DSLR Sensor Cleaning Made Simple

Sensor Cleaning is a whole lot easier, these days.

Back ‘in the day’, *(don’t you just love how that sounds?), of my first decent DSLR, the trusty little workhorse Canon10D, the new reality of Sensor Dust arrived on the doorstep at precisely the same time.
When I used to shoot film, you’d rarely see anything like it…the labs took care of a great deal of it and the ‘pressure plate’ that kept the film flat in the back of the camera was a fairly benign little critter.
OK so, I once discovered sparks on some high speed black and white that I shot in Kananaskis Country, an hour west of Calgary.
It took a while to understand what had happened but the downshot was very dry air and a motor winder on my dynamite little Pentax ME Super.

Move the film quickly through a bone dry body in zero humidity and there you have it.
Static Electricity.
No different from walking on carpet in your sock feet and reaching for the door knob.

A Lightning Storm inside my Camera.

Pressure plates almost always remained passive, unless you got some perfectly placed grit in there and it would do wonders scratching film emulsions.
Apparently, nose grease smeared judiciously on the negative could hide a lot of that.

Enter the Era of the Digital Sensor.
Here’s the Rub.
It’s anything BUT passive.
It’s a nicely little electrically charged ‘charged’ device that sucks dust and debris onto it’s surface in a mere instant.

Yep. Faster than the Paparrazi to Lindsay Lohan.

Depth of Field to the rescue or your demise.
If you’re shooting at wide apertures, you’ll seldom see any evidence of sensor dust whatsoever.
It’s just not ‘in focus’ on the sensor… but stop that brilliant wide angle lens of yours way, way down for loads of DOF and Voila.
Dust Bunnies.
Loads of them.

In my line of endeavour, I shoot quite a bit of interior work, and I shoot virtually ALL of it at f16.
My rooms have sharp foregrounds, mid grounds and backgrounds, all the way through from rear to near.
The perfect storm for sensor dust.
Bracketing 7 exposures per image and shooting over 300 frames per shoot can cause some insanely excessive spotting times in Photoshop and can literally add hours to your post processing chores.

The old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure proves itself out here every time.
A spotlessly clean sensor will save you more time than you can imagine when the shot to shot volume starts to climb.

Shortly after ‘Digital’ first arrived, about the only solution was ‘Wet Cleaning’, which scared most of us half to death.
It took a while to get used to doing, could spike blood pressure in a nanosecond and almost always required 2-4 Sensor Swabs to do the deed at 5 bucks a pop.
A few years back, an Alberta company called Visible Dust made a very welcome appearance with a host of sensor brushes, including the one I use regularly, the somewhat ‘gynecologically’ named ‘Arctic Butterfly’.
It’s a dry brush that acquires it’s own static charge by spinning it’s bristles around very quickly as part of a battery powered handle.
I scoffed at the idea for a long time, thinking that all you’d REALLY be doing is pushing the dust around on the sensor from side to side but, go figger, it really WORKS.

Highly Recommended.
This strange little device comes out of obscurity and despite the c-r-a-z-y price of the thing, it’s now the best I’ve ever used.

The Pentax O-ICK.

Who THINKS up these names? I guess it’s better than O-SH*T.
It’s a ridiculously simple concept, and ridiculously effective.
A small stick with a rubber tip, along with a pad of ‘fly paper’ to make it sticky with and to remove the offenders on to.

At about $45 bucks plus, it’s a bit of a pinch but it helps to remember this:

It’s not what it IS, it’s what it DOES that counts.

And it does so exceedingly well.

I use a Sensor Loupe on my Canon 5D Mark III, a Giotto Rocket Blower Bulb, the superb little Arctic Butterfly and the ‘Stick’.

Sometimes just a little in rotation but it does get the job done.
Read the reviews on the Adorama Site.
The thing just ‘works’.
*(At least until you run out of paper… which should take a long long time.)
Alright, so…. how do you know you’ve done the deed?
Point your freshly sensor cleaned camera and lens at a clear, featureless sky, over expose by two stops, take it off AF, stop down to f16 and pull that image into Photoshop.
You’ll see a near white frame and– Dust Bunnies, unless, of course, you’ve done it well.
Assuming you have, there’ll be nary a black spot to be seen.

According to the Near Legend, Chris Nichols @ the Camera Store… it’s about the only thing they use.
They don’t ‘Wet Clean’ anymore unless it’s spot of dog vomit or the odd drop of mustard from your Ham Sandwich.

I give it High 5’s and Fist Bumps,(*thanks for that expression, Nathen), it’s taken a LOT of the stress out of  Sensor Maintenance
John Sharpe/Big Kahuna


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