning doesn’t quite do the trick. It involves putting two drops of Eclipse fluid on a sensor swab, which you will slide very gently across the sensor. Start by sliding the swab across the sensor one time and in only one direction. Then just as carefully, slide the swab in the other direction.
Use your handy loupe to see if everything looks clean. If you need to repeat the process, throw away the swab you used, and grab a new one.
There are a few things to remember if you have to use the wet cleaning method. The first is that less is more when it comes to the cleaning fluid. You don’t want to remove the dust and instead create streaks on the sensor. Using smooth motions will give you the best results, and use the amount of pressure you would when writing with a fountain pen.
The final step is to verify the sensor is clean and that all dust has been removed. Once you’ve completed the process, repeat the steps outlined above to check your camera for sensor dust.
Tips to Avoid Cleaning Camera Sensor
Here are some best practices to help you go longer between sensor cleaning sessions over your camera’s lifetime.
Reduce Lens Changes
The most effective way to keep your camera sensor dust-free is unnecessary lens changes. Try to change them as infrequently as possible, and when you do go to change them, always do so in places with still, clean air if possible (no wind, inside is better). Change the lens as fast as possible, and ensure that the sensor faces downward or sideways during the change.
Sensor Cleaning Cameras
We mentioned this feature earlier, but not all cameras have self-cleaning sensors. If you’re in the market for a new one, you may want to look for an SLR camera that has self-cleaning capabilities.
They work pretty well and employ technology that cleans the sensor whenever you turn the camera on or off. Though they can’t remove all kinds of dust, they do an excellent job of reducing the amount of time you can go between cleanings.
Alternatives to Cleaning the Sensor at Home
If completing this process at home is a bit too daunting, you can always take your camera to a professional for sensor cleaning. Most places charge a reasonable fee for this service, and you can forget about causing any damage to your camera.
But regardless of whether a professional cleans the sensor or you do it at home, this process should form a regular part of your camera maintenance checklist. Keeping camera sensors dust-free will keep your photos clean and sharp and eliminate extra steps in post-production.